Charlotte School of Law Pro Bono Program Hosts Election Protection Initiative
On Monday, September 12th, Professor Sean Lew, assistant professor and Director of Pro Bono Programs, hosted attorneys from Election Protection, a nonpartisan coalition formed to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. To that end, Election Protection works year-round to advance and defend the right to vote.
The coalition visited CharlotteLaw to recruit law students to serve as poll monitors and help investigate any reports of voter suppression and threats to election integrity.
North Carolina has been identified by both major political parties as a critical battleground state in the 2016 Election. Highlighting the state’s important position, Attorney Kenya Myers of Democracy N.C. discussed recent election law developments including the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to strike down the controversial N.C. voting rights law. Additionally, Attorney Ella-Marie Smith from Dechert LLP introduced attendees to a special voter protection program for the Latino community in N.C.
After their presentations, the Election Protection attorneys engaged in a lively question and answer session with students.
Reflecting on the visit, Professor Lew said, “It has been mentioned repeatedly that voting is one of our most cherished rights as U.S. Citizens, but it is still alarming that reports of voter suppression and election-day shenanigans continue to exist. The nonpartisan Election Protection Initiative gives our law students exposure to election law, and also the opportunity to work with underserved communities to safeguard the right to vote.”
(originally appearing in Issue 72–Proud of our Mission!! e-newsletter)
One specific instance that is sticking out in my mind about the Mississippi Center for Justice trip are the dogs located in the backyard of the house next to the center. The dogs are of the pitbull breed, and despite common stereotypes concerning pitbulls, I decided I would risk the functionality of my hand to go and pet the dogs. The risk was worth the reward, and the dogs and I quickly became friends. Every time I would arrive, or depart the Mississippi Center for Justice, I would greet my friends and pet them on the head. I really feel like my connection with the dogs is analogous to the work I was doing for the center concerning the disparate impact of a zoning ordinance on apartment housing in Mississippi. The city is attempting to tear down the apartments due to the community stereotypes associated with those specific apartments. If only the city would “risk their hands” and tear down the community stereotypes instead of the apartments, then everybody would be friends with each other like I am with the dogs next door.
-John T. Wheatley
On the third day of the trip, our group really started to dig into the depositions that we were assigned. It became more apparent how the case was going to evolve through reading and discussing multiple depositions from some of the key witnesses and experts. I began to develop a summary of my second deposition, which hopefully will help Mr. Jopling quickly evaluate whether or not the depositions will be helpful for him in the future. Later that day, the group took a trip to the famous Sal and Mookies Pizza and Ice Cream for a delectable and tasty dinner. We encountered a very strange waitress, who, despite the best efforts of some of the students, began to annoy some people on the trip. In all, I would say that the dinner was a success; though, I believe I could have written a book in the time it took to receive the checks and pay for my meal. One of the students reported having nightmares about the waitress the next morning, and we are all hopeful he can recover from the traumatizing experience.
-John T. Wheatley
On the second day of the trip, one of the girls accidentally set off the alarm to the Mississippi Center for Justice building, so eager to begin working on her track. The tone of the day was set after that; it was going to be a very high energy and productive day. I got through a large deposition for my assignment, and began to develop a condensed outline for Mr. Jopling to use for when he goes over the deposition in his work on the case. Needless to say, the deposition was filled with many legally significant facts that I helped Mr. Jopling locate in the outline, and hopefully he finds my outline helpful. After the workday was over, I wrote my first blog post and a group of us went to dinner at a well-established restaurant know for its wings and its famous “owl” mascot. One student got the “911” flavor wings, and after two of them we weren’t sure if he was going to walk out of there; he ended up finishing all of the wings, and he made it out of there with his taste buds in tact, despite a brief period of sweating profusely.
-John T. Wheatley
On the first day of the trip, the group was presented with a brief video that detailed the roots of the Mississippi Center for Justice; from it’s beginning to where it is now. It was a very informative video and made me have a great appreciation for the foundations of the organization as related to Hurricane Katrina. Then we were separated into groups once we selected our respective “tracks,” and were informed as to what our assignments for the week would be. Our instructor, John Jopling, is a very interesting man and gave our group a great background story on the case we will be working on. Moreover, he has provided very useful and practical tips for when we will be attorney’s of our own, and many of the obstacles an attorney can run into with a large, high profile case, such as the one my group was assigned to work on. The first day really gave me an appreciation for the Mississippi Center for Justice, and I look forward to working with my group on the case we were assigned, as well as being along side Mr. Jopling.
-John T. Wheatley
Finally I made it home. I stayed within the speed limit on the way to Biloxi. On the way back, I caught myself exceeding the limit from time to time. I was exhausted from the week’s activities and just wanted to get home to rest. Nothing was more aggravating than finding out Montgomery, Alabama had a rush hour. As we drove home my colleagues and I reflected on the weeks activities. I realized that I really enjoyed Biloxi and hoped to return one day for vacation. We also talked about how it felt to help people, and being the people here to help in the community. I believe the overall feeling was warm and welcoming. Anytime anyone has to leave that feeling there is an air of sadness. I believe this experience changed me for the better. The hands on work really showed me that being a lawyer not only provides the opportunity to make a decent paycheck, but more importantly, it provides an opportunity to help people. This was probably my most valuable experience while in law school. Until next time Biloxi, keep the seafood delicious and the hospitality warm.