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Meet a Colleague: Jon Shapiro Jon Shapiro is a Professor of Practice who has taught at W&L for 13 years.

shapirodogcrop-800x533 Meet a Colleague: Jon ShapiroJon Shapiro

Jon Shapiro is a Professor of Practice who has been teaching at W&L Law for 13 years. During this time, he has taught Evidence, Criminal Law, Criminal Procedure, the Criminal Practice Practicum, and has served as Co-Director and Acting Director of the Criminal Justice Clinic (CJC).

Prior to (and during that time), Professor Shapiro has had an active criminal defense practice in state and federal courts, handling everything from marijuana possession to espionage, including a number of death penalty cases. In 2004, Shapiro represented John Allen Muhammad, the so-called Beltway Sniper. He also litigated a number of civil rights cases against jails, prisons, mental health institutions, and police departments. In recent times, he enjoys litigating pro bono cases with his daughter Meghan Shapiro (past Deputy Capital Defender for Northern Virginia). Currently, he has a three-day habeas trial scheduled for late October alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel, a case in which his CJC students will participate.

Professor Shapiro lives with his wife Jane Harrington in a house they built about ten miles south of Lexington. Jane teaches in the English Department at W&L. His daughter Emma is an artist living in Valencia, Spain, and his daughter Lucy is in the fourth year of an MFA program at Arkansas State University.

Q. What courses are you teaching this year?
In the coming year, I will be running the Criminal Justice Clinic. I’m looking forward to creating a close-knit, energetic law firm with my eight students and helping them develop into zealous, ethical, hardworking defenders. CJC students have earned a well-deserved reputation in the local courts as top-notch lawyers, something often mentioned by the judges we appear before. This year will be no different.

Q. Who inspired you to teach?
Elliott Milstein. Elliott started the clinical program at Washington College of Law (American University). I was fortunate enough to end up in that program the first year Elliott got to AU. In those days, we were representing inmates at disciplinary hearings at Lorton Penitentiary, D.C.’s prison. I really had no direction in law school until then. The experience was exhilarating and set me on a path I have loved ever since. Elliott went on to become the Dean of the law school, and was the moving force behind the clinical education movement in the United States. He remains a good friend. A few years ago, I was honored to receive the inaugural Elliott Milstein Award For Professional Excellence from AU. The award “recognizes an individual who has served as a voice for clinical teachers and contributed to the advancement of clinical legal education.” I don’t know that I’ve done any of that, but I know I love helping create zealous lawyers.

Q. What is an accomplishment you are proud of?
A few years ago, I represented a young guy accused of repeatedly sexually abusing three young children. He confessed to the crimes on videotape in what seemed like a very professional, fairly low-key interrogation, which I had seen before I even met my client.

When I first visited him at the jail, I expected the conversation to turn quickly to plea bargaining. He likely faced conviction and a sentence of life if the case went to trial. To my surprise, my client told me he was not guilty. “I saw the tape,” I said. “Why did you say those things?” “I don’t know,” he told me.

After many months of investigation about the facts, and after studying the psychology of the “false confession” phenomenon, I became convinced that indeed he was not guilty. Nevertheless, we both concluded that the allegations were so horrendous and the chances of winning at trial were slim, and so, in order to avoid what would certainly be an extremely harsh jury sentence, we entered an “Alford” plea – a device in which a defendant allows himself to be found guilty while maintaining his innocence.

As the weeks passed, both of us felt uncomfortable about the plea. After much discussion, we decided to try to withdraw the plea – in itself an uphill battle – and to go to trial. The judge warned us that she thought it was a big mistake, but ultimately allowed us to withdraw the plea. Trial was set.

The first thing that happens at trial is jury selection. In Fairfax, that means questioning a group of perhaps 100 potential jurors. When I told them what the allegations were, I could see a lot of them shaking their heads in disgust. When I then told them that my client had confessed on videotape, the near universal reaction was a dramatic eye-roll of disbelief that we were wasting their time by going to trial.

Long story short, after educating the jury about the phenomenon of false confessions and bringing out many facts which were inconsistent with the “confession” my client had given, the jury acquitted on all counts.

That is the day I should have stopped practicing law.

Q. Where is your favorite location on the W&L campus?
It used to be JD King’s office where we would spend hours each week complaining about the world. Now that JD and Johanna have gone to Rutgers Law, I spend a lot of time staring at the wall.

Q. What is your favorite thing to do when you are not working?
I sculpt. My house is full of my stuff. Please come by and take some.

Q. Book/Podcast/TV Show Recommendation?
My go-to when I need to have my spirits raised is to watch months-old episodes of Seth Meyers’ daily monologues, called “A Closer Look.” These are each fifteen-minute rants about the latest affronts to democracy in our country. The things you thought were so horrible when they occurred seem quaint when compared to what seems to be happening every day currently. I find that very soothing.

Q. If you could have coffee or tea with one person (living or deceased), who would it be and why?
I would prefer to have coffee with someone while I’m living. That said, I would love to have coffee with Seth. I think he’s hysterical. We both went to Northwestern and somehow that makes me think that I might be funny as well.

Q. Favorite food/restaurant/drink?
Vodka tonic at The Southern. House vodka.

Q. Most used/enjoyable app on your phone.
Seriously??? The off button.

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