Loyola Project For the Innocent-S1 28

The Loyola Project For the Innocent (LPI) in Los Angeles, CA works to exonerate the wrongfully convicted.  Lead attorneys Paula Mitchell and Adam Grant join Crime Redefined to describe the unique experience that their clinic provides for students who are passionate about criminal law. Check out this video for more about LPI:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1bc_TsZbo3w.   Hosted by Dion Mitchell and Mehul Anjaria.  A Zero Cliff Media production.

 

 Loyola Project For the Innocent

Unofficial Transcript

 

B=Show Bumpers

DM=Dion Mitchell, Co-host

MA=Mehul Anjaria, Co-host

PM=Paula Mitchell, Guest

AG=Adam Grant, Guest

 

B

Welcome to the crime redefined podcast produced by zero cliff media coming to you from the US Bank tower high above downtown Los Angeles. In our podcast, we drill deep into forensics and criminal investigation from the viewpoint of the defense as well as explore the intersection of the media and the justice system.

 

DM

Hello, I’m Dion Mitchell here with my co-host and DNA expert Mehul Anjaria. On this episode of crime redefinde we’re taking you inside the Los Angeles based chapter of the innocence network. The Loyola project for the innocent is located inside the Loyola law school in Los Angeles. And today, we have the pleasure of speaking with legal director Paul Mitchell and program director, Adam Grant.

 

MA

What exactly is the innocence network?, I’m gonna go ahead and just read the description right off of the website. So it’s 68 organizations from around the world, working to exonerate unjustly convicted men and women, including independent nonprofits, as well as organizations affiliated with law schools, or other educational institutions, units of public defender offices, and pro bono sections of law firms.

 

DM

You know, one of the first things I learned about this, this organization Mehul is that they’re international. And I thought it was really amazing to find that they had innocence networks all around the world. And I’ll rattle off a couple of examples. Taiwan, Australia, New Zealand, Israel, and Italy. All have innocence projects. I thought that’s pretty cool.

 

 

MA

Yeah, it is. It really, really spread and caught fire. And, you know, of course, it all started on American soil back in 1992, in New York with the Innocence Project. And you probably first heard of its co founders, Barry Scheck, and Peter Neufeld when they were members of OJ Simpson’s Dream Team. During that thing, they called the trial of the century back in 1995. And so if you go back to the origin of the innocence network, in 1992, DNA testing was really in its infancy. And if you think in terms of public exposure of DNA, it was really the OJ trial that was the watershed event that put it on everybody’s radar. Well, of course, DNA is a powerful tool to establish innocence. But the innocence network also takes on non- DNA cases, which of course make up a vast majority of the cases where there’s a wrongful conviction,

 

DM

You know, is interesting at Loyola, the students are the driving force behind the success of this program. Here in Los Angeles, it seems that every few months, we’re hearing about another wrongfully convicted person being released, with the help of the Loyola project for the innocent or LPI,for short, I believe and correct me if I’m wrong, that in 2017, they had three in one month. Is that correct?

 

MBA

That’s right. There may have been more that year, but they were one after another. I mean, before I knew who Adam was, I would, you know, see in the news. I’m like, oh, there’s that guy with the bow tie again.

 

DM

You know, you know, once we hear from them, people will have a better appreciation for that number. Because of the amount of time and, and legwork that goes into, you know, one of these undoing one these wrongful convictions. So with that, let’s hear from Paula and Adam.

 

Hi, Paula and  Adam, thank you so much for joining us on crime redefined today. We’re really looking forward to learning more about you and your amazing team at LPI.

 

PM

Thank you for having us. It’s a pleasure to be here.

 

MA

Well, Paula, you’re the Legal Director of the project. What exactly is your role and your duties?

 

PM

Well, we have a clinic, a legal clinic at Loyola law school. So students can sign up, take the seminar class where we learn about the causes of wrongful conviction. And they also help us work on the cases that come to us. People write to us asking for help. And we we get those requests and review them and then investigate them and, you know, try to see if cases are are worth looking into and try to help where we can. I wear so many hats, frankly, it would take a while to go through them all. But basically, you know, what we have found is that these wrongful conviction cases are incredible teaching tools. And it’s like the perfect way to explain to you know, young, not even just young, anybody in law school, anybody who wants to learn about what, where the problems are in the criminal justice system. Can do that by looking at that actual case involving a real person. And so, you know, that’s, that’s, that’s the thrust.

 

MA

Well, Adam, same question for you as the program director. You know, what’s your role and what kind of duties do you have?

 

AG

When we started, I was one of the two people who started this clinic. Laurie Levenson and I started it when I had just graduated from law school. And we had been working on an innocence case together while I was in school, that became the first case in the clinic when we started the clinic. And so when we began the clinic, and when Paula came aboard, there were there was nobody else there. So we we did everything. Now that we have some staff attorneys, our roles are I mean, it’s a little hard to define what our role is. But you know, we all work on the cases, we all supervise students, we all take part of the teaching. Paula and I both do a lot of the sort of directorial tasks that have to do with dealing with the school and dealing with people who want things from us and people who contact us from outside. And some of the things I used to do sort of as case manager and things like that have been delegated to other people. And I try to work on as many cases as I can. And it essentially, my favorite part is investigation. So I try to do as much investigating as I possibly can also.

 

MA

So at present, how many staff members does LPI have?

 

AG

I think we have about seven people working altogether now.

 

DM

Paula you mentioned just a minute ago, you have that you kind of are a little bit of a gatekeeper and kind of vet the cases that come in, I’m curious, how many inquiries do you receive every year from inmates who claim to be innocent? And then from those how many cases do you actually take on?

