Illinois Supreme Court justices visit Millikin

Allyx Davison and Denny Patterson

In honor of Constitution Day, Dr. Bobbi Gentry, chairwoman of the Department of Political Science invited appellate court law clerks to hold a panel discussion.

Jill Ausdenmoore and Michelle Sanders, two law clerks for Illinois Supreme Court Judge Lisa Holder White in Springfield, spent an hour in LRTUC discussing their jobs as lawyers and well as answering questions from an audience of Millikin students and faculty, Decatur locals and students from Phoenix Academy.

“For the most part, we’re dealing with something that’s happened in the state court,” Sanders said while describing the kinds of cases they deal with.

“So, like, an Illinois statute,” Ausdenmoore added. “That’s where all the criminal code comes out, [for instance] with divorce, we apply Illinois statute to determine property distribution and all that kind of stuff.”

During the panel, Ausdenmoore and Sanders discussed various cases they had worked on to highlight the constitutional issues they deal with on a daily basis. One such case involved a 16 year-old girl and her 20 year-old boyfriend. The two devised a plan to murder the girl’s uncle. The girl was tried as an adult under an Illinois law that requires at least a 30-year sentence if the charge is first-degree murder. She appealed, saying that the sentence violated her Eighth Amendment right to be from “cruel and unusual punishment.” Sanders and Ausdenmoore were among the law clerks who studied the case and gave their thoughts on it to Judge White (the sentence was later upheld).

Ausdenmoore and Sanders were questioned about the Jeffrey Sterling trial. Sterling is a 1989 Millikin alum who has been accused of violating the Espionage Act by leaking confidential government leaks to “New York Times” reporter James Risen who then published it in a book. This case has been dragged out for the past couple of years and Sterling’s life has been stuck in limbo.

“When people hear ‘right to speedy trial,’ I think there’s this automatic assumption that ‘in 120 days or 160 days my case has to be said and done,” Sanders said. “In reality it doesn’t work like that because people need continuances, they need to retain experts, there’s a lot of things going on, a lot of paperwork to go through, and so sometimes it can take years for a case to go to trial [just because of] gathering evidence and putting all their ducks in a row before it goes to trial. I don’t think it’s uncommon for a case to go on for two years, especially a case as major as this one.”

“Under Illinois, there’s these general timeframes like a defendant in custody has to be brought to trial in 120 days,” Ausdenmoore continued.  “But, like Michelle said, there’s a whole bunch of things that can stop it. So if his attorney has said, ‘wait, I need a continuance,’ then all that time that’s ticking doesn’t affect the 120 day mark.”

The newest development within the case happened this past summer. Risen was being forced to testify and he claims that the government is violating his First Amendment rights. Risen has appealed the decision.

Due to this, more continuances can be guaranteed.

“Freedom of the press is not unlimited, but it will be interesting to see what limits they place on that,” Sanders said.