CREEC, DU Civil Rights Clinic are Finalists for Public Justice’s Trial Lawyer of the Year!

We are very excited to announce that a team of lawyers and (then) law students from CREEC and the University of Denver Sturm College of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic (CRC) is one of four national finalists for the Trial Lawyer of the Year award presented by Public Justice. We have been nominated for our work on the Anderson and Decoteau cases. Public Justice — a nonprofit organization that pursues high-impact lawsuits to combat social and economic injustice, protect the Earth’s sustainability and challenge predatory corporate conduct and government abuses — presents its Trial Lawyer of the Year Award to the attorney(s) who made the greatest contribution to the public interest within the past year by trying or settling a precedent-setting, socially significant case.

CREEC also wants to congratulate the other three finalist teams, especially our good friends at Schneider, Wallace, Cotrell, Konecky, Wotkyns, LLP; Goldstein Borgen Dardarian & Ho; Legal Aid at Work; and the Disability Rights Legal Center for their great work on the Los Angeles sidewalk case, Willits v. Los Angeles.  Possibly the coolest thing to come from this nomination will be the chance to hang out with these rockstars in Boston at the Public Justice gala!

Image: A cinderblock room with walls that narrow toward the far end from approximately 8 feet wide near the photographer to approximately 3 feet wide at the far end. At the end, there are two long narrow windows extending from about one foot off the floor to about 6 inches from the ceiling. The room is empty except for a flourescent light on the ceiling and a chin-up bar on the right wall.

The “outdoor” exercise cell at CSP prior to the Anderson and Decoteau cases.

CREEC and the CRC brought the Anderson and Decoteau cases on behalf of men incarcerated in the Colorado State Penitentiary (CSP) who had been denied outdoor exercise for years or even decades. These men, who were locked in 90 square foot cells for 23 hours a day, were only permitted to exercise in an empty cell similar to the ones they live in with a narrow slit of a window and a pull-up bar.  The CRC and CREEC filed a lawsuit on behalf of Troy Anderson in 2010 claiming that the Department of Corrections’s (DOC’s) refusal to provide him outdoor exercise violated his constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Student attorneys under the supervision of Civil Rights Clinic faculty and CREEC attorney Amy Robertson, took the case to trial in 2012.  In a written decision, U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson held that the DOC’s refusal to provide outdoor exercise to the men at CSP was cruel and unusual punishment, finding that “coupled with the other conditions of administrative segregation at the CSP, this prolonged deprivation is a paradigm of inhumane treatment.”

Image: basketball hoop in an outdoor concrete yard, fenced with razor wire, with the mountains in the background.

One of the new yards built at CSP as a result of the Anderson and Decoteau cases.

Following the court’s decision, the DOC moved Mr. Anderson to a different prison, leaving the remaining 700 men at CSP without outdoor exercise. As a result, the Clinic and CREEC began investigating and interviewing scores of men at CSP concerning their experiences with outdoor exercise and in December 2013, filed the Decoteau v. Raemisch case, a class action asserting that the failure to provide outdoor exercise at CSP violated the rights of the men incarcerated there.

In late 2015, the case settled with an agreement by the Department of Corrections to construct outdoor exercise yards at CSP.  The yards have now been completed, and some of the men at CSP are feeling the sun on their faces for the first time in decades.

CREEC was thrilled throughout these cases to work with the Civil Rights Clinic, an intensive, year-long litigation program where students represent clients in civil rights cases in federal court under the supervision of clinic faculty.

The announcement of the 2017 Trial Lawyer of the Year will be made at the Public Justice Gala on July 24 at the Fairmont Copley Plaza in Boston, Mass.

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