Category Archives: Student Experiences

All Cooley graduates have practiced law in a supervised setting before graduation. Here, students share their experiences through Cooley’s blog as they move the the process.

So, You Want to Be a Criminal Lawyer? Seven Things Your Law School Should Offer

krause-phelan_tonyaBlog author WMU-Cooley Law School Auxiliary Dean and Professor Tonya Krause-Phelan teaches Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, Defending Battered Women, Criminal Sentencing, and Ethics in Criminal Cases. She coaches national mock trial and moot court teams with the West Michigan Defenders Clinic and frequently appears as a commentator on numerous radio, television, print, and internet media sources regarding criminal law and procedure issues.

When I attended law school in the late ’80s, becoming a criminal practitioner was probably the least desired career choice a law student could make. At that time, many law students, law professors, and practitioners alike thought that the only people who would “settle” for a job as a public defender or as a prosecutor were those who could not get a job with a mega-firm or as in-house counsel for a Fortune 500 company.

Because I knew when I went to law school I wanted to be a public defender, I followed my passion instead of conventional wisdom. I was fortunate enough to land a job right out of law school as a public defender.  Eventually, I went into private practice, where I specialized in criminal defense. But, I never gave up my passion for indigent defense, and as a result, I continued to accept court-appointed cases. Throughout my many years of practice, criminal practitioners continued to be viewed as a sub-category of lawyers.

But, nothing could be further from the truth. Criminal practitioners are some of the most passionate, dedicated, and talented lawyers in the profession. After all, practicing in the area of criminal law is not for the faint of heart; it is one of the most demanding, challenging, and specialized areas of practice with clients’ lives and liberty literally hanging in the balance. With everything known today about DNA exoneration cases, mistaken identification cases, police shootings, and other systemic and ethical challenges facing the criminal justice system, people have changed their minds about public defenders, criminal defense lawyers, and prosecutors. Today people are actually deciding to attend law school for the specific purpose of becoming a criminal practitioner.

For those who want to become a criminal practitioner, they should look for a law school that does everything possible to adequately prepare its students for the rigors of a criminal practice. Whether a law school advertises itself as a “practice ready” school or not, several factors foretell a school’s pledge to preparing its students for criminal practice. Prospective law students interested in practicing criminal law should consider the following factors:

  1. Experienced Faculty: Professors who have practiced in the field are uniquely qualified to provide students with a practical context in which to learn substantive criminal law. Learn whether the professors who teach Criminal Law and Procedure practiced criminal law prior to becoming full-time faculty members.  Also, determine whether the school’s adjunct faculty are criminal practitioners. By hiring criminal law practitioners to serve as adjunct faculty, a law school demonstrates its dedication to keeping its curriculum current and relevant.
  2. Criminal Law-based Clinics: Ensure the law school hosts a clinic that focuses on criminal law, usually public defender or prosecutor clinics. Because many states allow students to work under the direct supervision of a licensed attorney, this type of clinical experience provides students with the ability to apply the knowledge and skills they have learned in the classroom to real-life, real-time clients.
  3. Innocence Project: Several law schools run Innocence Project programs. In these programs students have the responsibility to investigate and process cases for individuals who have been wrongfully convicted. Nothing speaks louder about a law school’s commitment to the efficacy of the criminal justice system than its commitment to representing individuals who should not have been convicted and need assistance in gaining their freedom.
  4. A Strong Skills-based Program: Law schools that are committed to developing strong criminal practitioners will also have a strong skills-based program. Look at the classes the law school requires students to complete. A curriculum that requires several research and writing, trial and appellate advocacy, and other skills-based courses demonstrates that the school is preparing its students for practice.
  5. Community Collaboration and Engagement: Look to see if the law school regularly engages with community organizations and events.   By hosting and participating in events that foster interaction with community organizations, local leaders, and members of the criminal justice system, a law school demonstrates a strong responsibility to fostering and improving an ethical and dedicated criminal justice system.  Look to see if the law school has hosted or participated in round-table and panel discussions, town hall-style meetings, and lecture series that include such people as police officers, judges, criminal practitioners, and experts within the criminal justice system.
  6. Proximity to Local Courthouses, Legal Community, and Organizations: If a law school is close to courthouses, law firms, and other legal entities, law students will more likely augment their educational opportunities by visiting local courthouse, watching trials and other legal proceedings, connect with members of the bar, and become student members of local bar organizations, events, and public service opportunities.  Observing how lawyers conduct cases helps students develop their own skills.
  7. Strong Alumni Base: Finally, many law schools provide prospective students with a list of alumni. Ask the law school to provide you with a list of alumni who are practicing criminal law and contact them. Not only can alumni answer questions about practicing criminal law, they can discuss whether the school adequately prepared them for criminal practice.  Ask their advice regarding which elective classes to take, clinics or externships to apply for, and which extra-curricular activities most adequately prepared them for criminal practice.

