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Get to Know: Emily Hughes

Emily Hughes
Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs and Professor and Bouma Fellow in Law

Joined Iowa Law: 2011

Hometown: Iowa City – I went to grade school, junior high, and high school here.

Alma Mater:
A.B, University of Michigan
J.D., University of Michigan
M.A., Yale

What did you do before joining Iowa Law? After law school, I clerked for the Honorable Michael J. Melloy (then chief judge of the Northern District of Iowa), then I worked as a Sachs fellow at Harvard, then as a state public defender here in Iowa City, then I did death penalty work in Illinois before joining the faculty at Washington University in Saint Louis College of Law.

Describe your role at the university. In addition to regular teaching, service, and scholarship as a law professor, I am also the Associate Dean for Faculty and Academic Affairs. That role is hard to describe because no day is like the next. Basically, I work with faculty and students about a range of issues, from courses to scholarship.

Courses: Professional Responsibility, Criminal Law, Public Defender Clinic (a hybrid clinic that I run in conjunction with the Public Defender’s Office), Criminal Law Practice (a skills-based course where students are prosecutors and defense attorneys and work through a simulated case, ending in writing motions and then arguing them in court before a real judge in the Johnson County courthouse), Criminal Procedure, and Capital Punishment.

What does your scholarship entail? One of the things I’m working on right now involves mitigation in death penalty cases and in cases where children are sentenced as adults. Mitigation involves the information that decision-makers consider when deciding what somebody sentence should be—whether it’s a capital defendant or a child who is sentenced as an adult. Mitigation is the fuller context of a person’s life. It’s not an excuse for what the person did, but information the jury or judge needs to consider to decide what sentence is most appropriate. Essentially, mitigation means presenting reasons to punish someone with something less than the death penalty (in the case of capital defendants) or less than life without parole (in the case of juvenile defendants). Mitigation uncovers the social history of a person. That’s one of my major research interests, and it’s something I worked on when I was in Chicago. I also operate the Baldus Capital Defense and Juvenile Advocacy College, which is an annual week-long training program for capital defense attorneys, mitigation specialists, and capital investigators. It also had a two-day track for defense lawyers who want to learn how to more effectively advocate for their juvenile defendants who are sentenced on adult cases.

What do you enjoy most about working in a higher education/law school setting? It’s the best of both worlds. I really think we have phenomenal students. I learn something from them every single semester, if not every week. It’s energizing and inspiring and I think these are some of the best colleagues one could imagine in terms of being supportive, and also in challenging each other and finding a nice blend between the two. I really appreciate that law school gives us time to step back and dig deeper into some of the issues that come up, say, in a case that my clinic might be working on in the public defender’s office, because when you’re solely working as a public defender, there isn’t time to dig into those issues. I like being able to have my foot in both worlds.

What's a risk you’ve taken—and did it pay off? When I was working as a state public defender I had the opportunity to move to Chicago and do death penalty work at the Center for Justice in Capital Cases at DePaul law school. I really loved what I was doing in Iowa and it was hard to decide whether to leave. I’ve sort of come full circle at this point, because after I did death penalty work in Chicago, I moved to Saint Louis and was a professor at Washington University, then I moved back to Iowa and now have a chance to work with the same public defenders I was working with before I left to do capital work. I love that it has come full circle because the attorneys in that public defender’s office, such as the head of the office—Peter Persaud—are some of the finest attorneys I know. Because I am able to work with them again in the hybrid-clinical capacity, bringing students into the mix and representing clients on real cases, it seems like I lucked out and really got the best of both worlds.

What’s your favorite book, or what are you reading right now & why do you enjoy it? The last book that I really loved was The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie. It was beautifully written and suspenseful. I couldn’t put it down.

Name a few of your favorite things. I love ice cream. I worked at Dane’s Dairy when I was in high school and have experimented with just about every combination you can imagine. For example, did you know that chocolate ice cream and root beer tastes like a tootsie roll? I am also a Cubs fun and have fond memories of going to Wrigley Field with my dad and keeping the scorecard.

Emily Hughes