Brandt Devich ’16 felt so strongly about the case he was assigned in Mitchell Hamline’s Legal Assistance to Minnesota Prisoners (LAMP) clinic, he kept working on it even after he graduated. The best part—he won.
“It was just a great experience,” Devich said. “I couldn’t think of a better way to learn and hit the ground running.”
Devich worked with Professor Bradford Colbert ’85 (WMCL) to represent a man who was charged $25 a day while he was locked up in Martin County Jail in southern Minnesota. In the end, his bill for being incarcerated on four separate occasions in 2013 and 2014 totaled $7,625.
It’s called “pay to stay,” and under Minnesota statute it’s something counties are allowed to do to recover money spent on “room, board, clothing, medical, dental and other correctional services.” But the law also stipulates that sheriffs should waive the bill if the person can’t afford to pay.
The man in the Martin County case contended he couldn’t pay the bill, something he said the Martin County sheriff’s office didn’t consider before turning the charge over to a collection agency. He contacted Colbert and asked for his help through the LAMP clinic.
Colbert worked with Devich, a law student at the time, to file a lawsuit in an effort to show the man couldn’t afford the “pay-to-stay” bill.
Colbert says the case, which went from state district court to federal court, gave Devich the opportunity to do the work of an attorney.
“He worked really hard on it,” he said. “He was the contact person for our client, he did the initial draft of the complaint, and we worked hard on the summary judgment together.”
”It was a lot of pressure,” Devich said of the case, which he worked on for about two years. “I did a lot of leg work interacting with the client and interacting with the opposing counsel. Professor Colbert told me what needs to happen, how I need to do things, and what good arguments are—I was able to stand up to the experienced attorney who has tons of cases like this.”
Devich, who graduated from Mitchell Hamline in the spring of 2016, kept on the case after he graduated, even as he began work doing freelance contract review.
“I saw an opportunity that was probably more experience than I’ll get anywhere else,” he said. “I just wanted to stick with it to see where it went. I felt pretty strongly that we were right, and it turns out we are.”
Devich’s work paid off Jan. 17 when U.S. District Court Chief Judge John Tunheim ruled in the plaintiff’s favor. The judgment found the Martin County sheriff violated state law by not considering whether the man could afford to pay for his stay in jail, and it ordered the sheriff’s office to develop a procedure to determine whether inmates can pay.
Devich says he was speechless when he found out he won. The experience has left him with an appreciation for the work he was able to do in LAMP and in several other of Mitchell Hamline’s 13 clinics. He says it gave him experience in a real courtroom and also had a huge effect on the life of his client.
“It’s great to be able to have this debt that was hanging over his head erased.”