Student Highlight: Halinka Zolcik Lands Elite Fellowship Position

Third-year law student Halinka Zolcik has been awarded a fellowship position with the DSC_2680_Immigration Justice Corps, one of the most prestigious legal fellowship positions in the country.

The Immigration Justice Corps is a fellowship program that was created by Chief Judge Robert Katzmann of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in partnership with the Robin Hood Foundation. The two-year fellowship matches the country’s most talented law school graduates with top host organizations in New York City and surrounding areas to serve as legal advocates in immigration.

The Fellowship is awarded to a mere twenty-five individuals out of hundreds of applications. Those coveted positions are reserved for the best of the best embarking on a career in immigration law, and are usually filled with graduates from Harvard, Yale, and Georgetown. Zolcik is the first student from the University of Wyoming to be considered for the program.

Born in Prague, Czech Republic, Zolcik and her family immigrated to the United States as a small child. She grew up in Gillette, Wyoming. As a first-generation immigrant, she was drawn to the field through her own experience. She chose to attend the University of Wyoming College of Law for it’s robust clinical programs and the opportunity to gain practical skills, a decision that has proven to be instrumental to her success.

She currently serves as the Student Director in the International Human Rights Clinic at the College of Law. In this capacity, she carries a caseload of clients seeking help through the U.S. immigration system under the supervision of the Faculty Director, Professor Suzan Pritchett.

With Pritchett at the helm, the Clinic has expanded from asylum cases into other forms of humanitarian relief efforts including special immigrant juvenile status, U visas, DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) advisement issues, green card process adjustment, and family based petitions.

Working in the clinic, Zolcik has gained valuable experience on a variety of immigration issues. She has already appeared in the Denver Immigration Court five times this semester, and has performed every aspect of representing a client from start to finish.  The Clinic is also how she learned of the Fellowship opportunity.

“Halinka is an exceptional student,” says Pritchett. “I encouraged her to apply for the Fellowship because I was confident that she would be a strong contender for one of the positions. Her hands-on experience in the IHR Clinic has guaranteed that she is ready to hit the ground running in a fast-paced advocacy environment, and I think that was a major factor in her selection for the fellowship position.”

The application process for the Fellowship was long and rigorous. Zolcik had to submit numerous essays, letters of recommendation, and go through multiple rounds of interviews. With a carefully crafted portfolio of all her work in the Clinic, she blew the interview panel away.

“The interviewers on the panel didn’t know anything about Wyoming. They were surprised that we do immigration work here, and also by the breadth and depth of the work that we do in the Clinic,” she comments. “In Wyoming you can get this experience that rivals other clinical programs on an international level. The panel said they had never seen a current law student with that much experience.”

Among her many talents, Zolcik is also an accomplished linguist, fluent in five languages – English, Czech, Polish, French and Spanish. Utilizing her skills often in the Clinic, it was also an ability that proved useful in the application process.

“During the interview, members of the panel would randomly switch to Spanish just to test that I actually spoke multiple languages,” she says. “It really throws you off to immediately switch languages, so it was a very intimidating experience.”

Professor Pritchett stresses how impressive this achievement really is.

“Not only was Halinka up against students from some of the most competitive law schools in the country, she was also up against recent graduates that have already served as immigration court clerks and federal law clerks for the past two-years,” says Pritchett. “The fact that her abilities and experience at Wyoming can rival those other people is not something that should be taken lightly.”

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Suzan Pritchett joined the College of Law faculty as an Assistant Professor and the Director of the International Human Rights Clinic in the fall of 2014. Prior to joining the permanent faculty, she was a Visiting Professor and the Robert J. Golten Fellow at the College of Law, where she co-directed the Center for International Law and Advocacy. Professor Pritchett has also worked in private practice representing clients in federal immigration matters. In addition to her clinical and scholastic endeavors, Pritchett is the foremost expert on immigration law in the state of Wyoming and has been a dedicated leader in internationalization efforts within the University of Wyoming.  

Zolcik credits her success to Professor Pritchett, the International Human Rights Clinic, and her education at the College of Law.

“I am so grateful for the clinic experience,” she says. “Here we are able to take on numerous clients and have the incredible supervision of Professor Pritchett. Additionally, the small class sizes allowed me to do multiple things like the Clinic, while still being able to excel academically.”

