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MacArthur Center Moves to Law Legal Clinic

April 18, 2006 | by Pat Vaughan Tremmel

CHICAGO --- Two nationally recognized leaders in criminal justice reform will join forces this June when the MacArthur Justice Center moves from the University of Chicago to Northwestern University School of Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic.

“The addition of the MacArthur Justice Center will make the Bluhm Legal Clinic’s national voice for juvenile and criminal justice reform and human rights even stronger,” said Thomas Geraghty, associate dean for clinical education, professor and director of the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern. “And the same goes for the educational program for our students.”

After the MacArthur Justice Center -- including legal director Locke Bowman, trial attorney Joe Margulies and two support staff -- moves to Northwestern, at least 16 more law students will be able to work in the clinic each semester.

Housed together, the two organizations will alternately complement and augment each other’s efforts. The MacArthur Center focuses on civil litigation that raises issues in criminal justice with the objective of achieving systemic reform, and the individual criminal cases that the Bluhm Legal Clinic has brought to the national forefront shed light on the need for such reform.

The work of MacArthur’s Bowman primarily involves police misconduct, compensation for wrongful convictions and rights of the indigent to effective defense service. Margulies’ work focuses on issues related to civil liberties implications of the war on terror. He is a leader in efforts to win access to the federal courts for those imprisoned at Guantánamo Bay.

The Bluhm Legal Clinic is home to the Center on Wrongful Convictions, whose work has helped to reshape the death penalty debate and led to major reforms; the Children and Family Justice Center, a leading advocate against coercive interrogations that lead to false confessions; and the Center for International Human Rights. The clinic has done extensive work improving the conditions of the Cook County Juvenile Detention Center and undertaken studies of public defender organizations throughout the country.

“The Bluhm clinic will help the MacArthur Center identify issues to make the system more fair, accurate and efficient,” Geraghty said. He mentioned improvements in procedures for taking statements from witnesses and suspects, in eyewitness identifications and in access to and quality of forensic science, defense and social services.

The death penalty case of Leroy Orange, who was represented by the Bluhm Legal Clinic, hints at the synergy that already exists between the two organizations. The clinic argued that Orange was tortured by two Chicago police officers from Area Two and eventually got him pardoned. The MacArthur Justice Center then took a petition with a number of prisoners’ allegations about systemic prisoner torture at Area Two to the chief judge of the criminal court. The MacArthur attorneys argued for a grand jury investigation of what went on at Area Two and persuaded the court to appoint a special prosecutor.

The move of the MacArthur Justice Center to Northwestern was motivated by the prospect of enhancing such synergy and collegial relations, Bowman said. “We couldn’t be happier,” he said. “We’ve admired the wonderful clinical work being done at Northwestern for years.”

At the same time, the MacArthur Justice Center will have its own board of directors and continue to maintain its independence. Its funding will continue to come from the J. Roderick MacArthur Foundation, named for a Chicago businessman and son of philanthropists John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur.

The foundation set up the center in 1985 as a nonprofit, public-interest law firm to fight for human rights and social justice through litigation.

Rick MacArthur, son of the late J. Roderick MacArthur and a member of the foundation board, grew up on Chicago’s North Shore. During high school, MacArthur attended his first criminal trial, where he saw Geraghty earn an acquittal for an alleged gang leader charged with mob action for organizing a march to protest Chicago police behavior. The impression has endured.

“All these years later, it seems fated and emotionally right that we’d end up formally affiliated,” MacArthur said.

Even as the MacArthur Justice Center takes on work that has national as well as global significance, its focus will be on Chicago and Cook County. “That is where we are from and where we feel a particular responsibility,” MacArthur said. “And the Bluhm Clinic will help us maintain that focus.”

The MacArthur Justice Center is expected to be fully operational at Northwestern for the start of the 2006–07 academic year.

“We are going to have an unparalleled community of practitioners and scholars in criminal justice reform working closely on a daily basis to identify and undertake projects that will improve the way our courts, prisons and police departments operate,” Geraghty said. “In the process, our students will get unparalleled hands-on experience in representation of clients adversely affected by the problems in our juvenile and criminal justice systems. And our students will have great opportunities to participate in policy formulation in those areas.”

Topics: University News