For a just cause
by Nathaniel Miller
Kaylie Morgan (J.D. ’23) and third-year J.D. student Caitlyn Collins both aspire to be criminal defense attorneys with the dream of bringing effective legal counsel to those in need.
Unfortunately, not everyone receives effective, or even good, counsel. As part of the Criminal Justice Clinic at the St. Mary’s University School of Law, eight students worked during Spring 2023 with the Bexar County District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit to seek justice for a group of female clients they believe failed to get appropriate representation from an unethical attorney.
“These women never received their right to effective counsel,” Morgan said. “It’s their fundamental right, and they were entitled to a fair trial.”
In 2018, the attorney was convicted on six counts of human trafficking and coercing his clients to have sex with him and was sentenced to 80 years in prison. The number of women he is accused of abusing numbers in the hundreds.
In April, the law students had their first writ application granted, making one client eligible for a new trial.
Getting people to come forward is the challenging part, Collins said. Many victims do not want to relive the trauma they’ve experienced, and many more cannot be found or will not return messages.
“This has been a mix of emotions, criminal justice and criminal defense,” Collins said. “I know it’s been hard for a lot of people, but we’re hoping to help correct something terrible that was done to them.”
St. Mary’s Clinical Professor of Law Stephanie Stevens (B.A. ’87, J.D. ’91) said empathy is an important skill for those aspiring to practice criminal law, alongside writing and verbal skills. “Everybody in life needs help,” she said. “To put yourself in someone else’s shoes helps make you a better attorney.”