Zolcik also acknowledges the Trial Practice Program as a contributing factor to her advocacy abilities. Through the course, she was able to polish her trial skills and feel confident in a courtroom.

“Halinka is a really good lawyer in a difficult multi-cultural lawyering environment,” notes Pritchett. “Navigating the different needs of each client, overcoming language barriers, and interpreting the legal system and communicating that to the clients so they feel well represented is a challenge. Halinka is very skilled. She advocates for her clients with compassion, but also shows real strength both in her written advocacy and in the courtroom.”

Zolcik has been paired with Prisoners Legal Services of New York as her host organization. She’ll begin the Fellowship in September after sitting for the Bar Exam.

Though Zolcik is the first ever Wyoming student to be accepted into the Immigration Justice Corps, the College of Law hopes that she is the first of many, and is exceedingly proud to produce such capable and skilled graduates.

UW College of Law International Law Moot Court Team Takes Top Honors at the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition

The University of Wyoming College of Law team competed in the regional round the Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition February 16-19, 2017. The Rocky Mountain Regional was hosted by the University of Denver Sturm School of Law, and was one of the six regional rounds hosted in the United States.

The team comprised entirely of Wyoming students, swept the competition placing first as well as taking home additional honors.

Students Ian Smith (Jackson, Wyo.), Allison Connell (Sheridan, Wyo.), Kristina Mireles (Newcastle, Wyo.), Brandon Rosty (Casper, Wyo.) and David Demic (Sheridan, Wyo.), used their knowledge of water law, natural resources, and international law to dominate the competition with a perfect 7-0 record.

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Pictured from Left to Right: Brandon Rosty, Ian Smith, Professor Noah Novogrodsky, Allison Connell, David Demic and Kristina Mireles.

The Philip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Competition is the world’s largest moot court competition, with participants from over 550 law schools in more than 87 countries. The Competition is a simulation of a fictional dispute between countries before the International Court of Justice, the judicial organ of the United Nations. Each team prepares both oral and written pleadings (memorials).

The team is scored as a unit, with recognition and scoring for individual written and oral efforts as well.

This year’s issue was framed around two problems: 1) in a time of drought, may one state tap into a shared underground aquifer even if it deprives another state of water, and 2) must cultural artifacts taken from state A to state B by an oppressed minority of state A be returned?

Individual accolades included Allison Connell placing 7th, Brandon Rosty placing 3rd, and Kristina Mireles placing 2nd in the oral portion of the competition. Third-year law student David Demic won top individual oralist with two perfect scores.

Demic has competed in the Jessup Competition all three years of his law school career, winning 9th best oralist as a 1L, and 6th best oralist last year.

“One of the reasons that I came to UW was because of the strong international program,” he says. “The tutelage I have received from Professors Suzie Pritchett, Jason Robison and Noah Novogrodsky has provided me with the skills that I have now and I would not have been able to succeed without their guidance.”

Demic was able to take the experience from the last two years and improve to help lead his team to victory.

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Third-year Law Student David Demic

“It felt really good to practice and apply everything we have learned at the College of Law and come back with vengeance in the competition,” says Demic.

In the written portion, the team Memorials Brief placed 1st helping the group claim an unprecedented clean-sweep.  The College of Law has previously taken home the honor of Best Memorial in 2014.

The team went up against some big schools in the nation, including NYU School of Law, The University of Kansas School of Law, and the SJ Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah.

According to the International Law Student Association organizers, it is the first time in living memory that the top three oralists came from a single school.  It is also the first time ever that the University of Wyoming College of law has won first place at this prestigious international law competition.

The team will now advance to the White & Case International Rounds in Washington D.C. where they will go head to head with the other top teams from around the world. The weeklong event, will take place April 9-15, 2017, and will culminate with the Jessup Cup World Championship Round.

“We are extremely proud of this team of students from Wyoming,” says the team’s Faculty Advisor Professor Noah Novogrodsky. “They were more prepared than any other team there and it showed.”

