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Appellate Advocacy Clinic Lands Victory

Wake Forest law student, Meghan Poirier, spent much of her final spring semester in law school reviewing court records, writing briefs, and arguing in support of her Appellate Advocacy Clinic client, John Mooney.  Mr. Mooney had pled guilty to the charge of "being a felon in possession of a firearm" and was given a fifteen year prison sentence, the mandatory minimum under the applicable federal statute.  Mooney had filed a pro se petition for habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the Southern District of West Virginia, contending that his lawyer provided him with ineffective assistance of counsel by advising him to plead guilty and not investigating whether there was a possible defense to the charge.  When the District Court denied his petition, he filed a notice of appeal to the United States Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Virginia.  It was at that point that his legal path led him to Wake Forest’s Appellate Advocacy Clinic.

The Fourth Circuit appointed Professor John Korzen to represent Mooney as part of the Wake Forest Appellate Advocacy Clinic, a clinic which handles appeals of various types for indigent clients.  A Fourth Circuit Local Rule allows third-year law students to appear before the Court.    Professor George Walker started the clinic in the 1970’s, when it was one of the very first appellate clinics in the country, and Professor Korzen began leading the clinic in 2005.  During the 2006-07 school year, five third-year clinic students worked on three different appeals.  Mooney’s case fell into the capable hands of Ms. Poirier.

Poirier began to review Mooney’s case in January 2007.  The record showed that Mooney’s trial lawyer advised him to plead guilty, believing that there was no legal defense to the charge against him.  Based on the facts that Mooney related to his lawyer, however, case law supported a defense of "justification" to the charge.  Mooney told his lawyer that he only possessed the handgun after he disarmed his ex-wife, who had threatened him with it, and walked with the gun for seven blocks to turn it over to the police.  Mooney contended that his lawyer should have known about the justification defense, and that he would not have pled guilty at trial if he had received better advice from his lawyer.

Ms. Poirier drafted two briefs asking the Court to hold that Mooney’s trial lawyer provided ineffective counsel and to allow Mr. Mooney to withdraw his guilty plea and defend the charge at trial.  She also made several practice arguments before Wake Forest faculty and students.  On May 23, just two days after her law school graduation, Meghan argued before the Fourth Circuit in Richmond.

This week, Meghan and her clinic colleagues celebrated the Clinic’s victory when the Fourth Circuit ruled in favor of Mr. Mooney in a published decision handed down on August 6.   Congratulations to Meghan Poirier for a job well-done.  Her perseverance and diligent efforts gave us all the opportunity to observe real justice in action.

Meghan’s victory is featured in the August 13 edition as well as the online edition of the National Law Journal and as a “Decision of the Day” in enotes.com.