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.”

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.

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

Clinic Highlight: Energy, Environmental, and Natural Resources Law Clinic

The Clinical programs at the University of Wyoming College of Law are in full swing! We’d like to take a moment and introduce the Energy, Environmental, and Natural Resources (“EENR”) Law Clinic.

The EENR Clinic is a cooperative venture between the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office and the Wyoming College of Law.  The Clinic was developed in 2013 and remains the only of its kind in the United States. It has had great appeal for students seeking clinical experience at the University of Wyoming College of Law. Michael Kollker, a law student enrolled in the Haube School JD/MA master’s program, said, “We are lucky to have such a strong relationship with our state officials that we get to do meaningful natural resource work before we graduate.”

At the beginning of the fall semester, the students from the EENR Clinic met with Governor Matthew Mead to kick off their clinical experience.

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EENR Clinic students with Governor Matt Mead, Attorney General Pete Michael, Special Assistant Attorney General Jay Jerde, and Assistant Professor Temple Stoellinger. 

 

Governor Mead emphasized the importance of natural resources to the state, illustrated by the percentage of Wyoming legal work involving natural resource issues. He commended the students for committing to work with the State on natural resource issues through the Clinic. Meeting Governor Mead was just the first portion of the clinic “boot-camp.” The students also met with Attorney General, Pete Michael and the Water and Natural Resource staff at the Attorney General’s Office.

The cooperation between the State and the University of Wyoming College of Law provides third year law students with the education, skills training, and real life experience necessary for a career in the areas of energy, environmental, and natural resources law.

The classroom component of the Clinic teaches students how to draft litigation documents through a series of lectures and experiential learning assignments. It also provides students with a general overview of the Wyoming laws governing the regulation of natural resources within the state.

In the clinical practice component of the Clinic, students perform real-life natural resource legal work. Students have the opportunity to research and draft actual litigation-related documents and perform other legal work for state agencies. Since the beginning of the semester, the EENR Clinic has already opened 10 new cases on behalf of the state.

This years clinic students are Tatyana Bannan, Carter Bruening, Callie Capraro, Micah Christensen, Megan Condon, Michael Kollker, and Conner Nicklas.

 

 

 

 

Faculty Highlight: Dona Playton

dplayton_dv-awarenessAs Domestic Violence Awareness Month wraps up, we’d like to highlight College of Law faculty member Dona Playton, and all of the work that she has done for victims of domestic violence.

Playton is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Wyoming College of Law. She teaches Domestic Violence Law, Children and the Law, and directs the Family and Child Legal Advocacy Clinic, which she established in 2002. The Clinic  is operated by  third-year law students who represent low income clients in family and juvenile court matters, including domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking cases, as well as divorce, child custody, termination of parental rights, adoption, guardianship, and as guardians ad litem in private custody or public child welfare cases.

According to the Division of Criminal Investigation Uniform Crime Report for Wyoming, in 2015, there were 2,513 incidents of domestic violence reported.[1] Each year, the Family and Child Legal Advocacy opens between 50-60 cases throughout Wyoming, many of which are for victims of domestic violence, making it a leading legal resource in the state along with the Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, and Equal Justice Wyoming.

One of the greatest obstacles for victims of domestic violence is the lack of an effective advocate.[2] Many victims of domestic violence find themselves in situations controlled by a myriad of issues that inhibit the ability to leave an abusive situation, including lack of financial resources and legal representation. The work performed by Playton and the students of the Family and Child Legal Advocacy Clinic provides access to legal recourse, helping victims of domestic violence take the first step towards safety and self sufficiency while also ensuring that their other legal rights are not compromised due to domestic violence.

According to the American Bar Association, “domestic violence has a tremendous impact on the legal profession.”[3] Under Playton’s supervision, the UW College of Law has worked to fill the gap in legal education by incorporating domestic violence law into its curriculum and clinical programs. Playton is called on regularly to conduct trainings and continuing legal education courses and recently presented at a national child support enforcement conference in Salt Lake on the overlap between child support enforcement and domestic violence.

“Working with law students to expand access to the legal system for low income victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking, has been the most rewarding experience of my career,” says Playton. “I believe together we are making tremendous strides in the legal profession to increase intolerance for domestic violence and to promote appropriate legal interventions in the area of intimate partner violence.”

Another important aspect of Playton’s work has been in providing the resources for other attorneys in Wyoming so that they may adequately represent abuse victims. Playton recently published the second edition of the Wyoming Domestic Violence Benchbook, A practical and comprehensive source of information and law. The benchbook serves as an all-inclusive guide to assist judges and attorneys as they mitigate situations where domestic violence may be at play.

Additionally, Playton was also recognized for her dedication to representing victims of domestic violence as the 2016 recipient of the Gerald R. Mason Professionalism Award. This award is given to a Wyoming attorney who, over the course of his or her career, has embodied the spirit of Wyoming State Bar Past President, Gerald R. Mason’s phrase “Proud to Be a Wyoming Lawyer,” and who serves as an example to others by having the highest professional standards to which all members of the Wyoming State Bar should aspire.

Playton’s work at the College of Law has been a tremendous asset to the students and the state and her recognition is well-deserved. We would like to acknowledge her incredible dedication to serving those without a voice and for making a real difference in the world.

[1] Crime in Wyoming, Division of Criminal Investigation Uniform Crime Report, p. 38, https://docs.google.com/a/wyo.gov/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=d3lvLmdvdnxkY2ktLS1wdWJsaWN8Z3g6YzI4ODdkY2RlNzRhOGNj

[2] Buel, Sarah M., “Fifty Obstacles to Leaving, a.k.a, Why Abuse Victims Stay” The Colorado Lawyer, October 1999, Vol. 28, No. 10.

[3] U.S. Dept. of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, When will they ever learn? Educating to End Domestic Violence, A Law School Report, American Bar Association Commission on Domestic Violence, 1997.