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Civil Rights Clinic Fall 2019 Updates & Faculty Highlights

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Sturm College of Law

Student attorneys started the academic year with a two-day federal bench trial in front of the United States District Court for the District of Colorado

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The Civil Rights Clinic (CRC) started the academic year with a two-day federal bench trial in front of the United States District Court for the District of Colorado in late August. Three student attorneys, Michael Bishop, Rachel Kennedy, and Elizabeth Othmer, tried the case on behalf of their incarcerated client, Ahmad Ajaj, who brought a claim under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, requesting that the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) provide him meaningful access to an imam and access to a halal diet. After three years of litigation, just days before the start of the trial, the BOP hired a contract imam and provided Mr. Ajaj a halal diet. Faced with these changes, the trial team effectively adapted their trial presentation and strategy and obtained an injunction requiring the BOP to continue Mr. Ajaj’s halal diet until it adopts a national halal menu for all Muslims in federal custody. The Court also awarded the CRC attorneys’ fees totaling $175,000. In November, a CRC student attorney, Olivia Kohrs, argued a Tenth Circuit interlocutory appeal filed by several individual medical officers employed by the BOP. The BOP officers argued that the district court erred in denying summary judgment on qualified immunity grounds, and Kohrs urged the Court to affirm the district court’s order and allow the case to proceed to trial on our client Seifullah Chapman’s claim that the medical officers were deliberately indifferent to his diabetes. We are still awaiting a decision from the Tenth Circuit. 

Throughout the year, the CRC represented a group of corrections experts and former directors as amici curiae in federal appeals throughout the country challenging prisons’ use of prolonged solitary confinement. Student attorneys Kira Case and Melody Fields filed briefs in the First, Third, Fourth, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits, presenting the courts with evidence that the use of solitary confinement makes prisons more dangerous, while eliminating its use improves safety. 

The CRC closed out the year by settling two cases prior to filing. In the first case, student attorneys Allie Parrott and Justin Yanowicz, representing CRC client Tiffany McCoy, effectively persuaded the Colorado Department of Corrections to rescind its ban on greeting cards, postcards, and items containing drawings in a series of negotiations that began in January and ended with the state’s rescission of the ban on May 1, 2019. In the second case, student attorneys Ciara Anderson and Alia Haley successfully negotiated a settlement for monetary damages on behalf of a minor client who was targeted by a group of Sterling police officers for arrest and who was a victim of excessive force in the course of that arrest. We are still finalizing the details of that settlement, but the positive result would not have been possible but for the tireless efforts of Anderson and Haley.

Attached is a photo of the CRC students who argued a motion in federal court two and a half weeks into this semester.


CRC students

(l-r) Ciara Anderson, Miriam Kerier, Scott Hammersley, Dawn Fritz

Civil Rights Clinic Faculty Highlights

Professor Laura Rovner


On Litigating Constitutional Challenges to the Federal Supermax: Improving Conditions and Shining a Light, 95 Denver L. Rev. 457 (2018).


Panelist, “The Rights of the Accused: A Comparative Analysis of the U.S. and Italy,” Italian Justice Under Trial: Insights from Knox v. Italy, University of Naples Federico II Law School, Naples, Italy (June 2019).

Panelist, “Abolition of the Current Criminal Justice System,” Denver Law Civil Rights Summit, Denver, CO (February 2019).

Panelist, “Prisoners’ Rights & Holding Prisons Accountable,” Denver Law Civil Rights Summit, Denver, CO (February 2019).

Speaker, “Why US Prisons Need to Abolish Solitary Confinement,” TEDxMileHigh, Denver, CO (December 2018).
This talk has gone live on  

Visiting Assistant Professor Nicole Godfrey

Institutional Indifference, 98 Or. L. Rev. __ (2019) (forthcoming).

Suffragist Prisoners and the Importance of Protecting Prisoner Protest, __ Akron L. Rev. __ (2020) (forthcoming).


Finalist, 2019 Colorado Bar Association, Young Lawyers Division Gary L. McPherson Outstanding Young Lawyer of the Year Award.


Moderator, The First Amendment in Prison, 2018 Prisoners’ Advocates Conference, Sturm College of Law (October 5, 2018).

Panelist, Prison Reform (with Andrea Armstrong, Laura Cohen, Danielle C. Jefferis), Louisiana Law Review Symposium: Criminal Justice Reform: Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the LSU Law Clinics, Baton Rouge, LA (February 1, 2019).

Moderator, Abolition of the Current Criminal Justice System (with Becca Curry, Dianne Tramutola-Lawson, Laura Rovner), 2019 Inaugural Civil Rights Summit: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union, Denver, CO (February 15, 2019).

Panelist, Prisoners’ Rights & Holding Prisons Accountable (with Laura Rovner, Danielle C. Jefferis), 2019 Inaugural Civil Rights Summit: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union, Denver, CO (February 15, 2019).

Panelist, Media Advocacy in Clinical Teaching: Reclaiming Client Narratives in a Time of Polarization (with Kimberly Ambrose, Jodi S. Balsam, Esme Caramello, Elizabeth B. Cooper, Anna Kirsch), AALS 2019 Conference on Clinical Legal Education, San Francisco, CA (May 6, 2019).

Panelist, A Multi-Tiered Approach to Providing Access to the Courts to People in Prison (with Alan Mills, Greg Belzely, Greg McConnell), 2019 ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference, Louisville, KY (May 10, 2019).

Panelist, Awakening and Advocacy for Women’s Suffrage (Paper: Suffragist Prisoners and the Importance of Protecting Prisoner Protest) (with Tracy Thomas, Richard Chused, TJ Boisseau), The 19th Amendment at 100: From the Vote to Gender Equality, Akron, OH (September 20, 2019).

Clinical Fellow Danielle Jefferis


Dangerous Bodies, 33 J. C.R. & Econ. Dev. ___ (2020) (forthcoming).

Constitutionally Unaccountable: Privatized Immigration Detention, 95 Indiana L.J. ___ (2019) (forthcoming).

Private Prisons, Private Governance: Essay on Developments in Private-Sector Resistance to Privatized Immigration Detention, 15 NW J.L. & Soc. Pol’y ___ (2019) (forthcoming).

Delegating Care, Evading Review: The Federal Tort Claims Act and Access to Medical Care in Federal Private Prisons, 80 La. L. Rev. ___ (2019) (forthcoming).

On Challenging Conditions of Confinement in ICE Detention: Rights and Remedies for Those Behind the Walls (with Olivia Kohrs), AILA Law Journal ___ (2019) (forthcoming).

It’s Just Like Prison: Is a Civil (Nonpunitive) System of Immigration Detention Theoretically Possible? (with Rene Lima-Marin), 96 Denv. L. Rev. 953 (2019).


Work in Progress, “The Civil Detention Fallacy,” Tenth Annual Loyola Constitutional Law Colloquium, Loyola University School of Law, Chicago Illinois (November 8-9, 2019).

Panelist, “Privacy and National Security,” American Constitution Society Western Regional Convening, Denver, Colorado (October 26, 2019).

Panelist, “Immigration Detention and Abolition” (with Marlene Nava Ramos, Luis Romero), Prison Abolition, Human Rights, and Penal Reform: From the Local to the Global, University of Texas at Austin, School of Law, Austin, Texas, (September 27, 2019).


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