 

PM

Great question, we get between 800 and 1000 letters a year from people who are incarcerated, some of them we know right away, we cannot help because they are not in custody in the state of California. So that is one of the main criteria, you have to be close enough that we can actually get to get to you and get to your witnesses and do the investigating, like Adam said, and then, you know, because there are the line is so long, we try very hard to take the cases and review them as they come in. So the older the case, the the closer it is to the top of the list. However, there are situations that come up where, for example, somebody comes in and says, oh, my son is in prison. And he just got this declaration from the main witness who testified against him at trial. And this witness is saying I lied, I made up the whole thing or somebody pressured me, it’s not true, he didn’t do it. And when that happens, we kind of have to move the case up, because it sort of starts the clock ticking in terms of how long we have to bring this claim that the person is innocent to the court’s attention. So you can’t take a fresh piece of new evidence like that, and just stick it in the file drawer, and let it sit there for five years while you keep working on your cases that that are, you know, ahead of it. So it’s, you know, we try very hard to be systematic, and take the cases as they come. But like I said, there are different ways to get to the front of the line,

 

DM

That’s a great way to frame it and actually answers the question. So now it sounds like probably a better way I should have asked that is how many cases are you juggling at one particular time? Because it sounds like you can like I said, you know, something comes in and starts the clock ticking on another case that maybe you weren’t working on at that time. So if you were to put a ballpark number on how many in a given month, do you think that you’re you and your team are juggling?

 

PM

Well, we currently have a oh my gosh, I’m gonna say like six or seven cases in litigation. Some of them have been filed recently, some of them have been filed several years ago, sometimes these cases can go on for years. So in terms of actually, you know, going to court and we’re in the thick of it, I’d say six or seven cases like that. And then we have another, I would say six or seven cases that we’re very close to being ready to file the petition on to get that case, they get those cases into court. But we have to, you know, we have limited resources. We’re a nonprofit. So we can’t, we can’t over commit ourselves. We have to make sure that once we are ready to file, we have all the resources we need to see that case through. And then I’d say we probably have another 30 cases that are under investigation in at some stage. Does that sound right to you?

 

AG

Yeah. You know, like any good lawyer, we can’t give you a straight answer

 

DM

I was gonna keep digging, but I thought I’d just I cut it off there.  But actually, that’s a great segue, since you started in 2011, about how many students have completed your clinic?

 

AG

I would say we’ve had between 150 and 200 students. And you know, there are also those are law students. And then we also have a robust summer program, where we work with a lot of law students from other schools, and also undergrads from around the country. And so that’s probably another, I don’t know, 60, or 80 students, as well.

 

DM

And those are just ones that come in like, like during the summertime, they’re not full time.

 

AG

Well, what’s great about the summer is that they are full time over the summer. So when, when we’re, you know, working with students during their school year, we have to compete, with four or five other very important draws on their time and attention. But as sort of the opposite of the way the rest of the world works, where everybody tries to take it easy over the summer, we usually go full throttle over the summer, because that’s our opportunity to get full time help for us. And so we have a little hive of energy and activity going on in the summer

 

MA

I was curious to know, how often do students maybe start the clinic and just drop out and decide it’s just not for them? And if that does happen, what are the typical reasons?

 

AG

Well, we often have, we will often have one student who decides that it’s not for them kind of roughly at orientation. You know, the thing about wrongful convictions is that I think most people are very aware of wrongful convictions and innocent people in prison now, but the way they come to it is that they see somebody collapsing into the arms of their family, getting out of prison, and it’s a very joyous occasion. And maybe everybody doesn’t think about the fact that this started with a murder or, or a sex crime or a kidnapping. And there’s, there’s a, there’s a straight up criminal victim, I mean, victim of a crime, and a horrible story that’s occurred and horrible facts attached to it. And then there’s a whole other set of victims who are the wrongfully convicted person and his or her family. And there’s so much suffering and so much just awful facts and awful things that you kind of have to live in as you do the case that I think sometimes people want to come on board because they see the joy and they see the back end or the front end or whatever it is, but they don’t see. They may not be prepared for what they’re really going to see when when you peel back the lid on these areas.

 

DM

Adam to kind of build on that. Do your students ever circle back in their career to help out LPI with cases or in fundraising or even promotion?

 

AG

Oh, yeah, we, we there are a lot of times when we ask when we ask our students to help us with promotion or something that we’re doing but there and there are a lot of times when students will email us from a job at a big law firm and say, I’m finally able to do some pro bono work, is there something I can do with you. And we also have, you know, a lot of former students who are working for public defenders or other justice oriented organizations who are sort of doing our work in in in another setting, there are a lot and there are also a lot of people who generally people do our work or our clinic in there 2L year. But there’s always a percentage of them who really don’t want to let their case go after a year and want to come back for their three year and even try to get some kind of a fellowship for after they graduate. So we you know, we don’t require that people want to go into criminal law when they join the clinic, but we find that we have we do have a lot of converts and a lot of people who went to law school to try to help people or specifically to work on innocence cases.

 

DM

You know, that’s a great point. It would be hard to give a year of your life working on this and then just to walk away because your time’s up I could see a lot of lot of the students wanting to come back continue to be involved, you know, as much as they possibly can just get across the finish line.

 

AG

Yes, because the case is taking much longer than then they’re gonna be in the clinic, but I also tell them you know, I apologize in advance for ruining you for every other legal job since this is the most moving most, you know, fulfilling thing you’re probably ever going to do.

 

MA

So for the students that are then turned on by criminal law and pursue it, what percentage of those students end up working for the good guys that is, as criminal defense attorneys?

 

AG

Oh, I mean, overall, I think there’s, it’s, it’s not a majority. But I would say there’s a good, maybe 30% of the students end up working in criminal defense in one way or another, beyond doing pro bono work and things like that.