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New Zealand Land, Culture & People True Adventure

WMU-Cooley law students have jumped into their study abroad experience with both feet, warmly embracing this special land. Nothing short of an adventure, New Zealand’s changeable landscapes and experiences have been life changing. The challenging international courses have been enlightening and the world down under breathtaking with the richness of its oceans, mountains, ferns, and its multi-cultural, open and friendly citizenry.

Students were based in Hamilton, New Zealand, on the campus of the University of Waikato for their classroom experience, but their educational experience traveled far and wide.

Students compared Chinese & New Zealand law and New Zealand International Trade. They learned about the United Nations and Indigenous Rights. By the end of the term, they were making presentations in the state-of-the-art courtroom in the new law building. But that was just the start of their adventure in learning.

Travels included trips to the world-famous Raglan beach, Mount Manganui, touring the Marlborough wine region, absailing into Waitomo Caves, bungy jumping in Queenstown. It took their breath away!

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Students learned about Maori culture and legal systems. They were invited onto the Kirrikirriroa Marae, where they were formally welcomed and allowed to participate in part of an alternative sentencing workshop with criminal offenders. They visited the Maori Land Court, where they shared Hongi and tea with Court staff and Judge Stephanie Milroy.

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Students visited law firm McCaw Lewis, where they shared a meal with attorneys. They even learned to play cricket. During their last week, Dean Wayne Rumbles hosted a BBQ for the WMU-Cooley students at his home, where he cooked for the students and shared laughter and fellowship.

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Aeoteara/New Zealand will stay in the hearts of WMU-Cooley students and faculty as they move on to Melbourne for more adventure!

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WMU-Cooley Patent Law Team Place High in U.S. Patent & Trademark Office Competition

“Team Joyce Hill and Christopher DeLucenay truly demonstrated an initiative and work ethic that one usually only finds in seasoned Patent attorneys,” declared WMU-Cooley Professor and Coach Gerald Tschura after his two Intellectual Property students brought home the overall third place trophy in the Midwest Regional International Patent Drafting Competition. “I was impressed by their creativity and competitive spirit. Joyce and Chris exemplify exactly that caliber and high degree of competency you need to to succeed as patent attorneys today.”

WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Gerald Tschura, Me, Joyce Hill, Chris DeLucenay, Dr. Christal Sheppard

WMU-Cooley Law School Professor Gerald Tschura, Me, Joyce Hill, Chris DeLucenay, Dr. Christal Sheppard

For the second consecutive year, WMU-Cooley students performed exceptionally well during the Midwest Region International Patent Drafting Competition.  The competition is hosted by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

“Joyce and Christopher worked extremely hard, beginning in December, to conduct a thorough patent search and to prepare and submit a patent application based on a hypothetical invention provided by the competition,” explained Tschura. “Our submission, along with all the other competing schools, were then scored by a select panel of judges. Teams were then selected to orally present and explain their applications before two separate distinguished panels of judges and examiners from the USPTO as well as leading practitioners in patent law.”

“The team did an outstanding job and represented their school with distinction,” punctuated Tschura. “This second year of the competition saw a significant increase in the number of competing schools which made the competitive arena that much stiffer. After all written submissions were completed in mid-January, the field whittled down to nine schools that orally presented in February and defended their cases to panels of judges in at the USPTO office in Detroit. Competing teams were identified only by number for all submissions and during the presentations to assure anonymity in judging.”

