News by Professionals 4 Professionals


Appellate Clinic Wins Major Victory in Prison Litigation for Arizona Death Row Inmate

For the fourth year in a row, the University of St. Thomas School of Law[1] Appellate Clinic has won a civil rights appeal on behalf of a prisoner in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. On Thursday, the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of an Arizona death row inmate s claim that prison officials may not read or skim legal mail between prisoners and their counsel. In the precedential opinion of Nordstrom v. Ryan, the court held that the policy of the Arizona Department of Corrections to engage in a page-by-page content review of inmates confidential outgoing legal mail violated the prisoner s free speech right under the First Amendment and the right to effective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Repeating its statement in an earlier appeal that a criminal defendant s right to confidential communication with an attorney is nearly sacrosanct, the Ninth Circuit said that the prison s practice of scanning letters and reading some words on each page went beyond what is permitted to inspect for contraband and security threats. The appeal was briefed by third-year law students Bridget Duffus and Katherine Koehler, both 2017 graduates, under the supervision of Professor Gregory Sisk[2], who argued the appeal in San Francisco in January[3]. This was the second successful appeal in the same case. In 2014, the Ninth Circuit reversed the initial dismissal of the prisoner s lawsuit after briefing and argument by then-St. Thomas law students Joy Nissen Beitzel 14 and Michelle King 14.

The clinical team began working on the current case last summer, writing briefs and successfully convincing three public interest organizations to file amicus briefs on their behalf including the Yale Law School Ethics Bureau, the Equal Justice Initiative and the New York County Lawyers Association together with the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Scott Nordstrom, a Florence, AZ, based inmate, had always insisted on his innocence against charges of homicide during two robberies in Tucson, when he discovered that a prison guard was reading his handwritten letter to his lawyer for a criminal appeal. Nordstrom had filed a civil suit challenging the policy of the prison to review the contents of legal mail, but lost in district court, where he represented himself. When he appealed that ruling to the Ninth Circuit, Sisk picked up his case in 2013 and has now represented him through two appeals. The Appellate Clinic is a year-long course that charges students to study written and oral advocacy, appellate courts, appellate jurisdiction, and the rules of appellate procedure. Clinical students represent a client pro bono under faculty supervision, briefing and arguing appellate cases on their behalf.

Appellate Clinic Wins Major Victory In Prison Litigation For Arizona Death Row Inmate


  1. ^ School of Law (
  2. ^ Professor Gregory Sisk (
  3. ^ argued the appeal in San Francisco in January (

Kansas Council Censors Pro-Life Displays

WICHITA, Kan. ([1]) – Pro-life signs are being censored by the Wichita City Council. At the request of the abortion mills, city council members recently revised the ordinance on public signs, eliminating the use of freestanding displays. According to the law passed on April 28, only handheld signs are allowed on public easements. Even chalk displays and those taped to tables and chairs are now illegal.

“The way the new sign ordinance is being implemented, it is obviously illegally targeting the pro-life activists and their audiences,” said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue. The way the new sign ordinance is being implemented, it is obviously illegally targeting the pro-life activists and their audiences. Church Militant reached out to Operation Rescue[2], the Kansas-based, pro-life group at the center of the dispute, to discuss the impact of the law. We spoke with Senior Vice President Cheryl Sullenger, who is calling the law “extremely problematic” for the reason that “anyone who looks at the sign can determine the legality of it and take the sign.”

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“This creates additional tension where police should be looking to ease tensions,” she told Church Militant.

She said the law itself does not target pro-life displays but in practice “it is content-based,” noting that while standing in front of her building “real estate signs are still there. Yard signs are there.”

She noted that the city has had a long history of legal disputes between pro-life groups and abortion mills. A huge cross display, used by pro-life activists in the area since 2004 and legally contested numerous times over the course of the years, was always found to be protected under the First Amendment. It is now banned by this new ordinance, clearly an infringement on First Amendment rights. Mark S. Gietzen, chairman of Kansas Coalition for Life (KCFL) who owns the displays, wrote a letter to the Wichita City Council[3] on May 8, where he noted, “[D]uring the past 13 years, NOT ONE city of Wichita sign-related complaint or citation has been issued, that stood up in court, even at the lowest levels of court.”

He continued:

The new sign code is written as if the city has the power to deny basic Constitutional rights to the pro-life side of the abortion question. The KCFL displays that were found to be illegal by the city of Wichita on Friday, April 28th, had been in continuous use in Wichita since 2004 and had survived numerous legal challenges over the years, based on First Amendment protections for signage that is accompanied by a person willing to be continuously present with the signs and displays. Sullenger believes the ordinance was changed owing to this history that has resulted in numerous legal battles from illegal seizures of signs and harrassment of the pro-life groups in Wichita, noting that the police department was forced to return illegally confiscated signs from KCFL in the past.

