“Every day is beautiful now. I don’t have a bad day anymore. I think that my worst day out of prison will be better than my greatest good day in prison.” ~ Jabbar Collins (Wall Street Journal)

New York paralegal Jabbar Collins definitely did not take the traditional route to the paralegal profession. He did not accept an entry level job in a law firm and work his way up the ladder, and he did not attend a local paralegal program and earn a degree. What he did do is gain grueling on-the-job training which he used to earn his own freedom, while serving 15 years in prison for murder.

Long Legal Journey to Freedom

The Wall Street Journal reports that Collins, a 22 year-old high school dropout and father of three convicted in 1995 of shooting a Brooklyn rabbi, was sentenced to almost 35 years in prison. Unable to understand his trial proceedings, he decided his only route to freedom was to become his own lawyer.

After 10 years of painstaking, creative investigation and litigation, Collins finally received outside legal assistance from Manhattan civil-rights attorney Joel Rudin. But a 2006 request to overturn his murder conviction was aborted when the judge learned Collins had briefly impersonated an investigator while trying to obtain an interview from a witness in his case.

In March 2010, in a last ditch effort to salvage Collins’ case, Rudin filed a motion in federal court in Brooklyn, asking that the conviction be overturned due to prosecutors’ alleged misconduct during the 1995 trial. Evidence that Collins had been trying to obtain for years suddenly became available. Shortly after the first witness testified in a federal court hearing that he’d been coerced into providing false testimony, the DA’s office announced it would not retry Collins, and his conviction was set aside.

Collins was freed in June 2010, and then hired as a paralegal by Rudin. His goal is to become an attorney, but for now, he is focused on his civil claims against the city and state.

Intensive Self-Education Makes Top Notch Paralegal

The in-depth WSJ feature article is an amazing read, both from a procedural and investigative standpoint. Without formal training and limited to prison resources, Collins performed many advanced paralegal tasks to unearth previously undisclosed, critical evidence in his case, including tracking down hostile witnesses, obtaining documents and audio tapes through the Freedom of Information Act and litigation, and drafting a “dizzying number” of records requests and appeals.

Collins credits much of his self-taught legal writing skills to an essential textbook that many of you will remember from your own paralegal education, Case Analysis and Fundamentals of Legal Writing (West Publishing Co., 1994).

Rudin includes Collins’ profile at his website, and it’s clear that this self-taught paralegal and former jailhouse lawyer is a rising legal star to watch. He’s even teaching lawyers the ropes, along with Mr. Rudin, in a course for the Association of the Bar of the City of New York, entitled, “Federal Habeas Litigation: The Fundamental Rules and Principles That All Defense Lawyers Should Know.” And who knows them better than Jabbar Collins.

The photo is of Collins hugging his daughter after his release. (MSNBC.com)

Source: Wall Street Journal

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