Shon Hopwood: Felon, SCOTUS Practitioner and D.C. Circuit Clerk

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on August 08, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Shon Hopwood, a jailhouse lawyer who spent more than a decade in federal prison for a string of robberies, has been hired as a 2014 law clerk for Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

As The New York Times' Adam Liptak put it, Hopwood is much better at understanding the law than breaking it.

His life story may read like a movie script -- a cross between "Dead Man Walking" and "Cinderella" -- but Hopwood is counting his lucky stars for the happy ending.

Once Upon a Time, There Was a Convict ...

Hopwood spent more than a decade in federal prison for five robberies in rural Nebraska in 1997 and 1998, according to The Times.

It was in the prison law library when he made his debut as a Supreme Court practitioner -- who happened to be behind bars. Using a prison typewriter, he prepared his first petition for certiorari for a fellow inmate. Out of the 7,209 petitions the Court received that year, his was one of just eight plucked from obscurity.

The case was Fellers v. United States. "It was probably one of the best cert. petitions I have ever read," said Seth P. Waxman, a former United States solicitor general, who later took up the case. "It was just terrific."

They won the case 9-0.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court granted two more petitions prepared by Hopwood.

Who Became a D.C. Law Clerk ...

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, reports the BLT.

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.

Next year, he'll be clerking with Judge Brown. He bagged the gig with Brown soon after the interview. While in town for the interview, he also paid a visit to Seth Waxman, who has become somewhat of a mentor to him.

And Lived Happily Ever After.

"I'm amazed at the opportunities and second chances I have been given," the 38-year-old Hopwood told the BLT, describing himself as "still in a state of shock" after his Monday interview with Brown.

For all we know, we may be in the midst of a future SCOTUS clerk. And to think it all began with a prison law library.

The End. Almost.

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