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Professor Tschura went on to explain that “after the final round, the judges announced that only one point separated the top three teams. We finished in third, but only slightly behind St. Louis University and York University (Toronto).  I like to note that WMU-Cooley was the only law school of the four in Michigan to finish in the top three at the competition, and the only law school to have placed in the top three twice!”

Professor Tschura had only kudos for his team, and they for him. “Many thanks go to Joyce and Chris for their effort and hard work and for making WMU-Cooley proud.  Future inventors and clients will be very lucky to have either of these two outstanding future lawyers as their patent attorney!”

Joyce Hill was also pleased with how the team did in the competition, but also enjoyed her time at the competition. “I thought it was a great learning experience,” stated Hill. “I have so many to thank, but especially Professor Tschura for all of his help and guidance in making the competition such a success.  There is nothing like practicing what you have learned in school.”

The competition, hosted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), is now an annual event, with ambitions of including competitions at each of the USPTO regional satellite offices across the country.

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Frequent Flyer: Student flew from Seattle to Detroit for weekend classes at WMU-Cooley

A recent graduate of WMU-Cooley Law School who commuted to weekend classes from Seattle from Seattle, Mel Matias is a CPA and auditor with Boeing and is pictured in the cockpit of a Boeing 787 for delivery. Photo courtesy of Mel Matias.

A recent graduate of WMU-Cooley Law School who commuted to weekend classes from Seattle, Mel Matias is a CPA and auditor with Boeing and is pictured in the cockpit of a Boeing 787 for delivery. Photo courtesy of Mel Matias.

This article about WMU-Cooley Military Feature, Weekend Program student and recent graduate Melchor Matias was written by Legal News writer Sheila Pursglove and was originally published by the Legal News on Feb. 10, 2017. It is reprinted here with permission of The Detroit Legal News. WMU-Cooley is a military friendly and designated Yellow Ribbon School. We are proud of all our military students, faculty and graduates. Melchor is a retired Chief Personnelman from the U.S. Navy and traveled far and wide in his service to country and others. Beyond the United States, he served in the Philippines, Japan, Puerto Rico, Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, and various places in Europe.

Melchor Matias flew from Seattle to Detroit every weekend to study for his J.D. at WMU-Cooley Law School-and graduated in January.

A CPA at Boeing in Seattle, Matias did licensing audits on royalty and technology contracts, and designed audit programs. His interaction with the lawyers of Fortune 100 companies sparked his interest in earning a law degree.

Because of his heavy travel assignments, a regular law school schedule was out of the question. But during a stopover in Detroit on a flight back from an audit in the United Kingdom, Matias spotted an item about Cooley Law School and its ABA-approved J.D. program on weekends.

“Because of the time difference and non-stop Delta flights between Seattle and DTW, it was a perfect plan,” he says. “Although my employer didn’t cover any tuition and travel, I had miles saved up from prior travels to kick start my commute. ”

Matias booked flights 3 to 6 months out each semester, to save costs. He had sufficient hotel points to kick start weekend stays, and car rental points.

“It all boiled down to planning ahead and all my work-related travel loyalty programs helped,” he says.

He was more than pleased with his experience at the Auburn Hills campus.

“Cooley has the most diverse group of students and the faculty members are very experienced and accommodating,” he says.

Beyond the rigorous legal studies and travel, Matias’s law school years were a personal struggle. In his first year, his mother was diagnosed with liver cancer, dying a month before his finals and he had to request special accommodation to take the exams. His father died the following year. Both parents had helped Matias, a single father, to raise his sons, Andy and Michael.

A year later, Michael was diagnosed with brain cancer a month before starting law school. Matias and Andy, who was in law school, each had to take a term break to be with Michael during his final 6 months.

“Had he survived, all three of us would be taking the bar exams this year,” Matias says. “Now, Andy and I are taking them this year-with all the thoughts and dedication for Michael.

“All these deaths followed one year after the other. It’s such a painful struggle, but life has to go on.”

