KABOOM! There Goes My Head! A Convicted Murderer Is Admitted To Law School

Just when I think The Great Stupid has reached peak stupid, there is a new high. I don’t see how society can get more stupid than this, but I now know that it will. You know in movies when someone says, “There’s no good way to say this, so I’m just going to say it”?

Here is as much of the announcement by Mitchel Hamline Law School, an institution I was mercifully unaware of until now, that I can re-post without gagging:

Mitchell Hamline School of Law will welcome Maureen Onyelobi into its juris doctor program this fall, making Mitchell Hamline the first ABA-approved law school in the country to educate currently incarcerated individuals.

It’s a moment nearly three years in the making as part of a collective effort by the Prison to Law Pipeline, a program of All Square and its newly formed subsidiary, the Legal Revolution. The effort aims to transform the law through initiatives that center racial equity, wellness, and the expertise of those most impacted by the law…

“Learning the law is a vital vehicle for freedom and lasting change in our community,” said Elizer Darris, chair of the board of the Legal Revolution. “Maureen’s acceptance is social proof that the time for change is now and the energy is here to change it.”

…“Mitchell Hamline has a long history of looking for ways to expand the idea of who gets to go to law school,” said Dean Niedwiecki. “It’s important for people who are incarcerated to better understand the criminal justice system, and this is one important way to do that. Our students will also benefit from having Maureen in class with them.”

…A series of factors made Onyelobi’s acceptance to law school possible. The American Bar Association recently granted a variance to allow her to attend classes entirely online, which she will do from Shakopee. The variance will allow Mitchell Hamline to admit up to two incarcerated students each academic year for five years. Onyelobi’s tuition will be paid through private fundraising and the same scholarship assistance available to all Mitchell Hamline students.

The Prison to Law Pipeline also has the full support of Commissioner Paul Schnell of the Minnesota Department of Corrections…

Guess what the official announcement conveniently leaves out! Oh, only the fact that Onyelobi was convicted as an accomplice to first-degree murder, received a mandatory sentence of life in prison with no chance of parole.Elsewhere, one can learns that Onyelobi had been selling heroin with her boyfriend, Maurice Wilson and another man, David Johnson, when Wilson was arrested on federal drug charges in March 2014. Wilson later placed a phone call from jail to Onyelobi and Johnson, and told them to “take care of” Anthony Fairbanks, who was Wilson’s co-defendant in the federal case. Later that day, Onyelobi lured Fairbanks outside his Minneapolis home, and Johnson shot and killed him. The aspiring lawyer argued that she didn’t know that Johnson was going to kill Fairbanks.

Maybe she thought he boyfriend meant that she was supposed to make him a nice, home-cooked meal when he said she should “take care” of him.

Mitchel Hamline Dean Niedwiecki said Onyelobi “exceeded our minimum standards of getting into law school, so it wasn’t a close call.”

Heroin dealer, murderer, liar—yeah, this woman is obviously cut out to be a lawyer.

I wrote twice  in 2017 about the strange case of Shon Hopwood, a convicted bank-robber who is not only a lawyer but who teaches law at Georgetown Law Center. In this post, I wrote in part,

I don’t understand how and why the District found that a former bank robber was an acceptable candidate for a law license. Stephen Glass, a former star journalist who was publicly disgraced for being revealed as a liar who made up many of his stories,  was rejected for admission to the California bar because it was felt that his dishonesty in another profession more than a decade ago disqualified him. (Glass got his law degree at…Georgetown Law Center.) Stephen Glass, however, committed no crime, and was never convicted or jailed. I have found very few lawyers sympathetic to Glass, yet several who get all misty-eyed about the redemption of Shon Hopwood. How does the profession reconcile this?

[P]eople who set out to break the law and do so by committing major crimes should not be enforcing the law, practicing law, or teaching law. They cannot be trusted, no matter how charming they are, or how far they have come since their release.

I’ll stand by that assessment. I can’t find any sources that explain whether or not the convicted murderess has a route to being admitted to practice like Hopwood, but this is a slippery slope. Hopwood is white and Onyelobi is black, and we know, because a black lifetime petty hood died under the knee of a bad cop in Minneapolis , this now justifies all sorts of special considerations and privileges for those with the appropriate skin pigment. I assume that admitting black murderers to law school is part of equity, diversity and inclusion; it makes only a bit less sense than many of the other recent examples of that movement.  Mitchel Hamline is in Minnesota, after all. Coincidence? I think not. Yes, a logical response to George Floyd’s death is to start admitting convicted murderers to law school. Question: does that mean that Derek Chauvin can be admitted to law school too? I doubt it, somehow.

