Sunday, April 08, 2007

J. Kirk Osborn Fellowship Program

The Fair Trial Initiative, a Durham based 501(c)(3) public charity devoted to assisting indigent defendants facing the death penalty, has named its groundbreaking fellowship program in honor of the memory of Hoax defense attorney, Kirk Osborn. The dedication of this effort to Osborn is particularly deserving for the man FTI recognized as a board member, colleague, friend, and mentor. In announcing his passing, Benjamin Niolet and Joseph Neff of the News & Observer wrote:
“Osborn was a respected lawyer who had been in high-profile cases for years. He had participated in a number of death penalty cases and his wife said he was most proud that he had never lost a death penalty case.”
Founded in 2001 by local law school graduates Zephyr Teachout, David Neal, and Matt Stiegler, the Fair Trial Initiative, motivated by a “crisis of incompetent trial counsel,” is pursuing a five-fold mission:
  1. To fund fellowships for recent law school graduates to work with underfunded trial counsel in capital cases;
  2. To fund fellowships for professionals to become mitigation specialists;
  3. To provide pro bono opportunities for associates at law firms to work on capital trials;
  4. To provide internship opportunities for law and social work students to do a variety of trial-related death penalty work;
  5. To educate the public on the administration of the death penalty
In describing its purpose, FTI’s website offers:
“Until we address the systemic inequalities of the criminal justice system, irrelevant factors like poverty, race, gender, and geography will continue to define who receives our nation's most serious punishment.

“A fair trial means having the assistance of a caring and competent defense team. A fair trial means having access to the resources necessary to investigate the case and the background of the accused. It is our belief that every capital defendant is entitled to a fair trial.”
Duke University School of Law Professor James Coleman had this to say about FTI, where he serves as a member of the Board of Advisors:
“I believe the Fair Trial Initiative is an extraordinarily important endeavor. Not only does it offer the potential to fill a critical resource gap in the provision of competent counsel in capital cases, it also will attract dedicated and talented lawyers into an area of practice that is virtually ignored by the legal profession, and certainly not encouraged by law schools…

“This program provides a unique opportunity for those who wish to support creativity in addressing difficult legal and social problems. I cannot imagine a more worthwhile program, or one that fills a more pressing need.”
In announcing the dedication of the J. Kirk Osborn Fellowship Program, the Fair Trial Initiative issued the following statement:
“The Fair Trial Initiative mourns the loss of board member, colleague, and friend J. Kirk Osborn. For thirty-three years, Kirk was a model of dedication, enthusiasm, and passion for the entire indigent defense community. He represented over twenty men and women facing the death penalty at the trial level; all of their lives were saved. Kirk was fearless, brilliant, and committed to obtaining the best possible result for every one of his clients. He was a zealous advocate who never surrendered in his pursuit of fairness in the criminal justice system.

“A mentor of FTI fellows since the program's inception in 2001, Kirk welcomed the fellows as integral members of his defense teams. He provided leadership, thoughtfully considered every contribution and suggestion, and responded with feedback, excitement, and energy. Kirk taught by example what it means to provide dynamic, caring, and innovative representation to those who need it most.

“In 2005, Kirk joined FTI's Board of Directors. At the time of his death, he was serving as the Vice-Chair. Kirk had been selected by his colleagues to serve as the next chairman of our Board.

“In memory of all he gave to FTI and to the larger capital defense community, we have decided to name our law fellowship program in his honor. The J. Kirk Osborn Fellows will continue Kirk's tradition of selfless and tireless lawyering. Each two-year fellowship will provide a recent law school graduate with the opportunity to work alongside experienced capital defense attorneys to investigate and litigate high-risk death penalty cases across North Carolina. While we regret that future fellows will not have the fortune of learning from Kirk directly, he will continue to be the model of professionalism and charity toward which each of us will strive.

“Kirk's passing is a devastating loss to all who knew him. Our hope is that the J. Kirk Osborn Fellowship Program will honor the life of this great man and continue his legacy of excellence in representing capital clients. Kirk was a champion, a warrior, and a tender soul. He will be sorely missed. He will be remembered always.”
J. Kirk Osborn Fellowship Program
The Fair Trial Initiative is looking for outstanding third-year law students and new lawyers who are committed to providing first-rate legal representation to indigent defendants facing the death penalty. Special consideration will be given to applicants with a demonstrated interest in capital and criminal defense work, as well as those who articulate a desire to continue practice in North Carolina upon completion of the fellowship.

The Fair Trial Fellowship requires a two-year commitment. Fellows should be prepared to begin work after Labor Day. Compensation is $32,000 per year plus benefits. While it is in the nature of trial work that some periods will be extremely demanding, we envision that, on average, fellows will work 40-hour weeks. Fellows are expected to have a reliable vehicle throughout the fellowship, and extensive travel can be expected, both in the course of representing clients and for training.

Fair Trial Fellows must be graduates of an accredited law school by the time the fellowship begins. Fellowship applicants should be planning to take the bar in the summer preceding their fellowship if they are not already licensed lawyers. While lawyers licensed in North Carolina will have a greater range of opportunities in their fellowship, applicants may take any bar.

Applicants need not be current law students to be considered for a fellowship. We welcome applicants with clerkship or other practical experience.
Contributions to the Fair Trail Initiative designated to support the J. Kirk Osborn Fellowship may be made online here: FTI Online Donations or by mail:
Fair Trial Initiative
201 West Main Street
Suite 300
Durham, NC 27701
Additional Information:


Anonymous said...

What a great thing to do in the name of a grand attorney and person.

Anonymous said...

Kirk Osborn fought for the truth. What a Legacy!

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