Joanne Stella is an important student advocate

By Joe Miller, Senior
On February 12, 2004

I am writing this piece in response to the recent administration changes to the student lawyer's responsibilities and job as a whole. I've read several recent articles and editorials that have focused on the administration's new ruling that the student lawyer, Joanne Stella, can not represent or give advice to any student that is involved in a 'criminal matter.' This seems to defeat a large part of the purpose for having a student lawyer available. It also seems to benefit the administration quite well since the 'criminals' will not receive much advice or representation unless they seek other (most likely more expensive) legal counsel. My opinion, as well as those of many other students that I have spoken to, is one of gratitude for what Joanne Stella has done for many students in this University over the years. Many students have written in saying how she has helped them and provided great legal, as well as, down to earth, friendly advice or representation.

First of all, the student lawyer is paid out of the Student Activity Fee. This is a fee that is paid for and controlled by the student body of the University. It seems the University administration is trying to put at least part, if not most of the student activity fee, under its control. They want this fee to be available to be used to pay for any possible damages that would arise from a student riot. Our student representatives have been striving against these changes with votes during meetings and petitions for several weeks now. What about using the fines that the town receives from the 400 or more students involved with alcohol infractions each year to supply a fund for student damages?

Secondly, the current administrations and town's "zero-tolerance" stance on many issues such as 'rioting' and other alcohol or social infractions is taking a hard line. This hard stance and punishment is a large step in the wrong direction. The unprofessional courtesy that I and many other students have received from Durham Police Department officers while leaving the downtown area after watching sporting events at local establishments as well as normal day-to-day activities is out of line. This creates unwanted and unneeded tension between authority figures and students. I am not pointing the finger at every officer or administration member, I have met several nice and professional UNH Police Department and Durham Police Department officers. However, it is the unprofessional behavior that sticks out in our memory.

The student lawyer is someone who deals with the so-called "bad" student that attends this University, the type of student that the current administration is trying to punish and weed out with the "zero-tolerance" policy applied to most violations recently, violations such as being arrested or videotaped misbehaving at a riot. A very large percentage of Stella's student visits are victimless crimes. These are students who have been charged with possession of marijuana or an open container. These students are looking for any advice, guidance or representation for, perhaps, their first encounter with the law. Joanne Stella is someone who speaks to students and relates to them on their level while retaining her status as an attorney giving advice. The professional courtesy she has shown and the way she has stood up for students in recent newspaper articles are some things that most others in this town will not do. Her view doesn't seem to be popular with the police department or the administration. This is apparently due to the current situation at hand with her funding, as well as the brute force being used at 'student gatherings' this year. The student lawyer seems to be the only intermediary in the tension that has been developing between the administration, the police departments and the student body.

My experience with Joanne Stella was very insightful and I believe that it has made me more aware of what goes on in this town and at this University. She has provided excellent advice to me on several matters during my time at UNH. Her professional commitment to me was shown in the many hours she put forth before stepping into the courtroom. I have nothing but pure admiration, respect and a lot of thanks for what she has done for me. I am sure that many other students and alumni can relate to what I am saying.

The student body and the administration need to come together to find some solutions to the rising tension and hard line approach that is being taken by authority figures. There are several possibilities that could help to find this common ground. These might include more student involvement in such decisions by the administration and not leaving the student representatives in the dark about Student Activity Fee usage changes.

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