College of Law strengthens clinical program with new Juvenile Justice Clinic in Rockford

NIU Law Dean Jennifer Rosato speaks Nov. 16, 2011, at the 10th anniversary of the Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic. A portrait of the late legendary Rockford lawmaker hangs on the wall behind her.

NIU Law Dean Jennifer Rosato speaks Nov. 16, 2011, at the 10th anniversary of the Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic. A portrait of the late legendary Rockford lawmaker hangs on the wall behind her.

The NIU College of Law prides itself on training lawyers “holistically,” not only with superb skills but also devoted to serving their communities ethically and passionately.

Nowhere is this devotion more evident than in the College of Law’s clinical program.

After more than 10 years of assisting clients and providing valuable experience to law students, the Zeke Giorgi Legal Clinic has expanded its program to include a Juvenile Justice Clinic.

“The Juvenile Justice Clinic is adding to the established reputation of the NIU Law clinical program in the Winnebago County area,” said NIU Law Dean Jennifer Rosato. “The Zeke Giorgi Clinic is vital to access to justice in the local community.”

In November 2011, the clinic celebrated 10 years of service in the community, having served nearly 300 students and more than 2,000 clients on elder law cases, domestic abuse cases, adult criminal cases and mediating cases, all pro bono.

Anita Maddali, director of clinics and assistant professor, said the Juvenile Justice Clinic covers a wide range of juvenile cases.

“This clinical course gives law students the opportunity to represent youth in delinquency proceedings, and the clinic also plans to represent youth who are involved in school expulsion proceedings,” she explained. Clinic representation extends to include every step of the process, from initial hearings, motion hearings and trials to sentencing, post-disposition, petitions and appeals.

Paul Cain

Paul Cain

The new clinic is supervised by clinical associate professor Paul Cain, who has taught and worked with NIU Law students since 2003.

“We decided to focus on juvenile law because there seemed to be a very strong momentum and emphasis in Winnebago County toward juvenile justice. In addition, the juvenile detention center in the county is overcrowded due to a backlog in the court system and we hope our services will help alleviate this issue,” Cain said.

The clinic provides a great opportunity for NIU Law students to gain invaluable real-world experience working actual cases while also providing important legal guidance to one of the most vulnerable demographics in society. As third-year students, their recent course work makes their service to clients more effective, while their enthusiasm bolsters attorney-client relationships.

An added benefit: The law students are closer in age to juvenile clients and thus more relatable.

“Students get to know and understand the youths they work with, forging trust and enhancing the clients’ comprehension of the process,” Cain said. “It is this personal contact, and all the complications it brings with it, that makes the clinical experience so valuable.”

The clinic has been in the practice of changing lives for the better, and their work has not gone unnoticed.

The clinic received the 2010 Partner in Peace Award bestowed by the Violence Prevention Coalition (VPC) in honor of the clinic’s dedication, leadership, collaboration, commitment, and innovation in violence prevention efforts. This year, the VPC honored clinical assistant professor Wendy Vaughn, who teaches the program’s Civil Justice Clinic, with the Pioneer in Peace Lifetime Achievement Award in commemoration of a career rich in devotion to the prevention of violence.

Located in downtown Rockford, and adjacent to the Winnebago County Courthouse, the clinic was established in 2001 with the help of Illinois House of Representatives Speaker Michael Madigan. The clinic is named in honor of Edolo Joseph “Zeke” Giorgi, who served the Illinois House for the 67th District from 1965 until his death in 1993, as a tribute to his legislative efforts on behalf of young people, education and his local community.

For more information, call (815) 962-9980 or  (815) 752-8200.

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