Matias’s goal is to do an LLM in tax or corporate business and compliance, and he hopes to continue working in the legal business environment. He currently is working on applications for the LLM programs while studying for the bar exam.

“I’ve also been teaching at City University of Seattle, on and off for over 5 years, and would love to be in the academia and teach,” he says.

A native of Manila in the Philippines, Matias holds a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines, and an MBA from Columbia College of Missouri at the campus in Marysville, Wash.

“I’ve always been fascinated with money-who isn’t! When I was 6, we had lots of fruit trees in our home in provincial Philippines. I would pedal around town with baskets full of avocados and mangoes and make enough money for my snacks the entire school year,” he says.

Matias previously served in the U.S. Navy, retiring as a Chief Personnelman. He traveled far and wide, with posts at Subic Bay in the Philippines; Okinawa, Yokosuka, and Sasebo in Japan; and Roosevelt Roads in Puerto Rico, as well as deployments and port visits to Bangkok, Singapore, Hong Kong, and various places in Europe.

In the United States he was stationed in San Diego; San Francisco; Port Hueneme in California; Meridian, Miss., Florida; and Denver, where he was a recruiter-“The most fun job I had in the Navy next to the SeaBees,” he says. He was deployed on the USS Sterett-and named his son Andrewsterett after the ship-and with the NMCB 5 (SeaBees).

During his Navy service, Matias provided tax assistance to military members and their families and the elderly through the volunteer income tax assistance (VITA) program-and once he passes the Washington state bar exam in July, vows to continue giving back to his community by providing affordable and/or pro-bono legal advice and assistance to the disenfranchised-“Including but not limited to the elderly, the military, the poor, the LGBQT community, single parents like me, students, and anyone struggling to be able to afford legal advise and representation to assert their rights,” he says.

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Weekend law student Stephanie Samuels: Never too late to start a new life

Stephanie Samuels was almost 60 years old when she finally discovered she could make her life dream of going to law school a reality. Up until then, “life sort of just happened,” and it was never really an option – until she heard about WMU-Cooley’s weekend program.

“I talked to my husband about it,” said Samuels, “and I said, ‘You know what, I think I might be able to do this.'”

Since Stephanie worked for American Airlines, she philosophized that, with a little bit of creativity and some luck, it was within reason for her to fly from her home in the Texas, Dallas-Fort Worth area to WMU-Cooley’s Lansing campus once a week for classes. Well, that is exactly what she was able to do, every weekend for the last five years.

Even better, she was able to fly back and forth for free.

“Now the cool thing for me is I actually can fly standby,” grinned Stephanie, “and in the entire five years I went to law school, I only missed one weekend. WMU-Cooley has been flexible – really, really flexible for me. I have been able to do a lot of things I never thought I would be able to do. I got to be part of a mock trial team as a weekend student, plus I got to study abroad two semesters, in both Oxford, England and in Hamilton, New Zealand. I would never have been able to do those kind of things had it not been for Cooley and the weekend program.

“All of my law school experiences have really opened life up for me and given me the confidence to start my own private practice in international law. I’m even thinking about doing a non-profit, which was an offshoot idea I got from a contact I made during my time in New Zealand. One of the professors at the University of Waikato was a member of the United Nations in New York and she invited me and another law student to the UN’s annual indigenous rights convention.  What an incredible opportunity! I will never forget it.

“I am so excited to start this new life and explore all the possibilities . They are endless to me now. That’s because of Cooley.”

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New Students Take “Mannequin” Stand During Law School Orientation

WMU-Cooley incoming students decided to “take a stand” on day two of their law school Orientation – for the fun of it. Forget talking heads. New students took the Mannequin Challenge in its 26,000 square foot Tampa Bay campus library. It was clear that everyone understood how to be quiet in the library!

Law students learned about the library’s many resources, including having over 34,000 library books and about a dozen study rooms. They also learned about each other.

WMU-Cooley’s Campus Director Dionnie Wynter thought a Mannequin Challenge would be a great way to immediately break down barriers and build trust and bonds between new students.

