Notre Dame Law School students Anna McGinn and Jessa Webber have been named the Class of 2022’s Bank of America Foundation Fellows. Both of their fellowships will focus on exoneration and wrongful conviction work.
The Bank of America public interest fellowship covers salary and benefits for two Notre Dame Law School graduates to work for two years at a city agency or nonprofit organization of their choice. The fellows’ work must advance community sustainability and provide legal services to low-income or other underrepresented populations. The fellows select the organizations where they want to work and design the projects they will complete.
Great North Innocence Project
McGinn will combine her interests in criminal defense and public interest work at her fellowship with the Great North Innocence Project in Minneapolis. She will work with the staff and pro bono attorneys to screen, investigate, and litigate inmates’ cases where newly discovered evidence is identifiable and can provide clear and convincing proof of actual innocence.
“My hometown of Minneapolis captures the zeitgeist of the racial and social justice movement unfolding across the country. Central to concerns of institutional racism are criminal justice reform and remedy. My project will provide individuals facing wrongful convictions and incarceration with the most tangible of remedies: freedom,” said McGinn. “I am hopeful that my work will aid in furthering the broader mission of criminal justice reform.”
Before starting law school, McGinn completed a year of service with AmeriCorps where she worked with the Minneapolis Public Schools’ credit retention and recovery program. Through her work there she served as a supportive adult to youth in that community. It was that experience she says that served as a call to action.
“I understand that being of service to others is the best way for me to honor my talents, as I have been blessed with the means to achieve my goals. I am eager to use my Notre Dame legal education to advocate for marginalized communities in Minnesota,” said McGinn.
At Notre Dame Law she is the executive notes editor for the Journal on Emerging Technologies. She has also worked at the Law School’s Applied Mediation Clinic and in the expungement program with the St. Joseph County Prosecutor's Office. During her first-year summer she was an intern for Judge Donovan W. Frank, U.S. District of Minnesota, and during her second-year summer she was a law clerk for the Minnesota Judicial Branch.
“I am incredibly grateful for the guidance and support that I have received from so many of my professors at Notre Dame,” she said.
Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity and Expungement Unit
Webber is taking the skills and experience she received working with Notre Dame Law School’s Exoneration Justice Clinic to her fellowship at the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity and Expungement Unit in Metro Detroit.
She will screen exoneration applicants to see if a case can be made for wrongful conviction, applying the identification skills she gained with the Exoneration Justice Clinic. If screening and investigation reveal an applicant is actually innocent, Webber will then advocate for their exoneration. Following release, she will match clients with legal and reintegration services. Webber will also screen applicants applying for expungements to see if they fit Michigan’s Clean Slate Initiative criteria, help prepare their paperwork, and match them with a pro-bono attorney to represent them.
“My previous work in the field of criminal justice has shown me how detrimental a criminal record can be to a person’s life, and for those wrongfully convicted, there is no greater injustice than stripping an innocent person of their rights. I am drawn to this work because it allows me to advocate for those disenfranchised by a criminal conviction, justified or not, and help restore people's liberties and dignity,” said Webber.
She has been involved with the Exoneration Justice Clinic and the student-led Notre Dame Exoneration Project, where she currently serves as president, for all three years of law school.
“The clinic has taught me both the necessary hard and soft skills of working with those entangled in the criminal justice system. Additionally, as the president of the Notre Dame Exoneration Project, I aim to spread the word about issues in America’s criminal justice system, including wrongful convictions, to the wider student body,” said Webber.
During her second-year summer, Webber worked at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity Unit, where she says she also applied the skills gained through the Exoneration Justice Clinic. Her director at the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office connected her with the director of the Washtenaw County Prosecutor’s Office Conviction Integrity and Expungement Unit who will be her fellowship supervisor.
Through the generous and ongoing support from the Bank of America Foundation, Notre Dame Law School launched the Bank of America Foundation Fellows in 2015. Since then, these two-year fellowships have supported 15 Notre Dame Law School graduates in various areas of public interest law, including low-income housing, immigration, disability rights, criminal defense, and racial justice.