Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

DU students take on the Feds — and win

Students 1, Federal Government O.

Not bad for a team of University of Denver Sturm College of Law students who went up against the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. 

Third-year students Donald Bounds, Jack Hobaugh and Michelle Young worked with assistant professor Laura Rovner through the 2006 – 07 school year, developing a case for Colorado Supermax prison inmate Mark Jordan, protesting rules that barred him from publishing articles under a byline.

Jordan, serving terms for bank robbery and murder at the government’s maximum security facility near Florence, had been a prolific writer, with articles appearing in print and the Internet before he was punished twice for violating a prison rule that “the inmate may not act as reporter or publish under a byline.”

The DU students in Rovner’s Civil Rights Law Clinic argued the rule was a violation of Jordan’s right to free speech. The government maintained they exist for security.

In her August ruling, U.S. District Judge Marcia Krieger found in favor of Jordan and banned the government from punishing him. “The Court concludes that there is no logical connection between the blanket restriction on outgoing news media correspondence and prison security,” she wrote.

Rovner says she’s “delighted” with the ruling. Her class had a tough case, she says, but felt the points were well researched.

“I believed strongly in the legal arguments that we were making,” she says.

The ruling could affect the treatment of tens of thousands of prisoners in federal custody, Rovner says.

Although Bounds, Hobaugh and Young have graduated, the clinic lives on. Rovner is eyeing another case involving the notorious Supermax facility. In a case already in the works, Rovner is preparing to have students challenge the government on behalf of several inmates, including one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. The suit will allege that isolated confinement at Supermax constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and that the government is denying inmates a right to practice their religion.

The case will be challenging, she says, but students will get hands on training in a real courtroom.

“The reason we have clinical programs is to give students the opportunity to represent clients and actually practice law before we send them out into the world,” Rovner says. “You wouldn’t want somebody practicing heart surgery on you if they had never touched a patient.”

To read more about the case, click here:

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