Lawyer UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS SCHOOL OF LAW SUMMER 2022 ST. THOMAS
BENDING the ARC of JUSTICE JEFF STORMS AND THE DEFENSE OF CIVIL RIGHTS
THE SCHOOL OF LAW HELD ITS 20TH ANNUAL MISSION AWARDS CEREMONY APRIL 20, 2022. The event took place in the atrium for the first time since the pandemic began in 2020. The Mission Awards honor students, faculty, staff and alumni whose activities and work have exemplified the school’s mission, vision and values. This year’s recipients
are featured on the law school’s Instagram and Facebook pages.
Photo by Liam James Doyle
ST. THOMAS Lawyer Summer 2022 – Volume 15, Issue 2
Published by the University of St. Thomas School of Law 1000 LaSalle Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55403 (651) 962-4892 email@example.com stthomas.edu/law Senior Marketing Program Manager and Editor Carrie Hilger Designer Carol Garner Photographers Mark Brown Liam James Doyle Contributors
A Message From the Dean
School of Law News
Class of 2021 Employment Record
Sheree R. Curry Ann Harrington Gloria Sonnen Myre Robert Vischer Front cover
Jeff Storms: Bending the Arc of Justice 12 Faculty/Staff Profiles 17-19, 26 New Legal Clinic for Parents of Special Education Students 20 Tisidra Jones: Race, Leadership and Social Justice 24 Class Notes 27
Attorney Jeff Storms speaks during a press conference at the start of the trial of former officer Derek Chauvin over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, March 29, 2021. Photo by Christopher Mark Juhn/ Anadolu Agency Back cover Photo by Mark Brown
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AT ST. THOMAS LAW, OUR MISSION COMPELS US TO PURSUE EXCELLENCE.
ur mission stands out among American law schools, committing us to educate the whole person by integrating “faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice.” This mission does not allow us to retreat from the world’s tumult and trouble; as a community, we are called to lean into the pain and align our gifts with the world’s needs.
This means that legal education at St. Thomas will be deeply relational, practical and forward- looking. Whether the subject is attorney well-being, criminal justice reform, the centrality of mentoring, organizational leadership, restorative justice practices, or professional identity formation, we do not aim to replicate what might have worked 20 years ago; we aim to develop what our world will need tomorrow.
Yale 93.6% Harvard 92.9% Stanford 92.9% U of Minnesota 92.5% St. Thomas 92.3% Notre Dame 89.7% Mitchell-Hamline 60.0% COMPARISON POINTS
The success of our efforts to meet the world’s needs is reflected, in part, by how eager employers are to hire our graduates. Law schools recently published their employment outcomes for the class of 2021, and 92.3% of St. Thomas graduates secured full-time, long-term positions for which a J.D. is either required or preferred. Our distinctive mission can never be an excuse for anything short of excellence. If we want to have a meaningful impact on our world, a St. Thomas legal education has to be as good as, or better than, the
education offered by every other law school. We are making remarkable progress toward that goal. That shouldn’t be a surprise. When you prepare students to meet tomorrow’s challenges, the world notices. Please note, when you read this, I will have transitioned to serving as interim president of our university. Joel Nichols will have stepped in as interim dean, and Lisa Schiltz as interim associate dean for academic affairs. They are both highly capable, mission-centered leaders. The future of St. Thomas Law is bright, and our path forward will continue to be marked by excellence.
Robert K. Vischer Dean and Mengler Chair in Law University of St. Thomas School of Law
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SCHOOL OF LAW NEWS
VISCHER NAMED INTERIM UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT
NICHOLS INTERIM DEAN; SCHILTZ INTERIM DEAN FOR ACADEMIC AFFAIRS Following the announcement that Dr. Julie Sullivan would step down as president of the University of St. Thomas at the end of the 2021-22 academic year, the St. Thomas Board of Trustees appointed law school Dean Robert Vischer interim president, beginning June 1. Current Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Joel Nichols is now interim dean of the law school and Professor Elizabeth (Lisa) Schiltz stepped in as interim associate dean for academic affairs. They also assumed their new roles on June 1. A national search for the next university president has commenced.
CONGRATULATIONS, KAARIN NELSON SCHAFFER! At the 11th annual Alumnae Brunch on November 6, 2021, St. Thomas Law honored Kaarin Nelson Schaffer ’06 J.D. with a 2021 Alumna Achievement Award. She was nominated by fellow alum and colleague Ben Kwan ‘13 J.D. Kaarin Nelson Schaffer is a partner at Conard Nelson Schaffer. She litigates on behalf of employees in employment-related matters, including sexual harassment, whistleblower retaliation, discrimination and other forms
of unlawful workplace conduct by employers. From 2020–2021, she served as the trustee for the next of kin of George Floyd. Nelson Schaffer and others brought a Section 1983 claim against the city of Minneapolis and the four former Minneapolis police officers involved in the death of George Floyd that ultimately settled for $27 million. The settlement has been described as the largest pre-trial civil rights wrongful death settlement in U.S. history. As the trustee, Nelson Schaffer utilized her strong relationship skills to help navigate a wide variety of interests and personalities, and helped to bring about an uncontested distribution.
Alumna Kaarin Nelson Schaffer ’06 (above, center), recipient of the 2021 Alumna Achievement Award, stands for a photo with her fellow law school classmates during the annual “Leadership at Your Best” alumnae brunch hosted by the School of Law and the Law Women’s Networking Committee.
