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Archive for Thursday, November 29, 2001

KU dean, alumnus argue before Supreme Court

November 29, 2001

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The last thing most attorneys expect when arguing at the U.S. Supreme Court is help from the opposing lawyer.

But it didn't come as much of a surprise Wednesday to Matt Wiltanger in a case that pitted a teacher against one of his former students.

Wiltanger, a 1997 graduate of the Kansas University School of Law, faced off at the Supreme Court against Steve McAllister, the law school's dean and Wiltanger's former constitutional law professor.

During Wiltanger's argument, McAllister wrote the words "slow down" on a piece of paper and slid it toward the podium where Wiltanger was speaking, telling him he was talking too fast.

"He wanted me to do well today," Wiltanger said. "I'm not sure I wanted him to do well," he added with a laugh. "I would have rather he embarrass himself."

The case, McKune v. Lile, tests a Kansas statute that permits authorities to deny a prisoner certain privileges unless the prisoner signs a statement accepting responsibility for the crime for which he was imprisoned.

Wiltanger's client, Robert Lile, was in prison for a 1983 conviction for rape, aggravated kidnapping and aggravated sodomy. Officials at Lansing Correctional Facility wanted him to undergo psychological treatment, but the program required him to sign a confession.

Prisoners who don't participate in the program can have privileges taken away, including time in the library or recreation area and personal televisions.

McAllister, who is state solicitor, has argued four previous cases before the Supreme Court. For Wiltanger, a Kansas City, Kan., attorney, it was his first case.

Wiltanger said he had a plan if justices asked him a question he couldn't answer: "My response would be, 'I wish I had an answer, but I had a really bad constitutional law professor,' and point over to Dean McAllister."

McAllister said he didn't know how long the justices would take to reach a decision. But he said he was glad to be a part of his former student's first Supreme Court appearance.

"He seemed really confident up there," McAllister said. "Even though his side is wrong and he should lose, I was proud of him."

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