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Professor Justin Brooks Recognized for Service to Community, a Model for the Legal Profession

Alissa Bjerkhoel, Justin Brooks, Mike Semanchik

California Western Professor Justin Brooks, director of the California Innocence Project (CIP), has been named “Statesman of the Month” by Lawyer & Statesman for his decades of work to free wrongfully convicted individuals from incarceration.

While the notion of removing an innocent person from prison seems obvious, the deck is stacked against Brooks and his team—clients have been found guilty and served time and the judicial system can be hesitant to reopen cases. "The key to overturning wrongful convictions," says Brooks, "is skilled litigation, luck, and hopefully cooperation of the DA’s office. However, our secret weapons are the law students who spend thousands of hours investigating the cases and obtaining the evidence of innocence we need to win. I'm honored to be recognized for doing what I love with an amazing team of lawyers and law students."

To date, CIP has exonerated 27 people, but there are many more cases they are working on. Four years ago, Brooks and two staff attorneys (Mike Semanchik ‘10 and Alissa Bjerkhoel ‘08) walked 712 miles from San Diego to Sacramento to raise awareness about wrongful convictions and deliver clemency petitions to Governor Jerry Brown on behalf of 12 of their innocent clients (The California 12). Thus far, the Governor has not granted any of those clemencies, while Brooks and his team have freed 5 of the 12 through litigation. They have also been active in getting laws changed to make freeing the innocent easier, including changing California's new evidence law.

“We all need to work together to free the innocent,” says Brooks. “It's in all of our best interest and it's the right thing to do.”

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