CMU Clinic Mock Trial Summer 2009: HIV/AIDS in the Workplace

Remember the movie Philadelphia? It was that movieabout a bright and successful lawyer, Mr. Beckett played by Tom Hanks, beingfired from the big corporate firm because he has HIV. By societal standards hewould be the archetype of a young successful lawyer except for the fact that hewas gay and he was positive for HIV.

In that movie Mr. Beckett, unable to find a lawyer inhis rolodex to help with his wrongful termination suit goes to his last option,Mr. Joe Miller Esq. played by Denzel Washington, a slightly unscrupulous andhomophobic personal injury attorney. Before Mr. Beckett is invited into Mr.Miller’s office Mr. Miller is meeting with a potential client gathering the unbelievablefacts for a negligence claim against the city. Mr. Miller with amazed disbeliefrecognized that the man had a claim and took the client on contingency.Unfortunately, when Mr. Beckett walks in and tells Mr. Miller that he waswrongfully terminated because he has HIV the possibility of a remedy lookedgrim. This scene was one of the most poignant moments in the film because itexposed the absurdity of a legal system where frivolous tort claims had abetter chance of succeeding then cases like Mr. Beckett’s where a person isdenied their right to earn a living because they have HIV or because of theirsexual orientation.

Bruce, possibly inspired by a memory evoked by a daydream about Denzel’s Washington, introduced a case fact scenario to his studentsat the CMU Clinic that involves the wrongful termination of a mother with HIV,Ms. P, from an auto parts manufacturer. To insure his lesson plan iscomprehensive Bruce enlisted a team ofvigilant interns, representing the finestlegal minds of their respective nationalities, to create a mock trial featuringMs. P’s case.

Although it is an arduous task our team pulledtogether. When we started to create lesson plans for the mock trail we all hadthat AH HA! moment that one gets when they realize the importance of somethingthey’ve done, heard or seen in the past. All of us heard a diaphanous voicefrom above saying, “Right now it’s hardto understand. Trust us we know what we are doing. This two week hazing…I mean training, createsskills you will use for the rest of your professional career.” All jestingaside Mr. Bruce was right. Learning how to create a lesson plan for mocktrials, although at some times laborious, has given our team the opportunity tocontribute to CLE in Thailand. On a personal level I am going to use my newfound skills to improve the Street Law program at UNLV. The teaching methods,lesson plan creation, group collaboration and organization are invaluableskills I can use to create and improve CLE in my own community.

In addition to the skills we have learned duringour fortnight hazing period our mock trial team has an understanding of basicadministrative, criminal and civil procedures and laws within Thailand. Becauseour mock trial group is multinational we enjoy the insights of many legalsystems. We have had dialogue about the workings of common law and civil legalsystems. We’ve benefitted from the unique opportunity to learn about the legalvalues and traditions of the United Kingdom, Poland, Russia, the United Statesand Thailand. Lastly, we have had the opportunity to do some legal research andhoned our ability to interpret and apply law. 

Author: Nattakan Chomputhong

Nattakan (Ann) holds a first class honours bachelor of law degree from Chiang Mai University and was involved in the CLE programs while she was a law student. Upon graduation, she became a legal fellow of CLE Foundation and BABSEA CLE (volunteer). Now, having completed her time as a legal fellow of CLE Foundation and BABSEA CLE, Ann works as a legal trainer. In this role her responsibilities include administrative and teaching support for clinic programs throughout South East Asia and providing training for those wishing to become clinical faculty members. Ann also provides valuable services to the community; she assists weekly, when possible, at the Wildflower Legal Education Initiative where she teaches single mothers, of varying ethnicities including Burmese and the people of the hill tribes, their legal rights. She also opens up clinic spaces for addition students and strengthens and enlivens clinical programmes to build a solid foundation of clinical faculty members. These programmes serve to develop the training ground for new clinical faculty, who are making the transition from practice to clinical teaching as well as providing the opportunity for entry level candidates with the time and intellectual space to craft a scholarly agenda that is tied to and symbiotic with clinical teaching and service. Ann has the opportunity to reflect on these experiences, and possibly the prospect of being better positioned in the law school teaching market.

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