The Clinic will fill a critical need in Cuyahoga County, where there is no local wrongful conviction program.
Cleveland State University College of Law recently launched the CSU|LAW Terry Gilbert Wrongful Conviction Clinic. As part of the law school’s Criminal Justice Center, the new Clinic will provide legal assistance to incarcerated individuals convicted of a felony in Ohio with claims of actual innocence or manifest injustice.
Terry Gilbert, a 1973 CSU|LAW graduate and a member of the law school’s Hall of Fame, after whom the clinic is named, has dedicated his legal career to promoting justice and civil rights.
“I first started discussing this possibility with my friend and distinguished alumnus, Terry Gilbert ’73, several years ago. I’m excited that because of his inspiration and generous support, this new clinic will provide our students yet another opportunity to be guardians of justice while working on these critical cases during their legal studies,” explained CSU|LAW Dean Lee Fisher.
In addition to providing hands-on legal experience to students, the Wrongful Conviction Clinic will fill a critical need in Cuyahoga County, where there is no local wrongful conviction program. The Clinic will accept cases throughout the state, but the focus is expected to be local, including Cuyahoga County, which has accounted for more than 1/3 of those exonerated in Ohio since 1989 and has the 10th most exonerations of any County nationwide.
Laura Greig will serve as the new Clinic’s Director. She joins CSU|LAW after practicing in the Special Matters and Government Investigations group at King & Spalding LLP, where she focused on complex criminal defense matters, cross-border government investigations, and internal investigations. As a law student at The University of Texas at Austin, Greig participated in a similar Actual Innocence Clinic and knows how impactful and inspiring such an experience can be for law students interested in addressing the inequities in the criminal justice system.
“As attorneys devoting our time and efforts to ‘justice,’ I believe we must do everything we can to educate the next generation on these continuing issues and correct injustice when we are able,” said Greig. “For a number of reasons, by the time a person is looking for post-conviction relief, there are limited options available to the wrongfully convicted to rectify miscarriages of justice, and nearly no options for indigent individuals. Personally, I can think of no greater violation of individual liberty than unjust imprisonment with no means to effectively advocate for yourself. We want to provide a voice for those individuals and help fill the cracks in the justice system in which these individuals are often lost.”
"With this new Clinic, the CSU|LAW Criminal Justice Center now features three Clinics, each of which addresses problems at different stages of the criminal process,” said Criminal Justice Center Co-Director Professor Jonathan Witmer-Rich. “Students in our Pretrial Justice Clinic advocate for indigent defendants at the very start of their prosecution, working to secure their release so they can maintain employment and housing while their case proceeds. Students in our Pardon, Clemency, and Reentry Clinic assist individuals who have been released from prison, working to remove legal barriers to their reentry into the community. And now students in the new Wrongful Conviction Clinic will work to secure release for persons wrongfully convicted of crimes they did not commit."
The Clinic is the culmination of several years of work by several individuals, including Terry Gilbert. Gilbert spent his early years as a lawyer for the American Indian Movement in defense of native sovereign rights. In the 1990s, he worked pro bono for years exposing police, forensic, and prosecutorial bias in the notorious Sam Sheppard murder case, paving the way for his work in freeing victims of wrongful imprisonment while obtaining them rightful compensation.
Starting a clinic to assist the wrongfully imprisoned at his alma mater had become a passion project for Gilbert.
“This Clinic has been a dream of mine for years,” explained Gilbert. “While it’s nice to have a legacy as a fighter for justice, this is all about the success of the project that will live on after I’m gone. My hope is to expose law students to the idea they can make a difference and be part of efforts to undo the terrible injustice that results from wrongful convictions and that the Clinic will provide profound experiences that will stay with them and make them passionate lawyers, keeping the notion of justice in their core values, no matter what course their legal careers take them.”
The inaugural class of students will join the Clinic for Spring semester this January. Through the analysis and investigation of actual claims of wrongful conviction, students will learn how to identify, analyze, and develop a wrongful conviction case. Working under the supervision of Clinic faculty, and in conjunction with outside counsel and other professionals, students undertake a wide range of work, which can include corresponding and meeting with clients, reviewing case materials and transcripts, identifying and interviewing witnesses, developing an investigative and legal strategy for advancing the client’s case, researching and drafting complaints and briefs, assisting in court proceedings, and, eventually, assisting the client in transitioning from wrongful imprisonment to freedom.
“I can attest that this work is gratifying,” said Gilbert. “There is nothing more exciting and fulfilling than to use one’s skills to undo an injustice caused by government wrongs. We also need to educate the community that wrongful convictions are real and disturbing, with too many innocent people in prison who need to be released and their lives restored. Hopefully, the Clinic will inspire passionate and dedicated lawyers to work in these areas.”
Clinic students will also participate in community outreach and engagement and be a part of grass roots reform. Students will educate communities most impacted by wrongful convictions on the systemic reasons that produce wrongful convictions, to let the community know the Clinic is here to assist individuals with wrongful conviction claims; to prevent wrongful convictions by better equipping individuals to avoid the systemic pitfalls that contribute to wrongful convictions; to create better jurors; and to raise awareness regarding the need for criminal justice reform.
“If students zealously represent their client’s interests and understand the reasons wrongful convictions occur, and also acquire essential lawyering skills along the way, I would call that success,” said Greig.
The clinic is collaborating with the Ohio Innocence Project and the Ohio Public Defender Wrongful Conviction Project, located in Cincinnati and Columbus, respectively, as well as the Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s Office. Gilbert and Greig both feel having a dedicated clinic in Northeast Ohio will better serve local clients and allow for better access to potential witnesses, contact with families of clients, investigative records, community resources, and familiarity with local law enforcement and the court system.
Requests for assistance have come from The Cuyahoga County Public Defender’s office and private attorneys, as well as from incarcerated individuals and exonerees. In the last month, the Clinic has already received more than 30 requests for assistance from incarcerated people who claim innocence or manifest injustice. It is anticipated that the clinic will receive hundreds of requests over the course of the year.
To have the Clinic evaluate a claim, complete this Client Intake Form.