At 9 years old, Carrie Sperling harked back to the words of U.S. Rep. Barbara Jordan during her address at the Democratic National Convention in 1976. Jordan’s speech inspired Sperling to set the wheels of her career in motion.
“I wanted to become a lawyer because I saw so closely the arbitrary injustices that inflicted many Americans who I admired” she said. “U.S. Rep. Jordan offered me a glimpse of what being a lawyer might be like. She convinced me that I, too, could make a difference by drawing my own line in the sand, a line that doesn’t tolerate privilege for some and injustice for others.”
She has spent more than two decades engaged in social justice lawyering in Texas, Arizona and, most recently, in Wisconsin.
Early in her legal career, Sperling served as the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s North Texas Region. In 2008, while teaching at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, she became the executive director of the Arizona Justice Project, a project that investigates and litigates on behalf of the wrongly convicted.
That experience had Sperling leading a collaboration between the project and the Arizona Attorney General’s Office to provide DNA testing to all Arizona inmates who were convicted of serious crimes but were claiming innocence. During her tenure with the Arizona Justice Project, she laid the groundwork for the release of eight inmates who were wrongly convicted or had suffered a manifest injustice.
In 2013, Sperling joined the University of Wisconsin Law School, where she now serves as the interim director of the Frank J. Remington Center. That center is home to the law school’s in-house criminal law clinics. Sperling, meanwhile, also serves as co-director of the Wisconsin Innocence Project.
“At UW Law School, we’ve come to know her as a talented and hardworking scholar, teacher and administrator, to whom our law students look as a role model,” Margaret Raymond, dean of the University of Wisconsin Law School, said.
She continues to lead efforts to exonerate the innocent. Her duties have her supervising law students in cases dealing with investigations and litigation.
Every year, law students and their supervising attorneys investigate more than 100 claims of innocence. Last fall, the project helped to free its 22nd exoneree. Sperling also oversaw the launch of the Wisconsin Latino Exoneration Program, an initiative to meet the underserved needs of wrongly convicted Latinos.
“I love working with other people who are driven to make the world more just, who are constantly curious about how to become more effective, who are humble and courageous but confident in their ability to make a difference. I have lots of students and colleagues who fit this model,” Sperling said. “They make whatever we do worthwhile. And they inspire me.”