Student Highlight: Defender Aid Arguments

The reliance on precedent is often a lawyer’s bread and butter. The interpretation of

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Defender Aid Student Director, Hannah Toland

decisions in higher courts trickle down and become vitally important to cases operating in the lower courts. One such instance has taken some of our students before the Wyoming Supreme Court on behalf of their clients. Students in the Defender Aid Program have been pursuing resentencing for their clients in the aftermath of the United States Supreme Court decision on Miller v. Alabama.

Decided June 25, 2012, Miller v. Alabama explored whether the imposition of a life sentence without the possibility of parole on a juvenile violates the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment forbids the mandatory sentencing of life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile homicide offenders.[1]

Defender Aid Student Director, Hannah Toland commented on the importance of the case.

“It is a pretty big deal taking the facts of a national case like Miller v. Alabama and interpreting them as they apply to Wyoming,” she says. “This will likely be an ongoing thing on how it is going to be applied within the state.”

Toland was one of two students who recently put the new precedent to the test, arguing before the Wyoming Supreme Court in November of 2016.

“My client was a child defendant sentenced at the age of 15. He received a thirty-five year to life sentence, so I argued that was in violation of Miller v. Alabama,” she explains.

“I was so nervous, but I wanted to do well for my client,” she says. “Once you get up there, you are so full of adrenaline that it is quite nerve racking, but all of the preparation that we do in the clinic really paid off and I was able to represent my client to the best of my ability. It was a really satisfying experience.”

Toland is from Powell, Wyoming. She graduated from the University of Wyoming with a degree in Criminal Justice prior to applying to law school.

A decision on the case has not yet been made by the Wyoming Supreme Court.

Third-year law student Alyssa Clegg also argued a case based on the same U.S. Supreme Court decision. Her case was a resentencing hearing based on a motion to correct an illegal sentence.

The client was convicted at the age of 17 and sentenced to seventy years without the possibility of parole. Essentially, a life sentence. Now that Miller v. Alabama is retroactive, she argued that the client’s sentence should be amended accordingly.

She argued before Judge Edleman in Johnson County. While unsuccessful at the District Court level, the Defender Aid Program is appealing the case to the Wyoming Supreme Court.

“We hope that the case will go before the Wyoming Supreme Court before Alyssa graduates in the spring,” says Toland. “Alyssa has worked a lot of hours on the case and she did such an excellent job arguing the case before, it would just be really great if she was able to see this case through to the end.”

Clegg is from Saratoga, Wyoming and she too earned a Bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice from UW. In addition to her work in the Clinic, she has done an externship with the Federal Public Defender’s Office in Cheyenne.

[1]https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-9646g2i8.pdf

Clinic Students Visit 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

As part of the clinic practicum, the Energy, Environment and Natural Resource (“EENR”) Law Clinic observed oral arguments before the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Inside of a packed courthouse the EENR Clinic witnessed two separate oral arguments made by the State of Wyoming regarding wild horse management.

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(Back Row) Michael Kollker, Carter Bruening, Micah Christensen (Front Row) Megan Condon, Calli Caparo, Tatiana Bannan, Connor Nicklaus

Prior to the oral argument, clinic students assisted the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office conduct a practice moot. During a practice moot, lawyers rehearse their arguments and practice answering questions. Colleagues ask a series of difficult questions to simulate the judicial panel. Although a typical appellate argument is restricted to 15 minutes, practice moots often take hours.

University of Wyoming law student and clinic participant, Conner Nicklas said, “Attending the State of Wyoming’s arguments at the 10th Circuit was a great experience. As a law student who wants to be involved in environmental litigation it was invaluable to listen to good attorneys arguing before an esteemed appellate court regarding an issue that affects the entire West.”

The EENR Clinic’s foundation is providing students with real world experience before they graduate. After arguments, students were given an inside tour of the Byron White United States Courthouse in Denver, Colorado. The 10th Circuit arguments and tour are just two examples of the clinic’s experiential learning opportunities.

The EENR Clinic is a cooperation between the State of Wyoming Attorney General’s Office and the University of Wyoming College of Law. The Clinic’s classroom component is designed to allow guest lecturers to discuss important elements of environmental law, oral advocacy, and administrative procedure. These components are further built upon as students participate in their clinical work. Clinical assignments are wholly comprised of actual issues in the field of natural resources affecting the State of Wyoming.

