The Frank J. Remington Center has always had a strong commitment to service, broadly defined--to low-income citizens, incarcerated individuals, correctional agencies, the public defender system, prosecutors’ offices, victims, policy makers, and the larger community.
The quality of the legal services provided by the Remington Center’s corrections-based clinical projects is evidenced by the willingness of state and federal agencies to enter into ongoing service agreements with the Center. These agencies include the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, for assistance to state prison inmates; the Federal Bureau of Prisons, for assistance to federal prison inmates; the State Public Defender, for work on criminal appeals and for trial-level work by public defender interns; and about twenty counties around the state, for work by prosecution interns.
These agencies all believe that the legal services provided by the Remington Center advance their own missions. The correctional agencies understand that inmates who are frustrated by unresolved legal problems are more likely to act out, posing a security risk within the institutions. They also realize that effective postconviction review can result in a fairer and more accurate outcome in a given case. And they recognized that inmates whose legal problems–including pending charges, unpaid child support, and visitation disputes–are resolved while they are incarcerated can leave the institutions “at peace” with the legal order, lessening their likelihood of recidivism.
Similarly, the State Public Defender has strongly supported the Remington Center’s Criminal Appeals Project, partly for the excellent representation that CAP’s faculty and students provide to individual appellants in criminal cases, but also because CAP’s graduates may be willing and able to accept appellate appointments once they begin to practice law. By the same token, the Remington Center students who work as summer externs in prosecutors’ or public defender offices provide badly-needed manpower during the summer and, at the same time, develop a knowledge base that the agencies hope will improve the quality of the criminal justice system after the students graduate.
Over the past decade, the Remington Center has worked to consolidate and expand the civil law clinics that make up the Economic Justice Institute, and the service component of these clinics has expanded as well. The Consumer Law Clinic has expanded on its original mission of representing citizens with consumer individual or class-action suits to address larger concerns of economics security, including predatory lending practices. The Neighborhood Law Project has reached out to residents of one of Madison’s more challenged neighborhoods, locating its office in the neighborhood and developing its legal practice around the issues of greatest concern to neighborhood residents, including landlord-tenant disputes, benefits questions, and employment problems. The Family Court Assistance Project, which was developed at the request of Dane County’s judges, annually provides legal information to hundreds of pro se litigants in Dane County’s family court system. Recently, FCAP has expanded to address another need: in partnership with a Law School course on domestic violence, clinic students have begun representing individuals who are seeking restraining orders against their abusers.
Some numbers may illustrate the volume of legal services provided by students and faculty in the Remington Center’s clinical projects. During the 2006-07 fiscal year, for example,
- students and faculty in the Center’s corrections-based clinics conducted about 1,800 in-person interviews with state and federal prison inmates and closed about 1,200 cases;
- the Criminal Appeals Project handled about 20 criminal appeals appointed by the State Public Defender’s office, from initial investigation through motion hearings and briefing before the appellate courts; and
- together, the Economic Justice Institute’s civil clinics responded to over 1,100 requests for assistance.
The Remington Center’s broad definition of service encompasses far more than just assisting individual clients. The Wisconsin Innocence Project provides a useful example. Over the past few years, the Innocence Project’s students and clinical faculty have submitted numerous amicus curiae briefs to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in criminal cases. In nearly all the cases that have been decided so far, the Court has adopted, in whole or in part, the approach suggested by the Innocence Project. In addition, Clinical Professor Keith Findley, Co-Director of the Innocence Project, served on a bipartisan task force in the Wisconsin legislature created to examine the causes of wrongful convictions. Based upon the task force’s recommendations, the legislature enacted statutes requiring law enforcement agencies to develop guidelines governing eyewitness identification procedures, and adopting a statewide policy of audio- or videotaping custodial interrogations. The Innocence Project then worked cooperatively with the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office to develop model eyewitness identification guidelines, along with training materials on the new guidelines, for use by law enforcement agencies throughout the state. Finally, Professor Findley, Professor Walter Dickey, and Professor Michael Smith all serve on the Wisconsin Criminal Justice Study Commission, while Clinical Assistant Professor Byron Lichstein also acts as staff attorney for the Commission. The Commission, a joint project of the University of Wisconsin Law School, Marquette Law School, the Wisconsin State Bar, and the Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office, has examined additional causes of wrongful convictions, with a goal of suggesting further legislative reforms to increase the reliability factfinding in the criminal justice system.
The healthy interchange between the Remington Center and other actors and organizations in the justice system has continued. The Center’s clinical faculty and students have gone on to become public servants in Wisconsin and throughout the nation.