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- What's Up Law Students?
If you’ve been listening to this series, then you know that law degrees are not handed out. Good lawyers put in the work. It’s a grind. A good many of the student’s you’ve met have already taken the bar exam and we wish them all the best of luck. Their futures are being shaped in the days ahead. Having spent some time with them, we like to believe that the law will be in good hands. That’s really something to celebrate. Like in any profession, these young lawyers will make their share of mistakes. We all do. There will be plenty of late nights pouring through evidence and tracking down files in a messy office. It can feel lonely. But one place where they will always find a home is inside a courtroom. Who knows, maybe someday you’ll find them standing beside you, making your case. We thought you’d want to know what a few of them have been up to. After taking the bar exam Baylie Moravec traveled to Washington DC to stand on the steps of the Supreme Court – just to get the vibe of the place in case she has to go inside and argue a case someday. In a couple of months she will be joining a firm in her hometown of Omaha, Nebraska , where she’s going to focus on employment law – making sure that someone’s workplace is safe and free of discrimination. Matt Skinner had a standing offer to apply for a job with the Minnehaha Public Defender’s office, but he had another option, closer to home. He’ll be a defense attorney – that’s a given – and he’ll be working alongside his dad in Rapid City and picking his spots to make an impact. Don’t cry for the Minnehaha PDO, because, in a surprise move, Justin Pieterite snagged a job and will be showing up in court for them soon. Right after he drops a few more fish into the old canoe in the Boundary Waters of northern Minnesota. Bill Murray – not that Bill Murray – is perfecting the art of suburban lawn care at his new house. He's thinking of raising some chickens. And after he and his wife return from a tour of southern Italy, he’ll continue working as a federal court clerk in Rochester, Minnesota. Tyler Volesky spent his summer at the prestigious law firm of Volesky and Sons in Huron, South Dakota. When we last talked to him, he was up to his ears in depositions for a civil trial. He still has not made his way to the east coast, but he told us that he’s trying to convince his dad, Ron, to give him a tour of his alma mater, Harvard University. In Brooklyn, Ellie Sands spent the summer as a legal intern for the NYCLU – the NewYork chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. She’s still dedicating her time to civil rights litigation cases and advocating for criminal justice reform. But for now, she not studying or changing the world. She’s hanging out on a beach somewhere in Southern California. When Anjani Shah isn’t taking selfies with her huge furry dog, Cleo, she interns at the Bronx Defender’s Office in their immigration practice. She took a trip to Columbia after her 2L year and she’ll soon be in Berlin -- training for that city’s marathon..and drinking chai. If her Instagram account is any indication, Phoebe Menaker enjoyed turning 25 –like, really enjoyed turning 25. Over the summer, she interned at the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office -- working in a felony trial bureau. As for Kathryn Boyko, she learned all about real estate and transactional law during her internship. That will come in handy in New York City where people have been known to kill each other over a vacancy at a rent controlled apartment. She recently boarded a yacht in Croatia and is doing “fun things” with her friends on the water and in port. The St. Mary’s team is, typically, all over the place. After graduating and taking the bar exam, Andy Vizcarra decided to take a page from Jules, the Pulp Fiction character played by Samuel L Jackson. Andy has decided to walk the earth – you know meet people, have adventures. She climbed mountains in South America, ate pizza in Rome, took selfies of Michealangelo’s statue of David singing "What a man, what a mighty good man" and drank wine in Portugal. Soon its back to the florescent lights of the DA’s office and the misdemeanor courts -- where she hopes to face Jasmin again... and win. Happy go lucky Jasmin Olguin had to delay any fun vacations after the bar exam. She told us that her boss Jason Goss --is making her prep for a big upcoming trial. It’s top secret. After that Jasmin promises to let loose _ perhaps during a trip to the casino, where, apparently, she’s a high-roller. Cole Davila is apparently looking for a job. Who wouldn’t hire this guy? Has the world gone mad? Meanwhile he’s waiting for his clearance to become a JAG lawyer. It’s not all so bad - he’s traveling to Cozumel, Mexico for the first time since the Covid outbreak. And he has written the nicest notes to us about the show. Thanks, Cole. Mariela Encinas wore Mickey Mouse ears for days on end at Disneyland where sheis, quite simply a super fan of all things in the magic kingdom. Then it was back to her job as a criminal law clerk at her old stomping grounds at the Pima County DA’s office- where she first caught the bug to be a lawyer. Mariela is a 3L now and we're sure the trial team is anxious to get her back. And finally, in New Orleans Lajeanne Shelton’s received a generous scholarship and is now enrolled in the prestigious Hastings Law School in her hometown of San Francisco. Amaya Ronczyk is gearing up for her first semester at Harvard Law School. Renee Simeon has taken the pledge for her law school at Southern University. Caitlin Douglass – the good troublemaker – is working as a legal and policy researcher for the Orleans Parish civil district clerk of court. She’s also working as a part time volunteer coordinator for the lower 9th ward voter’s coalition. In her spare time, she’s a true fashionista, has an amazing singing voice and is devotee of pop culture. Deandre Bell clerked for the Yancey Legal Group in Houston and worked at Rice University as an RA to make some bucks. He says he mostly hung out with frat bros and, to the chagrin of his parents, got his first tattoo. Back on campus he has too many responsibilities to note here… - but he is now the education director for the trial team – where he can teach the young lawyers a few tricks like the now, infamous hoodie defense. We here at Class Action wish them all the best in their pursuit of justice.