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SCHOOL OF LAW NEWS
#1 FOR PRACTICAL TRAINING National Jurist, 2022 St. Thomas Law has been ranked among the top three law schools in this category since 2014.
PROFESSOR COLLETT TO VISIT CHILE WITH FULBRIGHT SPECIALIST PROGRAM
Professor Teresa Collett was invited to visit Chile in June as a Fulbright Specialist by the Universidad de los Andes in Santiago. Her visit coincides with the country’s landmark convention to rewrite its constitution and Collett will conduct research and provide input for the university regarding religious and educational freedoms as a constitutional law scholar.
NEW LAWYER SEARCH LAUNCHED Alumni are invited to join and connect with fellow St. Thomas Law graduates through the newly redesigned Lawyer Search online directory! Visit stthomas.edu/law and click on Lawyer Search to complete the online process and create your profile. Lawyer Search is a public directory that is available to those who need to find a lawyer. It also facilitates networking and referrals among alumni and allows current and prospective law students to meet attorneys working in their areas of interest. Join your former classmates and colleagues on Lawyer Search!
FACULTY PUBLISH NEW BOOKS
Robert Vischer is one of 14 law school deans who contributed to the new constitutional law coursebook Beyond Imagination? The January 6 Insurrection (West Academic Publishing, 2022). The book examines U.S. history and the events that led
up to and occurred on Jan. 6, 2021, from a legal perspective, with the hope of moving the nation forward toward healing and a recommitment to the rule of law and the Constitution.
Cambridge University Press recently published the new book, Law Student Professional Development and Formation: Bridging Law School, Student, and Employer Goals , co-
authored by Neil Hamilton, Holloran Professor of Law and co-director of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions. The book will help legal educators foster students’ development of a professional identity that leads to a gratifying career that serves society well.
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SCHOOL OF LAW NEWS
CLASS OF 2021 SETS RECORD FOR EMPLOYMENT
St. Thomas Law’s class of 2021 set a school milestone for the record-high number of graduates employed in “gold standard” positions within 10 months of commencement. The law school recently reported that 92.3 percent of last year’s graduating class is working in full-time, long-term jobs that either require a law license or for which having a J.D. provides a significant advantage to performing or obtaining the role. The class of 2021 employment rate places St. Thomas Law among the top law schools in the country for career outcomes. It ranks #37 nationally among the more than 200 accredited U.S. law schools. Harvard Law School: 92.9% Georgetown Law School: 92.7% University of Minnesota Law School: 92.5% St. Thomas School of Law: 92.3% Boston College Law School: 90.8% Notre Dame Law School: 89.7% Marquette University Law School: 88.5%
EMPLOYMENT Class of 2021
“Early in our history as a law school, some prospective students would express enthusiasm about our mission but wondered whether attending St. Thomas Law meant sacrificing some of the stellar job prospects that could be found at law schools that had been around for 100 years. We have worked very hard to build a law school community that delivers a mission-centered student experience and employment outcomes that meet or beat those found at Harvard, Stanford, Georgetown or Notre Dame. Being faithful to our mission can never be an excuse to relax our commitment to excellence. ” DEAN ROBERT VISCHER
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SCHOOL OF LAW NEWS
admissible hearsay Overheard in and around the University of St. Thomas School of Law
“There are still people who will critique this policy and I am one of them.” PROFESSOR RACHEL MORAN IN AN INTERVIEW WITH KARE 11 NEWS ABOUT THE CITY OF MINNEAPOLIS’ NEW NO-KNOCK WARRANT POLICY.
“A core principle of inclusive leadership is prioritizing faith over fear. That means having faith in what we can build together rather than fearing we will lose something by emphasizing diversity.” DR. ARTIKA TYNER ‘06 J.D., ‘10 MA, ‘12 EDD IN AN INTERVIEW WITH WESTLAW TODAY ABOUT HOW LEGAL PROFESSIONALS CAN BECOME MORE INCLUSIVE LEADERS AND BUILD MORE DIVERSE LAW FIRMS. “We could conceivably amend the Constitution – well, Constitutions (both state and federal) – and seek safety by denying bail entirely for a broad swath of low and mid-level offenses. The cost in liberty, though, and the shredding of the presumption of innocence, is too high a cost.” PROFESSOR MARK OSLER IN A STAR TRIBUNE OP-ED ABOUT WHY REFORMING BAIL POLICIES WILL NOT END VIOLENT CRIME. “We need to transform society in very specific ways, and our Catholic values, our social tradition, our intellectual Catholic tradition, I think can serve us very well in these areas. So, my invitation to all of you that are in the professions, is to look at what we’re doing with a little bit of a different perspective. Understanding that we can make a significant difference.” UNIVERSITY EXECUTIVE VICE PRESIDENT AND PROVOST DR. EDDY ROJAS AT THE LAW SCHOOL’S SPRING MISSION ROUNDTABLE EVENT.
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snapshots Law students held Scott Swanson Day on November 30 to honor Swanson’s 19 years of service to the law school and mark his retirement. The day included Hawaiian shirts and a life-size Swanson cut-out. It was also proclaimed Scott Swanson Day in the city of Minneapolis. Swanson ‘08 MA, ‘21 LL.M. is pictured (second from left) with law school staff members Grace Magill-Cuerden , Jill Akervik and Katie Flood .
