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University of Cincinnati College of Law students are getting their feet wet in some high-profile murder and drug cases through a new clinic that allows them to prepare and argue cases before the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Believed to be the first program of its kind in the Midwest, the school’s year-long appellate clinic got off the ground this fall after the 6th Circuit approved a rule allowing third-year law students to argue before the court under attorney supervision. So far, the nine students participating in the clinic have taken on some heavy-duty cases, including the murder conviction of a man who claims that new DNA evidence will exonerate him, a drug conspiracy case and an immigration case that involves the application of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Leocal v. Ashcroft decision, in which the court ruled that a drunken driving conviction does not allow for mandatory deportation of legal immigrants. “It gives students an opportunity to understand the complexity that exists in a real live case with a real live client,” said Barbara Watts, associate dean at the University of Cincinnati College of Law. “Teaching the theory of law and precedent is one thing. But there’s nothing quite like a real client with life or freedom or property that’s on the line to sort of bring it alive for students.” According to Watts, the clinic’s existence is largely due to the help of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey. The 800-lawyer global firm volunteered one of its appellate lawyers, Pierre Bergeron, to direct and teach the clinic. ‘Demystifying’ the law Bergeron, who had taught a one-semester course in appellate law at the University of Cincinnati a few years ago, looks forward to giving students a break from the classroom for some real-world experience. “They’ve had such a heavy classroom schedule through the last two years, and this really gives them the opportunity to get out and do something real and practical, Bergeron said, who is based in Cincinnati. The clinic will also help students get over any fears they have of judges, he added. “The natural reaction for students is to be intimidated by judges-that’s certainly how I was when I was in law school,” Bergeron said. “Part of our goal is to demystify the appellate practice and show them how the courts work.” According to Bergeron, only two other law schools offer appellate law clinics: Georgetown University Law Center and the University of Virginia School of Law. Bergeron said that one of the benefits of the year-long appellate clinic is allowing students to follow cases through from initial review and research to argument. In helping launch the program, he said, his first job was to find good cases for students to work on. Through professional and court referrals, he landed three. The most prominent involves Clarence Arnold Elkins, who was convicted in 1998 for the murder and rape of a grandmother and the rape of her 6-year-old granddaughter. Bergeron said that his students hope to exonerate Elkins through new DNA evidence that exculpates Elkins and allegedly implicates another inmate. The students started class on Aug. 26 and immediately started working on Elkins’ behalf. Ohio v. Elkins, No. CA22834 (Ohio Ct. App.). As Bergeron put it, “they’ve hit the ground running.”

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