- When Worlds Collide
News came yesterday that Richard Glossip, who sits on death row in Oklahoma, was granted a reprieve by the Governor so his innocence case can be evaluated by the Court of Criminal Appeals. This is the 4th time that the state has attempted to kill Richard and his fourth reprieve, which should tell you something about the justice system. I had the opportunity to tell Richard's story in a series titled "Killing Richard Glossip" https://www.amazon.com/Killing-Richard-Glossip-Season-1/dp/B06ZXWHL3S and I can tell you a couple of things. First, he's innocent. Second, he arrived on death row because the police manipulated (threatened) the actual killer, Justin Sneed, into pointing the finger at Glossip in exchange for a life sentence. Glossip was accused of ordering the murder of his motel owning boss, Barry Van Treese in exchange for money. But here is where the worlds begin to collide. As we wrap up our series about the next generation of lawyers -- and the need for training and advocacy, I am reminded of the extraordinary ineptitude of Richard's original trial attorney, Wayne Fournerat. Wayne had never tried a murder case before, let alone a capital murder case. His defense of Richard was so abysmal, that he allowed the state to railroad Richard. So idiotic that the prosecution was desperate to avoid a mistrial. I've read the transcripts of the trial -- if it wasn't so tragic it would be comical. The state found Wayne's defense to be ineffective, and overturned the rulings - unheard of in a hang em high state like Oklahoma. But, by then it was too late for Glossip. His next attorney was booted before trial over a trumped up charge. His other attorneys were almost as incompetent as Wayne . I interviewed Wayne and he told me that this was the single biggest mistake of his life -- he was eventually disbarred and run out of state by the cops. He contemplated suicide. He isn't a bad man, I know that. He was just never trained to argue a case in court. Now Richard has a team of hard working and competent attorneys, led by Don Knight. More than 1/3 of the House of Reps in Oklahoma are calling for Richard to get a fair trail. Many of these lawmakers are pro-death penalty. But they believe in justice -- and in a very Western way -- you don't kill an innocent man who was not given a fair trial. I thought of Richard when I started down the road to create Class Action with my good friend Lisa Gray. She's veteran of producing stories about the woes of the justice system. We worked together with director, Joe Berlinger, who created the series about Richard. I look at these young attorneys in this series and try to imagine them in court - fighting for their clients with skill and with the knowledge of courtroom procedure. I picture young defense lawyers like Amaya and DeAndre, Matt , Tyler, Ellie, Anjani and Jasmin -- who have all talked about their desire to represent those who can't fight for themselves -- and I feel good about the future. Support these young lawyers -- encourage them to fight for justice. And if you feel inspired, sign the petition to send a message to the Court of Criminal Appeals and save Glossip's life. https://saverichardglossip.com
- NEUROTIC EPISODIC
What's up with this series? How are the episodes connected? Is there a method to the madness of putting this all together? We like to think so. If you've been following along, you probably have noticed that we went all in on two teams for the length of the series: St. Mary's and Dillard. It wasn't exactly planned that way. We started producing this series on this day last year, just days before the launch of the bootcamps and ramp up of the fall season. We were neurotic then, for sure. Part of it was ignorance on our part - another part was just trying to pull together a distribution deal with IHeart Productions and lining up schools who were willing to participate -- a lot tougher than we ever imagined. Every documentary series is set up with lofty goals -- a pitch deck, sample episodes, etc. But when you start recording those plans go out the window and you're into the thick of it. We had no infrastructure to lean on and clearly no idea of how to capture any drama around a weekend long mock trial tournament that takes place online. It's messy. But within a few weeks we had a strong feeling that the a handful of students from St. Mary's and Dillard were worth going all in on. They seemed destined to change over the course of the season to a degree that others may not. It's always a big risk, but is crucial if you want to build an episodic series. There were other factors at play. It proved to be tougher to pull out drama from the South Dakota team - they were initially very reticent and took a lot of convincing to come around. The team that competed in the Battle of the Experts decided to go their separate ways in the spring. That's