Skip to comments.Legal Aid: Law students volunteer to work on Hamdania case(Pendleton 8)
Posted on 08/07/2006 5:14:46 AM PDT by radar101
Attorney and law professor Joseph Casas, who is representing one of the Marines accused of war crimes in Hamdania, Iraq, has recruited some of his students at Thomas Jefferson School of Law to help work on the case. Photo:Jamie Scott Lytle
SAN DIEGO ---- While eight U.S. servicemen sit in a military jail accused of war crimes and under an international spotlight, 10 young civilians, strangers to the defendants, are thumbing through legal books and organizing evidence to help the defense.
It's nearly a full-time job for the civilians. And they are doing it as volunteers.
The 10 are law students. Their professors are the attorneys tapped to represent Pfc. John Jodka, one of the eight men accused of kidnapping and killing an Iraqi man on April 26 in the village of Hamdania.
It's the kind of case that seasoned professionals line up to work on. And it's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a group of students personally chosen by Jodka's attorneys to work on the case.
"I've had students assist me on a case-by-case basis, but nothing of this magnitude," said Jodka attorney Joseph Casas, who also teaches at Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego. "It's a very unique experience for the students."
The students do much of the grunt work on the case.
"This isn't just another legal internship, where you answer the phone or file paperwork," said 25-year-old team member Libby Jamison, who just graduated from Thomas Jefferson. "In this, we are really involved and part of the team."
Every time a batch of new evidence comes in, it is this group of students pawing through and collating it. They also do legal research and whatever else tossed to them by Casas and Jane Siegel, who also represents Jodka and teaches at the same law school.
Siegel, a retired colonel who at one time was in charge of all military defense counsel in the Marine Corps, said the use of the students was "working out very well."
One of the tasks given to the group, Siegel said recently, was the time-consuming but vital work of studying witness statements, looking for and pulling together a list of inconsistencies, if any.
"There is so much work to be done, the use of highly motivated and intelligent students is just a perfect fit," Siegel said.
The students, whom Siegel calls "very bright people" and who were screened before the offer to join the team was made, have all signed confidentiality agreements, and are all protected under the attorney-client privilege, Siegel said.
Recruiting law students to volunteer may mean money is freed up to hire expert witnesses and investigators, critical assets in defending in a murder case, Casas said.
The students say the work they are doing has had a cost ---- lost sleep. Six of the 10 volunteers on Jodka's case gathered together last week to talk about their role and about the time they put in ---- 25 to 35 hours a week, said student team member Alyssa McCorkle ---- on top of their full-time school schedules and outside jobs. Their work also does not count as an internship or as credits toward their degree.
Still, the case consumes them.
"I dream about it," said Erica Saltzman, a 25-year-old San Marcos resident getting ready to graduate this year. "That's when you know you are really involved, is when you start dreaming strategy. I wake up and have to write it down before I forget."
Team member Robert Wasserman said he had been able to make direct connections between what he learns in class and what he sees in helping out on the case.
Casas said that the students are not only learning but are also using what they are learning ---- "the most important thing in practicing law."
"If they work hard for me, they are going to get rewarded with what an average law student won't get to do," Casas said.
Jodka's father, John Jodka Jr., is the one who sought out and hired Siegel and Casas on behalf of his son. He is also likely to be the one who will pay the bill. He says he is thrilled to have the law students on board.
"Anything that can multiply efforts and provide further eyes on the subject is a good thing," Jodka Jr. said. "It frees Joseph and Jane for more sophisticated matters."
And his son's reaction to learning that he had law students to help out? One word, says his father: "Good."
In addition to Jodka, the accused are Sgt. Lawrence G. Hutchins III, Cpl. Trent D. Thomas, Cpl. Marshall Magincalda, Hospitalman 3rd Class Melson J. Bacos, Lance Cpls. Tyler A. Jackson, Robert B. Pennington, and Jerry Shumate Jr.
The men, all members of a unit with the Camp Pendleton-based 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, are awaiting hearings to determine if the charges against them will move forward. Each has hired at least one private attorney.
That the Hamdania case is serious, that it involves allegations of murder and conspiracy, and that it draws worldwide headlines because of the potential of a death penalty, is not lost on these students.
"I'm only 22. Jodka is only 20," Wasserman said. "I cannot imagine being in that situation. His entire life is on the line. It's a scary, scary thought, and I think that is why we are all so passionate about this case. ... We want to do our best to defend him."
But it is intimidating, working on a case under so much scrutiny, a case that has drawn attention from the highest level of the Marine Corps.
"Scary is the word," said 22-year-old Renee Galente of Vista. "We have to step up to the plate. Jodka needs us to."
Contact staff writer Teri Figueroa at (760) 631-6624 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Good luck to the Marines (may they get a fair trial, at least). Sadly, Thomas Jefferson is regarded as one of the worst accredited law schools in the country, but I'm sure it has a few capable students.