Article By: Micah Christensen

Student Highlight: Civil Legal Services Trials

The Civil Legal Services Clinic works on a variety of civil legal issues including housing, consumer rights, education, veterans’ service-connected disability benefits, and other public benefits laws. The Clinic represents low-income and often marginalized populations that could otherwise not afford legal representation.

Though many of the students in the clinic see time before a judge arguing motions hearings, most cases are settled out of court. However, there are some cases that make it all the way to trial. Two such cases occurred this semester.

Earlier this fall, University of Wyoming Law Student, Glenn Fair, represented his client glenn-fairwith the Civil Legal Services Clinic in a full-day trial. Glenn’s performance was exemplary as he advocated zealously for his client in a child custody dispute in the First Judicial District Court in Cheyenne.

“The full-day trial was literally the culmination of everything I had hoped to learn during my time in the Civil Legal Services Clinic,” says Fair. “I am grateful because the experience allowed me to put my first two years of law school education into practice.”

Fair spent over one hundred hours working on the case from start to finish. He began the case during the summer and saw it through to completion.

Glenn Fair is a third-year law student originally from Huntington Beach, California. Glenn was formerly a Police Officer, serving 23 years with the force before retiring and applying to law school. He holds an undergraduate degree in Pre-Law and Law Enforcement from the University of Nevada, Reno. Glenn was also part of the pilot group to participate in the Summer Trial Institute in Anchorage, Alaska, which provided him with the trial skills for the case.

A second trial case this semester, was litigated by third-year law student, Jeffrey Sonntag. Sonntag is originally from Alamosa, Colorado. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Liberal Arts from Colorado State University. In addition to his time in the Clinic, he has been an extern for the First Judicial District of Cheyenne.

jeffSonntag worked on a custody establishment and modification of child support case. The case moved extremely quickly with a mere thirty-five days between mediation and trial. Sonntag and his co-counsel, third-year student Michael Gillio, tried the case before the First Judicial District Court and were victorious for their client.

“It’s an incredible experience to finally get to apply the law that I learn here in class,” says Sonntag. “Between the experience and the ability to help someone else it’s been one of the most rewarding experiences of my law school career.”

The Civil Legal Services Clinic is proud of the work and dedication that Glenn and Jeff showed towards their cases and trials. The Clinic really tried to embody the importance of seeing a person with a problem, and utilizing the skills that law school provides to help them solve it.

Faculty Clinic Supervisor, Danielle Cover, was extremely impressed by the trial work of her students.

“Both Glenn and Jeff demonstrated a commitment to working with clients whose life circumstances were vastly different than anything had ever encountered,” she says. “The level of dedication given to cases and clients was really commendable and exemplifies our objective in the Clinic, which is to help people understand that lawyering is about helping people as opposed to imposing our own judgement.”

The Civil Legal Services provides an important service to both the students and the state of Wyoming. In the past year, the Clinic has opened over 60 cases in 12 different Wyoming counties. Heading into the New Year, we’ll see many more cases of students working with unwavering determination on behalf of their clients.

Exploring Externships

The externship program at the UW College of Law is a great way for students to gain real-world experience while also earning course credit towards their law degree. The College of Law benefits from a robust number of externship opportunities throughout Wyoming and the region, providing our students with the skills they need in order to be successful in their careers. The externship program also allows them to sample the many pathways that exist within the legal profession.

One of the most recent externship opportunities is with the City Attorney’s Office here in Laramie. There, students have the opportunity to see attorneys in action on a number of cases in violation of Laramie’s municipal code.

Holli Austin-Belaski, the Assistant City and Prosecuting Attorney, has been the supervisor for the participating UW extern students.

“The City of Laramie Attorney’s Office is thrilled to support the externship program at the UW College of Law,” she says. “Extern students in our office get the opportunity to research current legal issues and observe the legal proceedings in the Laramie Municipal Court – including scheduling conferences, arraignments, bench trials and jury trials.”

dsc_2347The first student to extern in their office was Nathalia Collins (J.D. ’16). Originally from Venezuela, Collins moved to the United States when she was 8 years old and was raised in south Florida. She graduated from Florida State University in 2012 with a Bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary social sciences.  Impressed by the number of practical opportunities available at Wyoming, she chose to attend the College of Law knowing that she would gain on the job training along with her education.