Eder Castillo ‘20 J.D. visited Partnership Academy, a K-8 charter school in Richfield, Minn., to speak to students about being a lawyer. Castillo is part of the Alumni Advisory Board’s Outreach and Connections Committee, which works to raise awareness about legal careers among youth.
Ana Sorgenfrei ‘22 LL.M. from Brazil and Rodrigo Díaz Montes from Mexico, who were students in St. Thomas Law’s year-long LL.M. in U.S. Law program, got the chance to try ice fishing this winter when Mohammed Mayaleh ‘18 J.D./MBA volunteered to be their guide.
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Jenese Larmouth ‘07 J.D. was sworn in as Ramsey County District Court Referee in November. She is pictured here at the ceremony with her husband Daniel Larmouth ‘05 J.D.
At the Alumni Advisory Board’s last meeting of the year, members presented Dean Rob Vischer with a desktop statue of St. Thomas More. Vischer will serve as interim president of St. Thomas starting June 1. The Board reminded Dean Vischer to rub St. Thomas More’s foot for luck. Pictured from left to right: Jeff Storms ‘06 J.D. , Associate Dean Lisa Montpetit Brabbit , Beth Forsythe ‘06 J.D. , Vischer , Ronnie Santana ‘18 J.D. , Kate Nilan Uding ‘06 J.D. and Joe Johnson ‘07 J.D./MBA .
In April, the law school’s Appellate Clinic celebrated its 10th anniversary with a dinner that included current student practitioners and clinic alumni. Pictured, from left to right, are Lindsay Lien Rinholen ‘15 J.D ., Lindsey Rowland ‘18 J.D. , Joy Beitzel ‘14 J.D. , Katie Koehler ‘17 J.D. , Ann St. Amant ‘20 J.D. , Bridget Duffus ‘17 J.D. , Zuzana Menzlova ‘20 J.D. , Sarah Almquist ‘22 J.D. , Megan Massie ‘22 J.D. , Professor Greg Sisk who founded and continues to lead the clinic, Kelly Carlson ‘23 J.D. , Jessica Berns ’23 J.D. , Shana Tomenes ‘19 J.D. , Alex Klein ‘21 J.D. , Claire Kueffner ‘21 J.D. , Samantha Hoefs ‘19 J.D. , Caitlin Hull ‘16 J.D. and Catherine Floeder ‘16 J.D.
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BENDING the ARC JEFF STORMS’ FIGHT FOR CIVIL RIGHTS
It’s a Monday evening in April in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota. A balloon release and candlelight vigil signal the one-year “angelversary” for Daunte Wright, the young man fatally shot by officer Kim Potter, who stated she intended to pull her taser but instead had pulled her gun. Civil rights attorney Jeff Storms ‘06 J.D. is here, beside the Wright family. While his presence is not required as part of his role pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit against the north suburban
Minneapolis city, he says that to be a successful civil rights lawyer “it is a complete life commitment.” Storms built his practice representing the families of those killed or injured due to unconstitutional conduct or negligence by government officials from police officers to child protection case workers. It’s emotional for him and for the families. He takes solace in knowing that his work allows for justice, accountability and healing, while also impacting
the administration of justice in ongoing efforts to obtain the equitable application of legal right and law. Two years ago, a month before Wright died, Storms and his co-counsels, Ben Crump and Antonio Romanucci, negotiated an unprecedented $27 million pre- trial settlement with the City of Minneapolis on behalf of George Floyd’s next-of-kin. Storms’ advocacy goes beyond a monetary outcome; it is after change – change in the way the
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George Floyd family attorney, Jeff Storms, with Floyd’s brothers and others, speaks during a press conference outside the U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minnesota, on December 15, 2021.
Photo by Kerem Yucel/AFP
of JUSTICE By SHEREE R. CURRY
civil justice system both sees and responds to systemic racism. This change can be made whether a civil rights case settles pre-trial or has the facts roll out to a jury. Civil rights Section 1983 litigation is nuanced. Legal concepts such as qualified immunity, deliberate indifference and Monell doctrine require a level of understanding and advocacy that can tip cases in favor of the plaintiff under the most exacting review and evaluation of a judge. For a complicated civil rights case
to make it to trial, civil rights lawyers must navigate a maze of procedural challenges because there are multiple opportunities for the district court and appellate courts to dismiss the claim for failure to meet a legal standard or the requirements of the law. As a nationally recognized civil rights lawyer, Crump states, “In Minnesota, we just haven’t found anyone who understands 1983 litigation better than Jeff Storms.” He notes that such cases don’t
always advance. “Probably 90% of the cases with death by excessive use of force are dismissed on qualified immunity – that means families don’t get any justice in criminal courts nor in the civil courts.” This is why Crump, Storms and other civil rights advocates argue strenuously for the abolition of qualified immunity, a doctrine that Storms says unjustly prevents holding government actors accountable for violations of constitutional rights.
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DEFINING THE CONTOURS OF CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHTS In 2013, Storms’ work on a $3.075 million recovery for the next of kin of David Cornelius Smith was then the largest police brutality wrongful death settlement in Minnesota history. In 2018, Storms and his co-counsel secured a $1.5 million settlement with Hennepin County over the wrongful death of Kendrea Johnson, a six-year- old who died by ligature hanging while in foster care. Also in 2018, Storms accomplished the rare feat of winning at the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on back-to- back days in two other civil rights cases, one of these cases being a reversal of the underlying district court opinion.