 

PM

I would just add that, you know, even those who don’t go on to do criminal defense work, are often profoundly moved by the experience. And I just got an email yesterday, from Brittany Whitehead, who was a volunteer with us in 2015. And she was here as an undergrad from Colorado, she’s going to college in Colorado, and she came to volunteer with us. And she wrote me this really nice email, and she said, You know, I worked on Jane Dorotik’s case, which is one of our cases, and, and it’s still going on, but she has been released from prison, and her conviction has been overturned. And Brittany just said, I check, I have a, you know, reminder in my calendar to check every week to see, you know, if anything, if there’s any news on the case, and she was ecstatic to hear some of the things that she was working on five years ago, you know, still matter, and they helped, they helped us get Jane out. So our client, Jane Dorotik out. So, you know, I was really happy that she reached out in and said that, because you never know, you know, when somebody comes in volunteers and then moves on, you don’t always know what impact they experience had for them. And she just expressed it so well, I was happy.

 

 

MA

So Paula, to build on that, for the students that do go on to be prosecutors, what do you hope that they’ll will take with them after their experience in the clinic?

 

PM

I hope that they have a clear- eyed view of the fact that we all make mistakes, and a lot of mistakes are inadvertent, but they’re still mistakes. And it is incredibly important that we hold ourselves accountable. And for for reviewing possible mistakes, uncovering them, and then fixing them. And it’s not an indictment of one’s character to admit that you made a mistake. It’s a testament to your character, that you can acknowledge that and, and try to fix it and then and learn from it and move forward. And I also hope that they, they take into their position as a prosecutor, an understanding that there’s a lot of gray, in criminal law, things are not always as black and white, as they are sometimes presented to the jury. And what I mean by that, as an example is, you know, just because the law says you can throw the book at somebody and charge them with 14 different crimes and gun enhancements and gang and like, you know, you can just load it up, it doesn’t mean that you should, and, you know, prosecutors too, can look at the whole picture, you know, who is this kid? What, where’s he coming from? How did he end up in the situation? Is this that, you know, all of those questions that, that go both to public safety and to our humanity, and how we treat people in the criminal justice system and out, I think, I think that they need to, you know, take with them when they when they leave our project.

 

DM

Let’s stay with the students. And I’m gonna open this up to either one of you to answer, tell us about the selection process for students in what what goes into that? What’s some of the qualities that you’re looking for? And then how do you coach them up?

 

AG

You know, we are looking for people who can get things done, who sort of had a history of taking care of business, frankly, it not necessarily just in justice, but did things in high school where they had to sort of take charge and accomplish something and get something completed. You know, we’d love to see people who, who have a history of trying to help other people and trying to make justice happen wherever they wherever they can. But we also recognize that that not everybody has launched, you know, all kinds of justice projects by the time they’re in law school. But the idea that we’re looking for people who don’t wait for somebody else to tell them exactly how to do things for people who don’t wait for other people to do things for them. And I like to look at how they talk about the work that they assume they’re going to be doing. Because everybody has a decent idea of what we do as an Innocence Project, maybe not the nitty gritty, but what our cases are going to be about. I like to see how people talk about that work, and how or whether they talk about the effect it’s going to have on the clients or whether they talk about the effect that it’s going to have on them.

 

 

 

MA

Well I know that the clinic is very hands on for the students. So besides, you know, helping out with legal motions and proposed court orders and this kind of thing, what type of boots on the ground investigation and, you know, kind of real lawyering experience do the students actually get?

 

PM

Well, one area that comes up quite a bit, in our cases, is has to do with expert witnesses. Because a lot of these cases involve forensics, or as you know, DNA things, issues for which we really do need expertise. And I like to give the students opportunities to interact with the experts, a big part of lawyering, especially litigation, any kind of litigation, frankly, is the ability to become quickly become a little mini expert yourself, because you cannot interact with your own experts, you cannot appropriately address the issues in your own case, unless you understand them. And that means science or, you know, brain injury, or DNA or whatever. And so, I like giving the students chances to interact with the experts help them get the materials they need to review, explain to the students, you know, what’s going to be helpful to the court, we need to get these experts to tell the court the information that that the court needs to decide the issue. And it’s a really great exercise, and it’s a great way to teach them how to do that analysis. They also do a lot of witness interviews go out, we actually go out we knock on doors, and we Adam is is really good at this, you know, we they come to the door, and we ask if we can talk to them about something happened 35 years ago, and and the students are there, we prepare them ahead of time, they understand, you know, the reason we’re going to see a particular witness. And I think it’s really a beautiful thing to watch, because in the beginning, they’re usually pretty shy. For the most part, they don’t want to speak up too much. But by the end of even the first semester, you know, they’re they’re finding their, their comfort zone and and getting in there and, and adding value to those witness interviews, don’t you think? h,

 

AG

Yeah absolutely. And, you know, the witness interviews are one of the more fascinating aspects because there’s, there’s a whole lot of psychology and there’s a whole lot of just understanding people and how people operate and, and using that to try to get to the truth of the matter. And, you know, for for a lot of law students, there’s an opportunity opportunity to talk to someone in a part of the city or, or in a situation that they really don’t spend much time in and learn how to talk to different kinds of people and people in different situations. And understand that you know, people have different lives and and you have to go into interactions with people, just not assuming that you know, everything about them or not assuming that, you know, what, what, what you will find when you talk to them. So it’s great. It’s also great practice for any kind of legal area that they work in. But it’s such an exercise in understanding humans and trying to really have a an honest interaction with a person that you probably never meet otherwise.

 

DM

Yeah, I find this part of the work that you do extremely fascinating. I don’t think that a lot of people that are that may have heard the Innocence Project, understand that these students are going out into the field now and I find this a really interesting part of of your work. And I was curious, since you probably have, you know, you said students coming from across the country to come out and work and I’m sure that there’s things where they’re maybe going into South Central is there have  there been situations where students felt unsafe or at least extremely scared while conducting an investigation or doing these interviews?

