The University of Iowa

Annual Report 2010-2011

Out Front logo--The University of Iowa

Working toward justice

UI law students help commute abused woman’s prison sentence

As Gov. Chet Culver left office in January 2011, one of his last acts was to commute the prison sentence of Sheila Schertz, an act that happened with the help of University of Iowa law students.

The students were part of the Skylark Project, a partnership between the College of Law and the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) that helps some imprisoned women have their sentences reviewed in light of recent understanding of the nature of domestic abuse.

“I hope this brings more attention to how domestic violence affects women and how abused persons make decisions,” says Allison McCarthy, a 2009 law graduate who worked on Schertz’s case as a third-year law student and now practices at Cole and Vondra in Iowa City.

Schertz, of Davenport, has been in the state women’s prison in Mitchellville since 1982, when she was convicted for her involvement in the kidnapping of one man and murder of another that was engineered by her abusive husband and three other men. She did not know the group was planning to commit the crimes, and when she realized what was happening, she felt powerless to stop it because she had been physically abused by her husband. She felt pressured, intimidated, and bullied by the men to the point where she found her own safety was threatened unless she went along.

The law at the time did not allow for consideration of how abuse may have affected a person’s actions, says Linda McGuire, associate UI law dean who oversees the law school’s community engagement initiative, the Citizen Lawyer Program. It now has a greater understanding of the relationship and takes that into account during trial and sentencing, but that doesn’t do much to help women like Schertz.

Skylark Project was begun to take up the cases of some of those women and work to have their sentences reconsidered, McGuire says. Students work closely with attorneys and representatives of ICADV to review cases, assist with paperwork, and work with the prisoners. So far, 16 UI law students have worked on the project, interviewing clients at the prison, helping the women prepare their applications and writing memos supporting the applications.

McCarthy and Amy Halbur—also a 2009 law school graduate—started working with Schertz in 2008 to prepare her for her interview with the Iowa Board of Parole. They worked with her to stay focused during the interview, which McCarthy says was not easy because she had grown up abused, and abused persons often lose focus and block out certain memories as a coping mechanism.

They also prepared a letter to the board explaining how Schertz’s history of abuse impacted her role in the crimes and how strong Schertz has become since that time. In March 2009, the board voted unanimously to recommend commutation to the governor’s office.

McCarthy acknowledges that she was frustrated with the slow pace of acting on the parole board’s recommendation, but is glad it ended happily with the commutation on Jan. 14. The case now goes back to the parole board to determine when or if Schertz will be released from prison.

In the meantime, McCarthy says she’s using much of what she learned about domestic abuse while researching Schertz’ case in her professional practice, helping immigrant women who have been abused.

“I see many of the same stories and many of the same behaviors across cultures as I saw researching Sheila’s story, so my work on Skylark Project is still paying off by helping in my practice,” she says.

stories about people, being human, our bodies, minds, health care, or existential questions

P also stands for Provost

P. Barry ButlerMason names P. Barry Butler executive vice president and provost...more

Peel appeal

Substance found in apples promotes muscle growth in mice...more

Fear discovery

Fear discovery could lead to new interventions for PTSD...more

Cystic fibrosis finding

UI-led study could help predict severity of disease, may lead to new therapies...more

Locking out Ebola?

UI-led research team identifies receptor for virus...more

Beating mealtime woes

Pediatric feeding program helps children overcome severe eating difficulties...more

Furry FriendsProgram provides emotional lift to young patients...more

a patient hugs a dog that is part of the Furry Friends program

Working toward justice

UI law students help commute abused woman’s prison sentence...more

Body-language bewilderment

UI study investigates variability in men's recall of sexual cues...more

Muscular dystrophy discovery

muscular dystrophy microscopic viewUI team identifies new gene mutation that causes the condition...more

Nursing dedicates center

Top-rated gerontological/geriatric program gets boost from $2.2M donation...more

Heard the buzz?

University of Iowa researchers identify caffeine-consuming bacterium...more

things associated with work—business research, economic development, education

You can’t beat BONGO

BONGO app on a smartphoneNew service helps bus riders get real-time route information via mobile devices...more

Quite the impact

UI contributes $6 billion annually to Iowa economy, creates 1 in 30 jobs...more

Meet the dean

Margaret Crocco, College of Education deanMargaret Crocco leading College of Education...more

Holy hardware!

High-performance computing cluster is UI's largest supercomputer ever...more

A precarious development

UI study finds employee training might actually increase turnover...more

“Transformation, reflection”

dentistry building renderingUI Colleges of Dentistry, Pharmacy celebrate landmark moments...more

Did you see that?

Marketing researcher examines how we remember what we don't remember...more

Taking back the message

hip hop magazine creatorAlum rocks the BELL with hip-hop magazine...more

Meeting real challenges

Wild Bill's Coffee Shop signBusiness student group aids nonprofit organizations... more

Online approach adds up

UI offers new Web-based resources to maximize student math potential...more

Stop the wacky wikis!

wikipedia logoUI researchers design tool to improve Wikipedia accuracy...more

Managers matter

UI researcher finds that bad leadership wrecks companies, despite what leaders wish...more

stories about Iowa, the country, the world, the universe (geography, flooding, immigration, space)

Lightening their load

Virtual Soldier Research helping Navy, Marines with combat effectiveness...more

A welcome proposal

Iowa Flood Center embraces call to develop national flood center...more

Something in the air

UI researcher finds black carbon implicated in global warming...more

Set sail on micro scale

IIHR wave basinIIHR–Hydroscience & Engineering unveils $4.9 million wave basin...more

Sharing our gift

South Korean teachers visit UI to learn more about gifted education...more

Herky hits D.C.Hawkeye Caucus makes trip to nation's capital...more

Herky outside White House in DC

Helping unify a nation

College of Law professor guides Nepal toward new constitution...more

Giving Chile a clearer picture

UI researchers develop system to predict air pollution events for Santiago...more

Screening overseas

Films with UI ties play at renowned Venice, Cannes festivals...more

Aiding a town’s turnaround

Grad students partner with Dubuque on sustainability initiative...more

Beyond science

Lakeside LabLakeside Lab in northwest Iowa serves as regents resource center...more

A global grasp

New UI student group seeks to improve UI, China business opportunities...more

arts and entertainment, athletics

A plan of note

LMN Architects selected to design new facility for UI School of Music...more

Fit for EveryoneNew recreation and wellness center opens...more

Campus Recreation and Wellness Center

Something to admire

UIMA Director Sean O’Harrow envisions art museum for 21st century...more

Hawks’ run continues

Football squad notches third straight bowl win at 2010 Insight Bowl...more

Sophocles, rebooted

University Theatres Mainstage presents interactive Antigone 2.0...more

India has honors

Hawkeye golfer named Big Ten Player of the Year...more

Democracy's harmony

School of Music ensemble’s interactive presentation is music to students’ ears...more

Those Who CanExhibit honors departed art faculty...more

Tom Aprile exhibit

Ladies take KinnickA sporting way to tackle a fund-raiser...more

Marcus Coker hangs on to the ball as a Ladies Football Academy participants tries to take it away

This app is apropos

UI development team launches Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature iPhone app...more

Giving life to the defunct

old typewriterUI literary magazine focuses on trends, fads, cultures that have come and gone...more

More than a game

Law school helps students study the legal side of sports...more


Renugan Raidoo, Rhodes Scholar

Renugan Raidoo

Five Weeks in Ghana

Five Weeks in Ghana

Strategizing Sustainability

trategizing Sustainability

The Magnificent Milers

The Magnificent Milers

One for the Ages

One for the Ages