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Win on Appeal for ELC Clients in Case Spanning Nearly 20 Years

Written by Katie Koza

On July 20, 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit handed down an important and favorable ruling in Pit River Tribe v. Bureau of Land Management, one of the Environmental Law Clinic’s longest-running cases.  The decision, which reverses the lower court, holds that the Pit River Tribe and a number of local environmental groups have statutory standing to challenge the continuation of leases that, if developed, could permanently scar the Medicine Lake Highlands in northeastern California through unstudied industrial development.  The Ninth Circuit’s ruling affirms the right of the Pit River Tribe and other public stakeholders to ensure that the Bureau of Land Management is managing public lands in a manner consistent with its legal obligations.

The Ninth Circuit decision is the product of substantial investment by many students over many years, most recently Evan Stein (JD ’15), Amanda Prasuhn (JD ’15), Joel Minor (JD ’14), and Anuja Thatte (JD ’14), who wrote the briefs. Evan and Jason George (JD ’15) argued the case before the Ninth Circuit.

The case now moves back to the district court, where the Pit River Tribe and the other environmental plaintiffs will argue that the Bureau of Land Management improperly continued 26 non-producing geothermal leases on sacred lands in violation of the Geothermal Steam Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Historic Preservation Act, and the government’s fiduciary trust obligations to Indian tribes.

Landmark Ruling Marks Victory for Same-Sex Couples and a Grand Slam for Clinic’s Team

After months of briefing, argument and anxious anticipation, today the Supreme Court announced its 5-4 opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges, 14-556, holding that the Fourteenth Amendment “requires a State to license a marriage between two people of the same sex and to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-State.” Justice Kennedy read the majority’s opinion in this consolidated case – involving plaintiffs from Kentucky, Ohio, Michigan and Tennessee  – guaranteeing equal marriage rights in all fifty states.

Outside the Supreme Court cheering and singing the national anthem as the opinion is delivered. (Photo credit: M. Qian)

Outside the Supreme Court cheering and singing the national anthem as the opinion is delivered. (Photo credit: Michael Qian)

“The ancient origins of marriage confirm its centrality, but it has not stood in isolation from developments in law and society. The history of marriage is one of both conti­nuity and change. That institution – even as confined to opposite-sex relations – has evolved over time.” – Justice Kennedy, Slip op., p. 6

Five Supreme Court Litigation Clinic students – James Barton (’15), Samuel Byker (’16), Andrew Kushner (’15), Ashley Robertson (’16), and Alexandria Twinem (’16) had the great fortune to work on this case – on behalf of six plaintiff couples from Kentucky and their counsel – in the related matter of Bourke v. BeshearTogether with the clinic’s faculty, the students spent untold hours researching, drafting and crafting the merits briefs and flew to Washington, DC to help the legal team prepare for the April 28th oral  argument.

Today’s opinion falls on the second anniversary of the Court’s ruling in USA v. Windsor (which the Clinic also worked on), a pivotal case out of the Second Circuit that paved the way to marriage equality nationwide.

For further analysis of today’s decision, see SCOTUSblog and The New York Times and related prior MLC posts here and here.  ◊

Cause Lawyering Is Cause Celebre at 2015 SLS Commencement

On a bright, searingly hot morning on June 13th, 192 Stanford JD and 75 advanced degree students filed into the shade of a generous canopy in Canfield Courtyard, joining 1,500 celebrants and dozens of law school faculty and staff. Together, they witnessed not only the annual commencement at the Law School in all its pageantry, but also the first time the John Bingham Hurlbut Award for Excellence in Teaching* has been conferred upon an SLS professor engaged exclusively in clinical education teaching. This year’s honoree was none other than the Mills Legal Clinic’s associate dean of clinical education, Juliet Brodie.

Associate Dean of Clinical Education Juliet Brodie addresses SLS graduates and celebrants. Photo credit: GradImage

Associate Dean of Clinical Education Juliet Brodie addresses the 2015 SLS graduating class. Photo credit: GradImages

A legal aid lawyer and teacher of Stanford Law School’s Community Law Clinic, Prof. Brodie prefaced her address,

“What would you expect a legal aid lawyer to tell you? You would expect her to remind you of your duty to serve the poor. You would expect her to summon you to honor the highest calling of our profession, which, to my mind, embodies the highest calling of our democracy, and perhaps even of our humanity: to serve the least among us, and to measure our professional success not by what we earn or how important we are, but by how much good we have done on their behalf. . . .”

She then, unsurprisingly, called on the graduates to endeavor towards the cause of social justice and service to the poor and underrepresented, despite the onslaught of “bad news” in recent months and structural inequities within our legal justice system. Prof. Brodie spoke on the realities of dim access to justice for the impoverished:

 “In the absence of a right to counsel, poor people rely on legal aid or voluntary pro bono services. The U.S. has one legal aid lawyer for every 6,400 low-income people, compared to one private lawyer for every 429 people who are not poor. State court data tell us that at least 80% of poor people’s civil legal needs go unmet . . . because they can’t afford private lawyers, and there aren’t enough pro bono or legal aid lawyers to represent them.”

