February Business Meeting Summary

CALL held its February Business Meeting on the 27th at Ditka’s Restaurant. President Maribel Nash welcomed and introduced several new members: Linda Butterfield, Kara Dunn, and Dominik Szymansk.

Meeting Sponsor

Vice-President/President-Elect Margaret Schilt introduced the meeting’s sponsor, Wolters Kluwer Law & Business, and two representatives: Jon Crispin and Melissa Mathews. Mr. Crispin said that he appreciates the opportunity to gather feedback to take back to Wolters Kluwer’s product managers.

He mentioned their daily reporting suite in different practice areas and highlighted their Health Reform Knowledge Center, a resource that surveys the changing healthcare environment.

Meeting Speaker

Margaret then introduced our speaker, Alison Siegler, University of Chicago Law School Associate Clinical Professor of Law and Director for the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic. Margaret gave Prof. Siegler’s background noting that Prof. Siegler received her undergraduate and law degrees from Yale University and an LLM degree from Georgetown Law, worked as a staff attorney with the Federal Defender Program in Chicago, and founded the Federal Criminal Justice Clinic at the University of Chicago.

Margaret explained that the clinic is the nation’s only legal clinic solely devoted to representing indigent defendants charged with federal felonies. Professor Siegler spoke to the members present about her experience in 2012 with her clinic collaborating on an amicus brief in the case of Alleyne v. United States , 133 S. Ct. 2151 (2013), on appeal to the United States Supreme Court.

Meeting Presentation

Prof. Siegler began her talk by asking the members present to imagine sitting in the gallery of the United States Supreme Court, feet away from Sotomayor and close enough to touch New York Times Supreme Court correspondent Adam Liptak. The members were to imagine that Chief Justice Roberts asked an attorney a question about constitutional issues and in response, “the attorney cites your own brief.” She explained that the journey she took with the students in her clinic took her to just that place.

Prof. Siegler briefly explained her clinic and how it started. She said that she started the clinic with the goals of improving the quality of representation and achieving justice for poor people in federal criminal justice system, especially poor people of color and training law students to be good lawyers and advocates.

Prof. Siegler then told the story of how she and her students got involved in the Supreme Court case. She said that she was on her way to a wedding of a college roommate in October of 2012 when she got an email stating that the U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Alleyne on the issue of whether Harris v. United States, 536 U.S. 545 (2002), should be overruled.

She said that this was huge news in the federal sentencing world because Harris was a fairly new case that was “terrible” for criminal defendants, but was then considered immune from reconsideration. Prof. Siegler then provided some background on the legal issues involved.

Mandatory Minimums

First, Prof. Siegler explained that mandatory minimums are statutory provisions that require a defendant to automatically serve a certain amount of prison time. She gave an example from a federal gun statute which provides that anyone who possesses or uses a gun in the course of a drug crime or crime of violence is subject to certain minimum sentences for simple possession of a firearm, brandishing the firearm, and actually firing the weapon.

She noted that 80% of the mandatory minimums imposed in the federal penal system are in drug cases. Prof. Siegler opined that the problems with mandatory minimums are “legion.” She asserted that the minimums are problematic because they give the same sentence regardless of any extraneous circumstances and because the minimums transfer power from judges to prosecutors.

Prof. Siegler further argued that because only 6% of those sentenced to mandatory minimums in 2012 were high-level offenders, the mandatory minimums do not make the public safer and are not worth the high cost of incarcerating so many low-level offenders.

Mandatory Maximums

Second, Prof. Siegler explained the Apprendi and Harris cases, the precedents leading up to Alleyne. In Apprendi v. New Jersey , 530 U.S. 466 (2000), Prof. Siegler explained, the Court considered statutory maximum penalties and held that any fact that increases a defendant’s punishment above the maximum must be charged in an indictment, proved to a jury at trial, and proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Prof. Siegler next explained that in Harris the question before the court was whether Apprendi’s rule for mandatory  maximums applies to mandatory minimums. The court held five to four that the Apprendi rule did not apply to minimums.

Alleyne Case

Third, Prof. Siegler returned to Alleyne and how she got involved. She said that in Alleyne, Allen Alleyne and an accomplice, who was not actually present at trial, were charged with a robbery. She explained that the prosecutors argued that the accomplice brandished a gun and prosecutors asked the jury to make finding against Alleyne based on accomplice liability. Prof. Siegler said that the jury acquitted Alleyne of brandishing, but the prosecutor asked the judge to disregard the jury.

Prof Siegler noted that the judge concluded, albeit reluctantly, that the accomplice brandished a gun, thereby forcing himself to impose a seven year mandatory minimum on Alleyne in addition to the sentence for the robbery. Prof.Siegler explained that Alleyne’s federal defenders appealed his case, lost the appeal based on Harris, and petitioned to the Supreme Court.

Writing an Amicus Brief

Prof. Siegler said that when the grant of certiorari in Alleyne came out her husband, who is also an attorney, suggested that she write an amicus brief. Prof. Siegler acknowledged that she had no idea how big of an undertaking writing an amicus brief would be. She said that her first task was to try to show Alleyne’s attorneys that she had a unique viewpoint to add for the court’s consideration.

She expressed to his attorneys that it was important for someone to convey to the Court how Alleyne will affect drug cases because most mandatory minimum cases in the federal system are drug cases and because some courts of appeal did not follow Harris in drug cases, thus causing a circuit split.

