SCOTUS Blog’s Lyle Denniston delivered tenth annual Lewis F. Powell, Jr. Lecture on April 5, 2012. The entire lecture can be viewed from a link on the law school’s home page or from the law school’s YouTube channel.
The rift between legal theory and the practice of law can be wide and deep. As the director of the Washington and Lee Criminal Justice Clinic and also through his own scholarship, Professor J.D. King has endeavored to bridge this chasm.
Professor King opened the doors of the W&L Criminal Justice Clinic in 2009. Clinic students serve as court-appointed attorneys for indigent criminal defendants facing misdemeanor charges in local criminal courts. Under Virginia’s third-year practice rule, Professor King supervises the work of 8-10 students each year. Together these students will represent approximately 75 clients per year. Most students will conduct at least one trial during their time in the clinic. The mission of the clinic is two-fold in Professor King’s view: “To provide a level of representation that is second to none, and to allow the students to truly take ownership of a case from start to finish.”
According to King, clinical education complements traditional courses in a number of ways. First, it teaches students how to develop facts. “Facts are messier in real life than they appear in first year case books,” King says. “Students in the clinic learn how to investigate, develop, and present the facts from an advocacy perspective that they don’t generally see in the classroom. Second, the clinical experience promotes “critical self-reflection. Not only do students learn how to think and act like lawyers, but they are explicitly trained to reflect on their practices with an eye towards improving their performance the next time around.” Finally, King hopes that “the clinic will impart some lessons about social justice. . . how the system can be structured in a way that makes it very difficult for people to achieve justice or fairness, and what lawyers can do to change that.”
After graduating from the University of Michigan Law School, King began his legal career knowing that he wanted to represent poor people charged with crimes. After a two-year federal clerkship, he landed a prestigious E. Barrett Prettyman Fellowship at Georgetown University Law Center, where he represented clients facing criminal charges in the D.C. courts, and supervised law students as part of Georgetown’s Criminal Justice Clinic. He then moved to the Public Defender Service for D.C., where he represented indigent clients on charges ranging from shoplifting to homicide and everything in between. During his time at the Public Defender Service, King also served as a Supervising Attorney in the Trial Division in addition to handling his own cases.
King’s scholarship has flowed directly from his professional experience with the issues involved in ethics and criminal defense. “There is a dearth of high-level scholarship that explains what one should actually do. . . when confronted with these situations, “ he explains. His first article Candor, Zeal, and the Substitution of Judgment: Ethics and the Mentally Ill Criminal Defendant, 58 Am. U. L. Rev. 207 (2008) examines the ethical dilemmas faced by a criminal defense attorney who represents a mentally impaired client. King argues that granting defense attorneys more leeway in fulfilling their role of zealous advocate would enhance the ultimate aim of dignity and due process in the criminal justice system.
Another article, forthcoming in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review is entitled, Beyond “Life and Liberty”: The Evolving Right to Counsel. It takes a broad look at misdemeanor convictions in the United States and the traditional doctrine that holds there is no constitutional right to counsel unless incarceration is actually imposed. Recently, however, there has been an explosion in the numbers of these low-level prosecutions as well as an increase in the severity of collateral consequences, such as deportation or loss of public housing. Given these trends, King argues that this traditional view needs to be modified to allow for a broader right to court-appointed representation for misdemeanor defendants.
In his quest to marry theory and practice together, King has found a sweet spot of education and practice. “I love coming to work every day.”