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Fellowships Awarded to Death Penalty Clinic Rising Stars

By Andrew Cohen

For a decade, the Death Penalty Clinic (DPC) has trained students to pursue the highest standards of criminal representation both during and after their studies at Berkeley Law. Three of them—two alumni and one current student—just parlayed that training into prestigious two-year fellowships.

Joe Goldstein-Breyer ’11 received the E. Barrett Prettyman Fellowship, awarded to only three law school graduates each year out of hundreds of applicants. The fellowship is a criminal law LL.M. program run by the Georgetown Law Center in Washington, D.C. It provides an annual stipend of $53,500 in addition to full tuition and fees.

Fellows engage in a rigorous study of criminal law, criminal procedure, evidence, and trial practice. After the first five weeks, they start to represent indigent clients in criminal cases in the D.C. local courts, beginning with misdemeanors and progressing to felonies. Their trial work is supervised closely by three law professors and supported by a professional investigator and law students.

In the second year, fellows accept fewer cases so they can co-supervise students in three Georgetown criminal law clinics and assist in classroom instruction. In fact, the Prettyman Fellowship was initially designed to develop clinical educators, but fellows now participate actively in programs serving indigent defendants.

“The program appealed to me because of the degree of mentorship and supervision I’d receive, which I was very fortunate to get at the Death Penalty Clinic,” Goldstein-Breyer said. “I want to perform at the highest level possible and be around people with those kinds of expectations. I hope to give my indigent clients better representation than any money could buy.”

An attorney at the Alameda County Public Defender's Office, Goldstein-Breyer credits DPC Associate Director Ty Alper and former clinic student Maile Padilla ’10 for sharing valuable insight about the Prettyman program. Alper was a Prettyman fellow from 1999–2001 and Padilla received the fellowship last year.

“Maile told me it’s been everything she expected and more,” said Goldstein-Breyer, who will start his fellowship in August. “She and Ty are role models, and to follow in their path is very gratifying. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity that will help me live up to the high standards I learned at the clinic.”

High standards at the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) are what drew the interest of Alison Mollman ’12. This fall, she will become the third DPC student in five years to embark on a fellowship there.

Based in Montgomery, Alabama, EJI represents indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair treatment in the legal system. The organization has recently focused on unconstitutional prison conditions and voting rights for people of color in the South.

“Six months ago, if someone told me I’d be working in the South come fall 2012, I would’ve thought she was out of her mind,” Mollman said. But Alper encouraged her to apply and put her in contact with EJI staffers. Mollman became inspired after a phone call with current fellow Estela Dimas ’10.

“The clinic really went to bat for me,” said Mollman, who will engage in both criminal and civil work. “I interviewed with six supervising attorneys at EJI and went to dinner with the fellows. I was so impressed with the dedication they had and the powerful feeling of community in that office.”

The feeling of community Erica Zunkel ’03 relished during her time at the Death Penalty Clinic stayed with her over her past six-plus years as a federal public defender in San Diego. It was a strong reason for pursuing the teaching fellowship she received at the University of Chicago Federal Criminal Justice Clinic.

“I was drawn to teaching by being in the Death Penalty Clinic and having Director Lis Semel as a mentor,” Zunkel said. “In Lis, I saw someone passionate about her work who always took the time to talk to students in-depth about what it takes to be a great criminal defense attorney. She has continued to be a mentor to me throughout my career, and helped make me want to impact the lives of students myself.”

The criminal justice clinic represents indigent defendants charged with felonies, and enables students to practice in federal court. Zunkel will involve students in cases, co-teach a trial skills class, and engage in indigent defense policy projects and Continuing Legal Education trainings.

1/13/2012