Heather Holloway wins national award for outstanding clinic work

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Heather Holloway
"I have come to realize why I have wanted to be a lawyer since the age of 8 and what exactly I can do to make a difference in the lives of others."

Heather Holloway 05 has been awarded an Outstanding Student Award from the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA), a national association of clinical professors of law and others involved in clinical legal education. The CLEA award recognizes law students who have excelled in a clinical course in law school. Heather was nominated for the award by the Duke Law clinical faculty.

Heather received the award for her work in the Childrens Education Law Clinic, particularly for the work she did representing a high school senior who was facing permanent expulsion from school. As a result of Heathers efforts, the student is expected to obtain his diploma with the rest of his classmates.

Heathers commitment to this case and to her client was awe-inspiring, said Jane Wettach, Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Childrens Education Law Clinic. She took a case that was very difficult, without a clear path to a positive outcome, and handled it with tremendous diligence, professionalism, ingenuity, and compassion. Heather represented her client in an evidentiary hearing, in an appeal before the Board of Education, and then in state Superior Court. She obtained a settlement in Superior Court that allowed her client to complete his coursework and become eligible for a high school diploma.

Heathers case involved a 17-year-old student who was discovered, during a traffic stop a few days before the school year was to begin, to have explosives in his car. He was arrested and charged with possession of weapons of mass destruction. News coverage of the case reportedly generated phone calls from scared parents to the principal of the school where the student was enrolled. Although the arrest was not on school property, nor even during the school year, the principal recommended that the student be expelled from the district; this would have meant the end of his high school career and likely destroy his hopes to attend college.

The students family contacted The Childrens Education Law Clinic for assistance in appealing the expulsion. Heather and fellow clinic student Melissa Ganz 05 aggressively investigated the case and developed a strong theory. When the evidentiary case was heard by a teacher panel, Heather presented evidence to show that the student was an honor student who was intensely interested in chemistry, and had experimented with the making of fireworks. These fireworks were what the police characterized as weapons of mass destruction. The evidence developed included a statement from a university professor about the limited power of the explosives, ten character witness statements supporting the client, a psychologists conclusion that the client was non-violent and did not represent a threat, and e-mails that corroborated the clients explanation of the explosives as being a failed attempt at making fireworks. Heather ably conducted a four-hour hearing, noted Wettach, doing direct and cross-examinations and making the closing argument.

Although unsuccessful at the hearing level in getting the expulsion overturned, the Clinic continued its representation of the client by appealing the case to the Superintendent of Schools, the Board of Education, and state Superior Court. Not wanting to leave the case when her semester in the Clinic was over, Heather became an advanced clinic student and continued working on the case in the spring semester. In total, she spent more than 200 hours on the case.

Heather reflected on her role in the case this way: Representing this client has changed my life and in turn showed me what my life practice in the law will be. Before I took on this case, I was unsure about my skills as a lawyer, unsure if I would be able to litigate cases, and generally unsure about what field of the law I wanted to endeavor into. However, through this case I have come to realize why I have wanted to be a lawyer since the age of 8 and what exactly I can do to make a difference in the lives of others.

Following the conclusion of the case, the students mother wrote to the Clinic to thank Heather and the Clinic staff for their work. Thank you all so much for all that you have done for our son and family! she wrote. We were treated in a professional manner but there was also a great deal of caring and concern used in this case regarding our son. She added, Heather was energetic, knowledgeable, and completely prepared. . . We always felt that Ms. Holloway and the Childrens Education Law Clinic were doing all they could do to help our son in this complicated case. They did an excellent job!

The CLEA award is given annually to students throughout the country who have excelled in clinical education.