Gustin has been instrumental in reactivating the Exoneration Project at Notre Dame Law School (NDLS). The Exoneration Project is a student-run organization that assists with investigating and petitioning courts to reverse wrongful convictions. Previously called the Innocence Project Club, the organization was revitalized earlier this year by Gustin and four other NDLS students.
Gustin’s interest in wrongful convictions actually started many years ago before she ever thought of attending law school.
“I started looking into wrongful conviction research and the flaws that are built into our judicial system,” Gustin said. “I became aware of the disproportionate incarceration rates of minorities, our overreliance on things like the accuracy of eyewitness testimony, and the unacceptably high number of wrongful convictions and arrests.”
Before coming to law school, Gustin first enrolled at Arizona State University, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in business law, and a master’s degree in business analytics in under three years. At NDLS, Gustin saw an opportunity to pursue the calling she had held on to for so many years. She connected with other students who shared her concerns and they decided to restart the exoneration initiative at NDLS.
One of their first activities was to sponsor a talk by Keith Cooper, a local man who was wrongfully convicted of armed robbery and later pardoned by Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb. Elliot Slosar of the Chicago-based civil-rights law firm Loevy & Loevy and the Exoneration Project at the University of Chicago Law School, was Cooper’s attorney and handled his post-conviction relief. After the talk, Gustin met with Slosar and they created a partnership. The group now works under the supervision of Slosar and Notre Dame Law Professor Jimmy Gurulé and is taking on its first two cases.
Jennifer Mason McAward is an associate professor of law and director of the Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights at the University of Notre Dame. Her teaching and research interests focus on civil rights, constitutional law, and habeas corpus. Her scholarship addresses the relationship between Congress and the federal courts with respect to protecting individual rights. Her current projects explore the power of Congress to enforce the Thirteenth Amendment. She joined the Notre Dame Law School faculty in 2005 and was named Distinguished Professor of the Year in 2007.
Mason McAward received her undergraduate degree summa cum laude from the University of Notre Dame in 1994. She majored in Government and minored in Theology. Upon graduation, she spent one year doing volunteer work through the Holy Cross Associates program. In 1998, she received her J.D. summa cum laude from New York University School of Law, where she was managing editor of the law review.
Following law school, Mason McAward clerked for Judge Alex Kozinski on the Ninth Circuit and then for United States Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. She practiced law and completed a public service fellowship with Holland & Knight LLP in Washington, D.C.
Judge Williams was born in Detroit, Michigan. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Wayne State University in Elementary Education and a Master of Arts in Guidance and Counseling from the University of Michigan. A lifelong educator and public servant, Judge Williams taught inner city Detroit Public Schools students before attending law school. She received her Juris Doctor from Notre Dame Law School.
President Ronald Reagan nominated her in 1985 to the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, making her the first woman of color to serve on a district court in the three-state Seventh Circuit. In 1999, President William Clinton’s nomination made her the first and only judge of color to sit on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the third woman of color to serve on any federal circuit court.
Judge Williams has served on many judicial committees and, as treasurer and president of the Federal Judges Association, was the first person of color to become an officer. Committed to public interest work throughout her life, she helped found Just The Beginning — A Pipeline Organization, the Black Women Lawyers’ Association of Chicago, and Minority Legal Education Resources. She serves on the boards of the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the University of Notre Dame, the National Institute for Trial Advocacy (NITA), Equal Justice Works, and the Museum of Science & Industry Chicago.
A trailblazer and leader, Judge Williams is devoted to promoting the effective delivery of justice worldwide, particularly in Africa. She has partnered with judiciaries, attorneys, NGOs, and the U.S. Departments of Justice and State to lead training programs in Ghana, Indonesia, Liberia, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. She also has taught at the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.