Friday, January 06, 2006

Themis Challenged

You remember who Themis is, don't you? The Greek mythological figure, who later became the image of Lady Justice with the blindfold and scales? Well, Professor Howard Friedman at University of Toledo College of Law reports this:

Law School Clinic Loses In 8th Circuit In Refusal To Represent Client

In Wishnatsky v. Rovner, decided yesterday by the U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, the University of North Dakota Law School's clinical program has lost the first round of a battle in its refusal to represent a client who wished to challenge the display of a statue of Themis, the Greek goddess of justice, on the top of the Grand Forks County court house.

Martin Wishnatsky had previously, in a letter to the editor of the local newspaper, criticized the law school clinic for taking a case seeking removal of the 10 Commandments from public property. He then requested assistance from the clinic to develop a lawsuit on the same basis challenging the pagan statue, claiming that viewing it made him feel like a second-class citizen. The clinic refused, saying that its current case load and limited resources precluded it from taking new cases at the time. But the clinic's director, Laura Rovner, added in her letter to Wishnatsky, "your persistent and antagonistic actions against the Clinical Education Program and faculty involved would adversely affect our ability to establish an effective client-attorney relationship with you and would consequently impair our ability to provide legal representation."

Wishnatsky sued, claiming that the denial of legal services on the basis of his criticism of the clinical program and its director violated his free speech and equal protection rights. The federal district court agreed, but yesterday the Court of Appeals reversed the trial court's judgment on the pleadings. It said: "No concern about the operation of traditional government functions supports a rule that permits institutions of higher education -- traditionally bastions of free speech and the vigorous exchange of ideas -- to discriminate on the basis of viewpoint in the administration of a clinical legal program." The appellate court added that while "decisions of a clinical program about which cases and clients to accept in an academic environment should be entitled to substantial deference", its justifications arfactualal defenses and should not be disposed of in a motion on the pleadings. (Here is AP coverage of the case.)

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