 

AG

Well first of all, we take a lot of precautions to make sure that everybody is safe. We nobody ever goes anywhere alone. They don’t go out without somebody on the staff and we have a lot of experience as to you know how to keep ourselves safe. I think when people have become frightened, it’s not even about really dealing with people, it’s more like making sure they’re, you know, whether there’s a dog in the yard or when you see a dog in the yard, whether you can go in that yard or not, or figure out a creative way to keep yourself safe and stay away from that dog. Or some some circumstances where you go into a building, looking for a witness. And it’s, you know, it’s a very intricate series of hallways, and it’s dark. And you wonder if you’re really safe in there, we take a lot of precautions, and we have a lot of faith that we have, you know, we have truth and justice on our side. And we don’t think anything’s going to happen to us, if we’re smart about it.

 

PM

Also, I, you know, one of the things that we do in every case is, I would say maybe there, maybe there is an exception or two is we go, we go physically to where the crime occurred if we can, and, you know, training people who are potentially considering being a prosecutor or a criminal defense attorney, to actually go and lay eyes on a on a scene is really important. And I don’t know that a lot of that happens a lot in, in during the trial, pre trial and trial phases of a lot of cases. And, you know, for example, if you have a witness who says, Oh, I saw the person, I saw the defendant, go across the street and do X, Y, and Z. And it was, you know, midnight, and it was on such and such a corner, and we go there at night at that same time. Sometimes we even go on the very day, or we look at the moon conditions, we look at the lighting we go and we we see, could they even really see this. And I think the students are often surprised when they see the results, like just physically going in and putting yourself there can be incredibly informative.

 

MA

Well, Adam, you hit on this already. But obviously this type of work is grueling, it can be extremely frustrating, and at times actually disturbing for the reasons that you pointed out Adam, and also just the sort of pictures and things that you see in discovery. So I’m curious for what I’ll call a kid, since I’m old now, you know, a student who may be in their 20s, who doesn’t have a lot of worldliness and they’re thrown into this work, what kind of resources are you able to provide them to help them cope with with the stress?

 

AG

Well, we do have the ability to obtain the services of specialist for secondary trauma, if people feel like they’ve been really traumatized, by things that they’ve seen, or things that they’ve heard. Um, and we spend a lot of time talking about, you know, after we go somewhere, after we see something we spend a lot of time talking about what we’ve seen and what its effect is on on us. And I have to say the students have, you know, when this works, the students really give over emotionally to their case. I don’t see a lot of students who are, who are seemed traumatized or who are seem to be thinking about themselves very much they, I think they most have almost all of them that I can think of have really taken it in stride. And again, I think the ones who who are easily traumatized by some of this work kind of weed themselves out early, but we do make sure that there are counselors available if somebody needs one. And we talk a lot about how we feel about things. And what we’ve seen. It is a constant worry, though, because they are young people. And some of them have never had a job before even. And they’re looking at, you know, we see autopsy photos and, and pieces of evidence with blood on them and all kinds of grim things. And by the way, you know, we also go to prisons all the time and talk to people. You know, we talked to some witnesses who unfortunately really have no future at all to look forward to and we all have to figure out how to talk to a person who essentially has nothing to look forward to. How do you really communicate with them and and make them feel heard, without reminding them of all the things that they’re missing? And that’s somewhat I don’t know if traumatic is the right word, but it’s pretty serious stuff.

 

DM

That could really, you know, weigh on you when you’re trying to make a connection with somebody I could completely identify with that. You mentioned this early on in our conversation Paula about some of time people make mistakes. And I was wondering some of the more what’s the most egregious instance of injustice that you’ve seen in one of your cases?

 

PM

I would say it’s probably in Andrew Wilson’s case, Mr. Wilson had his conviction was overturned in 2017, after he was in prison for 32 years. And, you know, to the, to the DA his credit that the deputy DA on the case at the time, discovered that the trial prosecutor knew some information before Mr. Wilson’s trial even occurred, and the information that she knew strongly pointed to another suspect. And that was not disclosed to the defense. It wasn’t raised at trial, she went forward with the trial and, and he was convicted and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole. And the, you know, the trial prosecutor, it may be that she really didn’t know the value of the information she had. You know, generally I don’t think prosecutors set out to convict innocent people. But it was a huge injustice. And it was clear, you know, when we saw it, how incredibly exculpatory, the evidence was, and that it clearly should have been given over to the defense. And they they acknowledged that and they conceded that his conviction should be overturned. I don’t know, Adam, am I forgetting anything?

 

AG

Well, also, I would add to that, that prosecutor didn’t. Not only did that prosecutor not turn over the information, but there was no effort made to investigate it, either. To make sure, you know, that it wasn’t important, or was important.

 

PM

You know, what’s, what’s interesting, too, is Adam and I contacted her all these, you know, decades later, she’s like, yeah, sure, come on over, I’ll talk to you. And we told her what case it was. And she said, Oh, this case has always troubled me. And she listened to, you know, all the problems and the case, and she signed a declaration that said, You know, I think there might be some problems in this case, and she didn’t remember, you know, the, the material that I was just describing, she didn’t remember that happening. But there was something about the case that always bothered her. And she came forward and said, So, which was really helpful. And it was also the right thing to do.

 

 

DM

How do you stay calm?

 

How do you hear see it the first time and then go back and talk to her again? How do you how do you stay calm? I feel like I would I don’t know.

 

AG

It’s a particular lawyer skill that you have to have at the moment when something you’re hearing somebody who’s sitting two feet away from you is telling you something that’s like an earthquake. And you have to figure out how to keep your poker face on and not let them know how important it is what they’re saying. So they keep talking. It’s a particular legal skill. I don’t know what what to call it.

