Supreme Victory for Law Students
By Mary Daily
Published Apr 19, 2012 12:00 PM
These new attorneys can already brag about a win from the nation's highest court.
Few lawyers expect to ever win a case before the Supreme Court and certainly not early in their careers. Yet, Katie Strickland '11 and Jenny Osborne '11, newly minted attorneys, recently won a case whose brief they had prepared for the nation's highest court last year, as UCLA law students.
Their victory, in the case of Missouri v. Frye, was the first for a Supreme Court Clinic started last year at the UCLA School of Law. Strickland and Osborne were among six students who, in teams of two, worked on cases that were either bound for the U.S. Supreme Court or being petitioned for Supreme Court review.
The case that Strickland and Osborne presented involved a college student named Galin Frye who was charged with driving without a license. Frye's attorney never told him that a prosecutor had offered a 90-day jail sentence if he pleaded guilty. He did plead guilty but served three years in jail.
Strickland and Osborne spent a semester researching, writing and rewriting a brief that lay out the legal arguments that Frye's Sixth Amendment right to counsel was violated. It was hard work but the two women were fired up by the chance to persuade the justices.
"Knowing that the Supreme Court would be reading our words kept the editing and research process more exciting," Osborne says.
Strickland, who now works for a large downtown Los Angeles law firm, said working on the case was the highlight of her law school career. Osborne, now clerking for a Washington, D.C., Court of Appeals judge, found it especially rewarding because she came to law school wanting to work on justice-system reform.
The students argued that Frye, who was represented by the Missouri Public Defender's Office, was ineffectively assisted by his attorney during plea bargaining, and that was a constitutional violation. The remedy, they maintained, was to reset things where they were before the violation occurred. They said Frye should be given the chance to accept or reject the original plea.
On March 21, 2012, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in Frye's favor. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that setting back the clock in cases like this presented other legal dilemmas (Frye had already served the three years) but since plea bargaining — and not trials — play a deciding role in most cases, the court needed to act in Frye's favor.
Emmett Queener of the Missouri Public Defender's Office, who made oral arguments before the court, gave Strickland and Osborne most of the credit for the victory. "I'm sure their brief was way, way more persuasive than the few minutes I spoke to the Court," he said.
Cynthia Lee contributed to this story.