Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Law student's argument fuels controversial ticket challenge

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SHE'S still more than a year away from officially becoming a lawyer, yet Jodi Koffman is already playing a major role in one of the province's most contentious legal issues.

The third-year University of Manitoba law student's argument to judicial justice of the peace Norman Sundstrom convinced him to throw out nine photo-radar tickets that were snapped in construction zones where no workers were present.

Koffman, who is set to graduate in April, was representing a client through the U of M's University Law Centre. Law students who work at the clinic are overseen and advised by lawyers at Legal Aid and law professors. They are able to take on clients in cases where there is no risk of jail, such as Highway Traffic Act matters.

She said she had no idea when Sundstrom asked for written submissions that her work would form the basis of his ruling.

The Crown appealed his decision this week.

"It's exciting," Koffman said. "It's good to know that the judiciary will take matters seriously regardless if you're the most senior defense lawyer or not," she said.

"I knew if the judge agreed with us and my client was acquitted that there would be consequences. I didn't think there would be such public attention early on."

Koffman was quick to add she wasn't acting alone.

"Everything at the clinic is under supervision from actual lawyers. They provide guidance. Any questions I have, they're there for me," she said.

Michael Walker, supervising attorney with the Legal Aid Criminal Law Office, said what students don't have in courtroom experience they make up for in hard work, enthusiasm and preparation.

"From time to time, they end up involved in cases where they advance a very good argument that's accepted by the court. It's not super common but it happens occasionally," he said.

Allan Fineblit, CEO of the Law Society of Manitoba, said Koffman's contribution isn't the first of its kind, but it's "definitely unusual."

"One of the benefits (of the law clinic) is these students are provided the opportunity to do work that is quite different than the academic studies they're engaged in. They take it very seriously and invest huge amounts of time and energy," he said.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 12, 2009 A6

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