A few more scattered thoughts while I bick up pieces of my brain and skull…

  • Of course the American Bar Association was involved in this. The largest lawyers association has become so frantically woke that it is barely coherent. Supporting this farce is organizational malpractice.
  • Attending law school via Zoom is such a diminished educational experience that  it shouldn’t qualify for a degree. Onyelobi is being cruelly misled if she thinks otherwise.
  • Every law school applicant who is rejected while a convicted criminal is accepted is being told that they are less worthy of a legal education than a criminal.
  • The dean is evidently a babbling, dishonest fool. “Our students will also benefit from having Maureen in class with them”? How? To begin with, they won’t be in class with her: she’ll be attending class from prison. Moreover, what is it that a heroin dealer and murderer will have to contribute to a contracts, torts or civil procedure class?
  • I am assisting a law school grad who has been rejected by a state bar admissions committee on the basis of three minor incidents, including a motor vehicle violation, that it claims show his lack of fitness to practice law. I am afraid to tell him about Maureen Onyelobi for fear that it might kill him.

And The Great Stupid rolls on…

___________________

Pointer: JutGory

28 thoughts on “KABOOM! There Goes My Head! A Convicted Murderer Is Admitted To Law School

  1. If she graduates law school, passes the bar, and is licensed to practice law, since she’s spending life in prison, will she be permitted to represent clients? Only prisoners? Attend hearings (if a criminal lawyer) only online via Zoom from prison?

    I’m horrified.

    • I love it. She will be the first licensed jail house lawyer! She’ll be able to bill her fellow prisoners and be paid in dollars rather than contraband.

      Why do bar associations even have “fitness” requirements anymore? They seem irrelevant. ASU law school admitted a convicted murderer a few decades ago. I need to research whatever became of him.

  2. I’m not sure I agree with you about the robbery person, but I think that’s because I come at it from a religious angle. in Christianity, we are taught redemption. Someone who was awful before can be transformed into a good, honest person. Because I believe this is possible, I think there are narrow circumstances where someone who has committed a crime could completely transform themselves and be a legitimate lawyer/law professor. If you don’t believe someone can ever really change, then you would be more skeptical of allowing a convicted criminal to become a lawyer.

    On the other hand, these circumstances should be very narrow, and I would need to see a large amount of evidence that the person has really become different and isn’t just playing a social game. There are some very charming, manipulative people.

    As for the accomplice to first degree murder, that’s a hard no from me. This person is still in prison serving a sentence of life without parole. She is allowed to take classes online when students who are much better people than she is aren’t allowed that luxury? Come on! No, no no.

    In contrast to my position on the robbery guy, anyone who has murdered or is an accomplish to murder or even has committed the broad felony murder idea should not be allowed to attend law school. Allowing it and making special exceptions for online classes is a joke to me. But, like I’ve said before, many of my classmates who have never murdered anyone showed in class they don’t care about the constitution, and they see the law as a vehicle for policy activism; they didn’t even hide it.

    • Forgiveness is fine. Giving them a license to charge people for legal advice is a different thing. They can go to heaven and go to church, but practice law? No.

      • Just to clarify, I meant for the robbery guy, not for her (though I didn’t look into the specifics of the robbery). I don’t think she should be allowed to become a lawyer. This type of situation is exactly what the social justice warriors want. It doesn’t matter what you do or how many people you hurt, we still want to give you all these opportunities in the name of racial equity.

    • In the immortal words of Ulysses Everett McGill:

      Pete:”The Preacher said it absolved us.”

      Ulysses Everett McGill: “For him, not for the law. I’m surprised at you, Pete, I gave you credit for more brains than Delmar.”

      Delmar O’Donnell: “But they was witnesses that seen us redeemed.”

      Ulysses Everett McGill: “That’s not the issue Delmar. Even if that did put you square with the Lord, the State of Mississippi’s a little more hard-nosed. (scoffs) Baptism! You two’re just dumber’n a bag of hammers.”

      jvb

  3. “Onyelobi’s tuition will be paid through private fundraising and the same scholarship assistance available to all Mitchell Hamline students.”

    Has the school done anything to ensure Onyelobi can/will pass the character-and-fitness-to-practice-law component of becoming licensed? If not, her admission is a waste of time and a misappropriation of donor funds. And depending on the limitations of the scholarship assistance pool, it might also be taking money from students who will eventually become licensed.

    And I don’t see how the prison commissioner’s support is relevant.

    • That was my thought: is there a point paying for her law school education if she is not going to be licensed.

