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Civil Rights Clinic 2020 Highlights

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Sturm College of Law

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CRC Student Attorneys

Generations of CRC Student Attorneys who Worked on the Chapman case (Back left to right: David Valleau (CRC 2017-18); Danielle C. Jefferis (former CRC fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor); Olivia Kohrs (CRC 2017-19); Emily Miller (CRC 2014-16); Sue Rogers (CRC 2019-21); Taylor Volkman (CRC 2018-20). Front left to right: Annika Adams (CRC 2019-21); Chelsea Gilbertson (CRC 2014-16); Nicole B. Godfrey (CRC Visiting Assistant Professor); Alexis Sheek (CRC 2016-17).

Civil Rights Clinic 2020 Highlights

Civil Rights Clinic (CRC) student attorneys remain focused on vigorously defending the rights of incarcerated people. In Fall 2019, student attorneys Ciara Anderson, Dawn Fritz, Scott Hammersley, and Miriam Kerler responded to several motions and filed objections to orders issued by a magistrate judge in a case challenging the federal government’s placement of a man with mental illness and intellectual disability in solitary confinement. In addition to this briefing practice, Kerler and Anderson argued the motions at separate hearings two weeks and two months into the semester, respectively. The student attorneys’ objections to the magistrate judge’s orders remain pending before the Article III judge assigned to the case.

After the motions practice, the student attorneys turned their attention to discovery with both Anderson and Kerler taking depositions of mental health providers at the federal supermax prison during the Spring 2020 semester. Although disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, discovery continues in this case, and student attorney Kevin Whitfield made his first remote appearance in federal court at a status conference just one month into the 2020-21 academic year.

Student Attorney Kevin Whitfield Before His First Remote Appearance in Federal Court
Student Attorney Kevin Whitfield before his first remote appearance in federal court.

In November 2019, student attorneys Denver Donchez and Andrew Shulman filed an opening brief to the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of a Muslim man seeking relief for the violation of his religious rights. The appeal presented two issues, one of which asked the Tenth Circuit to resolve the question of whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act authorizes monetary relief against individual government officials for violations of the statute. Shortly after the student attorneys filed their brief, the United States Supreme Court granted a petition for certiorari presenting the same question, so the CRC’s appeal has been stayed pending a decision from the Supreme Court, which heard oral arguments in the case on October 6, 2020.

In February 2020, the Tenth Circuit issued its decision affirming the denial of qualified immunity to three individual medical officers employed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The decision will allow CRC student attorneys to proceed to trial on the client’s claim that the medical officers exhibited deliberate indifference to his diabetes when he was incarcerated at the federal supermax in Florence, Colorado. The 2020-21 CRC student team is awaiting a trial date.

Throughout the 2019-20 academic year, the CRC continued its representation of a group of corrections experts as amici curiae in federal appeals throughout the country. Student attorney Taylor Volkman filed briefs in the United States Supreme Court and the Seventh, Eighth, and D.C. Circuit Courts of Appeals. While most of the briefs focused on presenting the courts with evidence that the use of solitary confinement makes prisons more dangerous and its elimination improves safety, the CRC, on behalf of its amici clients, also began filing briefs in support of challenges to corrections systems’ response to the  COVID-19 pandemic. That work continues this semester through the efforts of student attorneys Katie Heideman, Hunter Ross, and Zoë Williams. 

Finally, in May 2020, the CRC joined a coalition of local civil rights firms and the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado to co-counsel Winston v. Polis, a putative class action suit seeking to protect medically-vulnerable people who are incarcerated in Colorado’s prison system and are severely at risk because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The suit seeks to compel Colorado’s governor and the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Corrections to take steps to meaningfully reduce Colorado’s prison population to protect the putative class from the harms attendant to COVID-19. Student attorneys Aaron Baker, Julieanne Buchanan, and Kelsey Martin joined the litigation team in August and are working on an Amended Complaint.


Faculty Highlights

Visiting Assistant Professor Nicole Godfrey


Presenter, “Creating Cautionary Tales: Institutional, Judicial, and Societal Indifference to the Lives of Incarcerated Individuals, Work-in-Progress,” Clinical Law Review Writer’s Workshop, New York University School of Law, Zoom Conference (October 3, 2020).

Presenter, “The Rights of Transgender Prisoners in the Colorado Department of Corrections,” 2020 Colorado Public Defender Conference, Denver, Colorado (September 15, 2020).

Presenter, “Creating Cautionary Tales: Institutional, Judicial, and Societal Indifference to the Lives of Incarcerated People, Work-in-Progress,” University of Denver Summer Scholarship Series, Denver, Colorado (July 30, 2020).

Panelist, “Overview of Civil Rights Claims Arising in Jails, Prisons, and Detention Centers,” Representing Incarcerated Plaintiffs During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Colorado Bar Association CLE, Denver, Colorado (June 18, 2020).

Co-presenter, “Litigating Claims Against Federal Prison and Detention Officials,” Colorado Trial Lawyers Association, Denver, Colorado (January 17, 2020).