Drake Law School and the Iowa State Public Defender are excited to announce a new collaboration creating a Wrongful Convictions Clinic.

The Wrongful Convictions Clinic at Drake Law School will begin in January 2021. The Clinic will be led by the State Public Defender’s Wrongful Convictions Division. Student attorneys in the clinic will represent individuals convicted of serious felony crimes in Iowa in post-conviction proceedings to establish their actual innocence. The Wrongful Convictions Division of the State Public Defender’s office was created by Lt. Gov. Adam Gregg, LW ’09, during his tenure as State Public Defender in 2015.

State Public Defender Jeff Wright, LW ’06, explained that the Wrongful Convictions Division works closely with the Midwest Innocence Project, in Kansas City, MO, to identify, investigate, and litigate cases of individuals who are claiming factual innocence of the crimes for which they were convicted. “We are excited about this new alliance and all the possibilities which come with it. Not only will this collaboration greatly increase our capacity to review and investigate meritorious claims from Iowa inmates, but it will also help identify policies that contribute to wrongful convictions,” said State Public Defender Wright.

Students in the Clinic will assist in all aspects of assigned cases including reviewing trial transcripts and case files, visiting incarcerated clients, interviewing witnesses, collecting records, consulting subject matter experts, conducting legal research, drafting pleadings, and attending court hearings.

Erica Nichols Cook, LW ’09, Director of the Wrongful Convictions Division, will supervise the Clinic. Nichols Cook previously served as an adjunct professor of law at Southern Illinois University, teaching about wrongful convictions and supervising an externship program with the Illinois Innocence Project. Prior to that, she was an assistant appellate defender, Cook County public defender, and a staff attorney with the Illinois Innocence Project.

“I am excited to return to the Clinic where I learned how to be a lawyer and an advocate,” said Nichols Cook. “Through this new collaboration, we will more effectively represent the wrongfully convicted in Iowa and teach new generations of lawyers in the criminal justice system how to identify and remedy wrongful convictions.”

As part of the new partnership, the state Wrongful Convictions Division will relocate to the Neal and Bea Smith Law Center at Drake. “Being on campus and a part of the dynamic learning environment at the clinic will empower students and clients alike,” Nichols Cook said.

“We are honored to be able to contribute to this important work through our new Clinic,” said Drake Law Dean Jerry Anderson. “Student efforts may lead to real reform in the criminal justice system and a path to justice for the wrongfully convicted. Along the way they will develop legal skills that they will carry with them wherever their future legal careers take them.”