Center on Wrongful Convictions co-director Jane Raley remembered for passion for justice

Olivia Exstrum, Campus Editor

Over the course of her 14 years as co-director of Northwestern School of Law’s Center on Wrongful Convictions, Jane Raley was not only known for her talent as an attorney and professor, but for her “exceptional ability to connect with people.”

“Everyone who worked with her — colleagues, clients and students — not only respected her for her advocacy and teaching, but really loved her,” said law Prof. Karen Daniel, who began work at the center the same time as Raley and is now the director. “She was the nicest, warmest, most selfless person you could hope to meet, and that was I think part of what set her apart as an attorney.”

Raley, 57, died Dec. 25 from cancer at her home in Highland Park. A memorial service was held Jan. 3 in Deerfield.

Raley began her work at the center in 2000, working to reopen cases that have a possibility of wrongful conviction.

“It’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to do so many years later after judges and juries have already concluded the cases was closed,” said law Prof. Joshua Tepfer, project co-director of the Center on Wrongful Convictions of Youth. “That’s what we do, and Jane was about one of the most successful people taking on these cases and winning them.”

Tepfer said Raley was a “mentor” for him and cared most passionately about her clients, her work and her family. At the center, Raley worked on nearly a dozen cases that resulted in the inmate’s release from prison. In her position, Daniel said, Raley worked tirelessly on her cases, even when they seemed unlikely to be successful.

“She had a really great ability to look at her cases and figure out which aspect of the case would have the opportunity of winning over the prosecutors or the courts,” Daniel said. “She won cases that I don’t think other attorneys would have won because she stuck with them for so long until the right thing turned up.”

Daniel said she and Raley worked and taught together from the very beginning.

“We were always next door and worked very closely throughout,” she said. “Jane was a fantastic attorney, a very skilled attorney and one of the most persistent attorneys I’ve ever met. She was one of the most loved people I’ve ever met.”

Beyond her work at the center, Raley taught classes where law students worked alongside professors in the school on actual cases. Daniel said Raley was known for taking a real interest in every student.

“She loved to get to know them personally and was really interested in who they were as people,” she said. “She had a great ability to instill confidence, to bring out the best in them and was willing to prepare them at length if they had something coming up.”

Daniel said Raley stayed in touch with many of her students after graduation and, in turn, many students attended her memorial.

“It was really important to her that students came away from the experience with a really good sense of justice,” she said, “so they could go into the world as lawyers to understand that they have the ability to do good things.”

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