Experiential Learning Program Updates: Continuing to Create Impact

UW Law’s Experiential Learning Program provides meaningful opportunities throughout the year to make a difference in the lives of clients — and this year was no different.

Despite in-person limitations necessitated by the coronavirus pandemic, students, faculty and staff were able to pivot to a remote environment and continue to provide critical legal services. Explore some of their impacts.

Washington Innocence Project

On March 12, 2021, the Washington Supreme Court issued an order on behalf of Robert R. Williams, a Washington Innocence Project Clinic client. Williams is a 78-year-old Black veteran who is wheelchair-bound and largely immobilized on his right side after suffering a stroke in prison in 2010.

Led by UW Law Professor Emerita and Washington Innocence Project founder Jaqueline McMurtrie, the team argued Williams’ conditions of confinement violated the state constitution’s prohibition against cruel punishment, as well as the federal constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

In this case of first impression, the court found that Article 1, Section 14 of the Washington State Constitution provides more protection than its federal counterpart and that Williams’ current conditions of confinement were cruel. The court ordered the Washington State Department of Corrections to immediately remedy the conditions, transfer him to home confinement or release him.

The Washington Innocence Project team began litigation in May 2020 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. All of the 2019-2020 clinic students contributed to drafting or editing the briefs. Students Dayton Campbell-Harris and Tierney Vial were the lead clinic students and continued their work as advanced clinic students this academic year. In addition to filing motions to supplement and supplemental briefing, the pair also argued the case in the Court of Appeals, Division III, in fall 2020. Kaylan Lovrovich and McMurtrie served as co-counsel.

When the Court of Appeals issued a 2-1 decision denying the petition, the team filed a motion for discretionary review by the Washington Supreme Court, which was granted in February 2021. They also asked for a special setting in March, which was granted. McMurtrie argued behalf of Mr. Williams on March 11, 2021.

The Washington Supreme Court issued its order the following day making clear that the Washington Constitution protected Mr. Williams against the conditions of confinement the state imposed upon him.

While all this was underway, COVID-19 continued to rage throughout the state’s prisons. Williams contracted and survived COVID-19, but his health continued to decline. As of this writing, the trial court has yet to issue its final decision regarding Williams’ confinement.

McMurtrie received the University Faculty Award in 2020 and presented in 2021.

Federal Tax Clinic

In 2020, UW Law’s Federal Tax Clinic worked a total of 271 cases, saving taxpayers $818,763 and procuring refunds of $125,728.

The Federal Tax Clinic helps low-income individuals throughout Western Washington resolve disputes with the Internal Revenue Service. The clinic offers this assistance as a public service and as a means of training law students in tax practice.

This past year, students worked on a total of 527 separate issues, which included assisting taxpayers in recovering their stimulus payments. In addition to students receiving credit and work-study, 72 volunteer attorneys, students, CPAs and interpreters worked on cases during the year.

Besides assisting taxpayers as clients, the clinic consulted with over 100 taxpayers and was also responsible for providing education and outreach to the community. The clinic remained open all year, which was in contrast to the prolonged shutdowns that occurred at the IRS .

John Clynch, managing director of the Federal Tax Clinic, will be stepping down in July 2020. Clynch became involved with the clinic as a student in 2005 when he returned to UW Law to get his Master in Tax Law.

In 2009, he became a staff attorney, and in 2012 he took over as the Federal Tax Clinic’s Managing Director. Clynch, a former public defender, will remain teaching at the law school in the areas of evidence and criminal law.     

William H. Gates Public Service Law Program

Earlier this year, Rutgers Law School Professor Joanne Gottesman and co-counsel Haiyun Damon-Feng, assistant director UW Law's William H. Gates Public Service Law Program, Cardozo Law Clinical Teaching Fellow Mauricio Norona and Boston College Professor Reena Parikh secured a victory at the New Jersey Supreme Court in State v. Oscar Lopez-Carrera, State v. Juan C. Molchor and State v. Jose A. Rios.

The team authored an amicus brief on behalf of a national group of immigration law professors, and Gottesman argued the case on behalf of amici.

In the consolidated appeals, the court considered whether the Criminal Justice Reform Act (CJRA) empowers judges to detain defendants who are noncitizens to prevent immigration officials from removing them from the country before trial.

In an opinion authored by C.J. Rabner, the Court held that the CJRA does not authorize judges to detain defendants to thwart their possible removal by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Authority.

The Court had previously held that it was permissible for a state court judge to increase a defendant’s bail after ICE lodged an immigration detainer against the noncitizen defendant.