Prof. Siegler explained that the Supreme Court does not like circuit splits. Prof. Siegler said that Alleyne’s attorneys ultimately agreed to let her write an amicus brief. Prof. Siegler then explained that the other hurdle to writing an amicus brief is to find a client on whose behalf the brief is written.

The Sentencing Project and the American Civil Liberties Union became clients. Prof. Siegler said that this “added a lot of cooks to a crowded kitchen,” because she had to get approval from three people at the Sentencing Project and one person at the ACLU on everything that was written.

Once they started writing, Prof. Siegler said she and two clinic students worked on the “undue burden” section of the brief. She said that the section argued that overturning Harris would not be a burden on prosecutors because prosecutors routinely charge and prove quantity even in circuits that follow Harris.

Research Process

Prof. Siegler noted that there is no database that shows you how drug quantity is charged and proved in every district court.

Thus, she said, she and her students, with the help of Margaret Schilt, painstakingly searched Westlaw and PACER for drug cases and reviewed the indictment, jury instructions, and verdict forms in those cases. Prof. Siegler remarked thatMargaret was “instrumental” to their effort and it would not have come together without her.

Prof. Siegler then explained another piece of research that Margaret led. She said that they researched statistics into drug cases in the previous year and concluded that 38% of the federal drug prosecutions happened in circuits that required quantity to be charged and proved and an additional 16% happened in circuits that did not require that procedure.

Thus, Prof. Siegler concluded, at least 54% of cases already followed the rule Alleyne’s attorneys were asking the Court to adopt.

Writing Process

Prof. Siegler then explained the editing and collaboration process with all of the different “cooks” and remarked that it is “impossible to describe how much time it took [and] how much [she] underestimated it would take.” She concluded her retelling of the writing process by revealing that the detailed process she just described took place in just under seven weeks.

Oral Arguments

Prof. Siegler then told the members about the oral argument. In response to a question from Justice Roberts, Prof. Siegler said, Alleyne’s attorney cited Prof. Siegler’s brief to answer that the Harris rule was unworkable in drug cases. She said that Alleyne’s attorney told the court that prosecutors were already charging and proving quantity.

She said that the argument about drug cases was ultimately long enough to take up six pages of the oral argument transcript. Prof. Siegler added that hers was the only amicus brief mentioned at oral argument.

Prof. Siegler said that on June 17, 2013, the court held for Alleyne and overruled Harris by a five to four vote, a holding that applies to gun and drug cases.


Prof. Siegler said that her story is meant to show the power of research, information and tenacity. She asked the members present to remember that the work that we do can change the law and change the world. Prof. Siegler then took questions from the audience.

One member asked whether prosecutors have been accepting of the ruling. Prof. Siegler answered that prosecutors did not want this rule, but that they have generally accepted it. Prof. Siegler further noted that Attorney General Eric Holder has taken Alleyne and tried to use it to change the prosecution of drug crimes and how mandatory minimums are applied in an attempt to reduce the number of low level people charged.

Maribel thanked the speaker for sharing her story and for the important work that she does.

Meeting Announcements

Several CALL committees and groups had announcements.

Mentorship Task Force

Jamie Sommer spoke on behalf of the Mentorship Task Force to announce that the Board recently formed a new committee, the Mentorship & Leadership Development Committee.

She explained that at last August’s leadership training, the Board members and committee chairs present brainstormed about how to foster the next generation of CALL leaders. Jamie said that Maribel asked Jamie Sommer, Eugene Giudice, and Julie Pabarja to form the Task Force in order to follow through on the good ideas that came out of the session.

Jamie said that the Task Force looked into everything that committees were already doing and decided to recommend forming a committee to coordinate all of those activities. She said that the new committee is charged with the onboarding of new members, mentorship for new librarians, and developing leadership skills for all members regardless of the stage of their career.

Jamie exhorted the members assembled to volunteer for this committee or think about how their committee can help.

Nominations & Elections

Juli Jackson spoke on behalf of the Nominations and Elections Committee. She noted that 41% of eligible voters have voted in the CALL election and encouraged every member present to vote. She reminded the members to email her if they do not have the information to cast a vote.

Grants & Awards

JoAnn Hounshell spoke on behalf of the Grants and Awards Committee. She noted that grant funding is available for all types of continuing education, including the annual meeting. She reminded the members that anyone who has not received a CALL grant in the past three years is eligible. She said that applications are due by March 31st and pointed members to the “Awards and Grants” area of the CALL website for more information.

JoAnn then noted that it is time to recognize members who have made a contribution by taking nominations for the CALL awards. JoAnn noted that there is a new form that must accompany nominations. She emphasized that members can find information about the awards selection criteria and the form on the CALL website under “Awards and Grants.”

Community Service

Finally, Valerie Kropf spoke on behalf of the Community Service Committee to thank the members for their monetary
and food donations to the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Maribel thanked all committees for their work and announced that the next CALL business meeting will be on May 15, 2014 at Maggiano’s. Maribel and Margaret drew the door prize and thanked LexisNexis for sponsoring the prize. Bob Winger from McGuire Woods and Jamie Stewart from Chapman and Cutler won the drawing.

The meeting adjourned at 1:21pm.