Personality: Julie E. McConnell

Spotlight on the MRWBA’s 2018 Women of Achievement Award winner

1/11/2019, 6 a.m.
Julie Ellen McConnell has always fought for the rights of the underprivileged and underserved — first as a public defender ...
Julie E. McConnell

“Because some people are sometime wrongfully convicted, juries are not as willing to give the death penalty anymore,” she says.

Ms. McConnell’s objective remains to make a difference earlier in children’s lives in order to get them on the right path.

“It is important that courts consider early trauma experiences when determining how best to respond to disruptive behavior or delinquent acts bringing young people into court,” Ms. McConnell says. “Hopefully, juvenile courts will provide the kind of trauma-informed methods and resources needed to fix some of the problems.”

In concert with trauma-informed policies, the Children’s Defense Clinic assists Central American children seeking asylum and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status because of horrific gang violence and persecution.

“It’s important to be informed about why these families are willing to send their children to the U.S. for a better life,” Ms. McConnell says.

“What a horrific situation. Central American asylum seekers would not make these long and dangerous treks here if they were not completely desperate and out of options.”

Meet this week’s Personality, a legal expert who helps those who cannot help themselves, Julie E. McConnell:

Date and place of birth: Dec. 2 in Cincinnati.

Current residence: Richmond.

Family: Husband, Jerry Zerkin, and daughter, Elena Zerkin, 16.

Alma maters: Bachelor’s degree, Agnes Scott College, and J.D., University of Richmond School of Law.

Latest honor: Recipient of the Metropolitan Richmond Women’s Bar Association 2018 Women of Achievement Award.

Meaning of award to me: I’m humbled to be included in the special group of women that have been honored by the MRWBA. There are some incredible leaders in the community that have been recognized by the bar as Women of Achievement over the years — many of them UR graduates — and it still takes my breath away to be included in that group. 

Current job: I am the director of the University of Richmond School of Law Children’s Defense Clinic and the only attorney.

Annual budget: The law school is committed to providing pro bono representation in appropriate cases to members of the community as part of the educational experience for law students.

Purpose of clinic: The mission of the Children’s Defense Clinic is to teach law students best practices in advocacy for indigent children facing matters in the criminal justice system. We believe strongly in providing holistic and zealous representation on a pro bono basis that addresses the needs of the whole child.

Three examples of legal cases in past year: We have assisted in post-conviction sentencing challenges in several cases where we secured early release based on good behavior for our clients who were facing long prison terms. We also have assisted numerous Central American children who fled their homelands because of horrific gang violence and persecution. These children are seeking a form of asylum in this country known as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. And finally, we have helped countless children facing delinquency charges with getting their charges dismissed and their lives back on track.

Who is eligible to be a client: We primarily represent indigent children facing delinquency charges in Central Virginia and serious juvenile offenders seeking post-conviction representation for their sentencing reviews.