Pop-Up Practicum Seeks Post-Conviction Relief with Cuyahoga County Conviction Integrity Unit

Posted 2020-05-05 4:32pm

CSU  Cleveland-Marshall College of Law Adjunct Professor Kimberly Kendall Corral ’12, a Senior Associate Attorney with Patituce & Associates, LLC., knows what it takes to translate a CSU C|M|LAW education into a successful legal practice and advocate for criminal justice.  Corral is sharing her passion for justice with a class of CSU C|M|LAW students this semester in a pop-up practicum dedicated to seeking post-conviction relief for Anthony Starr

“The students working on this case amazed me,” Corral said.  “They offered an elderly, indigent, long forgotten person a last shot at justice by giving him the highest quality legal representation.”

In her practice, Corral has an exceptional track record of success in securing post-conviction relief. Most famously, Corral spent five years working with Ru-El Sailor to get his murder conviction overturned after 15 years. (The class held a virtual meeting with Sailor to learn more from an incarcerated client’s perspective.)  She also helped secure a dismissal of charges against Charles Jackson after he spent 27 years in prison for a homicide conviction.  In 2018, Corral visited the Oval Office to discuss a pardon with President Donald Trump and the White House Counsel.

The 77-years-old Starr has spent 31 years incarcerated for a brutal attack and rape.  Starr has maintained his innocence throughout the entirety of his incarceration.  Corral and the practicum students argue the conviction arose due to junk science, hidden witness statements, improper joinder of trials, an unconstitutional search and a pretextual investigation designed to point to Starr.  The victim, whom Starr had never met, claimed she was 90% sure her ex-husband was the attacker.  Additionally, Starr passed a polygraph test.

“I genuinely believe that Mr. Starr is innocent, and so do the students,” Corral said.

When Corral began reviewing the case, she immediately recognized the procedural roadblocks that Starr was facing.  She identified this as a teaching opportunity for law students in postconviction relief.  Through Starr’s case, students would be able to explore all of the procedural possibilities and understand why some are not realistic avenues for relief.  The class discussed the pros and cons of the possible procedures and decided that an application with the Cuyahoga County Conviction Integrity Unit provided the fastest avenue for possible relief.

“Professor Kim Corral’s course is a prime example of why I created Pop-Up Practicums – so that our students and faculty could respond to relevant issues in real time,” explained CSU C|M|LAW Dean Lee Fisher.

“There is so much post-conviction work to be done and to have the opportunity to do this while in law school is a great learning opportunity.  It personally provides me an ongoing drive for criminal justice work,” said CSU C|M|LAW Student Bradley Bindokas.

The practicum has differed from Corral’s typical case review and post-conviction work only in the way that it was conducted collaboratively with eight people rather individually or with a single partner.  This structure has given students real-life experience handling such a case.

Six of the eight students visited Starr at the Grafton Correctional Institution prior to prison visits being shut down due to COVID-19.  During those trips, students were able to experience realistic client relations, answering Starr’s questions and asking their own about the case and the circumstances surrounding his conviction. Corral was able to use those visits as an important teaching tool on managing client expectations.  

“It is important to give the client hope but to be realistic about the challenges we face,” Corral explained.  “The concept of client management is easy to explain but difficult to do when speaking to a man who so desperately wants to hear that he will have even a day of freedom before he dies. I loved watching students making a connection with Mr. Starr and taking personal responsibility for his case and his future.

When she was beginning in the field of postconviction relief, Corral said several attorneys gave her the advice of keeping clients at arm’s length. She rejects that notion and believes that her best advocacy happens when she knows her clients and sees them for who they are instead of for their conviction.  She saw the same occur with practicum students over the course of the semester after meeting with Starr, noting they were persistent in getting Starr’s records from numerous state agencies and that they pursued physical evidence files as if their own justice depended on it.

“One night during the semester I was working on a different case at 3 a.m. and I got a notification that changes had been made to the class’s Google Docs draft,” Corral recalled.  “I opened the draft to see almost all of the students were logged on and working on it. This was not because they were up against a deadline, it was because they were motivated to use their time and ability to change their client’s life.  A huge grin crept across my face and it felt like magic to have eight well-trained future lawyers committing to some of the most important work there is.”

“Having the chance to meet Mr. Starr inspired all of us to work harder.  I was inspired by his tenacity and strength and further motivated by his sense of hope,” said CSU C|M|LAW Student Lauren Wazevich

With Starr being 77 years old and having spent more than three decades incarcerated, the class has always felt a sense of racing against the clock.  However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, that sense heighted as Starr is extremely vulnerable due to complications as a result of his advanced age, a long running heart condition and decades of poor nutrition and medical care.

The students worked through their spring break and in early April they filed a 221-page application to the Cuyahoga County Conviction Integrity Unit, weeks ahead of schedule. With the application currently under review, students began researching other avenues of relief, including relief related to risks due to COVID-19.

While everyone involve with this practicum is hoping for a success outcome for Starr, they also recognize that the lawyering experience the students received will be invaluable as they begin their legal careers, regardless of the ultimate outcome.  Corral raves about how exceptional this group of students is and credits their CSU C|M|LAW education for putting them in a position to be outstanding attorneys at the onset of their practice.

“I got so much from my Cleveland-Marshall education and take a ton of pride in what C|M|LAW has empowered me to do,” Corral said. “Having said that, each one of the students in this practicum was already more nuanced and better prepared than I was when I sat in their shoes, even before the experience they received in this practicum.  The law school should be very proud.”

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