PUBLISHED:July 25, 2014

Appellate Litigation Clinic team achieves victory for client in Third Circuit appeal

The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit handed down a unanimous decision in favor of Appellate Litigation Clinic client Horace Branch on July 9. Clinic students worked on the appeal under the supervision of clinic director Sean Andrussier ’92. 

The Court’s published opinion was written by Judge Morton I. Greenberg and joined by Judges Julio M. Fuentes and Franklin S. Van Antwerpen.  In the opinion, the Third Circuit commented on the work of the Duke students: “We note that students from Duke University School of Law have represented Branch on this appeal with great skill. We thank them—and Elyse Lyons, who argued this appeal, in particular—for this fine representation.”

The Third Circuit had appointed Andrussier to represent Branch in appealing a federal district court’s dismissal of his petition for a writ of habeas corpus. Branch was convicted of a shooting death in New Jersey and sentenced to life in prison. His appeal claimed that he was denied his Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial based on his trial counsel’s failure to call two exculpatory witnesses for his defense.

Under Andrussier's supervision, Lyons and her 3L teammates, Phil Barber and Adam Garmezy, worked on the appeal from briefing through oral argument.  All were in Philadelphia for the oral argument in March. Another student, Melissa Boatner, also assisted with the briefing. 

Andrussier said, “This was a challenging appeal, requiring the students to master a lengthy record arising from a criminal jury trial and years of state post-conviction proceedings, to sort through a number of legal issues, and to work together to develop arguments and strategy.  We are very pleased with the result.”  Andrussier added, “Our client is ecstatic and grateful.  He had this message for our team: ‘I have never seen lawyering more professional and effective than what Duke’s clinic did in representing me.’”

Lyons, after hearing of the court’s opinion, said that working on the case “has absolutely been the highlight of my law school career.”

“It would have been the highlight regardless of the outcome, but it's so sweet to end it on a good note,” she said. “It's so hard to both measure and express all that this clinic has taught me and meant to me.”

Barber said that he was pleased that the court’s decision was unanimous, noting that this type of appeal can be difficult.

“In general, habeas appeals are especially challenging,” he said. “We could not have prevailed without laborious mastery of the record on appeal, great attention to detail in briefing, and Elyse’s outstanding oral argument preparation.”

Garmezy said that working on the case was a formative experience. “The opportunity to dive so deeply into niche areas of the law in such a tight-knit group is one I will truly cherish,” he said.

All three recent graduates are preparing to start work at law firms, Lyons at Jones Day in Dallas, Garmezy at Akin Gump in Houston, and Barber at White & Case in Washington.

Duke’s Appellate Litigation Clinic has handled cases in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, Fourth Circuit, and Third Circuit.