As reported in the Chicago Tribune today (here) and in a release from Northwestern University Law School, Rob Warden, co-founder and executive director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern Law will retire at the end of the academic year. He has served fifteen years leading the Center’s pioneering efforts. With the dedicated assistance of others, he and the Center on Wrongful Convictions have freed the innocent and have been influential in prompting a staggering list of policy reforms.
Warden co-founded the Center in 1998 with Lawrence Marshall, a former Northwestern law professor now at Stanford University. Warden will become the Center’s executive director emeritus.
A journalist, Warden worked for the Chicago Daily News and other papers before joining Northwestern. As is pointed out on the Center’s website (here) when the Center was founded, wrongful convictions were considered “anomalies—rare exceptions to an otherwise well-oiled criminal justice machine.”
The Center on Wrongful Convictions has expanded awareness of the reality that justice systems make mistakes, that countless innocent persons have been wrongfully convicted, that recurring common contributors prompt miscarriages, and that reforms can reduce wrongful convictions.
Working in the three areas of representation, research, and reform, the Center on Wrongful Convictions has had a profound impact on the lives of dozens of innocent men and women whose exonerations the Center has enabled or assisted. Center faculty, staff attorneys, and CWC law students have garnered the assistance of pro bono lawyers to assist in representing imprisoned clients with worthy claims of innocence. The Center initiated the first projects in the nation focusing on wrongfully convicted youth and wrongfully convicted women.
Under Warden’s leadership, the Center has been a leader in doing critical research on the causes of wrongful conviction and translating this research into reform recommendations. The Center has been at the forefront of reforms in Illinois that include then-Governor Ryan’s moratorium on the death penalty in 2000; the passage of comprehensive criminal justice reform legislation in the state in 2003; expanded DNA testing in criminal cases; provision of adequate funding for indigent defendants; Governor Quinn’s abolition of the death penalty in 2011; compensation for the wrongfully convicted, and more.
Warden co-founded with Law Professor Samuel Gross of the University of Michigan Law, the National Registry of Exonerations, an online searchable database (here), which provides detailed information on all known exonerations since 1989. Today the Registry is reporting 1,210, a number that grows with each new or newly discovered exoneration.
With Warden’s retirement, the Center on Wrongful Convictions also announced other changes of individuals who have dedicated themselves to the Center’s work. Steven Drizin, a 1986 graduate of Northwestern Law, who has served as legal director for the past eight years, completed his work in this capacity on September 1, 2013, to assume the role of Assistant Dean at the Bluhm Legal Clinic, which houses more than 20 clinics within 14 centers including the Center on Wrongful Convictions.
Karen Daniel and Jane Raley, the two most senior staff attorneys at the Center on Wrongful Convictions, are the newly named co-legal directors of the Center. Both have been with the Center since 2000. Daniel is a 1981 graduate of Harvard Law School, and Raley is a 1982 graduate of Indiana University School of Law.
Steven Drizin, calling Daniel and Raley “obvious choices” to take over as legal directors of the Center, said of the two: “They are two of the finest post-conviction and appellate attorneys in the country, often finding creative ways to win for their innocent clients where others before them have failed.”
The press release from Northwestern Law concluded, “Karen and Jane are also two of our most highly regarded teachers at the Clinic. They will inspire colleagues and students to provide the best possible service to our clients and to our system of justice. The CWC is one of the crown jewels of the Law School and has thrived under Steve and Rob’s leadership. We have every confidence that the CWC will rise to new and even more astounding heights with Karen and Jane at the helm.”
It is difficult to quantify the impact of these few who have done the hard work of seeking justice post conviction. Or to imagine where innocence efforts in the justice system would be without Rob Warden. Working shoulder-to-shoulder with Steve Drizin, Karen Daniel, Jane Raley, and other staff and pro bono lawyers, Rob Warden provided leadership that enabled the Center on Wrongful Convictions to give hope to the wrongfully convicted, free the innocent, expand awareness of systemic issues in the criminal justice system, and advance long overdue policy reforms.
Thank you, Rob Warden. Thank you, Steven Drizin, Karen Daniel, and Jane Raley, and Godspeed to all of you in your next chapter.