Shon Hopwood's unique career in the law has taken a dramatic new turn. The onetime jailhouse lawyer who served time in federal prison for robbing banks has been hired as a 2014 law clerk for Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the prestigious U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
"I'm amazed at the opportunities and second chances I have been given," said Hopwood Wednesday after returning home to Seattle from his interview with Brown on Monday. Hopwood said the judge offered him the job soon after the interview. "I quickly said yes."
While in Washington, D.C. Hopwood, 38, also visited former solicitor general Seth Waxman, who has been something of a mentor to Hopwood for more than a decade. They made contact after a certiorari petition Hopwood wrote for a fellow inmate while in prison was granted review by the Supreme Court. The 2004 case was Fellers v. United States. Hopwood chronicled his experiences in the 2012 book Law Man: My Story of Robbing Banks, Winning Supreme Court Cases, and Finding Redemption.
After a post-prison stint with Cockle Law Brief Printing Company in Nebraska, Hopwood has been a student for the last two years at University of Washington School of Law. Last summer he interned for a federal district court judge in Seattle, and this summer he has been working in the federal public defender's office, also in Seattle. Hopwood said that partly because of the budget cuts caused by sequestration, he has appeared in court for sentencing and other proceedings more often than fellow students working at law firms. Hopwood is scheduled to graduate from law school next summer.
Luckily, Hopwood said he has taken a course in administrative law, which will help him at the D.C. Circuit, whose docket is heavy with regulatory disputes. He described Judge Brown as "incredibly personable" but would not divulge details of his conversation with her. Brown declined comment.
After his year with Judge Brown, will Hopwood follow in the footsteps of other D.C. Circuit clerks and apply for a Supreme Court clerkship? "I haven't given that any thought at all," he said, sounding surprised at the question. "I'm taking it one step at a time, and I'm still in a state of shock."