Storms argued and won a second reversal at the Eighth Circuit in 2021 on a matter he cannot comment on. Reversals on civil rights cases at the Eighth Circuit are very rare, and Storms has now done it twice in the past four years alone. Storms is being recognized for his work. He has been named a Minnesota Attorney of the Year four times and is the recipient of an AAJ Leonard Weinglass in Defense of Civil Liberties Award. He has also been named one of Minnesota’s Top 100 Super Lawyers for 2022. He knows, however, that his victories are really victories for defining the contours of the constitutional
rights protecting those who are often marginalized in our system of justice. Historically, the administration of justice has focused primarily on monetary damages for the aggrieved party, such as in 1991 when Rodney King was brutally beaten by police. Now Storms and his co-counsel regularly advocate for nonmonetary relief and community justice. In the Floyd settlement, the family pledged $500,000 from the settlement funds to be returned to the community with a focus on investing in the business district surrounding 38th Street and Chicago Avenue, where George Floyd was murdered.
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Attorney Jeff Storms mingled with attendees at the ‘angelversary’ gathering marking one year since a then-Brooklyn Center police officer shot and killed 19-year-old Daunte Wright during a routine traffic stop along this intersection. Storms, the attorney representing the Wright family, was one of many people who set a candle at the memorial in honor and remembrance of yet another Black man killed by a police officer.
Still, Storms believes too many entities remain resistant to agreeing to nonmonetary terms out of a misguided and shortsighted fear that places an emphasis on protection in future litigation rather than making meaningful change that protects future victims. Even when such agreements are reached, Storms has concerns about entities truly implementing the changes they agree to make. The Smith case is a tragic example of that. Smith died by homicide in 2010 while restrained in a prone position on a YMCA basketball court by two
Minneapolis police officers. Aside from the monetary payout, the settlement included an agreement that the city’s police officers would receive additional safety training discussing the deadly risks associated with positional asphyxia. Yet, Floyd was murdered only 10 years later through the use of a similar prone restraint. “David’s death was supposed to prevent George’s death from happening,” Storms said. “It obviously did not. The city failed – in historic proportions – to meaningfully fulfill its promise to the Smith family.”
Storms and his partners at Newmark Storms Dworak, the firm he has helped build since 2015, have an increasing presence in high- profile civil rights cases. His firm also focuses on protecting the rights of individuals through its criminal defense and personal injury practices.
Highly sought after, Storms partnered again with Crump
and Romanucci on a third police misconduct case, this one involving Amir Locke, a Black man fatally shot in February 2022 by Minneapolis police entering a residence with a no-knock search warrant.
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Since neither Crump nor Romanucci are barred in the state of Minnesota, “We needed someone who is a top-notch, first-class civil rights attorney in Minnesota,” said Crump. “The person everyone kept talking about is attorney Jeff Storms. He is one of the best discoveries I made across America.”
GENUINE RELATIONSHIPS AND TRUST
Storms refers to himself as an East Coast “blue collar kid.” The son of a New Jersey police officer, Storms was a prep national wrestling champion in high school. He landed on the Division I team at Davidson College in North Carolina. His wrestling career ended abruptly due to a serious neck injury. The injury, he said, “knocked me down several pegs in terms of my ego. It made me re-evaluate who I was as a person. Instead of the successful ascent I had been experiencing, it gave me some adversity to overcome. It changed how I related to people and how I value people.” Although he said he always knew as a kid that he’d probably become a lawyer (“I was argumentative,” he said), he believes he is a better, more concerned, more collaborative lawyer because of his sports injury. “I realize that I can’t do these things alone. I need people to help me with cases and refer me cases and support me and I love helping other people succeed.” University of St. Thomas law alumna Kaarin Nelson Schaffer ‘06 J.D. attests to Storms’ congenial and supportive nature. “He is really patient and makes time for people,” she said.
Schaffer was the trustee for George Floyd’s next of kin in the case against the City of Minneapolis. The family selected her from among other attorneys after a recommendation from Storms. “When I had a concern, he would help me figure it out. I saw him do the same thing for the families,” Nelson Schaffer said. “These families don’t know what a 1983 case is. Jeff always took the time to explain the law in a way that made sense. He is an excellent lawyer.” Storms says he is intentional about taking time with his clients because their matter is not just another case. He believes being a good lawyer requires building genuine relationships and trust, a belief that was fostered during his time in law school at St. Thomas. “Our professors and mentors stressed the human side of the
law,” Storms said. “Not only was there a focus on understanding and pursuing a client’s individual needs and interests, but we were challenged to be mindful of how our chosen pursuits fit within the broader context of social justice.” Storms added that one thing life experience has taught him is that “as I go through the current success related to my practice, all that success can go away quickly if you don’t handle your practice the right way or if your ego becomes overinflated.” As the sun began to set behind the memorial statue erected at the Daunte Wright intersection, more than three hours after the start of the event, Storms was still there, mingling and supporting the family. Indeed, he has made his vocation a life commitment.
