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College of Law Professor Successful in Pro Bono Representation

Professor Henke

Melissa N. Henke, Director of the Legal Research and Writing Program, and Assistant Professor of Legal Research and Writing, has won an appeal for a pro bono case on behalf of appellant Jose Ramirez.

Ramirez, an inmate in a Kentucky prison who was pursuing his case pro se, was found guilty in a prison disciplinary hearing of being involved in a physical action against another inmate. Ramirez was, in fact, asleep in his dorm at the time of the assault. The victim inmate was willing to testify that Ramirez was not involved in the assault and prison surveillance video would have proven he was not involved in the physical altercation. However, the prison administrative officer refused Ramirez’s requests to allow testimony from the victim witness and to have the administrative officer review the relevant surveillance video. Instead, the officer found Ramirez guilty and assessed a penalty of 180 days in solitary confinement, loss of two years of good-time credit, and $556.17 in restitution. Ramirez appealed his finding of guilt and related penalties to the Kentucky courts. After losing at the trial court and the intermediate court of appeals, Ramirez appealed to the Kentucky Supreme Court, at which time Professor Henke was appointed to serve as counsel for Ramirez.

Last week, Professor Henke won the appeal on Ramirez’s behalf. A unanimous opinion was issued by the Kentucky Supreme Court that reversed the lower court opinion and found that Ramirez’s due process rights were violated by the Kentucky Department of Corrections administrative officer in connection with the disciplinary proceeding.

“It is not only a favorable opinion for my client, but also an important one for all Kentucky prisoners going forward,” says Professor Henke.

But, that’s not all – the Kentucky Supreme Court went further in making the following important rulings in the opinion. First, the Court held that if an inmate challenges the denial of his request to call a particular witness at a disciplinary hearing, the officer “must provide for the record on review, the [officer’s] reason for denying the witness.” Second, the Court held that an administrative officer “must review surveillance footage, or similar documentary evidence, if requested by the prisoner in a disciplinary proceeding.” The opinion is set to published, which means it is precedent in future disciplinary proceedings.

Congratulations Professor Henke from your UK College of Law family!