The College of Law extends a hearty congratulations to Federal Civil Rights Clinic attorneys Tori Roberts ’21 and Maira Perez Velazquez ’21. The pair received a partial verdict on June 3 in favor of their client in federal court, concluding a three day jury trial in Urbana before the Honorable Judge Harold Baker.
A jury of nine returned a unanimous verdict partially in favor of the clinic client who was the plaintiff in the case. The jury found that a policy implemented by the warden of Hill Correctional Center, which prohibited inmates with dreadlocks from having contact visits, was a substantial burden on the plaintiff’s exercise of his religion (Rastafarianism) in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Defendants (the warden and a former Shift Commander) on the claim for a religious diet, which consisted of several legal theories (First Amendment, Equal Protection, and RLUIPA).
Professor Andrew Bequette, director of the Federal Civil Rights Clinic said, “This is an exciting result and I could not be prouder of what was accomplished. Tori has been litigating this case for two years, through all of COVID-19. Her original partner graduated last year, and Tori has been continuing to pursue the case during her 3L year. Maira joined Tori for trial and they were a great team.”
Roberts added, “A cornerstone of the legal profession is advocating for those who need it. Incarcerated individuals are no exception. Our partial success in this case, hopefully, sends a message to Illinois prison officials that they must take an inmate’s right to religious practice seriously when implementing restrictive facility policies. While there remains much work to be done to improve the protection of incarcerated individuals’ civil rights, this partial verdict is a small, but important, step in the right direction.”