Friday, October 24, 2008

Stay issued for Troy Davis!

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday issued a stay of execution for Troy Davis! The stay comes just three days before Davis was scheduled to be executed.
“Upon our thorough review of the record, we conclude that Davis has met the burden for a stay of execution,” the court said in a ruling issued by Judges Joel Dubina, Rosemary Barket and Stanley Marcus.

CNN reports that the stay has been issued for 25 days. The AP reports that a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit has asked lawyers from both sides to file new briefs, to see if Davis can meet the "stringent requirements" needed for a new round of appeals.

The stay comes a day after worldwide protests (including our humble gathering of 45 in Williamsburg) organized by Amnesty International.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

We are all Troy Davis

We rallied for two hours this afternoon at the intersection of Richmond, Jamestown and Boundary (Confusion Corner) in Williamsburg this afternoon, informing people of Troy Davis's plight. We collected more than 100 signatures, which we will fax to Amnesty International. That organization will gather signatures from around the world and send them to the Georgia Board of Paroles and Pardons, which is the only hope Davis has left for clemency.

If one innocent man dies, a piece of all of us dies with him. We are all Troy Davis.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Standing Firm for Justice

This week some friends and I have helped organize a local protest and rally for Troy Davis, a Georgia death row inmate who's facing execution on Monday, Oct. 27. Here's a summary of Davis's case, from Amnesty International:

Troy Davis was sentenced to death for the murder of Police Officer Mark Allen MacPhail at a Burger King in Savannah, Georgia; a murder he maintains he did not commit. There was no physical evidence against him and the weapon used in the crime was never found. The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial. Since then, all but two of the state's non-police witnesses from the trial have recanted or contradicted their testimony. Many of these witnesses have stated in sworn affidavits that they were pressured or coerced by police into testifying or signing statements against Troy Davis.

One of the two witnesses who has not recanted his testimony is Sylvester "Red" Coles – the principle alternative suspect, according to the defense, against whom there is new evidence implicating him as the gunman. Nine individuals have signed affidavits implicating Sylvester Coles.

To recap — there is no physical evidence implicating Davis; no murder weapon was ever found; seven of the nine witnesses who originally testified against him have recanted; and of the two witnesses left, one was the principle alternative suspect. Moreover, Georgia is notorious for obtaining wrongful convictions in capital cases; there have been six exonerees in the state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.

The murder occurred the morning of Aug. 19, 1989, when Sylvester Coles began harassing a homeless man in Savannah, Ga., while Davis and others watched. Officer Mark MacPhail responded to the homeless man's pleas for help, and was shot dead with a .38-caliber pistol. The next day, Coles and his lawyer approached police, hoping to exonerate Coles and implicate Davis in MacPhail's death. Coles and Davis are both black men of virtually identical height and weight. Davis, maintaining his innocence, surrendered to police, in hopes that the justice system would sort out the situation.

It did not. Nineteen years later, Davis — quite possibly, an innocent man — is just a few days from death. The Supreme Court of the United States last week denied Davis's final appeal, despite the recantations of seven witnesseses. As so often happens in capital cases, the wheels of death started turning, and have become virtually impossible to stop. Davis's last hope rests with the Georgia Board of Paroles and Pardons, which could grant him clemency before the execution on Monday.

This is not happening in some Third World country. This is the American South. It is despicable, and an embarrassment to our nation.

Tomorrow from 4–6 p.m. we will rally outside the Wren Building on the undergraduate campus of William & Mary, one of many such protests held throughout the world for Troy Davis. Keep him in your thoughts and prayers.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

No Confidence

Since I started law school more than a year ago, it has become clear to me many times that this place, this experience, can break your confidence. We are imperfect, prideful souls, we law students, and law school aims to crush our spirits. We can't let it, of course, but despite our best efforts, we get down on ourselves again and again.

