Karen Daniel and Jane Raley: A team for the ages

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It is excruciatingly difficult to contemplate the world without Karen Daniel and Jane Raley. For in a world in which the road to success often seems paved with ego and self-aggrandizement, Karen and Jane lived their lives differently. Their road to success—immense success—was through humble, self-effacing, boundless commitment to their clients and to justice. So many benefited from their intense passion and their characters.

The most obvious beneficiaries were their scores of clients, for whom they fought so tirelessly and for whom they achieved such extraordinary results. A second group of obvious beneficiaries were the hundreds of Northwestern University law students they taught and inspired about how to be a great lawyer and a great person. Perhaps a less obvious group of beneficiaries were those of us who were privileged to work alongside Karen and Jane, or otherwise witness the ways in which they worked and the ways in which they led.

When I look back at my tenure as the inaugural legal director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions, there is one decision that stands out as unambiguously perfect. That was the decision (made together with the Center’s then-Executive Director Rob Warden) to hire Karen and Jane as the Center’s first staff-attorneys.

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Karen Daniel

The process was rather astonishing. We only had funding for one position, and were looking for someone with deep experience and gravitas. We were excited, then, when we received separate letters of inquiry from Karen Daniel and Jane Raley—both of whom were widely known in the defense community as brilliant and passionate advocates for her clients.

How could we possibly choose between them, though? To our great fortune, Karen was only looking for a half-time job at that time, as she wanted more time to spend with her son, Scott. Alas, Jane, too, coincidentally was looking only for a half-time job, so she could spend time with her children, Robert and Katie. It seemed too good to be true; the idea of a job share fit perfectly with our needs.

Little did we know how just how perfect it would turn out to be. Although they had never (to my knowledge) ever worked together before, Karen and Jane became an inseparable force from their very first day at the Center. This was not because they brought the identical skill sets or personalities to the table. In many respects they did not. What they shared, though, was an unyielding commitment to their clients and an insatiable hunger for justice. It is that shared trait of tenaciousness that I would like to focus on here.

I saw the trait firsthand with regard to Karen in connection with the cases of Michael Evans and Paul Terry. When Karen joined the Center in 2000, I assigned her a number of cases, including those of Evans and Terry, who had been convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the 1976 rape and murder of a young girl.

The prosecutor in the Evans-Terry  case—Tom Breen—had suggested to me that he had developed enough concerns about the case to warrant having the Center look into it. My students and I had made persistent, but unsuccessful, efforts to locate some forensic evidence from the decades-old case for testing. So I handed the case off to Karen, assuring her that I had no expectation she could do any better than my students and I had.

Undeterred, Karen and a team of students made the Chicago Police Department understand that they would not rest until the missing evidence was found. Karen’s perseverance paid off. The evidence was located and tested, exonerating and freeing Evans and Terry in 2003.

The Evans-Terry case is just one of score of similar ones in which Karen’s simple unwillingness to take injustice as an answer led to spectacular results—results achieved not only through her refusal to give up on cases, but by the breathtaking quality of her legal writing and analysis. And throughout the often very-extended process of these cases, Karen was there as a friend and confidant for her clients, keeping their hopes alive as she kept their cases alive.

Jane Raley

Jane was equally tenacious and equally committed to her clients. I recall that shortly after Jane joined the Center we received a letter from a woman named Tabitha Pollock, who had been convicted of first-degree murder on the ground that she should have known her boyfriend was abusing her daughter before he killed the child.

Jane was apoplectic. Should have known, she exclaimed, is negligence, which is light years away from first-degree murder. Yet, the Illinois Appellate Court had affirmed the conviction. Surely, Jane was convinced, the Illinois Supreme Court would not allow the conviction to stand. But there was a problem: The time for seeking review in the Illinois Supreme Court had long passed, and those deadlines are virtually always enforced strictly.

Jane was not deterred. Based on exigent circumstances, the Supreme Court allowed a late filing and agreed to hear the case and, after Jane argued, ruled 6-1 that the conviction could not stand and it ordered Tabihta’s immediate release. In the years that followed, Jane continued to be a close friend and mentor to Tabitha as with virtually of her clients.

Karen and Jane were highly allergic to injustice. But instead of walking away and avoiding the allergen, they confronted it directly with the aim of destroying it. And they never gave up, until their lives were both tragically cut short—Jane’s five years ago by cancer and Karen’s last week when she was struck and killed by a car as she walked her dog near her home in Oak Park.

As a tribute to their lives and legacies, I can think on no better way than for each of us—her clients, friends, and colleagues—to emulate their willingness to take on seemingly impossible challenges on behalf of others.

Karen and Jane continuously stared injustice in the eye—and injustice blinked.

We may not all have the force of character, brilliance, and compassion to replicate their triumphs. But we all have the capacity to push ourselves harder to fight injustice, no matter how impossible the fight might seem.

That’s how we can, in some significant sense, keep a large part of them alive.

Lawrence Marshall, a professor of law at Stanford University, was the founding legal director of the Center on  Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University School of Law in 1999.