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NEW FACULTY PROFILE
DAVID GRENARDO Professor of Law; Associate Director, Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership in the Professions
David Grenardo comes to St. Thomas from St. Mary’s University School of Law in Texas, where he taught Professional Responsibility, Contracts, Sports Law, Business Associations, Civil Procedure and International Sports Law. What attracted you to St. Thomas Law? The opportunity to become part of an elite faculty that focuses on serving a talented and mission- driven student body, along with the chance to work closely with the Holloran Center. What are you looking forward to about moving to Minnesota? My wife, Dr. Jennifer Grenardo, Ed.D., and I both grew up in Colorado. We are looking forward to enjoying the four seasons. My sons, Solomon (13) and Moses (11), are excited for the cold weather and the snow. I told them to be careful what they wish for! Also, my friends Jeremiah ‘12 J.D. and
Katie (Wertheim) Iacarella ‘12 J.D. graduated from St. Thomas Law and I am excited to spend time with them and their family. How would you describe your scholarship? My scholarship focuses on professional responsibility, sports law, legal pedagogy, and the practice of law, including civility in the legal profession. How did your interest in those areas develop? I practiced law in California and Texas for nearly a decade before teaching and I believe civility should be mandatory amongst lawyers. As a former Division I football player at Rice University, I bring a unique perspective to issues relating to sports law. Finally, I enjoy writing about ways law schools can improve the educational experience and help students become successful professionals.
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NEW FACULTY PROFILE
JULIE JONAS Assistant Professor of Law
Before coming to St. Thomas, Julie Jonas was an adjunct professor and the legal director of the Great North Innocence Project at the University of Minnesota Law School. She will teach courses related to criminal law and procedure. You were previously an adjunct professor at St. Thomas Law. What interested you about joining the full-time faculty? I always appreciated the social justice mission that was so deeply embedded in the pedagogy of the school. That mission was embodied in the students and our classroom discussions were always engaging, with students holding a variety of viewpoints, but always listening to each other in a respectful manner. What will be the focus of your scholarship? Initially my research will focus on whether and how juries may be responsible for wrongful convictions. As a trial attorney, I always wanted to know what was being discussed in the jury room. As an innocence attorney, I often wondered how and why the jury failed my client. As an academic, I look forward to answering those questions. Do you have a favorite quote? “Always do the right thing even when the right thing is the hard thing.” – Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative Besides your work, what’s something that you’re passionate about? I am extremely excited for all things post- pandemic. I look forward to meeting new people and seeing their smiles, spending more time with family and friends, exercising with people without masks, going to live theater and movies, and lots of travel.
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NEW STAFF PROFILE
DEBBIE SHAPIRO Director of Academic Achievement and Bar Success Debbie Shapiro was previously an adjunct professor and Assistant Director of Career and Professional Development at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. What led you to a career working in law school student services? After practicing law for several years, I stayed home to raise my children. When I reentered the workforce, I found a natural connection between helping my own kids learn and grow and helping students learn and grow. Closely aligning my passion for helping others and guiding them to success has been extremely rewarding. What attracted you to the St. Thomas Law? I am attracted to St. Thomas because of its people. The students are motivated and dedicated to making a difference. Additionally, the faculty, administration and staff are an amazing group dedicated to offering the best legal education so students can pursue a meaningful life and career. What should students know about you? Students should know I am here to support their success. It is my goal to do all I can to help others along their journey. I have been in student support for over 13 years. I have taught, guided, mentored and listened to thousands of students. And now, I am here for you. What is your favorite piece of advice from a mentor? My favorite piece of advice from a mentor is to trust – trust yourself and trust your instincts. When you are true to yourself, things tend to work out as they should.
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NEW LEGAL CLINIC SEEKS TO EMPOWER PARENTS OF SPECIAL EDUCATION STUDENTS
By ANN HARRINGTON
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Navigating the special education system can be overwhelming, even for a trained advocate. Professor Elizabeth Schiltz knows that firsthand, as the mother of a son with Down syndrome and autism. More than two decades ago, her third child’s diagnosis helped inspire her to leave her job at a big firm and embark on a new career teaching the law. Her experiences have informed her academic research in disability law and spurred her to help establish the Disability Justice Resource Center, a website for lawyers and law students working on disability rights issues. But when she learned how woefully underserved the area of special education representation is, she saw an opportunity for St. Thomas Law to help. There are more than 150,000 children between the ages of 0 and 21 who receive special education services in Minnesota, according to the state. But according to Andrea Jepsen ’06 J.D. , who practiced in the field for eight years, there are very few attorneys available to represent or counsel parents and caregivers. The law school’s newest legal clinic aims to make a dent in that huge need, by offering pro bono services to families who need an advocate. In return, the students gain practical legal experience and exposure to the field. Ultimately, Schiltz and Jepsen, who now serves as an adjunct professor in the clinic, hope to increase the number of attorneys practicing in the area of special education law as a specialty, or adjunct to other areas of practice, such as family law, or in pro bono work. The Special Education Clinic started as a pilot program in 2020, and officially launched last year, led by Schiltz, with help from Jepsen, who is also the mother of a son with autism. In fact, she came to the law school specifically to learn how to advocate on his behalf.
The students enrolled in this year’s clinic bring their own passion for disability advocacy. Kari Thoreson has an older brother with Down syndrome and sat in on some of the meetings at his school. As she grew older, she said, “I recognized that Vince wasn’t gaining any sort of meaningful outcome from his education even though I knew he was capable of achieving so much more.” Nathan Kroschel has a part-time job at a group home for people with intellectual and emotional disabilities.
Anna Brekke has an uncle with autism, and helped coach his Special Olympics team.
And Derek Witte knows the special education system firsthand. Witte has cerebral palsy and says dyslexia runs in his family. When he got to high school, he was discouraged from going to college, but he persevered. SPECIAL EDUCATION LAW The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), established in 1975 under a different name, requires each state to provide every child with a disability a “free appropriate public education” in the “least restrictive environment” possible in order to receive federal funding.
