Clinic Students Do Supreme Work in McBurney v. Young

February 25, 2013 — It was the ultimate in experiential learning. On February 20, Visiting Professor Brian Wolfman, co-director of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Public Representation, fellow Anne King (LL.M.’14) and 10 clinic students headed to the Supreme Court to watch Deepak Gupta (L’02) argue the case of McBurney v. Young. As counsel of record for the petitioners, Gupta asserted that the commonwealth of Virginia cannot constitutionally restrict Virginia citizens from access to public records.

But this wasn’t just a field trip to observe the workings of the Court from the sidelines. Students in Wolfman’s IPR clinic have been heavily involved in McBurney from start to finish, beginning in 2009 when Professor David Vladeck, the clinic’s former co-director, filed the case. Wolfman took over later that year, steering the case twice through the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, remand proceedings in the district court and now through the Supreme Court — with the help of his students. 

Students like Katherine Florio (L’13) who worked through the holiday break to help Gupta and Wolfman ensure that the merits brief — due on December 26 — was as good as it could possibly be. “I really enjoyed taking part in the collaborative brief-writing process and discussions about strategic choices concerning the presentation of the argument,” Florio said. “It was an amazing learning experience.” 

Wolfman said the students did a terrific job. "We entrusted them with high-level, challenging work, and they responded with top-rate advocacy, sometimes under time constraints rarely faced even by the most experienced lawyers,” he noted. 

In a debriefing afterward, grateful client Roger Hurlbert thanked the Georgetown Law team for its “enthusiastic, competent representation.” His praise included former IPR staff attorney Leah Nicholls (LL.M.’11), who twice argued the case in the 4th Circuit and successfully overturned the district court’s ruling that IPR’s clients lacked standing to sue.

“You and your students have been fabulous,” added client Mark McBurney, a lawyer from Rhode Island who had tried unsuccessfully to obtain public records in Virginia. 

Said Gupta, who was grilled on the same issues the Court raised just days earlier in Georgetown Law’s Supreme Court Institute: “None of the questions was unanticipated.”

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