July 21, 2009

Erbes named interim director of legal clinic

by Pete Rosenbery

John Erbes

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- John F. Erbes, a clinical professor with the SIU School of Law Legal Clinic, is the clinic’s interim director.

Interim Dean Frank G. Houdek announced Erbes’ appointment last week. The one-year appointment was effective Thursday, July 16. In addition to overseeing the law school’s clinical program operations, Erbes will be a visiting assistant professor of law and teach the public externship course and a section of the legal profession course.

Erbes is “a very solid attorney and is very good with students. He will do a great job for us,” Houdek said.

Erbes replaces associate law professor Mary C. Rudasill, who retired June 30 after more than two decades with the clinical program.

“I have great confidence in John,” Houdek said. “He has substantial experience in our clinic program. He not only has done the actual teaching in the clinic but he has occasionally handled some of the administrative duties of the clinic when Professor Rudasill wasn’t available to do them.”

Erbes has been a coordinator of the Civil Practice Clinic since 1996. He has nearly 30 years of law practice and more than 16 years teaching experience. A native of Rockford, Erbes earned his bachelor’s degree in 1976 from Western Illinois University, and his law degree in 1979 from the SIU School of Law.

Erbes’ law experience includes working as an assistant appellate defender for the Fifth District Appellate Defender’s Office in Mount Vernon, and as a first assistant for the Jackson County Public Defender’s Office. He was also involved in private law practice for a total of 15 years before coming to the law school as a visiting assistant clinical professor in July 1996.

Since 1988, Erbes has served as a member of the Jackson County Board of Health and is serving his 12th term as board president.

Erbes and his wife, Julie, live in Murphysboro. The couple has two sons, Andrew and Aaron.

“I’m honored to have been selected. I have big shoes to fill,” Erbes said. “Professor Rudasill was a great director for a long time. In these tough financial times we want to keep the programs that we have and look into opportunities to expand to other programs.”

Erbes and clinical professor Rebecca O’Neill are coordinators of the civil practice portion of the clinic that provides free civil legal services for senior citizens 60 and older in 13 counties in Southern Illinois. The program provides services to about 400 people annually.

Gail Thomas, a clinical assistant professor, coordinates the legal clinic’s domestic violence program, which provides services to domestic violence victims in Jackson, Williamson and Union counties.

Erbes said a great staff works in the clinic, which is, in reality, a law office. The move last summer into Kaplan Hall across from the Hiram H. Lesar Law Building was a good move for several reasons, he said.

“The students really like coming over here and getting the experience of coming into a law office,” he said. “This also gives us an opportunity to see more clients because at the law school we were always scrambling to find a classroom.”

The law school’s signature “Established in the public interest … serving the public good,” is much more than a phrase, he said. The ability to represent clients regardless of their ability to pay or the size of the case is important, Erbes said.

“That’s one of the things that I think students are amazed at -- how empowering it is for these folks -- where you have someone who believes they have been victimized and taken advantage of to have a lawyer on their side; the whole playing field changes,” Erbes said.

“This program is certainly serving the public interest. The students get a tremendous satisfaction and the clients are so thankful for the opportunity to be represented,” he said.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to receive actual legal experience representing real clients in real legal matters, transactions and court hearings while at the same time providing very needed services to domestic violence victims or senior adults,” Erbes said.

Students also see clients in their homes, hospitals, and nursing homes, when needed.

“We make it easy for them to access us, and they are very willing to turn their problems over to a student who is being supervised by a licensed attorney,” Erbes said.

Anywhere from 65 to 80 percent of law school students participate in programs offered by the legal clinic or the extern program.

There will be a national search for a new clinic director who will assume additional responsibilities, Houdek said. The new position, tentatively titled, “Director of Experiential Learning,” will not only oversee the clinic program but also experiential learning opportunities offered through individual classroom courses.

Houdek hopes to conduct the search over the next academic year and have the position filled by July 1, 2010. Erbes said it is too early to say whether he will be a candidate.

There are plans to fill Erbes’ position as clinical professor in the civil practice clinic. Houdek said he hopes to fill the position quickly.