Kansas Council Censors Pro-Life Displays Example of display used at abortion mill

In July 2016, a 73-year-old, pro-life activist who is legally blind was arrested for assault[4] on a security guard over the removal of a sign at South Wind Women’s Center. The sign ordinance had been recently implemented in 2016, allowing removal of unattended signs. The security guard for the abortion mill was attempting to steal a sign the elderly man momentarily leaned against a table. During the tussle over the sign, the elderly man bumped the guard and was arrested by police. Three weeks later, South Wind’s security guard Carl Swinney[5] viciously assaulted a pro-life mother in front of her children. Church Militant spoke with the victim of the assault, Julie McCoy, a mother of 12 children and a sidewalk activist.

“I have known Carl for 11 years; he would get in your face,” she told Church Militant. Driving by the abortion mill late one evening, she was surprised to see the gates open. She stopped to take pictures and video of the unusual circumstances, as abortion mills have had numerous cases of botched abortions[6].

She said of Swinney, “He wanted to make sure I wasn’t getting pictures as I was trying to.” He approached her and in full view of her children, violently grabbing and twisting her arm. She delayed medical treatment to go home and console her children, one who asked in fear, “Does Carl know where we live?”

Swinney was convicted of the attack but is appealing.

Sullenger explained to Church Militant that the mainstream media in Wichita clearly favors the abortion mills and “won’t air our side.” She said their reporting is meant to “manipulate people.”

Operation Rescue is working with the Thomas More Society to repeal the law. Sullenger clarified that they are awaiting action until the next city council meeting, where they want council members to “voluntarily rescind the ordinance.” If they don’t, “they will face legal action.”

Newman said, “The Wichita City Council must rescind the unconstitutional law that favors South Wind’s shoddy and exploitative abortion business above the First Amendment rights of its citizens.”

Kansas Council Censors Pro-Life Displays

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  1. ^ (
  2. ^ Operation Rescue (
  3. ^ letter to the Wichita City Council (
  4. ^ arrested for assault (
  5. ^ Carl Swinney (
  6. ^ numerous cases of botched abortions (
  7. ^ Have a news tip? Submit news to our tip line (
  8. ^ Support us with a donation. (

Cyber threat training, other events a boost to community

Wannacry is the newest cyber threat that captured attention worldwide over the last week. Forward Sheridan continues to bring educational and training opportunities to all businesses in northeast Wyoming regarding cyber threat strategies. On June 1, the Federal Bureau of Investigation will host InfraGard training at the downtown location of Sheridan Memorial Hospital. Our speakers will be focused on issues with health care records and implications; Barb Grofe is a nationally recognized expert in cyber security. Secondly, thanks to Greta Knapp at Bank of the West, we ll have Mike Borowczak, Ph.D, from the University of Wyoming. He is the director of CyberSecurity Education and Research. Borowczak will articulate the efforts at the University of Wyoming and how cyber threats impact the internet of things (things like your cellphone, car electronics, etc.). Please check out the Forward Sheridan Facebook page or sign up at or look at the FBI InfraGard website calendar of events.

Several recent events that typify our efforts to bring people to Sheridan include the annual Snicker s Cup soccer tournament, which was a banner success at the Big Horn Equestrian Center. The event set the stage for ideal multiple game soccer events, which will be continued this weekend with the Wyoming High School state soccer tournaments. The facility at the BHEC is building a broad-based notoriety for excellent setting, expansive vistas and very welcoming area that is difficult to match within a 400 mile radius. Next up, which is another marker, is the Bighorn Mountain trail run, which will take place in mid-June. The socio-economic impact is that many of the distance runners will gather in the Sheridan area several days prior to acclimate. Forward Sheridan witnessed this via a brief consumer tour at one of our local breweries, where I visited with 10 runners representing three states. This is an opportunity for those athletes to meet in a friendly locale, enjoy downtown and catch up. The event is an opportunity to showcase downtown Sheridan and our community. Both events require countless hours of volunteer work and orchestration for which Sheridan residents come to the forefront.

Another positive event was the closing meeting for the Outdoor Recreation Task Force that occurred last week. This is a framework driven by the state of Wyoming to assess, quantify and form a method for Wyoming to manage and capitalize on the active tense of outdoor recreation. We as a community are very much a part of outdoor recreation. We appreciate the effort and time Mark Weitz has taken to represent Sheridan and his specific interests on the task force.

Another note of appreciation goes to Colin Betzler and his efforts and successes with the Sheridan Community Land Trust. His change of guard will set a high standard of performance and expectations, but more importantly, the expectation of the cohesive and inclusive approach he used day in and day out.

Jay Stender is the executive director of Forward Sheridan.

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