life in the doc world. The Brooklyn story came together very quickly, but after one tournament that team also split up for spring tournaments. Not so at St. Mary's and Dillard. The core team of Andy, Jasmin and Cole were staying together till the bitter end. And the students we focused on in the early days at Dillard turned out to comprise the "A" team in the Spring. Serendipity. We had no idea that they would make it all the way to Nationals. At some point you have to find your characters -- in this case they kind of found us. Putting it all together. We made the decision to start the series with the bootcamp to give you all an idea of what kind of work goes into starting up a team for the season. Fortunately we lucked into the situation that the first tournament of the year, the Battle of the Experts, would feature St. Mary's and South Dakota. So, presto, you have Act 1 of the series -- the first four episodes. Act 2 is really where things get messy -- we hope in a good way, We were desperate to introduce Dillard to the world (episode 5) and struggled to find a place for a stand alone episode for Brooklyn and settled on Episode 6. But this act is where we could start to inject some serious social issues into the drama -- civil rights, women's rights, discrimination against Latinos (episode 7) and Native American representation in the law (Episode 8). Episode 7 is a classic bridge episode -- it keeps St. Mary's in the picture, shows the team dealing with adversity and, hopefully at this point, the characters emerge in a way that you begin to root for them. Act 3 is where we hope you can feel the excitement of the rush to the end of the season. Episodes 9 & 10 are among our favorites because they are by far the most immersive -- Dillard in a headlong and unprecedented rush to the Nationals. St. Mary's, in classic Friday Night Light's fashion -- pushing hard from the back of the pack to beat Baylor and come within a handful of points to get to Nationals. The next episode, 11, is going to pick it right back up with Andy and Jasmin and we'll hear them get the chance to do what they've always dreamed of doing -- argue a real case in real court. Finally, we end the series with Dillard -- a team hardened by adversity - showing up and showing out at Nationals -- the first in the history of the state and only the second HBCU. So that, in a nutshell is how the series came to be shaped in the way it is. The goal has always been to produce something aspirational, thought-provoking and forward-looking. We all need that. I know I do.
- HARD KNOCKS FOR LAW STUDENTS
Episodes 9 -12 of Class Action is where we put some of the action, in Class Action. These stories are meant to capture the sport of collegiate and law school trial. The grit and passion oyf these young lawyers is on full display for your ears. And you can experience the emotional toll that this sport takes on everyone involved. We also move from virtual trials to live and in-person competition and that can't be underestimated. We conceived of this series as a filmed series and had great interest from production companies and networks. But the pandemic made it less appealing for film. But it was a gift for our sound recordists, who were able to embed with the teams and capture some very intense and intimate moments before and after the rounds. Amaya -- pictured above, is singled out in several moments holding back tears as she implores her teammates to push harder than ever to get to the promised land of nationals. You hear prayers and self-doubt. Unbridled joy and witness the occasional dagger thrown in the heart of the other team. I've just been listening to the final mix of the next episode, where we capture the drama of the St. Mary's team as they compete in a high stakes tournament. If you've been following the team and the series, you know that they are fragile at this moment in time. I grew up playing sports and competed collegiately in soccer (Go Pitt). I was a ham and egger, but loved it. Like many of you, I'm sure, I enjoy watching sports docs -- Hard Knocks, Last Chance U, The Last Dance, Magic & Bird -- all of them. And I knew that this sport - mock trial - has many of the same elements that a classic sports doc contains. Tough coaching, intense practice, rivalries and gladiators. But there is also sportsmanship and grace. Better yes, this competition is designed to produce lawyers who will uphold and defend the rights of all Americans in a system that is flawed on many levels. The right to a fair trial is under attack in this country and we all should be very concerned and place our hopes in the minds and voices of this generation. Our liberties are at stake. Still, Lisa and I simply hope that you can vicariously enjoy the intensity of high-level competition. Please keep listening and tell your friends and do write a review. It means a lot.