However daunting this backdrop before which new graduates now find themselves, Prof. Brodie reminded the graduating audience of the counterbalancing “good news”:

“ . . . [Y]ou are joining the profession that has, however slowly, moved forward the rights and interests of the have-nots in powerful ways. The law gave us Gideon v. Wainwright, which guaranteed to every person charged with a crime the lawyer I mentioned a minute ago. And gave us Brown v. Board, which recognized that de jure segregation denies citizens equal protection of the law. Moreover, you are joining the profession that, even appreciating the diversity of its membership, asks each of us to serve the poor and to recognize that in a constitutional democracy, a legal system that is available only to those of means, is not a legal system worth defending.”

Professor Brodie stressed the importance of measuring one’s professional success not by earnings, but by service to those who need it most. Central to this message, she quoted from ancient teachings of Judaism’s Mishnah  –  a phrase which is also emblazoned on the backs of Community Law Clinic t-shirts –  “You are not required to complete the task of repairing the world. But neither are you free to ignore it.”

All in the Mills Legal Clinic heartily congratulate Juliet Brodie for receiving this year’s John Bingham Hurlbut Award!  ◊


*Established in 1974 by the Stanford Law Students Association, the Hurlbut award honors those professors (beginning with its namesake) who have brought particular distinction to the art of teaching. Juliet Brodie’s name will be added to the list of previous honorees, including most recently: Barbara Babcock, Joseph Bankman, Robert Daines, George Fisher, Barbara Fried, Paul Goldstein, Joseph Grundfest, Daniel Ho, Pam Karlan, Norm Spaulding, and Robert Weisberg.



Organizations & Transactions Clinic: A Day in the Life

Jason Fischbein (JD ’16) participated in the Organizations and Transactions Clinic as a student attorney this past spring. Here, he shares a glimpse of the work that takes place in the O&T Clinic in his post for our “Day-in-the-Life” series. 

JFischbein O&T Spring 20159:00 a.m. – The whole group convenes for a class session lead by a guest speaker, Henry Fong, the chief employment counsel at LinkedIn, and a former senior HR lawyer at GAP Inc. The topic is what transactional lawyers should know about employment law. Henry offers a dynamic and engaging presentation, sharing his unique perspective as an in-house attorney. Guest speakers, including law firm partners who specialize in venture capital, mergers & acquisitions, and corporate litigation (among other areas), frequently lead our class sessions.

10:30 a.m. – My partner and I meet with Jay Mitchell and Michelle Sonu, our supervising attorneys, to discuss a current project. Our task is to advise a local nonprofit about its corporate governance and other programmatic matters. We visited this client at its San Francisco office at the beginning of the quarter, and in the coming weeks, we will return to present our deliverable before the Board of Directors.

11:00 a.m. – I meet with my other partner to collaborate on a different project. We decide to enjoy the beautiful weather and work outdoors on the Neukom Terrace. In O&T, we juggle up to four projects at the same time, and our supervisors afford us complete flexibility to shift our focus amongst the various projects. Our specific task here is to craft a service agreement for a local nonprofit seeking to license property to high-rise apartment complexes in San Francisco.

12:30 p.m. – Burrito time! Lunch off-campus.

1:45 p.m. – We participate in a conference call with a third client. The purpose of the call is to gain the client’s feedback and answer questions about the work product we submitted last week. The call goes smoothly. The client is clearly appreciative of our efforts.

2:45 p.m. – I work independently at my desk in the clinic space. I hear the constant buzz of my colleagues from other clinics diligently working.

3:30 p.m. – Coffee break. Also burrito time again. I had leftovers.

3:45 p.m. – I meet with one of my partners and continue working collaboratively. Perhaps one or both of our supervisors will request a brief meeting to discuss work product or an upcoming conference call.

5:00 p.m. – Done for the day. Plenty of time to hit the gym and play with this girl:  JFischbein's pup

Where Are They Now? An Interview with SLS Alum, Courtney Quiros (JD ’14)

For this installment of our “Where Are They Now?” alumni series, we spoke with SLS and Religious Liberty Clinic (RLC) alumna Courtney Quiros. Since graduation in 2014, Courtney has joined Alston & Bird LLP’s Atlanta, GA office as an associate working primarily on securities fraud class actions, shareholder derivative suits, corporate investigations and other complex commercial litigation. Courtney’s experiences in both corporate and public interest law represent the wide variety of legal fields open to MLC students and alums. Below, Courtney shares some of the factors that went into her clinic application process and a few significant moments during her time with the RLC. 

SLS alum, Courtney Quirós (JD '14)

SLS alum, Courtney Quirós (JD ’14)

Q: Were you interested in the field of religious liberty before you decided to take the clinic?

A: Yes, I was interested in religion and religious freedom before I took the clinic. I studied Religion with a concentration on African American Christianity as an undergraduate at Princeton, and had become interested in the religious lives (and the regulation of the same) of men and women who are incarcerated.