“It was a wonderful exercise,” exclaimed Wynter. “You could feel everyone was into it and felt like they were part of a team. Truly, each student could have been standing next to their new best friend, a future business partner, or someone who would refer them to a potential client. I know. The relationships you make in law school are ones you have your entire life. Law school is one of the most life changing and meaningful experiences one could ever endeavor.”

Even though law school can be, at times, a daunting task, added Wynter, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun, and one of the best decisions you will ever make.

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Preparation. Preparation. Preparation: An interview with Hon. Christopher C. Sabella

The first thing 13th Judicial Circuit Court Judge Christopher C. Sabella tells law students on the first day of class is that he wants them to be “as comfortable in the courtroom as they are in their own living room.” Now that doesn’t sound very easy, but he goes on to say that one of the best ways to become comfortable in the courtroom is by preparing. In fact, the three top things you need to remember in the courtroom are, “Preparation. Preparation. Preparation!”

Below are questions we asked Judge Sabella during our interview, along with his answers and his advice.

Tell us a little about your career before becoming a circuit judge with the 13th judicial circuit court? 

Before my career as a judge with the 13th judicial circuit I had two of the greatest jobs that you can imagine. I served as the legal adviser for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office for a total of 12 years where I represented the sheriff, the agency and individual deputies in lawsuits that were filed against those different entities. I left the sheriff’s office and went to the U.S. attorney’s office and I served as an assistant U.S. attorney for a short period of time where I prosecuted federal cases in United States court. And one of the greatest feelings was to walk into court and to say I represent the United States of America. I’ll never forget that, that was a highlight of my career. Eventually I did return to the sheriff’s office as the deputy chief legal adviser where I supervised other attorneys and ultimately represented the agency, mainly in federal court in use of deadly force cases, until I was appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush to be a circuit court judge here in the 13th judicial circuit.

So what in your legal career has guided you the most in your life? 

I think the one most important thing that has guided me the most in my legal career, and particularly my time on the bench, is that I’ve learned how to treat people. The thing that I have learned over the years being a judge is, that people treat you the way that you treat them, and I treat everybody with the greatest amount of respect.

I’ve had individuals, even young men, who I’ve sentenced to prison for long periods of time – even one that I remember that I sentenced to life in prison – but the way that I had treated him throughout the course of the proceedings, and the way that I treated him at the time that I sentenced him, he left the courtroom thanking me even though he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison.  It just shocked me that he was able to treat me with such respect. I think that he was able to do that – and actually did that – because I had treated him with respect. I feel that that’s very important, and not just in the practice of law, not just in the courtroom, but in everyday life. You interact with people. Treat everybody with respect and they’ll return that respect.

In July 2010 you were recognized by Tampa Bay Magazine as Tampa Bay’s top lawyer in law enforcement. Was law enforcement an area of law you always had an interest or was it something you developed a passion for?

The time that I spent representing the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and the time that I spent with law enforcement was something that I developed a passion for. In fact when I graduated from law school I had no idea that law enforcement agencies even had in-house counsel. It was a time when I was looking for a job and my cousin who was a judge here locally, a county judge, knew the chief legal adviser at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. He knew that I was looking for a job, so he called him and he agreed to meet me and gave me an interview, then hired me as a law clerk while I was waiting for my bar results. During that time, I guess I must have impressed them because when I got my bar results back they hired me as a legal adviser. I then spent the next six years there representing them as a legal adviser. During that time I developed an incredible passion for law enforcement. I ultimately was recognized by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as an expert in use of deadly force. I was on a committee picked by the governor to investigate officer-involved shootings, and ultimately developed a curriculum for FDLE for the investigation of officer-involved shootings.  I represented many officers in court for use of deadly force and developed an incredible passion for law enforcement.

You have been teaching trial skills at WMU-Cooley since 2014. What inspired you to go into teaching?

The thing that inspired me the most to go into teaching law students is my experience with young lawyers in my profession and my time as a judge. I always take the opportunity to spend time with young lawyers because I believe that they are the future of our career. Coming here and teaching law students is an opportunity to address them at an early point in their career and to assist them in becoming not only good lawyers – but great lawyers.

