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Lepine Law Group Blog

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Freedom

By Marisa Mandos, California Western School of Law

When you finally become a third year law student, there are very few good reasons to be at school on a Friday afternoon. Today, however, I was proud to walk through the doors of the main building at California Western School of Law.

At one o’clock this morning, my iPhone buzzed. “Probably another sale at Ann Taylor Loft,” I thought. It was an email from Justin Brooks, Director of the California Innocence Project (“CIP”). CIP attorneys and students work tirelessly to free wrongfully convicted inmates. Advocates spend countless hours examining new evidence, filing motions, and driving all over the state looking for anything that could potentially exonerate their clients.

Yesterday, CIP exonerated Brian Banks. Brian is the same age as I am: 26 years old. Like me, he loves sports. In fact, he was on his way to attending USC on a full football scholarship – until he was arrested and convicted for kidnapping and rape. He spent five years behind bars. The alleged victim, Wanetta Gibson, contacted Brian on Facebook last year after he was released from prison. Gibson admitted to lying about the rape but recanted her admission once she realized her family might have to return the $1.5 million settlement they received from the Long Beach School District as part of a related civil suit.

Brian was free for less than 24 hours when I received the email notifying students he would be holding a press conference on campus. I knew I had to be there. Interning at Lepine Law – working every day with civil rights attorneys – I knew I had to be there. Ten years ago, I had dreams of becoming a lawyer. Ten years ago, Brian had dreams of becoming a football player. I have continued to pursue my dream so that others like Brian are afforded the opportunity to pursue theirs.

Furthermore, today is the start of Memorial Day weekend. I was concerned that many students already left town to celebrate the holiday. I wanted to be there to give Brian and CIP the standing ovation they deserve. On Memorial Day, we honor all Americans who have died in all wars. Since the Revolutionary War, 1,320,000 servicemen (and women!) have died defending our liberties. They have died so that people like Brian can live. And although he was out of prison, Brian was still not free until he was exonerated. “For the rest of his life, he was going to be a convicted sex offender,” Justin Brooks said at Friday’s press conference.

In fact, Brian was offered a lighting job with the NFL after his release from prison. He couldn’t take the job because he couldn’t travel around the country. Until yesterday, Brian was hindered by his conviction. He is unemployed. His football career has been put on hold. He even spent last New Year’s weekend in jail because he had just moved, but forgot to unregister his name and prior address from a sex offender list. “With this freedom, I’m [going to] do great things,” he promised.

When asked how he could possibly thank those who worked to clear his name, Brian replied, “… start with the words ‘Thank You.’” Brooks immediately cut in. “The way you thank us is by having a good life.” And that he will. Brian has been working out regularly and hopes to try out for the NFL as soon as possible. When asked when he will be ready to play he responded without hesitation, “Right now.”

Civil rights attorneys have a great responsibility and a great challenge, but the reward far outweighs both. “These are the days that carry us through,” Brooks said. I look forward to following Brian’s football career and buying his jersey the second he is signed. More importantly, I look forward to continuing my career and working with the talented civil rights attorneys with whom I am lucky enough to spend my days.

While celebrating Memorial Day Weekend, remember to toast to Brian Banks’ freedom and to those who fight to protect it. And when you return to work on Tuesday, remember that there are many more Brian Banks’ out there.





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