A Fordham Law School Appellate Litigation Clinic team consisting of four part-time evening students and two LL.M. students from France recently won a case before the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit—a rare achievement made all the more impressive by the participants’ responsibilities outside law school.
The four part-time students—Cathleen Benites ’16, Andrew Mainardi ’15, Christopher Ross ’15, and Danielle Rudkin ’15—who worked on the matter of United States v. Cunningham each had full-time jobs for part or all of their law school careers, noted Professor Ian Weinstein, who, as director of the Appellate Litigation Clinic, supervised the students. The clinical team also consisted of LL.M. students Ketzia Chetrite ’15 and Beatrice Collette ’15, whom Weinstein celebrated for bringing “a wonderful, comparative perspective” to the appellate work.
The clinic team convinced the Second Circuit in the matter of United States v. Cunningham that New York City police officers violated the Fourth Amendment when they searched the defendant’s vehicle for a weapon. At the trial stage, the government produced the weapon to gain convictions on charges of robbery conspiracy and using and carrying firearms in relation to the robbery conspiracy.
In recent years, the Appellate Litigation Clinic has provided Fordham Law part-time evening students an important opportunity to obtain real-world legal experience while working a day job.
“We ran the appellate clinic entirely in the evening so that it could be available to part-time students with full-time jobs,” Weinstein said. “The students impressed me every day with how they balanced so many responsibilities with the terrific work they did.”
Weinstein praised the students’ outstanding research and carefully prepared briefs, noting that criminal appellate practice in the Second Circuit is “extremely demanding” even when students are able to dedicate all their time to it.
For the evening students it was most decidedly not their sole focus.
In addition to their law school studies and clinic participation, Benites worked in health information technology for Northwell Health, Mainardi served as an assistant vice president for New York City Economic Development Corporation, and Rudkin worked as an office manager at Fordham University. Ross also worked as a paralegal for Ruta Soulios & Stratas LLP during his law school career, as well as a summer associate for Jones Day.
The clinic provided students a unique opportunity to represent a real client in a compelling case while also broadening their legal perspective, said Benites, who participated in the team’s collaborative initial brief and did a majority of the writing on its response brief, along with Weinstein and Ross. Benites, who now focuses on health law for Garfunkel Wild, P.C., said the experience working on a criminal appeal honed her research skills, encouraged her to consider different sides of a legal problem, and improved her communication with partners at her firm.
She credited Weinstein with providing the team helpful feedback but also keeping them grounded. Just because they offered a strong argument for why the trial verdict should be overturned did not mean they would win the case, Benites recalled Weinstein advising the team.
“Obviously, we feel overjoyed we won the case and we can’t wait to see how it works out for our client,” Benites said. “It showed us that you can make a difference. This decision matters for him and his family, and I’m glad I was a part of it.”