Tell me about your style of teaching. What do you find your students appreciate about it?

Students have told me often that they appreciate my teaching style. So it’s caused me to wonder what it is I’m doing right in the classroom. I think that, first of all, teaching a trial skills class is different than teaching any other class, because this is a class where the students have the opportunity to come down and to participate and to have hands-on learning experiences where they actually do each and every one of the parts of a trial. So we are having fun in class and that makes them enjoy class but most importantly I think why the students enjoy the class is that I am trying to make them comfortable in a courtroom. I tell them in the very beginning, the first day of class, that in order to be a great trial lawyer you’ve got to be comfortable in the courtroom. So I tell them everything we’re going to do throughout this class is going to be geared toward making you as comfortable in the courtroom as you are in your own living room. The second part of being a great trial attorney in addition to feeling comfortable in the courtroom is being prepared. So my students often hear me tell them preparation, preparation, preparation. And when you put those two things together, preparation and comfort in the courtroom, they’re going to be great trial attorneys.

What is it about WMU-Cooley students that standout to you?

There are several things that stand out to me about Cooley students, but overall I find that they’re just absolutely incredible. The diversity of the students is just amazing to me. I have had students that are executives in large corporations. I have had students that are ex-teachers, ex-law enforcement officers. I even had one student who was only 18 years old. She had been home-schooled through high school and college and here she was in her third year of law school and she was only 18 years old. She was an incredible student.

But the diversity is amazing, and that’s one of the things that keeps me coming back to the classroom here at Cooley, as well as so many other things, because everything else about this school is so amazing – the other faculty members, the administration, this facility that we teach in. Cooley Law School is just incredible to me, and it starts with the students and it ends with the faculty and the administration. I just can’t imagine not being a part of this great school.

What advice would you like to give to law students?

The best advice that I can give to a law student is that I truly believe that you can accomplish anything that you set your mind to. It starts with setting goals, then working hard to achieve those goals, staying focused throughout the process, and then always being prepared. Like I always say preparation, preparation, preparation makes great lawyers.

What have you learned from your law students?

As much as I’ve heard students tell me that they’ve learned from and they enjoy my class, I recognize that it’s not just a one-way street. I have incredible students and I’ve learned a lot from them. They continue to amaze me how focused they are and how committed they are. They work hard; they come to class prepared – and it really helps me stay focused in seeing them and how hard they work. It makes me a better judge.

As a judge in Hillsborough County, you have seen the good and the bad times. What are the challenges to being a judge in this community?

I have found that there are many challenges to being a judge, but one of the most challenging things is being able to, what we call “stay within our lane.” We are sworn to interpret the law, not to change the law. Too many judges try to change the law if they don’t like it. I recognize that I have to follow the law whether I like it or not, whatever the result may be. If I want to change the law then I should have been a legislator, and at some point in my career maybe I’ll do that; where I can make the law. But while I’m a judge, I have to interpret the law and follow it wherever it takes me.

Do you have any interesting memories from your time as a judge?

In my time in the courtroom as a judge, two of the most interesting memories that I have is when I was a young judge. The first one was when I was a young judge in family law. I had two individuals who were in their 70s, had been married over 50 years and were getting a divorce. The only thing that they couldn’t settle between the two of them was the wife’s family spaghetti recipe. They were fighting over the recipe. The husband wanted a copy of the recipe, and that was the only thing that was standing in between them and their divorce. I can’t help but think that it must have been really good spaghetti for 50 years!

The other most interesting thing that happened was my time in juvenile where I had a non-jury trial and the defendant was accused of breaking into a home and stealing several items. The state attorney was doing a direct examination of the victim and she was going into a very specific description of a set of shoes that had been stolen from her house. I was wondering why they were going into such detail over these shoes – it was absolutely not necessary, until the attorney asked ‘have you seen those shoes since the day that they were stolen,’ and the victim, who was on the witness stand, pointed to the shoes that the defendant was wearing and said, ‘yes, he’s wearing them today.’ Needless to say, I found him guilty of the charges!

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