Normally I use this blog to speak for myself, but part of the desolate feeling I'm describing comes from the unnecessary loneliness of these crushing blows to our self-confidence. I know better — I know I am not alone. I know this happens to all of us. With a simple Google search, I found this blog, from "Proto Attorney," a self-described 29-year-old 3L "at a mediocre law school." Her blog entry is titled, "Confidence." It reads, in part:
For the past two years of law school, I've really felt all along that I just don't know enough. I don't feel that in any of my classes, even the ones I got good grades in, that I fully grasped all of the concepts of that area of law. Some of them, I'm pretty sure I didn't grasp a single concept of the law.
Proto Attorney, Confidence, June 1, 2008, at

This sounds about right. Despite the magnificent amount of information we learn each semester, most of us also encounter seemingly infinite setbacks. Many are small, and go by virtually unnoticed. A job application sent to a distant state, and no reply received: no big deal. A professor finds it necessary to correct the recitation of facts I give in class one day. Eh, I'll get over it. A motion argument, weakly argued before a fellow student. Better luck next time.

But other stumbling blocks aren't so easily reconcilable. A tryout for Moot Court, Trial Team or Law Journal, unsuccessful. Ouch. An interview with a dream employer, fumbled. Crushing. A grade of B- for a class in which an A or A- seemed attainable. Heart-wrenching.

Oh, these things don't matter, you say. No? Ask around. Ask a professor if grades matter. Ask a more seasoned law student if Moot Court or Journal experience counts when looking for a job. And ask yourself if what job you get matters.

Of course all these setbacks merely pose temporary obstacles. One can recover from each and every one. But the cumulative effect can and does create a sense of defeat in many of us, a sense that we really don't know what we're doing, and that we may never quite know. This is not comforting, and it produces some predictable reactions, to ease the cognitive dissonance of wanting to be successful — of wanting to be seen as being successful — and the reality of failing on a regular basis.

Some law students project false confidence. Most of us probably do it without thinking. We've always been good before, so we must be good now, even if our grades and experiences here don't bear it out.

Some law students — many law students — become depressed. "Studies have shown that law students suffer from clinical stress and depression at a rate that is three to four times higher than the national average." Herbert N. Ramy, Student Depression Becomes an Issue of Faculty Concern, available at

Some law students, by necessity, lessen the blow of failure by shifting the blame. Didn't do well in Contracts? Must have been the professor. Some practice schadenfreude, to the detriment of humanity. Another way to cope is to
discount the meaning of that activity at which we have failed: Didn't get appointed to Honor Council? Don't worry, they don't do anything valuable, anyway.

But even those of us who engage in necessary rationalizations strive to improve, at least where improvement is possible. If an interview doesn't go well, we prepare our best for the next one. If we don't make one team, we try harder in the next competition. If we don't do as well on a final as we'd hoped, we may talk to the professor to find out what went wrong, and how to fix it before the next one.

If we make it through law school with our confidence intact, it will be no small feat.

My Vote, Counted

I voted yesterday. I walked into the James City County government complex with my Virginia voter registration card in my wallet, filled out an absentee ballot application in about three minutes, and a government worker handed me a ballot. After I made my choices with a felt tip marker and slid my ballot into the optical scanner (I was already voter #737, exactly three weeks before the election), I walked out to a sunshiny day, grinning from ear to ear. Democracy has never felt so good as a vote for Barack Obama.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Days Not Made for Basements

A short while ago, as I entered a virtually empty library on the Sunday morning of Fall Break, I had what I can describe only as an existential moment. "Why am I here?" I asked a lonely fellow law student, who was sitting at the reference desk. "Why am I here?" she replied.

The short answer, of course, is that I need to do work for my journal, work that will take several days to complete, as a Wednesday deadline looms. The long answer can be found in my last post, in which I described why I came to law school in the first place.