      Don’t get me wrong: a law school education is valuable in itself, but, if she will not be licensed, it is pretty worthless if she never gets out.

      -Jut

      • Sure. Licenture confers the right to practice before courts of law and represent clients. I know a number of lawyers who are not licensed. Some have retired and maintain their licenses but don’t practice in court any more; others got their law degrees but never intended to practice law so passing the bar exam was not relevant to their careers.

        jvb

    • The dean’s statement is full of weasely statements that indicate they know full well she will never be admitted to the bar, but try to justify her admission anyway:

      …first ABA-approved law school in the country to educate currently incarcerated individuals.

      They carefully say “educate”, not prepare for licensure or practice.

      …“Mitchell Hamline has a long history of looking for ways to expand the idea of who gets to go to law school,”

      Again “go to law school, not practice law

      The American Bar Association recently granted a variance to allow her to attend classes entirely online,

      An impressive-sounding detail, making it a real law degree (not mere auditing of classes). It dilutes the already tenuous value of the JD, but is ultimately unrelated to licensure.

      …full support of Commissioner Paul Schnell of the Minnesota Department of Corrections…

      Another impressive-sounding but irrelevant detail. Why would he oppose free activities to keep his prisoners out of trouble?

      Our students will also benefit from having Maureen in class with them

      An appeal to diversity, as noted, a pretty desperate one. She’ll be a voice on a phone call and her participation will be inherently limited. She may offer some insight on the injusticea she witnesses. With a bit of legal understanding, she might even notice more than the average prisoner. However, her experience will be limited to what goes on in a single prison, and that is hardly illustrative.

      The effort aims to transform the law through initiatives that center racial equity, wellness, and the expertise of those most impacted by the law…

      This is an admission that she will be an “expert” in legal matters. As others have said, a glorified “jailhouse lawyer”

      Most damning, the school itself carefully says nothing about endorsing or supporting her potential licensure. They throw up a lot of dust and smoke of irrelevant details, hoping no one notices!

      However, the following quote is legitimately sinister:

      said Elizer Darris, chair of the board of the Legal Revolution. “Maureen’s acceptance is social proof that the time for change is now and the energy is here to change it.”

      The only hint about future licensure is spoken of in broad vague terms, but directly quoted to the private foundation sponsoring the student, NOT the school itself. Legal Revolution may well advocate for her licensure, but the school’s attorneys would not let the sponsoring organization say so in the press release.

  4. I find myself in disagreement on some levels with this post, but agreement on others. I, like SOONER8728, am a Christian and believe in redemption and the ability to go from scum of the earth to a righteous person, though that is typically not an instantaeous act, but a long arduous process. I also believe that a person who made a major, even felonious, screw up can turn their life around. Society is lessened if we do not give oportunities for people to turn their lives around, prove that they have been rehabilitated, and then allowed to be a sucessful part of society. People who made dumb choices that had horrible consequences are rarely different than people who made dumb choices with no consequences, save for the grace of God or moral luck. Limiting someone’s education and even profession seems unjust to me, though there can be some additional work, since rebuilding trust is a process. Allowing a criminal who has served their sentence to educate and better themselves, and then move into a profession, preferably with a bit stricter probationary period (in the profession, not addition probation after time served, I mean) or something seems reasonable to me.

    That being said, “do the crime, pay the time.” This woman has not sucessfully served her sentence, and she has not had a chance to prove she has learned how to appropriately rejoin society, because she won’t rejoin society. Allowing someone with a life sentence to take up law school space, or push for a profession they can never accomplish is wrong. It is unfair to the other applicants, the other students, the scholarship competitors, the taxpayers who foot the school bill (or scholarship fund), and frankly, it is also unfair to her, to promise her something that, given a life sentence without parole, she can never do. I’m willing to give the bank robber law professor a little leeway, but this situation is miles too far for me.

    We need a decent means of helping criminals who wish to rehabilitate receive thar rehabilitation and acceptance back into society. Forcing a criminal back into society where they can never earn more than minimum wage is a good way to get even more crime. Allowing them to work in needed and lucrative positions is a good way to help the rehabilitation. However, it needs to be intelligent, not giving free permissions to everyone, but letting those who abused societies laws and trust have to work hard to earn that trust back.

    • I am fine with the redemption thing, too.

      However, it is not everything for everyone.

      I had a receptionist get turned down for a Notary license because she had a felony record (or something—it was back in 2007). Trustworthiness was a requirement.

      I had a client who made a fake id for himself at 19 to get into bars at college. Charged with felony forgery. He is as worried that this would derail his hoped-for career in medicine. He got diversion and the case was expunged. 8 years later, he called me up to find out how to answer questions about his criminal record for his application at a hospital. I think he got the position.