“The experience in the City Attorney’s Office was fantastic,” says Collins. “I was able to watch a lot of arraignments, motions hearings, continuances, and change of pleadings.  Concurrent with my externship I also took trial practice so I was able to use the skills that I learned in that class and apply them to the bench trials that I eventually got to do in Municipal Court.”

From start to finish, Collins completed eight bench trials on her own, and had a 100% conviction rate. Having the time in court was an invaluable experience. She feels that the experience really set her apart from many of her peers, and has provided her with confidence that will help her in practice.

“Now that I know how to conduct a bench trial I won’t feel scared or intimidated,” she says. “It allows you to do real work under an attorney and they’ll show you how to do things, and tell you if you make a mistake or do something wrong.”

The experience in the courtroom paid off for Collins. Since graduating, she is now clerking for the Honorable Richard A. Simonton in the 7th Judicial District of Montana.

Currently externing in the Office is second-year law student Ryan Gallagher.  Gallagher is originally from Boston, Mass. He came to Wyoming after completing his undergraduate degree at St. Joseph College in Maine.dsc_3519

According the Austin-Belaski, Gallagher has already researched extensive issues relating to DWUI sentencing, he has researched a constitutional issue, and has observed numerous trials.

“Working in the City of Laramie Attorney’s Office has been a really rewarding experience for me already,” says Gallagher. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with Ms. Austin-Belaski on some arraignments, and some research that was sent to the Supreme Court. I feel like I’ve already learned so much, and look forward to being able to try a case in the future.”

Gallagher also pointed out another important lesson gained from the externship that is often overlooked, the importance of a healthy work-life balance.

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Holli Austin-Belaski is a 2008 graduate of the College of Law. She worked at a private law firm in Laramie as an associate attorney before joining the Trent Law Firm, LLC in Laramie as a partner for nearly 3 years. She briefly left the practice of law to focus on her family, but began working at Corthell & King in 2013. She took the position at the City Attorney’s Office in October 2015.

“Everyone in the office is really family-oriented so it’s been really refreshing to see how the attorneys balance their work and home-life efficiently,” says Gallagher. “It’s really easy to get caught up in the work and the example that the attorneys set in making their families a priority too is a lesson that can’t be found in a law book.”

In addition to the externship, Ryan has been busy during his law school career. He has participated in the Richard E. Day Client Counseling Competition, the Negotiations Competition, the Delta Theta Phi law fraternity, and he runs the law school sports teams. Additionally, he will be participating in the Family and Child Legal Advocacy Clinic in the spring.

The College of Law has an extensive list of externship partners, and is grateful to participating organizations and offices for their guidance and instruction. Students consistently report positive feedback about their externship experience and have flourished from opportunities like the City Attorney’s Office.  It is the hope that the feeling is mutual.

“I have been impressed with all of the students that have externed with me,” says Austin –Belaski. “Our office will continue to support the externship program and look forward to continuing to work with the students in the program.”

 

Student Argues Before the Wyoming Supreme Court

On Wednesday, November 16, 2016 Sierra Collver argued a case before the Wyoming Supreme Court as part of the Prosecution Assistance Program. Sierra Collver represented the State of Wyoming against Edward Christopher Barrowes (No. S-16-0155).

As part of the Prosecution Assistance Program, Sierra worked with members of the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office under the supervision of Professor Darrell Jackson on the case.

“Arguing before the Supreme Court can be really challenging,” says Collver. “I had a lot of support from everyone involved in the Attorney General’s Office. Professor Jackson and our student director, Kevin Farrelly, spent a lot of extra time working with me to make sure I was ready. Overall it was a really rewarding experience.”

Collver is a third-year law student and is a native of Riverton, Wyoming. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Wyoming in Psychology and Criminal Justice. She has participated in the Prosecution Clinic since January of 2016 and worked in an externship for the Fremont County Prosecuting Attorney.

In the spring, she will work in the Defender Aid Program.

“I think that it is really important to get training on both sides of criminal law,” she says. “I enjoy criminal litigation and I think the experience on both sides will make me a better attorney wherever I end up.”

With a Supreme Court Argument under her belt, Collver is already ahead of the curve. The College of Law is extremely proud of her accomplishment and the great work done in the Prosecution Assistance Program.sierra