Programs Designed to Give Students Hands-on Legal Experience With Real Cases
The DePaul University College of Law has launched two unique legal clinics that will offer powerful advocacy on behalf of individuals charged with misdemeanor crimes and students with developmental disabilities. The Misdemeanor Clinic and the Special Education Advocacy Clinic will join the College of Law’s six existing clinical programs, which are designed to serve the community while providing law students with the opportunity to learn the law and represent actual clients.
The Misdemeanor Clinic offers free legal assistance to indigent clients who have been charged with misdemeanors. Generally, a misdemeanor is a lesser criminal act that is punishable by incarceration for a year or less. According to the Illinois Criminal Justice Authority, in 2002, nine percent of the court cases filed in Illinois were for misdemeanor offenses.
Students who participate in the misdemeanor clinic assume responsibility for every aspect of client defense under the supervision of the clinic’s director, Cynthia Roseberry. Their responsibilities include client interviews, investigating cases and direct client representation. Between 16 and 24 clients are expected to be served by the clinic annually, which will be open to approximately 25 students each academic year.
“The need to provide quality legal representation for those accused of misdemeanors is just as critical as it is for those accused of felonies because a person’s liberty, reputation and finances can be threatened,” said Roseberry, who directs the clinic. “Through the clinic, students will learn criminal defense law in the most practical setting available—representing real-life clients.”
Roseberry brings years of experience in criminal defense to the clinic’s directorship. A seasoned litigator who also is on faculty at the Bill Daniel Trial Advocacy Program and the National Criminal Defense College, both in Georgia, Roseberry has tried felony cases in both federal and state court. Prior to coming to DePaul, she taught for the State Bar of Georgia, Georgia Indigent Defense Counsel, Wisconsin Trial Skills Academy, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Georgia Public Defenders Standards Council, District of Columbia Public Defenders and the Rainbow/Push Coalition.
The Special Education Advocacy Clinic is a vigorous advocacy program that will protect the educational rights of children with developmental disabilities such as autism. Like the misdemeanor clinic, the special education program will give law students an avenue to gain practical legal experience. The clinic is funded in part by the Illinois Council on Developmental Disabilities through its $123,000 Cultural Diversity at the Policy Table grant.
In addition to promoting policies favorable to the educational needs of children with developmental disabilities, the clinic will provide legal representation to financially distressed parents of these children. Among the clinic’s central goals is to increase educational opportunities to law students in the area of special education law while facilitating the adoption of better practices to help shatter barriers often faced by culturally diverse children with developmental disabilities who live in underserved communities.
The clinic’s clients will be represented by law students, under the supervision of its director. Among their responsibilities will be encouraging collaborations between school districts and parents as well as advocating at individual education plan meetings, mediation sessions and special education proceedings.
“There is a clear link between disabilities, poverty and minority status,” said Nelly Aguilar, executive director of the clinic. “Legal representation through the clinic will substantially impact the ability of our state’s most vulnerable children to obtain a free and appropriate public education, as federal law mandates.”
Aguilar, who conducts special education law trainings for families, professionals and students, has personal motivation for leading the clinic. The mother of a young son with a developmental disability, Aguilar was forced to sue a school district when her son was unlawfully displaced from a public school preschool program.
The misdemeanor and special education advocacy clinics join the College of Law’s asylum/immigration, civil rights, criminal appeals, death penalty, family law and technology/intellectual property clinics. All follow a long DePaul tradition of education through service and community-based service learning.
Established in 1912, DePaul’s College of Law is ranked among the top 100 law schools in the country by U.S.News & World Report. It enrolled 1,024 students for the 2007-2008 academic year, and boasts nearly 12,000 living alumni. Graduates of the College of Law include state and federal judges, municipal, county and state leaders and two generations of Chicago mayors.
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