Thursday, January 18, 2007
Nine Widener University School of Law students from the Delaware campus, accompanied by two professors and a civic-minded Philadelphia public defender took part in the Katrina-Gideon Interview Project, a national initiative where American law student volunteers are traveling to New Orleans to assist the beleaguered Public Defender's Office there try to catch up on the backlog of cases caused by Hurricane Katrina.
The students, working in pairs during the first week of January 2007, had contact with nine detainees. They interviewed them, made phone calls to relatives, verified information in the case files - in some cases doing investigatory work - tracked down witnesses and drafted motions and letters. Basically, they moved the inmates' case files toward being ready to go to court.
"With all the ups and downs, I feel that we not only made some important strides in getting a crippled indigent defense project back on track, but also that what we extracted was invaluable experience regarding the practicality -- and not the legal theories -- surrounding the criminal justice system," student David Iannucci wrote in a blog about his experience. "I hope this project continues throughout this year with many other law students volunteering their time and energy, with the goal that maybe the attention our presence and assistance has generated will jumpstart a massive endeavor of reform."
The students worked out of the Public Defender's Office in New Orleans and interacted with the attorneys who will eventually take the case files they prepared into court to represent the detainees. The days were long: roughly 12 hours beginning at 7:30 a.m. The group arrived there from Jan. 1 and returned Jan. 6. [Mark Godsey]