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An Appealing Experience

Catherine Breault and Christopher Monna had spent weeks in the University of Dayton School of Law’s Criminal Law Clinic going over the appeal they were presenting.

But now they had minutes to make their argument in front of three judges.

“It’s a lot of preparation for about 10 minutes of time,” Breault says. “You need to be able to answer any questions they might direct at you.”

The case involved a client who was convicted and sentenced on three charges. In the appeal, Breault and Monna were arguing two of the charges should have been merged because otherwise they constituted a case of double jeopardy.

Breault wrote the brief responding to the state’s arguments.

“The first thing that’s ever been filed under my name in court before,” Breault says.

For Breault it was the realization of something she’d dreamed about doing for a while.

“When I applied to law school, I knew I wanted to do criminal defense,” Breault says. “I’ve always had a passion for helping people.”

Monna also came to law school with a strong desire to do criminal defense work, based on the time he’d spent in college helping out at a drug treatment court.

“The court was about trying to help people’s drug problems and not just punish them for the crime that they did,” Monna says. “To me it was really, really eye-opening. There are judges that want to help people and not just put people in jail.”

Monna enjoyed the opportunity the Criminal Law Clinic provided. He was able to experience everything from meeting with clients to handling cases.

“Working in the clinic was amazing,” Monna says. “It was extremely hands-on.”

As the day approached for oral arguments before the Ohio Court of Appeals for the 2nd District, Monna had some extra pressure. His parents were making their first trip to Dayton and would be able to see him in front of the court.

During oral arguments, Breault handled the initial argument and Monna did the rebuttal after the state’s argument.

“It was a learning experience and I loved doing it,” says Breault.

They left feeling like they did a good job. Weeks later, the decision finally came down, and they knew they’d done a good job.

The judges ruled in their client’s favor.

“In the decision, you can see the judges making points that the prosecutor made a good point to this, but the defense argued this,” Monna says. “Reading those I was like, ‘That’s my argument. I said that. That’s in the record!’”

Professor Thaddeus Hoffmeister, the Criminal Law Clinic Director, says cases like this one provide students with an opportunity not only to put what they’ve learned into practice but to realize how it can make a difference.

“When you do work in law school, you’re getting a grade,” Hoffmeister says. “That grade doesn’t really impact anyone else. With this, the students are putting together everything from their classes and making an impact on someone’s life. It’s concrete.”

Breault says her experience in the clinic has given her more confidence when it comes to dealing with cases.

Now much of her job is to handle criminal defense appeals like the case she helped win. Breault graduated from UDSL in January and does appellate work for the firm, Rion, Rion and Rion in Dayton.

Monna wants to do work related to social justice and reforming the criminal justice system.

When he receives his diploma, his experience in the clinic won’t be far from his mind.

“There was one of the clients who I made such a strong connection with, he requested I tell him when I was graduating because he wants to see me walk the stage,” Monna says.
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