The University of Connecticut School of Law’s 91st commencement was held on May 18 on the beautiful grounds of the Law School’s campus in Hartford. Among the highlights of the celebration was an address by Barry Scheck, co-founder of the Innocence Project, a non-profit legal clinic affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law that has helped exonerate more than 300 wrongly convicted prisoners – including eighteen on death row – through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent further injustice. In his address, Scheck, whom Dean Timothy S. Fisher referred to as a “true American hero of the law,” encouraged members of the Class of 2014 to commit themselves to work for the public good despite unprecedented economic challenges doing so. “The gap between doing public interest work, defending the poor or working for government versus doing legal work for moneyed interests has never been greater,” he said. “[Nonetheless], I continue to have the…unmitigated chutzpah to traffic in law school graduation clichés and urge you to defend the poor, do public interest work, work in the public sector and produce something with your time and legal knowledge – whatever career path you choose – in order to save our planet, our republic and the cause of justice.”
In making his case for public service, Scheck cited Dean Fisher as an example of a long-time private practitioner who, during every stage of his career as a corporate lawyer, was deeply involved in social issues, including prison conditions litigation and the Connecticut Innocence Project (for which Fisher did substantial pro bono work at McCarter & English and led the firm’s sponsorship of the Project). “We in the innocence movement are especially indebted to Tim,” said Scheck. “So if you are going to chose a corporate law career path and you want to do well – and do good – I submit to you Dean Fisher as a role model.”
FACT: Among the special guests recognized at the Law School commencement were two of the three former longtime prisoners exonerated and released as a result of the efforts of the Connecticut Innocence Project: James Tillman and Kenneth Ireland. The third exoneree, Miguel Roman, couldn’t be at the commencement because he was attending his daughter’s college graduation.
In his remarks, Dean Fisher told the more than 200 graduates receiving their LL.Ms and JDs that they were now ready to make a difference in the world. “Indeed, you will do great things,” he said, “[such as] free an innocent man, rescue a child from dysfunction or institutional disregard, save a refugee from torture or persecution…or simply help a client out with a difficult situation. Above all you can find a way to give a voice to the powerless…You will do these great things because you learned here that the law…is about seeing new ways to build strong institutions and helping to structure organizations that serve and employ our people. The law is also about a deeper sense of social order…to bring about change. This is what makes it the greatest profession…There is no greater investment you could have ever made of time or money than what you have accomplished here in your years with us…Class of 2014, I acknowledge and honor the hard work you have done to reach this moment.”
As the morning’s events drew to a close, members of the Class of 2014 heard from three of their fellow graduates: Rojia Afshar, who spoke on behalf of LL.M. recipients; Christopher J. Borchert, who represented day division students; and Roopa Modha, who was chosen by her peers to speak on for students in the evening division. Graduates also were addressed by Connecticut Superior Court Judge Ingrid Moll ’99, who spoke in her role as president of Law School Alumni Association. “By virtue of your status as new graduates of the Law School, you have automatically become members of the Alumni Association,” she said. “…As you start on your journey with a law degree in hand, [our members] would like to walk alongside you.”