Notre Dame Law School’s Exoneration Justice Clinic has hired Notre Dame Law School alumna Lenora Popken ’20 J.D. as a legal fellow.
The Exoneration Justice Clinic, which launched in fall 2020, is committed to correcting miscarriages of justice by investigating, litigating, and overturning wrongful convictions. The clinic provides students with real-world opportunities to represent clients who have been wrongfully convicted. As a legal fellow, Popken will have a leading role in the clinic’s process of selecting new cases for legal representation, oversee the work of clinic students, and assist with the clinic’s active cases.
“I cannot begin to adequately express the depth of my excitement to return to Notre Dame and the crucial work of the Exoneration Justice Clinic,” Popken said. “My experience during law school with the Wrongful Conviction Externship and Notre Dame Exoneration Project shaped me into the lawyer I am today. For me, this position is a beautiful full-circle moment — I feel like I have come home.”
Popken returns to the Law School after working for three years as a staff attorney for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in Atlanta. In that role, she served as a peer leader for the motions unit, handling a broad array of complex motions.
Popken graduated from Notre Dame Law School magna cum laude in 2020 and was a recipient of both the Peter A.R. Lardy Scholarship and the Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Program of Study in Criminal Law for the Class of 2020. During law school, she was actively involved with both the Notre Dame Exoneration Project student group and the Wrongful Conviction Externship, the predecessor to the Exoneration Justice Clinic.
Through the Wrongful Conviction Externship, Popken was one of two licensed legal interns who had the opportunity to participate in a post-conviction evidentiary hearing on behalf of Andrew Royer. Royer had been wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to 55 years in prison. Based on the evidence presented at that hearing, his conviction was vacated and he was ultimately exonerated after serving approximately 17 years in prison for a crime he did not commit. Popken was able to greet Royer upon his release from prison, alongside Exoneration Justice Clinic Director Jimmy Gurulé, Adjunct Professor Elliot Slosar, and members of Royer’s family.
“Lenora is an incredibly bright and talented lawyer with an unparalleled passion for justice,” Gurulé said. “She is committed to using her legal education and training to represent people that have been victimized by the criminal justice system. She will be a great addition to the Exoneration Justice Clinic team.”
Slosar added, “As a law student, Lenora worked tirelessly on behalf of clients who suffered the ultimate injustice. In Andy’s case, Lenora was prepared, composed, and tenacious in examining witnesses on the stand. Lenora’s commitment to serving the most vulnerable is inspiring and we could not be more thrilled to have her back at the Exoneration Justice Clinic.”
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