After eight episodes we start to turn to the stretch run and focus on two teams -- Dillard University and St. Mary's. In Episode 9 we return to the Dillard team and chart their dramatic rise through the regional rounds and witness how the team begins to find its identity. We delve in to the religious background of DeAndre Bell and hear how Caitlin Douglass becomes a political activist with the aid of her grandmother. We learn about Amaya Ronczyk's singular quest to get into law school. All of this amid bomb threats to their school. In Episode 10 we, once again, immerse you in the drama and comedy that surrounds the St. Mary's team as it tries to shake off the injury from the last competition. They pull out all of the stops to get to the Nationals. And they're funny -- they are unguarded and snarky. And they wear their emotions on their sleeves. It's rare when you can experience young people growing up in front of you. There are going to be tears. We're so thankful to all of these students and coaches who have given us (and you) access to document their inner lives. Episodes 11 & 12 are full of surprises for both teams. So, thanks for listening and tell your friends and neighbors.
- Thanks for the Feedback on Episode 7
We've received some heartfelt feedback from several folks for our episode "Don't Mess with Texas" and we want to thank you all for sharing those thoughts. Many of you pointed out the dignity and courage that the young attorneys from St. Mary's expressed in the face of discrimination. For those of you who haven't listened to the podcast, I'll spare you the spoiler details. Better to listen to it unfold in real time. Our producer Kristen Cabrera and sound recordist Alfredo de la Garza did an amazing job capturing the in the moment reactions by the team and Katie Phang did a masterful job interviewing the students afterwards for reaction and context. Many thanks to them. We hope, by sharing this story, that we can shine a light on the very real issues facing Latina attorneys in the courtroom. The sting of a racial incident never goes away but facing it, addressing the impact and sharing that pain for others to learn from is critical, in our view. In this series we made a conscious decision to profile young lawyers from underrepresented populations - Latinos in South Texas, African Americans in New Orleans, Native Americans in South Dakota and Asians in Brooklyn. We also made decisions to be inclusive in gender and finally, geographically diverse. That was deliberate. The result, we hope, is a cross-section of the next generation of American lawyers. Some day -- 20 years from now, it will be worth it to check in on these young lawyers. We expect great things. So, thank you for listening. Keep listening and follow these teams as they head to the exciting conclusion of their season. We promise the ride will be worth it.
- Respect for Authority? Well...
I don't want you to think that I don't have respect for authority. But sometimes in this world of documentary making, a healthy disrespect for authority comes in handy. It's how you get behind the scenes and bear witness -- and eventually call attention to injustice. I grew up in a working class neighborhood of first and second generation immigrants who were taught to obey the laws, listen to their bosses, listen to their priests, pay attention to teachers and generally. don't rock the boat. It worked for my parents, but didn't make sense to me. There were too many things going wrong in all of those areas -- jobs were being lost, churches were hollow and corrupt, schools were becoming factories. What does this have to do with a doc series about young lawyers? Well, I saw many of these lawyers, especially the one's from Brooklyn Law, hold on to their idealism while fighting the constraints of courtroom procedure, case law and precedent. They got into law to change things in this country and witnessing them learning how to make change in well-argued increments and never lose sight of the bigger picture, just warms my heart. It reminded me of my struggles with the constraints of working for a news network -- at CNN, for instance, the first answer to any question was "no." At CBS and NBC, there was a not so subtle reluctance to do story about people of color or a controversial topic - just keep to the safe stuff that gets ratings. So, I learned to make small incremental changes and insert messages into every story that subverted the system. Eventually I moved away from that world to find a home in independent film and now, audio production where I can be more forthright. I'd make a terrible lawyer because there is something inside of me that bristles at constraints. I would certainly be kicked out of court for arguing with the judge. But these students have learned to use the legal system to achieve social change one decision at a time. Yes, there is, occasionally, large sweeping civil rights legislation, but it usually comes after hard working lawyers make steady, incremental change in a courtroom.. And that involves learning how to work within the system and working the system. So, as Tony Serra says, be a radical lawyer! Fight, get in their face. But don't get kicked out of court if you can help it. Stay in the fight.
- Why Did We Create This Podcast?
