Family law cases are often quite complex, with deep emotional connections for everyone involved. Earlier this month, 3L Clinic students Beth Carter and John Cadagan experienced this impact first hand when they brought a long-running case that 11 total students have worked on to court. The three-day trial was held in Spokane County Superior Court.
A Complex Family Case
This case concerns a young child that is now 11 years old. The child had very little contact with her father, who is a convicted sex offender. In 2009 the father entered a petition with the court that would allow him to have contact with the child, and used a falsified return of service in order to have a default judgment entered against the mother. Later that year, the father abducted the child and moved her to the western side of the state. After the child was eventually returned to her mother, she returned with significant mental health impacts from the abduction. The entire case record includes over 200 pleadings, motions, notices of hearing, and temporary orders. The three-day trial included a total of about 150 exhibits.
Students Taking the Lead
Through the time this case was being handled in the General Practice Clinic, a total of 11 students worked on the case. Supervised by Professor Gail Hammer, students conducted the entirety of the trial. In court, Carter made the opening statement and conducted direct examinations. Cadagan handled cross-examination and made the closing argument. Both students entered evidence, made objections, and responded to objections. Taylor Wallace, another 3L, provided support work throughout the trial.
“The students’ work was impressive. In the beginning of the trial, they looked like law students conducting their first trial; by the end, they looked like attorneys,” said Professor Hammer.
In the past, eight other Clinic students have worked on this case. The case included elements of the Rules of Civil Procedure, Due Process and other aspects of Constitutional Law, and many elements of family law.
Experience With Impact
At the end of the hearing, Judge Price ordered that the child’s father would have no contact with the child, and modification of the order is not allowed until several criteria are met. Carter described the case as “an exhilarating and exhausting learning experience.” Cadagan described his feelings about the case, saying “Litigation is a huge adrenaline kick, and the importance of preparation cannot be overstated. Beth was great to work with because she was able to empathize with our client on a very personal level.”
University Legal Assistance, housed in the Gonzaga Center for Law and Justice, usually referred to as The Clinic, takes on a variety of cases each year. Individuals seeking low-cost legal assistance for civil cases should apply through the Northwest Justice Project CLEAR service, or the Spokane County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Program.