The IDEA requires a school to work with the student and their family to create an
Individualized Education Program (IEP), a written plan specifying all the services and aids that will be provided to support the student’s education for the school year. It is supposed to document current levels of academic achievement and functional performance and set measurable annual goals for progress. In practice, however, Jepsen said most IEPs fall far short. “The most common error,” she said, is “the failure to identify an initial baseline for the child, from which progress can be measured.” On par with that “is the failure to, in fact, provide measurement on progress.”
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The professors shared with the class real-world examples of IEPs and progress reports they had gathered, including some their own children had received in school. Many of the reports lacked specifics about the children’s progress, or measurable goals. “We wanted to make the point that it happens to everybody,” Jepsen said. Some students were shocked at what they found and were eager to use their legal training to help families. Their first opportunity was an intervention of sorts – a training session at St. Peter Claver, a small Catholic school in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood, for families with children who had been identified as eligible for special education services through St. Paul Public Schools. The session would teach family members what to look for in their children’s IEPs: a baseline, measurable goals, and outcomes. In class, as the students broke into pairs to hone their presentation, a bigger goal emerged: to empower families. Professor Schiltz reminded the group that the families have some leverage – the school district needs them to approve the IEP. The training session should give parents confidence, she said, and let them know it’s OK to ask questions. EMPOWERING FAMILIES The professors worked with St. Peter Claver’s principal, Terese Shimshock, to plan the session, inviting families to the meeting at the school on a late Tuesday afternoon in March.
Law students Merry Snyder, left, and Gabrielle Kolb, right, share information with families about what to look for in an Individualized Education Program (IEP).
St. Peter Claver’s student body is 98 percent children of color – mostly Black. Seventy percent of the student body receives free or reduced-price lunch. The school draws families from all over the Twin Cities, Shimshock said, attracted by the school’s small class sizes and because “families look like them here.” “Unfortunately, a lot of families come to St. Peter Claver because they’re not successful at other schools,” she said, so kids are usually one to two grade levels behind. With individualized instruction, and a foundational phonics program, most students have made significant progress, she said. The day of the meeting arrived, cold and rainy. It was just one
more obstacle for families who are already stretched, Shimshock said. “All families struggle with coming into the special ed process,” she said. “Even as educators, it’s confusing – much less people that are already feeling that they are not respected in the education process.” The organizers were relieved when two parents arrived – a mother and a grandmother who co-parents her grandson with his mom. The students’ presentation went smoothly. The parents were highly engaged and asked good questions. Then the students and professors divided up to talk with each family about their specific situation. Afterward, both parents expressed gratitude for having someone take
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Professor Andrea Jepsen ‘06 J.D. speaks with law students in the Special Education Legal Clinic.
Professor Elizabeth Schiltz at St. Peter Claver Catholic School in St. Paul.
the time to explain things and help them navigate what can be an overwhelming process. “I feel like I don’t have to do this journey by myself,” one mom told Shimshock. She added that “I just feel like sometimes I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing. And so it just feels good to have someone walking that journey with me.” Gabrielle Kolb , who hopes to work as a litigator, said she thought the message about parents and caregivers being allowed to demand more from the school district came through. “When you don’t know your specific rights under a law, it can be intimidating to push back against people who appear to be ‘experts,’” she noted, “so I think giving them permission to ask questions was valuable.”
The students continued to work with the families through the end of the semester. The empowerment they provided will benefit the families for years to come, Shimshock said. The clinic hopes to host more training sessions at other schools, with the possibility of another meeting at St. Peter Claver or a social service agency. LOOKING TO THE FUTURE Ultimately, Schiltz hopes the clinic can work with families whose children have been labeled as having emotional or behavioral disorders – a problematic categorization that disproportionately affects Black and American Indian students. Connections with those families have not happened yet.
But two years into a pandemic, there’s excitement about connecting with more clients like the ones they met in March – and the potential to walk alongside and empower more families navigating the special education system. “St. Peter Claver – I think, absolutely, this is the beginning of a great relationship,” Jepsen said. And that goal of increasing practitioners? The clinic has made a start there too. Kari Thoreson will be working with Jepsen’s former colleagues at the School Law Center in Stillwater this summer. She hopes to practice in special ed after she graduates next year.
Summer 2022 Page 23
Race, Leadership and Social Justice: BUILDING MORE ACCESSIBLE AND EQUITABLE SYSTEMS
By GLORIA MYRE ‘07 J.D.
Page 24 St. Thomas Lawyer
The research paper Jones co-authored with Tyner was published by the St. Thomas Law Journal in its issue (Volume 17, Issue 4) that commemorated the 20th anniversary of the law school. Jones participated virtually in the September 2021 symposium to discuss the article along with (left to right) Professor Greg Sisk, Professor Lyman Johnson and Emily Piper ‘05 J.D.
Tisidra Jones ’12 J.D. is the Founder and CEO of Strong & Starlike Consulting, Inc., a Twin Cities-based consulting collaborative that works with government entities and nonprofits seeking to build programs, engage communities and draft policies and procedures to develop the infrastructure they need. Jones is an artist and lawyer who works at the intersection of inclusion, engagement and equal opportunity policies. Her methodology blends legal and policy research, sociological studies, and arts-based approaches to community and civic engagement. From 2020–2021, Jones was a Law and Public Policy scholar with the University of St. Thomas Center on Race, Leadership and Social Justice, where she researched civil rights and human rights issues with Dr. Artika Tyner.
