For A Missouri 12th Grader-Law Clerk, It's Justice Denied

If you don't like lawyers, here's a story guaranteed to make you like them even less.

I'm a lawyer by training, and I didn't even like myself once I heard this story.

Meet Muhammad Alasgarli, first in his 12th grade high school class, in the 99th percentile on the ACT.

He and his family immigrated to the United States from Baku, Azerbaijan, an oil-rich, corrupt country with no freedom of speech or social mobility.

Alasgarli decided, all the way back in 8th grade, that he wanted to be an attorney when he grew up.

Maybe living in a country without justice will do that to you.

So he got hired as an intern by one of the top attorneys in his state.

For the next three summers, young Alasgarli would sit next to his attorney in court, jot down notes during the voir dire, the process of jury selection, and make recommendations as to which jurors to seat or to strike.

Remember, the kid was just 14 when he started doing this.

He says he did such a good job that he got invited back each summer, where he would work 30 hours a week -- for no pay, of course.

The payoff was supposed to be a letter of recommendation from his highly regarded attorney, but now that letter isn't going to happen.

Why?

Alasgarli's family had hired a contractor who, as contractors often do, absconded with the cash without finishing the work.

Young Alasgarli represented himself in small claims court.

He prevailed and won a judgment of $200.

Then he went to figure out how to get the judgment enforced.

To his astonishment, he discovered that there is no way to collect judgments in the State of Missouri, a fact that transforms small claims court decisions into wallpaper.

This struck Alasgarli as something that could happen in his native Azerbaijan but just simply couldn't happen here.

So he wrote an opinion piece about his experience, which a newspaper published this past September 15.

Not a bad accomplishment for a high school kid.

Only one hitch.

Even though Muhammad described himself as a high school intern, the newspaper described him as a "law clerk" and then named the firm for which he worked.

You know newspapers.

That's when the blowback began.

Judges from all over and across the state--and I mean appellate judges, not small claims court judges--called the attorney for whom Alasgarli interned and read him the riot act.

Who was this kid to question the legal system in the State of Missouri?

The attorney did not give Alasgarli that recommendation letter after all that hard work.

There went three summers' worth of 30-hour weeks, down the drain.

"If I had published that article in Azerbaijan," Alasgarli says, "my report would have been considered seditious."

Alasgarli has set his sights on Harvard, but he's concerned that without a letter of recommendation from his attorney-employer, he won't be able to substantiate the three summers he spent seated alongside the attorney, studying jurors and performing other tasks.

If you want to find the article, you can, but only in print, maybe at a public library somewhere.

That's because Alasgarli says the attorney for whom he worked called the paper and successfully demanded under the pretense of lawsuit that they take it down.

Within a few hours, according to Alasgarli, the newspaper removed the online version of the article from their website.
Alasgarli protested; he said the newspaper stood by its spiking of the story.

I don't know if anybody on the admissions committee at Harvard reads this column, but if they do, now they'll know what Muhammad Alasgarli did with his summers, and why he doesn't have a recommendation letter to back it up.

If a socially-concerned sixteen year old student lost his letter of recommendation because he wrote a newspaper article, then the judiciary of Missouri should be ashamed of themselves for piling on a deserving kid.

"Even though I am a writer, I also consider myself a reformer." Alasgarli says. "My goal in life is to take on inequality wherever I find it. I just never thought I'd find it this soon."