The Catholic University of America

Smolinskis hold reward poster
Billy Smolinski's parents hold reward flyer

Pro Bono At CUA Law: From Law Student to Practice
Providing Support to an Important First Amendment/Victim’s Rights Case

   Print Friendly and PDF

A 31-year old man, Billy Smolinski, went missing in Connecticut in 2004. Police suspect he may have been murdered. The facts of the case are complicated, but in brief: after Billy disappeared, Billy’s mother and sister put up missing persons posters seeking information about Billy’s disappearance. Billy’s former girlfriend was discovered destroying some of the missing persons posters – even though the posters made no mention of or reference to her. But the girlfriend was not prosecuted; instead, she sued Billy’s mother and sister for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, which she claimed was caused in large part as the result of their missing person poster campaign.

Anne McKennaThat is when Anne McKenna (1994) (left) and Steve Kelly, a renowned victims’ rights advocate, got involved. Both hail from the prestigious litigation boutique, Silverman|Thompson|Slutkin|White|LLC, which has supported their pro bono efforts. McKenna contacted the CUA Law Pro Bono Program for assistance, and her call was answered by Michelle Lease (2014), Laura Kakuk (2011), and Emily Newman (2012), who dug into factual research and helped to provide the pro bono team with ammunition for its appellate brief.

The road was a long one. The verdict was affirmed by Connecticut’s intermediary appellate court in 2014. Recognizing that missing person posters can help victims’ families obtain tips to assist police in their investigations and that the Connecticut trial court’s decision, if allowed to stand, could render families liable for tens of thousands of dollars for posting them, Ms. McKenna and Mr. Kelly forged ahead with an appeal to Connecticut’s Supreme Court.

Lease continued to assist on the case and was joined by Claire Gartland (2014) (left). Gartland and Lease, who both graduated in May 2014, helped with the briefing and appeal. In April 2015, Steve Kelly argued the case before Connecticut’s Supreme Court. His brief writing and his oral arguments were clear, concise, and on point. After spending years working on this case, McKenna and Kelly received a decision on Wednesday, October 28th, that is a resounding victory for the First Amendment and for the family of the murder victim. McKenna said, “This victory is in part a direct result of the hard work of CUA alumni!!!”

Michelle LeaseLease (left) is currently Policy Counsel at the Application Developers Alliance and she said, "this experience introduced me to a challenging and exciting case that gave me an opportunity to help a family in need. It's also a great example of CUA Law alumni providing students with invaluable real-world experience." Claire Gartland is currently a Consumer Protection Fellow at the Electronic Privacy Information Center.

Click here to view the opinion.

CUA Law’s Pro Bono work on this case began in 2013, click here to view the story associated with the start of the case.