      Bottom line is that personal redemption is certainly separate from whether the State should license you to serve the public in particular capacities, particularly when part of the goal of licensure is to PROTECT the public.

      -Jut

      • I would like to point out that there is already a mechanism to formally remove restrictions and disabilities associated with a criminal conviction: the pardon power. In my view, the recognition of genuine and lasting reform – by welcoming an offender back into society’s trust – is one of the most ancient and legitimate uses of the pardon power, and probably should be used more often.

    • My thought is that redemption for one’s actions is fine and encouraged. However, that doesn’t mean that the person has demonstrated the character required to be admitted to law school, take and pass the bar exam, and then receive a law license.

      jvb

  5. Some people just don’t get the breaks.
    Ted Bundy’s education at the University of Utah Law School was cut short after he started that serial murder thing. Don’t see that he ever tried to finish his career path in prison before it finally became moot in Florida. If he had been around today, he might have been able to get his degree before his date with “Old Sparky”.

  6. I’m the devil’s advocate on this one. Education is education. She’s wasting money and effort if she thinks this results in a license. But I can imagine that there are a lot of people who are serving life sentences who would like to be a better pro se advocate for themselves because they can’t afford attorneys for appeals or find an attorney to take their case. If she wants to learn, I see no harm. But the school has hopefully advised her that she has no career prospects with her current convictions.

    As for the “space” issue for admissions: I wonder if other students missed out or if this is in addition to their standard class sizes. For me, at this stage, my gut is telling me that you’re affected by “ICK” more than anything. But again, this is just my opinion playing devil’s advocate. People tell me I’m quite naive. I believe them.

    • Tim LeVier, a few random thoughts:

      Did she get an undergraduate degree? I would have to think she did. If not, this is extremely problematic.

      Did she take the LSAT? My skepticism would rise if she didn’t. If she did, her eligibility is easier to assess.

      Having said that, Mitchell-Hamline is a “working-man’s law school.” It is the recent merger of William Mitchell College of Law and Hamline School of Law. William Mitchell dates back to one of the earliest law schools in Minnesota and was named for the illustrious AG of President Hoover: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_D._Mitchell

      It had a 4-year Night Program that was innovative at the time (I understand) as it let working people get a law degree by going to night school. They have a day program, but they became known for their night school. They also claim bragging rights as being more practically oriented than their Big 10 rodent-affiliated competition (no, not the Badgers or the wolverines!).

      Once St. Thomas decided to open the fourth (FOURTH!) law school in the Twin Cities Metro Area, Mitchell and Hamline had to merge in order to survive.

      Would they tell her she had no chance of being licensed? Not sure. They may have it as their goal to make attorneys out of the unrepresented. That would be in keeping with their original night school model. They may have convinced her (and themselves) that making her the first imprisoned lawyer (not including Thomas More—he passed the Bar exam before being imprisoned) would be to both of their credit.

      And, she is apparently not wasting anyone’s money, except that of the donors, who may be happy to spend it on this cause.

      -Jut

      • Thanks for the background on Hamline, Jut. It was vaguely familiar as a Minnesota phenomenon. I’m sure the good people of Minnesota are all in on licensing convicted felons.

  7. I like the part where they’re using donations to pay her tuition. It’s a Very Important First to have her enrolled, her (virtual) presence in class will be a definite boon to her classmates, and the whole thing is part of a groundbreaking program to “transform the law through initiatives that center racial equity, wellness, and the expertise of those most impacted by the law”, but the school still needs to make its nut. If this were such a great, socially important thing, couldn’t the school just waive her tuition for their part in this Historic Transformative Enterprise? Seems like a small price for such a lofty goal as “transforming the law”.

    Anyone want to take any bets that a future politician pardons her and appoints her to a judgeship? That should be a joke, but in America today (and especially the great state of Minnesonuts), I’m not so sure I’d bet against it.

  8. In a locally prominent law firm in my area, there was a founding partner (with an impressive record as a civil litigator) who lost his license to practice law due to some ethics violations back in the late 1970s. The details were never known to me but, whatever his wrongdoings, there was no prosecution. His position as a partner was filled by his son, but the former partner remained on the staff of the firm. Listed on their masthead as being “of counsel,” he remained in all their photo advertisements, lined up with the actual partners and staff attorneys, until retiring shortly before his death in the early 2000s. Although I am dubious that he never again in fact “practiced law,” evidently his role at the firm was, at least on paper, allowed under the rules of the bar.

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