Jones noted that she “[has] a great deal of respect for the work that Dr. Tyner has done through St. Thomas and on a global scale.” She further described the experience as a “phenomenal opportunity to learn from the great work completed by other scholars and to expand [her own] research.” Jones is “extremely passionate about creating more systems, policies and practices that lead to more people in more communities thriving.” Jones and Dr. Artika Tyner ‘06 J.D., ‘10 MPP, ’12 EdD co-authored Inspiring and Equipping the Next Generation of Lawyer-Leaders: Center on Race, Leadership, and Social Justice for the Special 20th Anniversary Edition of the University of St. Thomas Law Journal. They presented their research and recommendations for solutions to persistent racial economic
disparities and the role that the legal profession may play at the International Human Trafficking & Social Justice Conference in 2021 at the University of Toledo. Of that research focus, Jones said, “I have found that economic access is central to people being able to have access to what they need to thrive. As a result, my research focused on the intersection of law, policy and economic disparities.” Jones said of the experience, “I have always loved researching, learning and sharing what I learn. This opportunity created the space for me to do all of that. In terms of my long-term professional and leadership plan, I would like to equip leaders with information that allows them to build more accessible and equitable systems. The research I completed as a scholar has already helped me to be in spaces where I can do that.”
Summer 2022 Page 25
NEW FACULTY PROFILE
BRENDA ARNDT Senior Distinguished Fellow
Prior to joining St. Thomas Law’s faculty, Brenda Arndt was a senior attorney for international mergers and acquisitions at Cargill. She will teach International Business Transactions, Business Associations and Mergers and Acquisitions.
You’ve been an adjunct professor since 2018. What interested you about joining the full-time faculty? The supportive culture at St. Thomas. Faculty and staff have been friendly and welcoming – meeting to chat, sharing class materials, etc. This role allows me to be more
connected to this uplifting community. What is your favorite part of teaching?
I love connecting with students. I am energized when we develop momentum in our class discussions and when students ask questions. I also enjoy learning student perspectives on a wide range of topics. What a privilege to hear these stories. How do you bring your career experiences into the classroom? I highlight my experiences working around the globe negotiating mergers and acquisitions. My in-house counsel experience at a multinational company allows me to share how legal principles must be applied practically as a trusted team member. I also tap former colleagues to share their expertise. What is your favorite piece of advice from a mentor? In addition to being prepared, it is critically important to be open and authentic. I seek to model this in class by acknowledging my shortcomings and by letting students know that I care about them. Besides your work, what’s something that you’re passionate about? I enjoy hiking, paddleboarding and boating. I look forward to the warmth of summer and spending time outdoors with friends and family.
Page 26 St. Thomas Lawyer
Notes from Our Alumni CLASS ACTION
2004 Send your 2004 class notes and photos to Liz Odette (tinlizzieo@ gmail.com) or Susan Beltz (firstname.lastname@example.org). Victoria Brenner (pictured below) joined Taft as a Domestic Relations partner in the firm’s Minneapolis office. Victoria handles family law matters for both medium and high- net-worth individuals.
Kaarin Nelson Schaffer was honored by Minnesota Lawyer as a 2021 Attorney of the Year for her work on behalf of the family of George Floyd as the trustee in the federal case against Derek Chauvin and the city of Minneapolis that settled for $27 million. Jeff Storms was also honored by Minnesota Lawyer as a 2021 Attorney of the Year for his work as a civil-rights litigator, including the civil suit on behalf of George Floyd’s next of kin and a civil rights and medical malpractice case regarding the death of a foster child in Hennepin County. Mike Will is currently serving as the General Counsel of FOXO Technologies Inc., a Minneapolis- based company focused on bringing epigenetic technology and artificial intelligence to life. Finally, this past November, I transitioned to the General Counsel’s Office of Xcel Energy to focus on state regulatory work in Minnesota and the Dakotas. I office next to former St. Thomas adjunct professor Jon Bloomberg! – Ian Dobson 2007 Send your 2007 class notes and photos to Chuck Berendes (email@example.com).
spending two years establishing the new State Ombudsperson for the Corrections Office. Mark’s kids are now in college. Some of us can recall very little versions of them hanging around the law school.
student Republican, has also taken interest in progressive causes and welcomes respectful conversation about it. Rafael Iverson JD/MBA is now a Senior Program Owner – Property Management for Target. Jessica Nelson , partner at Spencer Fane, was selected by Minnesota Lawyer as a 2021 Attorney of the Year for her work on the team that prosecuted 100+ lawsuits and recovered over $1.4 billion for ResCap after its clients misled the company during the subprime mortgage crisis. 2006
Congratulations to Liz Drotning Hartwell (pictured below) on becoming a partner at Best & Flanagan. Liz’s practice focuses on all aspects of family law.
