The Defender Project was founded at KU Law in 1965 by former Professor Paul E. Wilson to help prisoners who otherwise might not receive legal representation. In 2008, the Project was renamed in Wilson’s honor. The project’s representation extends to both district and appellate court litigation at the state and federal level.
Students in the clinic represent state and federal prisoners in appellate and post-conviction litigation in state and federal courts, including:
- Conducting fact investigations
- Locating and working with expert witnesses
- Drafting pleadings
- Filing motions
- Preparing appellate briefs
- Creating case strategy
Since 2008, students in the Project have won at least 63 direct appeals, constitutional challenges and actual innocence cases. Students in the Project have helped free three wrongfully convicted Kansans since 2015. The project gets more than 200 letters a year from inmates seeking assistance.
Project for Innocence Resources
Students enroll for two semesters, for four credits total per semester or for five credits during the summer. The course is open to second- or third-year students and satisfies the upper-level writing requirement. Criminal Procedure is a co- or pre-requisite.
Elizabeth Cateforis joined the law school in 1999 as a supervising attorney in the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies. Prior to joining the faculty, she was an assistant appellate defender at the Kansas Appellate Defender Office.
Alice Craig joined the law school in 2004 as a supervising attorney in the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies. Craig supervises students in their casework and co-teaches the classroom component of the clinic. Prior to joining the faculty, Craig worked for the Appellate Defender Office for several years before moving to litigation.
Jean Phillips joined the law school in 1996 as a supervising attorney in the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence and Post-Conviction Remedies. Phillips became director in 1999. Phillips also serves as director of clinical programs. Prior to joining the faculty, she clerked for the Hon. Robert J. Lewis of the Kansas Court of Appeals and worked at the Appellate Defender Office.
KU Law students help overturn conviction
Student Testimonial: Ensuring justice through the Project for Innocence
Quentin Aker, L’20
My year as an intern in the Paul E. Wilson Project for Innocence improved my legal writing, lawyering and client-management skills, and appellate advocacy. Interns also receive a first-hand look at the criminal justice system and the post-conviction remedies available to wrongfully incarcerated individuals.
Every intern in the Project works with at least one other partner under the supervision of a licensed attorney. As a team, you are wholly responsible for your clients’ cases. It is simultaneously nerve-wracking and empowering. It is invaluable experience because interns are able to interview clients in prison, to visit federal and state correctional facilities, and to draft important legal documents.
Interns also work on their people skills. This was by far my favorite part. As an intern, I got to directly communicate with court clerks, other attorneys, correctional-facility staff, a diverse range of expert witnesses, family members of the client, and law enforcement officers. You just can’t get that kind of experience in any other class!