In the sprawling heart of Phoenix, Arizona, amid the weighty corridors of the Ninth Circuit United States Court of Appeals, the dedication and burgeoning expertise of two graduating UW Law students was on display May 15 during arguments for Tony Hines v. Dzurenda, et. al.

While combing through different appellate court cases, many of which were immigration appeals, one case stood out to Walker McKusick, J.D. ‘24, and Sally Walker, J.D. ’24, to argue as pro bono counsel. An inmate at the Nevada state prison, Mr. Hines, already serving a lengthy sentence, found himself accused of distributing drugs within the prison system — an allegation which he denied, and for which served disciplinary segregation.

Under the mentorship of professors Elizabeth Porter and Jeffrey Feldman, McKusick and Walker undertook the formidable task of representing Mr. Hines as their 3L capstone project for the Ninth Circuit Pro Bono Appellate Advocacy Clinic. The clinic is part of a program administered by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that allows third-year law students to serve as counsel of record, brief, and argue an appeal on behalf of a party that would otherwise proceed pro se.

The crux of their argument hinged on due process violations and the availability of evidence presented against him. Mr. Hines, an advocate in his own right within the prison’s law library program, brought a deep understanding of his case, reinforcing their commitment to his cause.

Preparation: A Journey of Learning

The road to the Ninth Circuit was paved with intensive preparation. Months of meticulous research, drafting briefs, and practice sessions included a week-long immersion of intense instruction, along with a handful of practices before a student panel of judges, local practitioners and a faculty panel.

Their responsibilities were comprehensive: researching, drafting the opening brief in the fall, and crafting a rebuttal to the government’s brief during the winter. Their preparation included a one-week period of intensive instruction preceding the fall quarter, laying the groundwork for months of meticulous legal craftsmanship.

“Feedback is a gift. We were prepared for anything because we internalized the feedback during our rounds of practice with a ‘hot bench,’” Sally Walker said of the constructive criticism they received along the way. Insights gleaned from professors and moot courts helped them hone their approach for the final oral arguments.

Their experience transcended legal arguments and court formalities. McKusick and Walker had not been in the same section during law school, but learned to develop rapport, synchronize up their arguments and become very collaborative.

“So much of successful litigation involves coordination,” said McKusick. “Building relationships with attorneys on your team is a long-term career skill we got from this clinical experience.”

This camaraderie not only enriched their educational experience but laid the groundwork for future professional endeavors.

From Theory to Practice: Advocacy in Action

Their efforts culminated in a journey to Phoenix, Arizona, where they stood before a panel of three Ninth Circuit judges whose identities they had learned a week beforehand. The experience was not merely academic but a test of their advocacy skills and legal acumen.

Professors Porter and Feldman flew down alongside the students and helped calm their nerves, which were joined with the excitement that accompanied their moment in court. McKusick and Walker’s arguments were grounded in a deep understanding of the case’s complexities, honed through mock trials and feedback sessions that simulated the pressures of appellate advocacy.

Immediately following the hearing, the judges acknowledged McKusick and Walker with the court’s appreciation for providing pro bono counsel to their client.

The Verdict and Beyond

Despite their best efforts, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s decision, a moment of disappointment tempered by profound learning. "Although we wish the outcome was different, it was an honor to represent Mr. Hines and a joy to work with the faculty," shared Sally Walker, capturing the sentiment of their journey. “It felt great to culminate our capstone experience just before graduation and put the legal skills learned over the past three years into practice in a real court of law.”

McKusick said that in the long view, “I take some solace in how the memorandum is written. And our arguments can serve similar cases in the future.”

Looking Ahead: Legacy of Learning and Growth

As they prepare for the bar exam and future clerkships, McKusick and Walker carry with them a strong sense of duty and empathy cultivated through the clinic. Their participation not only affirmed their passion for litigation but also deepened their commitment to justice and the ethical practice of law.

McKusick will clerk with Judge John C. Coughenour at the U.S. District Court for the Western District, while Walker will clerk with Judge Rebecca Glasgow of the Washington Court of Appeals, Division II.

McKusick and Walker’s journey through the Ninth Circuit Pro Bono Appellate Advocacy Clinic was not just a legal exercise — it was a transformative experience that shaped their identities as advocates and stewards of fairness in the legal profession. The clinic was not merely a chapter in their education but a foundation for their future contributions to the pursuit of justice.

Image Gallery

Sally Walker and Walker McCusick presenting arguments.