Yet these answers do little to obscure the beautiful Virginia sunshine that streams through the window near my desk in the lowest floor of the Law Library. I am here because I want to be, buried in books and papers and legal research. But I would very much like to be outside, enjoying another amazing fall day.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Equal Justice Works

Someone at Equal Justice Works, the organization hosting the Career Fair I'm headed to this weekend, found my blog and asked if I would write a guest post for their blog,, about why I came to law school and why I'm looking for a public interest job. He gave me permission to post what I wrote on my blog as well, so here it is:
Like many other law students, this weekend I will head to the Equal Justice Works Career Fair in Washington D.C., hoping to get a job offer from a fantastic organization. Although many of my friends' job searches are drawing to a close, as law firms make their offers to future summer associates, my quest to find public interest work is likely to last a while longer.

A second-year law student at William & Mary, I moved a thousand miles from Iowa to Virginia to study law because I was frustrated with our federal government and the effects of its ill-conceived actions (and inaction) on the people and places I know and love. Stories of secret CIA prisons in Europe, enemy combatants held without respect for habeas corpus and legal memos purporting to justify torture infuriated me. Rather than surrender to apathy, I decided to go tens of thousands of dollars in debt to get the intellectual tools I would need — a legal education — so that I could someday hope to improve our broken government.

Until a few weeks into my first year, it had not really occurred to me that other people come to law school to work for private law firms, where they can make more than $100,000 a year. Although I obviously see the upside of working for a firm, I had never considered that route. Though I briefly pondered applying at a few firms, prompting laughter from a trusted friend who knows my interest in public service well, I decided to stick with government and non-profit organizations. Some of my best friends at law school will work at firms, and many will undoubtedly do wonderful things to further the public good. Nevertheless, like many of the law students I expect to meet this weekend, the firm route is not for me.

When law school gets hard, which for me it often does, I have to think about why I came here — why I moved a thousand miles from my family, friends and home. It is the hope that someday I can make use of the good fortune I have had, of the many opportunities that have landed on my doorstep. I feel an enormous sense of gratitude, and with so many problems out there to solve, I want to do the best I can to help. Finding a job doing public interest legal work is the best way I know to accomplish that goal.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

5/12ths of the way

Fall break is this weekend, which means I'm halfway through my third semester of law school, or 5/12ths done with the whole adventure. (Hey, that's complicated math for a law student.) So far, so good. Hanging in there, which is probably what I'll keep saying until I pass the Bar exam.

Most of my classmates (and I) are spending a considerable time thinking about jobs for next summer, when we're not reading for class, cite-checking, doing Note research, volunteering, organizing some event for our student groups or watching presidential debates. As I may have already mentioned, I did not apply to any law firms — it's just not what I came here to do. Those who did apply to firms have been flying around the country or spending long weekends driving to and from D.C. I believe the process is drawing to a close. For many seeking public interest jobs, like me, the interview process is just beginning. So far, I've had two interviews with federal government agencies, one of which picked somebody else for the job. This weekend I'll attend the Equal Justice Works Job Fair in D.C., where I have a handful of interviews with non-profit organizations like the ACLU. If all goes well, I hope to have a job before Christmas. If not, the job search will continue.

The weather in Virginia this time of year is incredible. It seems every day is sunny and 75 degrees. All the cars have a thick layer of condensation in the morning, and fog rises slowly from Lake Matoaka as I pass it on my way to school for 8:30 Evidence. Some professors have started to ban laptops in their classes, due to distractions from class discussion, which has had the unintended consequence of making me realize the obscene amount of time I spend in front of my computer. As a result, I spend as much time as I can reading outside and taking notes the old-fashioned way: on paper.

My roommate's weekly poker game, $5 buy-in, has become a sensation this year, drawing 10-15 people each Wednesday night. Ed sends the invitations via Facebook, which, aside from cheap alcohol, seems to be the most effective tool for organizing law students. Strange, but true.

Back to work. If I haven't talked to you lately, call or send me an email! After my interviews in D.C. this weekend, I'll be working on my Note and will desperately need some breaks from the library.