Alumna Jess Emerson discusses sex trafficking, vacatur laws on NPR

Jess Emerson, J.D. ’13, was interviewed for a Feb. 24 NPR story, “Little-Known Laws Help Sex Trafficking Victims Clear Criminal Records.” Emerson is an Equal Justice Works fellow at the Women’s Law Center of Maryland, where she serves as the project director of the Trafficking Victims Postconviction Advocacy Project.

Maryland is one of 20 states with vacatur laws on the books – laws that allow judges to void the prostitution convictions of sex-trafficking victims, Emerson said. Though Maryland’s law took effect in 2011, it has been used only twice, she told NPR.

“Policy folks go in and get the law passed, but they don’t have a plan in place to have boots on the ground once the law is enacted,” she said in a separate interview.

Active vacatur programs exist in only a handful of states, said Emerson, who works to find advocates across the country who are willing to train lawyers and take cases.

“It’s really a matter of networking,” she said. “It’s our own little game of Telephone to find out who can be helpful.”

Emerson said vacatur remains little known as an option for current or former sex-trafficking victims, including a woman she’d just talked to who escaped prostitution 15 years ago but still has criminal records in numerous states.

The woman cried with relief when she heard about vacatur, Emerson said.

“It was really a wonderful conversation,” Emerson continued. “She left feeling like there was hope. That’s probably the thing that’s best about this movement, or vacatur, in general.”

Emerson emphasized that vacatur is part of a larger effort to expunge criminal records, which can prevent people from securing employment, housing and benefits.

“We really need to address the burden of criminal convictions for far more than survivors of trafficking,” Emerson said, citing the plight of all people caught in the trap of poverty, homelessness and trauma.

“This is a small piece of a larger puzzle.”

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Moot court news, continued

UB’s International Environmental Law Moot Court Team competed in the North America Regional Stetson International Environmental Moot Court Competition at American University Washington College of Law from Feb. 6-9. The UB team, coached by Alyssa Joel, made it to the semifinals, losing a close battle to eventual champion Wake Forest School of Law. UB’s team placed second overall on its memorial, and a team member received an award for fifth best oralist in the preliminary rounds.

UB’s National Civil Rights Moot Court Team, composed of Allyson Bloom, Charlotte Clarke and Marybeth Irons, competed in Minnesota last week. Coached by Rima Kikani, the team placed fifth on brief nationally, and Marybeth Irons placed as one of the top 10 best oral advocates in the preliminary rounds as well as one of the top 10 best oral advocates overall. The UB team advanced from the preliminaries to the Sweet Sixteens to the quarterfinals, and ranked among the top teams, losing to one of the winners (Chicago-Kent) by two points. Congratulations to Ally, Charlotte and Marybeth on succeeding before some of the toughest judges, such as the lead appellate attorney for their issue in the 8th Circuit.

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Law and business student Sydney Comitz nominated to USM Board of Regents

UB_Home_SydneyComitz2Sydney Comitz, the president of the UB Student Government Association, has been nominated by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan to serve as the student representative to the University System of Maryland Board of Regents. Comitz, a senior at UB’s Merrick School of Business, is also enrolled in the law school’s early-entry program; in May she will graduate with a B.S. in business administration and complete her first year of legal studies.

Comitz’s nomination will go to the Maryland Senate for a vote. If it is approved, she will serve a one-year term on the board beginning July 1.

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Value added: UB law students beat bar-pass predictions

University of Baltimore School of Law graduates passed the bar exam at a rate 7.8 percent higher than that predicted by their LSAT scores, according to a new study by The National Jurist. LSAT scores, with law school GPAs, are widely considered predictors of success on the bar. The magazine’s study, which looked at the classes of 2011 and 2012, employed statistical analysis to determine a law school’s average bar exam pass rate based on its students’ average LSAT scores. UB’s actual bar pass rate for the period was 84.6 percent, while its predicted pass rate was 78.48 percent, putting UB 19th on a list of 33 law schools that added “the most value” to their students when it comes to the bar examination.