 

DM

Clearly, I would not be good at it.

 

PM

If you ask a lot of people on my staff, they would tell you, I do not stay calm

 

DM

Thanks for making me feel better Paula.

 

MA

So Paula and Adam,big picture, in all the cases that you’ve handled in the project, if you had to rank the top three causes for wrongful convictions, what would you say they would be?

 

AG

Well, in our office, I, the number one cause seems to be prosecutorial and and related police misconduct, I would say, Would you, Paula?

 

PM

I would say that’s present in almost every case, I would say eyewitness ID is probably second.

 

AG

Mm hmm. And of course, those aren’t mutually exclusive. Right. And there are, you know, increasingly, we’re seeing cases where, where it’s about bad science

 

PM

And bad defense, lawyering You know, it’s, it’s the same on both sides. There are prosecutors, some are trained better than others. Some are, are just better than others. And the same is true on the defense side. And, you know, everybody has their resource limitations, and they have their own issues. But we have seen some really horrendous cases, including an attorney who had just graduated from law school two years and 10 months before taking on a potential death penalty case. and had never been really had much felony experience. And Yep, that was back in 1980. I think things are maybe better now.

DM

So. Let’s move on to something more positive. Tell us if you want to name names. Tell us a couple of if you don’t mind sharing a couple of stories on some past students who went on to do some really great things in their career.

 

PM

Well, one of our first fellows, her name is Jackie Rambis. And she was in the clinic she worked on which case Adam was it Kash?

 

AG

I think she came along just after Kash’s case. Well, to be honest, she worked very hard on a couple of cases that we ended up closing that i don’t i don’t know that we need to say the names of she spent an awful lot of time working on a couple of cases that that didn’t pan out, for for the person who was convicted.

 

PM

She worked on Maria Mendez, and now she works at the LA County Public Defender’s Office. And we have another staff attorney named Seth Hancock. And he also now works at the LA County Public Defender’s Office, we have a former student, Charlie Nelson Keever, who is now pursuing postconviction opportunities. And I’m trying to think of, we have a couple of students who have now become fellows within our clinic. So there, they claim they’re never leaving. We’re trying to make that happen.

 

AG

And there’s Lauren,Lauren Noriega, who has her own firm does a lot of postconviction work. Also,

 

PM

Ariana Price has moved to Tucson, she left us and moved to Tucson, got married and had a baby, and she’s also doing postconviction work.

 

MA

Well, that’s great. And along those lines, I’m kind of curious to know, what kind of bond do you and the students end up forming with your exonerees and their families as a result of sharing is such a profound experience?

 

PM

It’s pretty, it’s a pretty profound bond, you’re right. It we are, in many instances, a member of the family and they they we have, you know, friends, slash former clients, who just straight up call us brother and sister. And you know, when you think about it, they they see us as instrumental in in really helping to save their lives in some respects. And, you know, when you were asking earlier about the students, and you know, how we, how we go about protecting them from things that might be traumatic, you know, we we give them a heads up and like, these are autopsy photos, don’t look, if you don’t want to look, we, you know, we’ve tried to prepare them as much as possible. But one of the things we tell them is, look, the people who are writing to us, they don’t have anywhere else to go. They don’t have it’s not like, should we choose? Should we choose Loyola Or should we just go hire a lawyer, they don’t have money. And so, you know, I encourage the students, if they ever feel like, you know, I just don’t know if I want to do this, I don’t know if this is going to be too hard. I want them to really dig deep and think, you know, if I don’t help this person, or if we don’t help these people, there isn’t anybody else. So, you know, with respect to our former exonerees I mean, our former our clients who have been exonerated you know, it’s always a joyful thing to stay in touch to hear how they’re doing. And it is forever they they will forever be part of our extended family.

 

AG

The other thing about our clients is that you know, what, when you’re in prison when you’re imprisoned in, in America, in state prison or in county jail. You know, there’s this process of dehumanization that goes on and, and when you’ve been in prison for 30 years or 20 years, you know, you’ve been dehumanized, sometimes on purpose. Sometimes inadvertently, in certain situations. You’ve you’ve had most of your or somebody has tried to take most of your humanity. And one of the one of the ways that manifests itself is that nobody listens to you. And you know, if you imagine yourself having been a victim of this terrible injustice, and and put in a cage for all this time, and then every time you try to tell somebody about it, they just kind of shake their head like yeah, yeah, yeah, I heard somebody else say that once, you know, who’s, I mean, it’s so profound and and one of the things that we try to do for everybody who asks for our help, even the people that we can help is just to try to give them an experience of being treated like a person again, and being listened to again. Then being taken seriously again, and treated like somebody who might be telling the truth, or has something to say. And so if you start from there, and you build a relationship where you where you then go on to help them in this profound way, I mean, you know, the attachment, the fulfillment that it gives us, and the, the effect that it has on them, it just can’t help but create this incredibly intense relationship and friendship and kinship. And when you combine that with the fact that, you know, to get to this stage, our clients are some of the most strong willed, resilient, remarkable people that that we’ve ever met. It really creates this bond that I mean, it’s one of the privileges of this work, I’ve, you know, you’ve never had a relationship like it, probably. And if the students get a little taste of it, it’s another one of the really intoxicating things that we hope will help them remember the power and the privilege that they have to help other people. It’s really an incredible relationship,

 

DM

I could understand now that connection could last forever, you know, that your just, you’re giving them a piece of themselves back.

 

AG

Or their mom and their sister. They may have never seen outside of prison before. You know, it’s it’s unbelievable. It, it couldn’t be more intense.

