The Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) selected Michael Millemann, Jacob A. France Professor of Public Interest Law, as the 2016 recipient of the Robert C. Heeney Award at a reception on May 18. The award celebrates Millemann’s accomplishments in criminal law.
“This honor is well deserved,” said Maryland Carey Law Dean Donald Tobin. “Mike has been a leader for decades in providing access to justice, especially for those accused of criminal offenses. With his energy, perseverance and skill, he has been a shining example for the state’s legal community and the hundreds of students he has taught in our Clinical Law Program.”
Millemann’s recent work is focused on his ‘Unger clients’—some of the roughly 250 prisoners who were eligible for a retrial after a historic Maryland Court of Appeals decision ruled that jury instructions given at the trial of convicted murderer Merle Unger and hundreds of other prisoners prior to the 1980s violated their constitutional rights.
“In 2013, [Millemann] put together a team of law students and social workers to analyze the earliest Unger cases, and pretty soon, a familiar pattern emerged: poor black defendants convicted by all-white juries after paltry or nonexistent police investigations,” notes a recent article in The Huffington Post that covered Millemann’s work with Unger clients.
Nevertheless, many who have been released under the decision had been imprisoned for murders, rapes, and other serious crimes committed in their youth. Now, most are elderly men, which may be a factor in explaining why, “Of the 143 Ungers who have been released, not a single one has been convicted of anything more serious than a traffic offense,” according to the same Huffington Post article.
Millemann’s recent work is with Unger clients is just the latest in a lifetime of advocating for access to justice.
“He’s the LeBron James of lawyering for poor people. Whoever is in second place is a distant second,” said Dennis Sweeney, a former Maryland deputy attorney general and retired Howard County circuit judge, in a Baltimore Sun profile of Millemann’s career as a legal activist.