In addition to representing individual clients, clinic professors and students have been an important force in shaping the laws and policies of the state in housing, family law, criminal law, and elder law. Students learn that providing effective representation for clients often requires lawyering that addresses issues on a systemic and policy level as well as through litigation.
Legislative and Rules Changes
At the request of legislators and courts, clinic professors and students have assisted in law reform by providing research, drafting legislation, and providing testimony before legislative committees.
The Mississippi Landlord-Tenant Act of 1992. Professor Deborah Bell drafted this 1992 Act and provided testimony before Senate and House Committees. The act required landlords to repair residential rental property for the first time in Mississippi. It also provides protections for tenants from retaliatory eviction. Passage of the Act was the impetus for the creation of the Landlord-tenant clinic in 1992, the first of the Civil Legal Clinics. Miss. Code Ann. 89-8-1.
Amendment to custody statutes. The 2003 Legislative and Policy Clinic, directed by Professor Bell, drafted proposed amendments to the Mississippi custody statutes and provided testimony on the bill, leading to the adoption of a presumption that parents with a history of family violence should not be granted custody of children. Miss. Code Ann 93-5-24.
Amendment to adoption jurisdiction laws. The 2004 Legislative and Policy Clinic, directed by Professor Bell, assisted the Mississippi Senate in drafting and analyzing a bill to amend the state’s adoption jurisdiction laws to conform to uniform adoption laws. Miss. Code Ann. 93-17-3.
Child abuse and neglect. The 2002 Legislative and Policy Clinic provided the Mississippi Rules Committee with a detailed research paper and drafts of proposed amendments to the Rules of Evidence. The changes, adopted by the rules committee, provide for medical privilege waiver in child abuse and neglect cases. Miss. R. Evid. 503.
Foreign Adoption Registration Act. In September 2013, Professor David Calder provided testimony to the Mississippi Senate Judiciary Subcomittee on the problems concering re-adoptions in Mississippi after an adoption has been finalized in a foreign country. This testimony was offered in support of the Foreign Adoption Registration Act which was passed by the 2014 Legislature, and which now allows parents to file petitions pro se to register foreign adoptions in Mississippi. Miss. Code Ann. 93-17-3.
Human trafficking. Students in Professor Marc Harrold’s 2006 Immigration Clinic provided research and assistance to the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office on passage of an Act to strengthen state protections against human trafficking. Miss. Code Ann. 97-3-54
Child sexual assault. Students in the 2004 Legislative and Policy Clinic worked with Mississippi legislators to secure passage of an Act to increase protection of children from sexual assault by requiring convicted sex offenders to report their status when volunteering for certain programs focused on child-related services. Miss. Code Ann. 45-33-32.
Elder Abuse. Elder Law Clinic students, led by Professor Catherine Kilgore and including Legal Writing Professor Jason Derrick (as a student in the clinic), provided research, analysis, and support that led to amendment of the Elder Abuse Protection Act to provide for enhanced penalties for abuse of elderly Mississippians. Miss. Code Ann. 43-37-5
Task Force. Professor Carrington drafted legislation to create a Mississippi DNA Task Force. That legislation became law in May of 2008. http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2008/pdf/SB/2600-2699/SB2619SG.pdf.
DNA Testing Legislation. The DNA Task Force, chaired by Professor Carrington, drafted model legislation that was adopted in 2009 and signed into law. This DNA legislation remains one of the most progressive and far-reaching of any such law nationally. Among other things, the bill allows inmates who pled guilty to nonetheless request post-conviction DNA testing. http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2009/pdf/SB/2700-2799/SB2709SG.pdf.
Compensation for Wrongfully Convicted. In 2009, the Mississippi Innocence Project drafted and shepherded legislation that allowed for compensation for the wrongly incarcerated. That bill was also passed into law. http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2009/pdf/SB/3000-3099/SB3024SG.pdf
Medical Examiner Legislation. In 2010, MIP along with several other partners – including the University of Mississippi Medical Center and the Public Safety Commissioner’s Office — worked to redraft the State’s medical examiner office legislation. That bill was passed into law in 2011. http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2011/html/SB/2400-2499/SB2435SG.htm.
MIP responded to efforts to bypass aspects of the bill mentioned above by drafting modifications to an existing piece of legislation involving multiple counties working together to hire their own pathologist. http://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2010/pdf/HB/1400-1499/HB1456SG.pdf
Access to Justice
Professors David Calder and Debbie Bell, along with students in the Child Advocacy Clinic, are assisting the Mississippi Attorney Generals’ Office in drafting proposed legislation to provide representation for indigent parents in proceedings that may lead to termination of their parental rights. Mississippi is currently the only state in the country that does not provide representation for indigent parents facing permanent loss of their children.
Pro Bono practice. Professor Debbie Bell and students in the 2011 Pro Bono Initiative, working on behalf of the Mississippi Access to Justice Commission, drafted proposed changes to the Mississippi Rules of Professional Responsibility, including rules that clarify the availability of limited representation under Rule 1.2 and expand opportunities for pro bono representation through adoption of Rule 6.5, which limits application of conflicts rules in pro bono settings.
Governor’s Housing Task Force. Professor Debbie Bell served as staff attorney for Governor Winter’s 1988-89 Housing Task Force which produced a comprehensive report on housing conditions in the state, leading to the formation of the Mississippi Home Corporation. In that role, she took a lead in drafting the report and the bills that created the MHC.
Mississippi DNA Task Force. Professor Tucker Carrington, Mississippi Innocence Project, served as a member of the Mississippi DNA Task Force and was a primary author of the task force Report.