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V&E Appellate Attorneys and Dedman Law First Amendment Clinic Argue Pro Bono Case at the Fifth Circuit

V&E Appellate Attorneys and Dedman Law First Amendment Clinic Argue Pro Bono Case at the Fifth Circuit Background Image

Since October 2020, a team of Vinson & Elkins Appellate attorneys have worked with students from the First Amendment Clinic at SMU’s Dedman School of Law in representing a recently-released federal prisoner in his Fifth Circuit appeal of constitutional claims against prison officials.

Appellate partner Tom Leatherbury, the director of the First Amendment Clinic, was asked to represent the client by the Court as part of its pro bono initiative. Under Leatherbury’s supervision, the clinic students, alongside Appellate senior associate James Dawson and associate Parker Cragg, submitted supplemental briefing to the Court. Oral argument was scheduled soon after the final briefing was filed.

With under three weeks to prepare for the argument, the V&E team and SMU Law clinic professors conducted three moot arguments and additional research was uncovered, including a relevant Fifth Circuit opinion that was released the night before the argument. On March 10, 2021, third-year SMU Law students West Bakke and Evan Rios—both First Amendment clinic participants who played a significant role in drafting the supplemental briefing to the Court—presented the argument to the Fifth Circuit. Bakke presented the Eighth Amendment claims and Rios presented the First Amendment claims. Upon the conclusion of the argument, Chief Judge Priscilla Owen said they did an “excellent” job. The team now awaits the Court’s decision.

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