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Law Students Appeal to High Court - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Law Students Appeal to High Court

South Royalton, Vermont - January 9, 2009

Some Vermont Law School students are playing a key part in a Vermont case that's headed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The students are certain they are on the winning side-- and even the veteran lawyer on the other side acknowledges the students may be right.

"The U.S. Supreme Court has said in fact that victims and the public do matter," explained Cheryl Hanna, a professor at the Vermont Law School.

Victims' rights and the U.S. Supreme Court were the key topics in Hanna's class on Women and the Law last semester.

These are the first Vermont Law School students to submit a legal brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in connection with a Vermont case that will be argued next week.

It's the Brillon case-- convicted wife-beater Michael Brillon. But that conviction was overturned, and he's out of prison because Vermont's Supreme Court said he was denied a speedy trial.

This case is going to Washington, D.C., because the Bennington County prosecutor insists Brillon himself is the cause of the delay, changing lawyers several times.

The law class sided with victims' rights groups who say the narrow 3-2 ruling was a mistake because Brillon intentionally delayed the trial to intimidate his victim.

"There is a victim on the other side seeking justice as well and to allow the defendant the opportunity to abuse our justice system... that's the point where this court got it wrong," said Jennifer Kuntz, a law student.

Preparing the brief took hundreds of hours.

"It was thrilling," said student Tori Lloyd.

They are delighted to have been invited by victims' groups to file this amicus brief and become part of Supreme Court history even before they become lawyers.

"I think everyone was excited about the opportunity to work on a project that would have an audience with the U.S. Supreme Court," Lloyd said.

"This was about empowering victims before the court," Hanna explained. "It was also about empowering these law students to give themselves, to see what difference they can make in the world."

By a 10-0 show of hands-- the students are confident the U.S. Supreme Court will side with prosecutors and against Brillon.

"I have to agree that we have an uphill battle," admitted Bill Nelson, Brillon's lawyer.

Veteran defense lawyer Nelson will argue on Brillon's behalf before the U.S. Supreme Court. He concedes the highest court may want to rule against Brillon, but he says the law students are wrong.

"I've read their brief and it's nicely written and makes a powerful argument, but again, I think that they are looking at the record and telling a story that isn't there," Nelson said.

Nelson insists Brillon did not delay his own case and did not intimidate his wife. But the law students are equally sure their side will prevail.

Brian Joyce - WCAX News

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