Taylor Webb grew up in a family whose career backgrounds were predominately geared toward the medical field, but the Las Vegas native always felt more at home in a courtroom setting.
She participated in mock trial while in high school in Nevada and when the time came to choose a college, moving to neighboring state Utah seemed like a good fit. Her father and grandfather were both former Utes and Webb liked the atmosphere of the campus as well as the academic offerings. She graduated from the U in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in communications and with minors in political science and Spanish.
Her time as an undergraduate at the U strengthened her passion for innocence work and set the stage for what she knew she wanted to do next: attend law school. She started at the S.J. Quinney College of Law as part of the Class of 2018 and has climbed to the top of the ranks with a flawless academic record and strong resume of extra-curricular activities.
Webb’s success in law school after completing her first year has earned her a new inaugural scholarship launched at the college, the Glenn C. and and Bruhneild R. Hanni Scholarship. The new scholarship was created thanks to the generosity of the Hanni family. Glenn Hanni, who died in December 2015, attended the University of Utah and graduated “Order of the Coif” (number one in his class) from the law school. In 1962 he joined with Gordon Strong and their combined practice formed Strong and Hanni Law Firm which traces its roots back to 1888. He was named “Utah Trial Attorney of the Year” twice, was a member of the American College of Trial Lawyers and was a member of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers. He and his wife were passionate about recognizing a top-performing law student with the creation of the award.
The honor is both a surprise and a thrill for Webb, who sees her journey to a legal career as a way to give back to the community.
“Most of my family is in the medical field, but I knew that wasn’t really the right place for me. I’ve had a passion for the law since I did mock trial in high school. Being in the courtroom is everything for me,” she said. “The law is my way of being able to help people.”
Robert Adler, dean of the S.J. Quinney College of Law, said Webb is an ideal candidate to receive the inaugural award.
“Taylor is a spectacular inaugural recipient of this award, which comes through the incredible generosity of the late Glenn Hanni in rewarding student excellence at the College of Law,” said Adler. In addition to being a standout student academically, she has proven her dedication to using her legal talent to improve people’s lives through her work with the Innocence Clinic and other service activities,” he said.
Webb has found her niche in law school in several realms. She has always been drawn to stories of wrongful incarceration and the work of the national Innocence Project, the non-profit founded in 1992 which focuses its work on exonerating the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and encouraging reforms in the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.
Once she arrived at the U as an undergraduate, she explored that interest more personally after becoming a volunteer at the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center (RMIC). The Salt Lake City organization, with serves clients in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming, operates through a unique program that combines the efforts of trained and supervised law students from local law schools, as well as local volunteer attorneys. The students earn academic credit by conducting the investigations in RMIC’s cases to uncover the evidence that will prove innocence.
While interning at RMIC, Webb was introduced to Jensie Anderson, a professor at the S.J. Quinney College of Law who is also legal director at the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center and to Jennifer Springer, an alumna of the law school who graduated in 2014 and serves as an attorney for the organization.
Webb gained experience and respect for innocence work during her internship from those experienced in the field at the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center. Anderson handled the high-profile case of Bruce Dallas Goodman, who spent 18 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. He was convicted in 1986 of murdering his girlfriend, Sherry Ann Williams, who was found raped, sodomized, beaten to death and bound near an interstate exit north of Beaver, Utah. At his trial, prosecutors maintained that Goodman was the sole perpetrator of the crime and relied upon the testimony of a mistaken eyewitness to prove his guilt. In 2004, the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center sought DNA testing on Goodman’s behalf. The results of that testing established that the DNA recovered from the victim and the crime scene belonged not to Goodman, but to two unknown perpetrators. In the first case of its kind in Utah, DNA evidence determinatively showed Goodman’s innocence and he was released from prison on Nov. 9, 2004.
In another noteworthy Utah case, Anderson also helped to exonerated Harry Miller, who was convicted of armed robbery in 2003. Although he was actually in Louisiana at the time of the crime, he spent almost five years behind bars in Utah based solely upon the victim’s eyewitness misidentification. RMIC developed evidence of his alibi and the Utah Attorney General stipulated to factual innocence in 2011.
And most recently, Anderson, Springer and a team of other attorneys helped to free DeMarlo Antwin Berry — who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison for shooting the manager of a Las Vegas Carl’s Jr. during a 1994 robbery. Berry walked out of prison a free man on June 30 after two decades of insisting he was innocent with the help or the RMIC.
Webb said working at the RMIC and hearing about some of its high- profile cases —as well as meeting Anderson and Springer, who have remained mentors to Webb as she progresses through law school —has been a motivating experience.
“The main reason I came to law school was to find my own way to help others. When I learned about the Innocence Project and had the opportunity to work for the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, I felt that I was really being true to my passion,” said Webb.
“I fell in love with Salt Lake City as an undergrad and found a really awesome group of people here. Ultimately, I felt that the U’s law school provided opportunities that I couldn’t find elsewhere. The clinical opportunities, especially the innocence clinic, were what really sold me on staying here,” she added.
Outside of her work with RMIC, Webb has participated in several other extra-curricular activities while balancing a challenging load of legal courses. She will serve as editor-in-chief of the Utah Law Review during the 2017-18 school year, overseeing the publication of the team of students who produce the academic legal journal. (The journal was founded to serve the interests of the students, the bench, and the bar of the State of Utah. Since then, its scope has expanded to include legal issues of both national and international importance. The law review is a wholly student-run organization, with the student-editors making all editorial and organizational decisions).
Webb also competes on the law school’s National Moot Court team and recently spent the summer as an associate at the firm of Ray Quinney & Nebeker in Salt Lake City, where she has been introduced to different legal specialties. She’s enjoyed a diverse set of classes so far and said that criminal procedure was an early favorite.
“One of my favorite things about law school is having professors who live and breathe the material they teach. It makes such a difference when you can feel the professor’s passion coming through the lectures. I also loved doing moot court. It reminded me how much I enjoy being in the courtroom and advocating for a position,” Webb said.
She’s not yet sure where life will take her after graduation and hasn’t fully decided if she will pursue a certain legal specialty. She noted public interest law has a special place in her heart. The newly awarded scholarship she has received and the funds it provides will assist in allowing her to pursue her passions with less student loan debt, she said.
“I was honestly stunned,” said Webb of receiving the inaugural scholarship. “I’ve been truly blessed beyond belief and I’m so thankful for the opportunities I’ve had. I’m also so lucky to be surrounded by such a wonderful group of classmates.
“More than anything, this award makes it possible for me to give back to the community and to the people who have helped me get here today. I have a pretty amazing support system and I know I wouldn’t be here if not for them,” she said.