Shon Hopwood, who broke the law in Nebraska, learned the law in Washington state, and now teaches law at Georgetown University Law Center in Washington, D.C., will be featured on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday Oct. 15.
“As with anything I haven’t yet seen, I’m a little nervous about it,” Hopwood said Thursday. “But I believe in being open about the bad things in my life and the good things too.”
The “bad things” are several bank robberies in Nebraska he committed in the late 1990s. U.S. District Judge Richard Kopf sentenced him to 12 years in prison, voicing little hope that Hopwood could turn his life around.
While in prison Hopwood became a jailhouse lawyer, helping other inmates with appeals. One such appeal caught the interest of the U.S. Supreme Court, ultimately resulting in a 9-0 victory in 2004 for the inmate in Fellers v. United States.
Former Solicitor General Seth Waxman of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, who described Hopwood’s petitions as one of the best he has ever seen, argued the case and became a mentor. “60 Minutes” interviewed Waxman for Sunday’s show. Steve Kroft is the reporter for the episode.
The “good things” that Hopwood hopes will be part of the segment include his passion for criminal justice reform. “It’s my life’s work,” said Hopwood, now 42. “And I talked also about second chances. There are people in prison for decades who are no different from me. They may not want to be law professors, but they have talents.”
After Hopwood got out of prison, he worked for Cockle Legal Briefs in Omaha, a leading producer of Supreme Court briefs. He became an aficionado of proper form and style of briefs. Hopwood said Thursday that the “60 Minutes” crew returned with him to Nebraska and interviewed his friends at Cockle as well as family and others who knew him. In 2012, Hopwood wrote “Law Man”, a book about his life.
After Cockle came law school at the University of Washington, where he was a William H. Gates Public Service Scholar and where he continued to write briefs and help inmates. Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit hired Hopwood as one of her law clerks, a coveted clerkship by any measure. The Washington Supreme Court in 2014 agreed to let Hopwood take the bar exam in spite of his felony convictions, and in 2015 Brown swore him into the bar.
That led to a position as fellow in Georgetown Law’s appellate litigation clinic, and in May Hopwood was hired as an associate professor, teaching criminal procedure. “It’s a wonderful job,” he said. Along the way, Hopwood has also built a family with his wife Ann Marie, now a student at Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law. They have two children, Gracie and Mark.
Kopf, Hopwood’s sentencing judge, famously wrote in 2015 that Hopwood’s successes proved that “my sentencing instincts suck.” He added, “My gut told me that Hopwood was a punk—all mouth, and very little else. My viscera was wrong.”
Tony Mauro can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.