 

DM

I want to talk about how DNA is, is how it’s a powerful tool to potentially win someone’s freedom. Tell us a little bit about the post -conviction DNA testing grant that you received, and was actually just renewed.

 

PM

The grant is for public institutions only. And Loyola is a private, a private law school. So we decided what we needed to do is get creative and figure out some way to propose a project that would have us collaborating with a public institution. And so Cal State LA, which is where the crime lab that services, LAPD  and LA sheriff’s department, and they have a criminalistics program and a graduate program, the the director of that program, Dr. Kathy Roberts, and I got together and thank you to Mehul, who introduced us, you know, she could help train her students who want to go into criminalistics and be criminalists, one day, the same way we’re training our law students, which is, you know, by looking at some of these cases where we think there might be problems. And so we got the grant. And we coordinate our case work, where we think that there might be evidence that can be DNA tested, and we are doing it in connection with her program. So it’s been, it’s been incredibly successful, I think, which may be partly why we got renewed. And we’ve got a couple of cases where DNA is being analyzed right now, right this very minute. And we have a DNA expert retained who advises us and gives us his opinion. You might have heard of him, his name is Mehul Anjaria. And he’s wonderful. And, you know, he’s, he teaches our students, he comes into our class, and he’s like, we’re gonna learn about DNA. And it’s incredibly helpful. Because, you know, one of the things that people always joke about lawyers is, you know, they’re terrible at math, and they’re terrible at science. But you know, doing this kind of work, you can’t, you can’t afford to be bad at science you have to learn. And so, through the DNA grant, we have funding to actually physically pay an independent lab to go analyze the evidence and look for DNA. And we have funding to to do some investigation and to do some travel and things like that. So those those funds are dedicated to cases where we suspect DNA might be present that could help you know, exonerate one of our clients.

 

DM

So speaking of DNA, obviously, the origin of the whole Innocence Project was Barry Scheck and  Peter Neufeld in New York. I’m curious, how much interaction do you have with that mothership Innocence Project in New York?

 

PM

We actually have a really a really organized network there are between 60 and 70. I think now, innocence projects across the country, actually internationally. There are a couple outside of the United States now too. And we all get together once a year at an annual meeting in different cities across the country. Barry and Peter are very much stewards of this work still and you know, what we have learned by studying these wrongful conviction cases, is incredible. And it is guiding all sorts of reforms that need to take place across the country. Because you know what we all know, no one better than Peter, Peter and Barry is, you know, getting people out one at a time is it takes forever, it’s a tremendous amount of work. And it’s really not going to move the needle in terms of making things better going forward. What we need to do, in addition to working on those cases is we need to look at the systemic problems that are revealed in these cases. And we need to talk about legislative reforms, changing the way we police changing the way we punish and think about public safety through a different lens, all the stuff that you’ve been hearing about in terms of the idea of criminal justice reform, and and the information that we’ve gotten by studying these cases. It did all start with Barry and Peter, and the DNA cases that they did, because what DNA did is it showed conclusively you got the wrong person. And then what we did after that is we’ve studied it and like, why did we get the wrong person? And that’s where we came up with all the what we now call the common causes of wrongful conviction, a coerced false confession, erroneous eyewitness ID, police or official misconduct, all of those things. Now we know how we can go and and try to address it and fix it. So to answer your question, they’re very much still involved. And we do have contact with the mothership in New York as well as our our friends and colleagues across the country at other projects, you know, constantly a new issue comes up that nobody’s ever heard of. And so we all say, Hey, does anybody have seen this before. And we try to support each other that way

 

AG

People think of lawyers as very competitive. But you know, everybody in the network really wants to see everybody else exonerate as many people as they can. And everybody’s very generous with their time and their brainstorming and their advice and their ideas. Whether it’s New York, or some of the other projects around the country, we’ve had a lot of great success, just just helping each other and, and, you know, helping each other to succeed. Because we’re all really, you know, we’re doing the same thing. It’s very specialized. There are very few people around the country who have the same conversations we have. But we are all very, very collaborative.

 

DM

I want to talk about another important element of your wrongfully convicted, and that’s the media coverage. You know, obviously, we know how important these days social media is about framing and framing these cases. How can you potentially use it to your advantage of getting out in front, on on framing, the messaging and these cases?

 

AG

Well, it’s so interesting to me that there are so many now days when you’ll see the news, or see some feed that you have, and and there’ll be a story about somebody walking out of prison, who was wrongfully convicted and who was innocent. It’s, um, it’s, it’s no mystery anymore, that these things happen. And they happen more and more, which means that these wrongful convictions are still happening. So you know, as a threshold, it helps just for the entire nation to now be educated on what what really happens. And in wrongful convictions and the fact that there are wrongful convictions. I do think now we need to try to figure out a way for people to really pay attention to the frank facts of how it happens, why it happens, and why it may not be happening any less than it ever was, and how will we need to actually take measures to change things so that, you know, it’s not just something awful that used to happen. It’s it’s happening today, people innocent people are being convicted today. And it’s helpful that we’re talking about justice reform in the media. But I think we really need to start concentrating not only on the success stories, but on, unfortunately, you know, the real nuts and bolts of why this is happening and how we how we can stop it.

 

PM

Also, I mean, just to address your question, that maybe from a different angle, because people are becoming more engaged, whether it’s because they’re watching things in the media or because they are watching social media. And we have seen sort of an uptick in projects and supporters taking a case right to the streets, right. So they they’ll put it up on on social media, you know, we want you to help Mr. so and so he’s wrongfully convicted, or let’s write to the governor and trying to mobilize support like that, to bring this case to the, you know, to get more attention. And it’s it’s a good strategy. It’s something we talked about internally a lot. It’s always difficult and things are in a litigation posture, because, you know, you have to be careful about everything, you don’t want to do anything that might compromise your case so, you know, that’s a needle we’re trying to thread and think about, and be creative with. Because people are, they seem to be kind of hungry for it. They want to be engaged. We’ve gotten so many requests in the last year, let us help, how can we help I want to volunteer Can I donate? And I think a lot of it’s because of what’s going on politically and culturally across the country, and in Los Angeles. And we want to be able to respond to that we want to give people opportunities to engage and to help and to feel like they are part of the solution. So if you guys have any ideas,

 

DM

That’s what we’re here for. We’ve actually had a good number of people reach out to us and want to bring exposure to their their particular case or someone else’s case. So yeah, and we have a couple of ideas that we can talk about.