There is not enough space to truly answer this question, but I can share the genesis story. I was talking with Marissa Boyers- Bluestine, head of the Innocence Project of Pennsylvania, after filming a scene with her on a film I was producing for the Netflix series, The Innocence Files in 2019. The story concerned the plight of Chester Hollman, who had been wrongly convicted of murder and was serving his 27th year behind bars. The Innocence Project was parterning with Chester's attorney, Alan Tauber and the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Philadelphia District Attorney's office, headed by Patricia Cummings. It was a long day of filming and, making small talk, I asked Marissa what she was doing that weekend. She said that she was traveling to California with her team. I was surprised she had the time and asked her, "what sport are they playing, is it a softball team?" "No," she said, "it's a trial team. I coach the Temple University Law School mock trial team and we're competing in a tournament with other law schools." I thought, who knew that law schools compete against each other. I'm perfectly fine admitting I'm out of it. She said I should check it out and I contacted the team at Temple to learn more. They invited me to listen in on a practice and I had a thousand questions. I had grown exhausted after doing series after series about the many woes of the justice system - life on death row, the leading causes of wrongful convictions, films about cops, films about victims. I needed something more aspirational - something about the promise of the justice system. And something that showed how hard the many dedicated lawyers I've met worked to do justice. My next step was to reach out to my good pal, Lisa Gray. We used to work together at Radical Media with Joe Berlinger on criminal justice projects and, yes, the Tony Robbins documentary. That summer she had asked me to write narration for a podcast series she was producing about death and dying, called a Good End, for My Jewish Learning. I'm not Jewish, but I learned a lot about how critical it is to many to adhere to Jewish law when facing end-of life issues. I learned about green funerals and hospice care. Anyway, I mentioned the mock trial idea to Lisa and she said, wow, we should do something with this. I have a friend who might be interested and they have money. One thing led to another and we had to come up with a treatment. The Temple team passed on the idea, but introduced me to Adam Shlahet and Joe Lester, the ESPN of law school mock trial. They, in turn introduced me to AJ Bellido de Luna, Laura Rose and the team at Brooklyn Law. We originally were going to produce this as a filmed documentary series and got some serious interest from a couple of noted production companies in NY. But when the pandemic hit, all bets were off -- who wanted to watch a bunch of filmed trials? Nobody. So we missed the 2020 season and re-imagined the idea as a podcast. Low and behold we had multiple offers from companies who loved the idea of a podcast. So we eventually cut a deal with iHeart and closed in August, 2021, just in time for boot camp. The original plan was to cover 8 teams! We were out of our minds. But we did find the Dillard team or they found us. Covering 4 has been a thrill and a handful for our VERY small team. So, there is the genesis story for Class Action. We truly celebrate these teams, the coaches and the young lawyers. We hope you enjoy listening and please write a review for us! We'd love to hear your thoughts.
- We Need More Lawyers Like This !
Look at these faces. Young would-be lawyers from the Dillard University mock trial team. They (and the other law students in this series) have renewed my faith in the future - especially in these troubled times. The fight is on in courts across the country for reproductive rights, gun control legislation, January 6th, and the insidious effects of mass incarceration. And these young people do not back down. They stand ten against oppression, as Caitlin Douglas puts it. There is a feverish vibe to being around these students when they are in the midst of a trial, Their minds are working on a complex set of facts and they have to get in the zone as would an elite athlete. There were many times when I sat back and wondered what I was doing at their age. Not much, in comparison. When you watch the hearings today, think about these kids and picture them doing the work to build a case.
- AN HISTORIC RUN
Truth be told, the decision to profile the Dillard University mock trial team was done in desperation. One of our law school teams pulled out at the last minute and we were scrambling to find a replacement. The news of the day opened the door for us -- Hurricane Ida was knocking out power in New Orleans and I began to wonder if there was a mock trial team that was affected. The first hit I got was an article about the undergraduate mock trial team at Dillard. They were a young team but were returning several seniors who were poised to make a run past the regional competition phase. I reached the coach, Adria Kimbrough and she told me the team had been dispersed by the storm and the campus was closed. Some students were living in a hotel. Adria was living out of a suitcase. It took a few phone calls and emails to get permissions and within days we started interviewing. By the time the team was able to return to campus, we were fortunate enough to record their bootcamp in person. Their first tournament was going to be live at the University of Mississippi and that provided the opportunity for Lisa Gray and I to travel and meet the team in person for the first time. Sometimes in this documentary world you get lucky. The team was in fighting shape and won nearly every award at the competition. We were a project in search of a story -- they were a team in search of a title. Tomorrow we drop the first of three episodes on the team. It's been quite a journey.