The lawyers at the California Western School of Law who helped a former high school football star clear his name after he spent five years in prison for rape were named today as Lawyers of the Year by California Lawyer magazine.
Professors Justin Brooks and Jan Stiglitz, and attorneys Alissa Bjerkhoel and Michael A. Semanchik — all associated with the California Innocence Project — will be among 60 lawyers honored at the 17th annual California Lawyer Attorneys of the Year Awards March 12 in San Francisco.
They will also be recognized in the March issue of the publication.
“It is truly an honor to be recognized alongside such distinguished members of the bar,” said Brooks, project director. “I am particularly proud to be honored alongside my longtime colleague Jan Stiglitz, and former students Alissa Bjerkhoel and Michael Semanchik. Seeing Alissa and Michael advance from eager young law students to the outstanding attorneys they are today has been a great privilege.”
Brian Banks, a linebacker at Long Beach Polytechnic High School who once had a scholarship offer from USC, visited Cal Western law students last May and told them he had 10 minutes to accept a plea deal that allowed him to avoid a prison sentence of at least 41 years, and wasn’t allowed to ask his parents advice.
Once out of prison, Banks wore an ankle bracelet and had to register as a sex offender.
His accuser tried to “friend” him on Facebook last year, and he got her to recant her accusations against him, leading to the exoneration.
He later tried out with several NFL teams and eventually caught on with the Las Vegas Locomotives of the United Football League.
Another San Diego lawyer, L. Tracee Lorens, was also honored by the magazine.
Lorens litigated a state Supreme Court case that set more definitive guidance on when when, and for how long, employees can take meal and rest breaks.