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Criminal Justice

Skilled Jailhouse Lawyer Is Now in Law School, Thanks to Bill and Melinda Gates

Posted Sep 4, 2012 5:30 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Shon Hopwood’s life has taken a turn for the better, thanks to his jailhouse lawyering skills and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Hopwood, who served more than nine years in prison for robbing five banks, is attending the University of Washington law school on a foundation scholarship, Bloomberg News and the Lincoln Journal Star report. He clerks for U.S. District Judge John Coughenour of Seattle. He is married, with two children. And he has published a memoir with the help of a co-author that is called Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases and Finding Redemption.

Hopwood was assigned to the law library in prison and took correspondence courses. “It turns out,” he wrote, “that school is not so difficult if you actually read the textbooks.” He also helped a prisoner prepare a cert petition for a fellow inmate that was accepted by the U.S. Supreme Court. Former U.S. Solicitor General Seth Waxman, who later represented the petitioner, has said the petition was probably one of the best he has ever read. Hopwood later filed another successful cert petition, as well as briefs in lower courts that helped inmates win reduced sentences.

Hopwood’s scholarship is for students committed to public interest law. “I want to litigate cases for people who can’t afford good lawyers, whether that’s criminal, immigration or civil, I don’t know,” he told the Lincoln Journal Star. “I’ve been given so many second chances that not only is that work that interests me, I think that’s where I need to go."

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