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‘Serial: The Presumption of Guilt’

The Student Bar Association presented "Serial: The Presumption of Guilt" to a packed crowd in the moot courtroom on Feb. 12. The SBA president,  Michael Sellitto (right), moderated. Panelists included (from left) Justin Brown, Rabia Chaudry, Saad Chaudry, Douglas Colbert, Chris Flohr and Sudan Simpson.

The Student Bar Association presented “Serial: The Presumption of Guilt” to a packed crowd in the moot courtroom on Feb. 12. The SBA president, Michael Sellitto (right), moderated. Panelists included (from left) Justin Brown, Rabia Chaudry, Saad Chaudry, Douglas Colbert, Chris Flohr and Susan Simpson.

The University of Baltimore School of Law drew a standing-room-only crowd on Feb. 12 for “Serial: The Presumption of Guilt.” A panel that included friends and former attorneys for Adnan Syed, who was convicted in the 1999 murder of a former girlfriend, examined the Baltimore County case that was the subject of the hit podcast. (It has been downloaded nearly 70 million times.)

Organized by the UB Student Bar Association, the nighttime event featured a who’s who of people involved in the case, including:

Justin Brown, Adnan Syed’s attorney
Saad Chaudry, Adnan Syed’s best friend
Rabia Chaudry, Saad’s sister, a lawyer who brought Adnan Syed’s story to Serial host Sarah Koenig’s attention
Douglas Colbert and Chris Flohr, lawyers who represented Syed during the investigation and trial
Susan Simpson, a lawyer in Washington, D.C.

“Serial: The Presumption of Guilt” was covered by several TV stations, including Baltimore’s ABC affiliate, which recorded the nearly two-hour event. Click here to see the coverage.

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Moot court teams earn accolades

Brook + Bloom -- moot court
TRADEMARK TEAM: Coach Rob McCord reports that the University of Baltimore team of Brook and Bloom won second place in the East Region Finals of the Saul Lefkowitz Trademark Law Moot Court Competition the weekend of Feb. 7 in New York. Michael Brook and Katherine Bloom (above) will be representing the East along with a formidable team from Georgetown that won first place, best brief and best oralists. The UB team garnered high praise in its appearance before each panel of judges as the two students deftly handled questions. The judges, practicing trademark attorneys, were particularly impressed with how the team handled the implications of a recent Supreme Court decision that was directly applicable to one of the threshold issues in the case. Accolades included “outstanding job,” “unflappable,” “really impressive,” “terrific,” “incredibly nimble” and, on at least three occasions, “that is the first time we’ve heard that argument/response today.” One judge remarked that the UB team was the best he had seen in all his years of judging the competition. The team members head to Nationals in the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit in Washington, D.C., on March 15.

UB BLSA: Professor Odeana Neal reports that UB’s Black Law Students Association was a “standout” at the 2015 Mid-Atlantic BLSA conference the weekend of Feb. 7. UB BLSA was named regional chapter of the year, while UB’s Frederick Douglass Moot Court and Thurgood Marshall Mock Trial teams both placed fourth overall in the region. In addition, UB BLSA’s Olivia Margaret Fogarty was recognized as the best oral advocate in the moot court competition.

TAX TEAM: Professor Fred Brown reports that the UB Tax Moot Court Team took the award for second runner-up for oral argument in the 2015 National Tax Moot Court Competition held the weekend of Feb. 7 in Clearwater Beach, Fla. The UB team placed third out of 16 teams in oral argument. Brown said team members Timothy Carey, Brittany Hampton and April Inskeep “performed brilliantly” throughout the competition, receiving praise from the judges for their organization, knowledge of the law and facts, clarity, speaking technique, poise and persuasiveness.

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Op-ed by Prof. Colin Starger: Mass incarceration a failed policy

In a Feb. 3 op-ed in The Baltimore Sun, University of Baltimore School of Law Professor Colin Starger comments on the record number of wrongful convictions overturned in the United States last year. Starger says that the justice system is simply “overwhelmed” by a policy of mass incarcerations — and that the time is right for reform. Writes Starger: “The United States imprisons more people per capita than any other nation, with 2 million incarcerated at present. That crushing volume makes mistakes inevitable. Accuracy is impossible when police, prosecutors, public defenders and judges labor under impossible caseloads.”

Learn more about Professor Starger.

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