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Constitutional Litigation Clinic Wins Top Award from National Legal Education Association for Landmark Jama Case

May 05, 2008 – 

For 12 years, faculty, students, and alumnae/i of the Constitutional Litigation Clinic at Rutgers School of Law–Newark pursued justice for political asylum seekers who were severely abused while detained by the U.S. government in a privately-run prison. By the time the federal trial was over last November, the Jama case, under the guidance of Clinical Professor Penny Venetis, had established new precedent in the area of international human rights law, secured significant monetary damages for the detainees, and trained hundreds of Rutgers law students to be skilled litigators.

On May 6 Venetis, co-director of the Constitutional Litigation Clinic, will accept the Clinical Legal Education Association Award for Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project for Jama, et al. v. Correctional Services Corp., et al. The ceremony will take place in Tucson at the AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education. In April Boston College Law School presented Venetis with the 2008 Alumni Award of Excellence in Public Service for her efforts in advancing international human rights. 

“We are enormously proud that CLEA has chosen to honor the achievements of the Constitutional Litigation Clinic in the Jama case,” said Dean Stuart L. Deutsch. “In creating lasting protections for an underserved group while also providing our students with the ‘hands-on’ lawyering experience that the profession values, the Jama litigation exemplifies the goal of clinical legal education.”

The Jama plaintiffs were abused in a detention center where they were held while their asylum claims were processed. After determining that the immigrants had little constitutional protection, Venetis and her students decided on an approach that had not been used before – invoke international law to protect individuals abused within the U.S. In two landmark opinions, U.S. District Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise recognized the plaintiffs’ right to sue under international law. As a result, any immigrant who is detained in horrendous conditions can now sue for damages under international law. 

The length of the case, and their commitment to achieving justice for the plaintiffs, meant that many Constitutional Litigation Clinic students continued to work on Jama after graduation. Rutgers alums at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, under the guidance of partner Mary Beth Hogan ’90, were part of the trial team. Alumni partners and associates at O’Melveny & Meyers LLP also worked on the case. The legal achievements of Jama as well as the commitment of the clinic, its faculty, students, and alums won acclaim from the New Jersey Law Journal in an editorial entitled “A Tribute to Our Profession.”