 

 

 

MA

Well, Paula, besides grant funding, what are the other sources of your funding for the program? And how can people help you out?

 

PM

We rely almost entirely on grants and donations. And we have, we have been when developing some really good community relations, working on community outreach, and, and taking our case out there to people who are looking for ways to help, you know, donations are huge. We have events, both both events that we charge for, and raise money with, and events that we don’t. But really, what we need is money. We need more attorneys. As you heard me describe earlier, the the caseload that we have the number of people who are waiting, we need help with social media, we need help with our website, we need help, you know, getting the word out to people that we are here, and we can help if we you know, if we have the resources.

 

AG

I mean, it’s, it sounds awful to say, but you know, just raising money to pay attorneys is is is a huge part of the ballgame. Having people who, as you just asked about the media, you know, having people who can help us raise our profile, will, will would be helpful, because it would again, point us toward funders and people who, who want to give us that kind of help. Um, you know, it’s, it’s a, it’s hard for people, people always want to help us, but these cases, help us in kind or, you know, to actually do tasks or come into the office and, and do help. But, um, it’s, it’s a very hard place, I think, to, to help in short bursts. You know, the kind of help that we need from people often involves a real time commitment. Because these cases take so long and these, these matters are so complicated. So you know, we love having people volunteer with us on and we try to be creative about different ways they can help. We have a high school student, for instance, who started a an Innocence Project club at her high school, and just sort of raised awareness at her high school among the other students who didn’t know all the things that she knew about wrongful convictions. There’s all kinds of creative ways to do it. People can who are involved. We’ve spoken, for instance, at meetings of organizations that are sort of continuing organizations, education organizations, for older people, and retirees who just want to learn more things. We’ve spoken to that to those groups, and they can branch out and help us in various ways if they’re engaged. So there are a million ways to do it.

 

DM

What do you see in the future for for the LPI?

 

PM

Well, in the near future, we are planning to announce that we are changing our name to the Los Angeles Innocence Project, so that it will help people find us. You know, there are a number of other institutions of higher learning in the country called Loyola. So we’ve had people comment that you know, it’s a little bit difficult. Are you in New Orleans? Are you in Chicago? Where are you? So we’re going to be Los Angeles Innocence Project. So hopefully that will help.

DM

Some simple branding, I think will probably clear some things up.

 

PM

Yeah. And so that’s on the horizon, we have some cases that we are, you know, up to our, our eyeballs and litigating. So hopefully we’re going to be getting a few more clients exonerated. And, you know, that’s about it. I mean, we were holding it together during COVID. It’s the as you can tell from these this conversation, the nature of this work is extremely collaborative. And it’s been really hard. I mean, I know, it’s hard for everybody to be a part in isolated, but the way we work and the way we have to investigate our cases and get out and knock on doors, you know, it’s been a little, it’s been challenging this year, but we have really weathered it. And, you know, we’ve still, we’ve had four people released from custody this year.

 

AG

Just to return to your previous question about how people can help, too. One thing I we haven’t talked about in this conversation is the aftercare that goes on when our clients are exonerated and released from prison. And in a lot of cases, you know, they walk out of prison with absolutely nothing, no belongings, sometimes no family, no housing, no jobs, very little job training, no money, obviously. I mean, literally, sometimes no belongings at all. And they’re automatically, they’re not entitled to anything automatically when they get out of prison. As opposed to even parolees who have, you know, there are programs of support for parolees, but not for exonerees, necessarily. And so there’s a tremendous amount of aftercare that goes on with our, our clients, when they come out of prison, you never know exactly what they will need, but we have to sort of stand at the ready to make sure that we can help to provide it. And so there are lots of opportunities for people from outside who wants to do something good for our clients, to help with the aftercare and the support and the sort of helping them to put their lives back together and launch the next part of their their lives, the happy part of their lives. You know, not just money, and not just things but all kinds of different support. There, you just never know exactly what they’re going to need. But almost all of them need quite a bit just to get themselves started. And so that’s a great way for help people to help us and our clients.

 

MA

Well, Adam, my final question is specifically for you. Let’s talk about this signature bow tie. What’s the story behind that? And how long have you been rocking it?

 

AG

Well,I, you know, I don’t even know how to answer that question. I just Well, there’s one really profound thing about bow ties. And that’s, it’s so much, it’s so much easier to get through lunch without getting your lunch on your bow tie.  It saves you money in the long run and makes you a little less dopey.  The rest of it is rather confidential.

 

 

MA

Okay, Fair enough. Well, Paula and Adam, I happen to know that you’ve a big hearing to get ready for tomorrow. So we don’t want to hold you any longer. But I thought this was a great discussion. Thank you so much for your time. And we hope that you’ll come back on crime redefined. And maybe we can get into some specific cases and issues as appropriate.

 

AG

Yes, We’d love to come back anytime

 

PM

That would be fantastic.

 

DM

Really appreciate it. Good luck tomorrow.

 

PM

Thank you. Thank you for what you’re doing. I really love the podcast, and you guys are great.

 

MA

Oh, thank you. Thank you so much, Paula. Take care.