Send your 2006 class notes and photos to Ian Dobson (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Greetings class of 2006! I hope all is well with each of you. We have several great updates for this issue. Stephanie Boucher moved from the disability sector to become the new Program Administrator for the State Demography Center. Her son Niko will graduate from the University of Minnesota with a B.A. in political science in August 2022. Beth Forsythe continues her corporate investigations and white-collar practice at Dorsey. Beth is finishing her term on Dorsey’s board and was appointed by Governor Walz to the Minnesota Zoo board. Beth also serves on the boards of the Great North Innocence Project and Connections to Independence. Mark Haase (pictured below) is now Executive Officer to the Ramsey County Attorney after
Heather McElroy , partner at Ciresi Conlin, was recognized by Twin Cities Business as a 2022 Notable Woman in Law. Mike Warren and wife Mollie welcomed baby John Pierce Warren into the world on February 11, 2022. He will be doted on by not only his parents but two big sisters and one big brother! 2005 Send your 2005 class notes and photos to Kerry McAndrew (email@example.com). Andre Chouravong is Lead Content Specialist at Thomson Reuters where he manages the online CLE library. Andre’s family of five lives in Maplewood with their shih-poo. Andrew, who was a law
Drew Nelson (pictured below) reports that things are moving along in Hudson, WI at Nelson & Lindquist. The firm is expanding into Shell Lake, WI. His family plans to visit every National Park. Drew and his wife Joy are pictured at Rocky Mountain National Park last year.
Congratulations to Erin Bryan on being named to the TMA Minnesota Chapter Board of
Directors. Erin is a partner at Dorsey & Whitney and member of several committees at the firm that sound distinguished and technical, but helpful in solving problems mere mortals don’t understand.
Summer 2022 Page 27
John Kantke (pictured below) joined the Adult Representation Services team at Hennepin County. This seems like a good fit. Since I’ve known John, he has been a pretty solid representation of an adult. Now I guess he’ll also be a full-time, court-appointed attorney.
Christopher Paul (pictured below) now practices at Trautmann Martin PLLC. The firm provides legal services for business transactions, nonprofit organizations, real estate, litigation, and estate planning throughout Minnesota.
Counsel & VP at Caribou Coffee. Don’t even ask her if she heard of that McDonald’s case where that lady spilled coffee on herself and sued. Dumb. Chuck Berendes hasn’t quite finished building his garage and has been chasing pigeons out of it with a broom. Once in the office, he spends time trying to get Green Card applications approved in less time than it takes the Olympics to come back around. 2008 Send your 2008 class notes and photos to Andrea Hoversten (firstname.lastname@example.org). Renee Carlson , True North Legal General Counsel, co-authored a SCOTUS amicus brief with Professor Teresa Collett in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which was argued in December. The brief was for former Vice President Pence’s nonprofit and other family policy groups. Kirsten (Zewers) Donaldson is now Vice President of Legal at the Digital Media Association, which is the leading organization advocating for digital music services. Shauna Kieffer is a part-time ski instructor in Montana due, in part, to her use of extreme skiing to overcome trauma. Shauna is a public defender in Minneapolis. She and partner Tony raise two kids. She’s excited her mentee Ashley Fischer ‘22 is joining her office this summer. Congratulations to Kathleen McDaniel (pictured below), who has been appointed as City Attorney for the City of Sun Prairie, WI. She serves as the city’s chief legal officer and provides legal counsel on a variety of items.
mid-2021. Larry stays engaged with pro bono and political work, family time, and an incredible trip through the Pacific Northwest. Congrats on your retirement! Alexis Fink (pictured below) is now a consulting manager at Point B doing healthcare strategy work. Point B brings expertise in customer engagement, growth investments, workforce experience and operations excellence to customers and communities nationwide.
Ryann Peyton (pictured below) was named to the Denver Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 list for 2022. Ryann is the executive director at the Colorado Attorney Mentoring Program.
Jenese Larmouth moved from the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office to serve as a Ramsey County District Court Referee (judicial officer). If you’re picturing the uniform of a sales associate at Foot Locker, forget it. See Jenese’s photo with her husband Daniel Larmouth ’05 on page 11. Lara Marion (pictured below) is a Public Policy Manager at Amazon. As part of the Connectivity Public Policy Team, Lara works with think tanks, nonprofits, and other stakeholders on Amazon’s broadband and connectivity initiatives. I’m guessing these connectivity/broadband issues can’t just be unplugged and plugged back in.
Mike Giefer is now Partner and Private Wealth Manager in the Minneapolis office of Creative Planning, one of the largest independent wealth management firms in the U.S. He loves the work. Mike lives in St. Paul with his wife and three children. Dominic Mitchell and husband Travis (pictured below) welcomed their second son in November! After Travis had an extended bout with leukemia in 2019, they are so happy to focus on better things and are grateful for their growing family.
2009 Send your 2009 class notes and photos to Lisa Thimjon (Lmthimjon@gmail.com).
Greetings class of 2009 – hope you are all doing well. If you can believe it, 15 years ago this spring we were preparing for our 1L finals; hope you can take a moment to pause and reflect on how far you’ve come in 15 years of loving the law. Rachel Brygger re-joined Winthrop & Weinstine’s Employment Counseling Practice. Rachel advises clients on employment law matters. Chris Cagle began a new job with Examination Resources as a Supervisor in the Health Consulting Services Division. There, Chris leads a team working with regulators enforcing the federal No Surprises Act (NSA), which protects people from receiving surprise medical bills. Larry Frost aimed to practice law for a decade, but he overshot by a few years, finishing his last hearing in
Colin Peterson (pictured below) is now Project Manager at Abbott Laboratories in their structural heart business. Colin and David Otero got married in a small ceremony on 2.22.22 and will celebrate with friends and family this June.
Joy Mickels started at Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota practicing Elder Law. It’s cool that Legal Services is finally taking the complex issues of the elderberry plant seriously. Although used as medicine since ancient Egyptian times, the bark and leaves can be poisonous. Twin Cities Business named Jessica Monson a 2022 Notable Woman in Law for her work as General
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