 

DM

It was really a fascinating discussion Mehul. I can see that from the outside looking in that it really takes an army of resources to undo wrongful convictions.

 

MA

Yeah, absolutely. And it’s just so good that LPI has some resources, you know, they have all of the students to do a lot of legwork, that in the original investigation probably never was done.

 

DM

That’s right. And not only are they battling the legal and the scientific issues, but also issues of human nature. And I think this is a big part of where these wrongful convictions come from. And that’s ego and not wanting to admit any wrongdoing.

 

MA

Yeah, those issues are harder to deal with than the evidence in the case itself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

DM

I don’t know, that’s just human nature. You know, like I said, I don’t know if that’s something that will ever change. You know, hopefully we can get to a spot where people can just say, hey, look, you know, this is wrong, you know, take it on the chin and then and then move on.

 

MA

I would say that, you know, in my consulting work, if I have criticism of the prosecution crime lab, I hope that they take it as constructive criticism.

 

DM

versus an attack?

 

MA

Yeah, they may take..

 

DM

there’s a difference, obviously, right?

 

MA

Well, yeah. And they may take it as an attack initially. And that’s fine. But I hope maybe they’ll go back to the lab and say, Oh, you know what, yeah, we need to look at how I do that in the future.

 

DM

That kind of goes to my next point is that I was really impressed with both of them with both Paula and Adam, with their attitude. And the acknowledgement that people sometimes make mistakes. And that it, that it’s about fixing the injustice rather than pointing fingers.

 

MA

Yeah. And I mean, listen, there’s politics here, too, you know, it takes a lot of people to get somebody out of out of prison, it takes a judge, it takes a DA to cooperate on some level. So there has to be some diplomacy.

 

DM

That’s right. And I think at the bottom of everything, there’s always going to be, you know

either politics or money or both.

 

MA

Yeah, and I think you have to handle it with care. Because ultimately, you do need the cooperation of the district attorney in some regard to, you know, get these cases resolved and get these people free. And I’ve noticed that very often, their clients have already done a lot of legwork on their own cases. And that gives LPI a really good head start. And I’ve had that same experience with some of the pro pers that I work with who are really mindful. I mean, after all, it’s you know, they’re the ones whose life is basically at stake here. And the more responsible pro pers I work with, they want to be the expert in their case, they want to know everything about it. And, you know, unfortunately, these wrongful conviction cases, at some point in the process, it basically it falls on the shoulders of the wrongfully convicted individual to seek out, you know, the last resort for their freedom, such as LPI. But you wonder how many of these men and women slipped through the cracks? You know, after being so demoralized by their case, and the insurmountable issues with the legal system?

 

DM

We definitely heard that a lot from from Adam. And then, you know, Paula had mentioned some of the numbers of the volume of cases that they’re going through. So you’re right, it’s really on the the wrongfully convicted to to push this and make sure they get it in front of somebody.

 

MA

Yeah. And not to give up if LPI doesn’t get right back to them, because of course, they’re backlogged as well.

 

DM

That That’s right. You know, and something else that I, you know, kind of took away from this is that this work isn’t for everyone. But it seems like the law school clinic provides students with an on an awesome launchpad to begin a, a really rewarding and intense career in criminal law. And it’ll be interesting to see what they do next.

 

MA

Yeah, absolutely. I don’t know how you can’t be inspired after going through their clinic. And, you know, having had the the pleasure of working with LPI, on some cases, you know, as the role in the role of a DNA consultant, I’m always really struck with how relentless both the attorneys and the students are, and the drive that they have. And you know, they essentially have to redo the entire investigation of the case, either because the prosecutor didn’t really do their job initially. Or maybe even scarier, is that a defense attorney who may have been paid a lot of money during the trial, didn’t do their job as well. And by the way, this is several years later, which makes it much harder, because now it’s cold, as you mentioned. people’s memories aren’t as good people may have died, records may have been lost, evidence may be gone. I mean, it’s really, really a Herculean task. But you know, what I’ve seen from LPI is that they don’t leave any stone unturned as they battle for justice. And I gotta tell you, Dion that, you know, they’ve rubbed off on me that being you know, around their talented attorneys and motivated students is, is really helped me to up my game.

 

DM

Yeah, I don’t, I don’t see how that can’t be really infectious and push you to, you know, to do it, do whatever you can and work harder at, you know, like you said, you know, work harder at your game, right?

 

 

MA

Yeah. And then you got you really have to personalize it and think of that poor person who is innocent, who has been in jail for 10, 20, 30, 40 years. And just know that you know, LPI may be their very last hope.

 

DM

This has really been an interesting look at the issue of wrongful convictions from all sides on crime redefined. We talked about the common causes and spoke with a exoneree Fernando Bermudez and now we went behind the scenes, you know, of a program that makes exonerations happen.

 

MA

Well, listeners, we will post a link to a video that will show you and tell you more about LPI. And we’ll put that right in the episode description. And I also wanted to point out the very good work that LPI does in advocating for reform of the criminal justice. system. So Also be sure to check out their Instagram account @projectfortheinnocent, where you can learn more about their victories and their fundraising events. If you want to get involved and help out.

 

DM

You know, we really want to, you know, let people know we appreciate our listeners and say thank you to all the wonderful guests we have the honor of talking to on crime redefined. A huge thanks to all of you out there that are also downloading our episodes and following us on social media. Don’t hesitate, we mean that to weigh in and tell us what you think about crime redefined.

 

MA

Yeah, the good and the bad. Should I’ve said that?

 

DM

Yeah, be careful what you ask. And  Halloween is around the corner, so be sure to please visit crimeredefined.com where you can access all of our episodes and do some binge listening to this crazy year of 2020.

 

B

Thank you for listening to the crime redefined podcast, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter at crime redefined. Please send us your comments and questions and join us for the next episode.

 

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