Q: What did you know about clinical legal education before taking the clinic?

A: I had little formal knowledge about clinical education, but I knew I wanted to get out of the classroom and apply what I was learning. I think my biggest preconception was that we would be doing a lot of pushing paper around and rote applications. I was imagining a large client load and a sort of frenzied legal triage. I was surprised by how carefully Professor Sonne selected the clients and the thoughtful planning, strategizing, organizing, briefing, and collaborating involved in each of our cases.

Q: What went into your decision to choose to apply to participate in a clinic?

A: I knew from my first day at Stanford that I wanted to experience a clinic, so I  was planning to apply when the time came. As for choosing the Religious Liberty Clinic, I sat down with the materials from each clinic and asked myself what I could learn from each as well as what skills – if any – I could bring to the clinic team. The Religious Liberty Clinic was only one semester old, so there were not a lot of students to report on the character of the clinic. I liked the idea of being in the second pioneer class, and I had some background in religion, so it felt like a good fit.

Q: What are some of the salient moments of your clinical experience?  

A: I could fill a book with significant moments from clinic. One of my proudest moments was sitting across from a client of ours in an under-the-sea-themed interview room in a prison facility in Southern Florida and hearing him express relief and gratitude that we took his religious liberty claim seriously and were going to fight on his behalf. He ultimately won the right to become circumcised in accordance with his faith while incarcerated, but the moment when we became his advocates strikes me as most significant.

The same characteristics that made our clients so amazing – their tenacity, their singular focus, their faithfulness – also at times made them difficult to work with. We had some grueling conversations about how to manage expectations and set realistic goals with these individuals. I’m a people-pleaser and a bulldog myself, so it was definitely a challenge for me to learn how to be not only a cheerleader for their issues, but a more thoughtful counselor. Also, as an aside, working with bureaucratic systems like prisons is always hard.  Who knows how to use a fax machine? I didn’t, but now I do.

Q: What work products did you contribute to or finish during your time in the RLC?

A: We completed applications for zoning and religious accommodation, a complaint in federal court, briefs, and innumerable letters and emails.

Q: How and in what ways did your clinical training and experience help you prepare for your securities work?

Professor Sonne allowed us to drive our own schedules and self-manage, both of which have given me a leg up in my post-graduate position. I feel like I think more creatively about my cases and strategize more effectively having exercised those muscles in clinic.

A: Do you have advice for law students considering clinical legal education?

I would, without hesitation, recommend that law students who are on the fence go and talk to the directors of the clinics. Their passion for students and their vast knowledge and experience are compelling.


IRC Wins Asylum on Behalf of Central American Refugee

Former IRC students Natalia Renta (JD ’15), Al Montelongo (JD ’15), Deepa Kannappan (JD ’16), and Christine Yoon (JD ’16) assisted Luisa,* who fled El Salvador to escape domestic and gang-based violence. Natalia and Al worked closely with Luisa over the Spring 2014 quarter to develop her case.

Deepa Kannappan and Christine Yoon in the MLC office.

Deepa Kannappan and Christine Yoon pose for a photo in the MLC office.

Luisa had never told anyone about what had happened to her, so Al and Natalia worked slowly and compassionately with her to elicit her story and begin developing her asylum claim. At the end of the quarter, Al and Natalia represented Luisa in immigration court, securing the opportunity for her to present her asylum case.

Later–in the Fall 2014 quarter–Deepa and Christine helped Luisa continue to tell her story, developed a declaration on her behalf, interviewed witnesses, and prepared a voluminous asylum submission that included expert reports, country conditions and witness statements. Deepa and Christine then represented Luisa again in immigration court, this time asking the immigration judge to permit her to present her case to an asylum officer in a non-adversarial setting, instead of in open court. The judge agreed, and Luisa had her asylum interview in the winter of 2015.

Just this week, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced that it has approved Luisa’s asylum application. Luisa was overwhelmed with emotion at the news, and overjoyed that she can now stay in the United States legally and safe from the threat of future violence.


*Names have been changed to protect client confidentiality.

Clinic Students Help Senior Graduate from High School

GJung & NRoberts--YELP Sp15Stanford Youth and Education Law Project students Grady Jung (JD ’16) and Nicole Roberts (JD ’16), with instruction and guidance from their supervising attorney, Bill Koski, helped their twelfth-grade client, James*, avoid the serious consequences of expulsion just weeks before his graduation.

James, a minority senior at a predominately white suburban high school, was initially suspended less than eight weeks before graduation. Before his suspension, James was on track to graduate, had already begun taking college classes, and had been a starting player on the varsity football team. Suddenly, James faced expulsion for allegedly harassing a fellow student and football player. Following his initial suspension, the school district began proceedings to expel James.

Grady and Nicole investigated and learned that the district had amassed a series of witness statements, each containing various levels of hearsay and rumors. Among the evidence, one set of facts was consistent: James had briefly spoken with the other student, a longtime acquaintance, at lunch. As the conversation finished and James walked away, the other student charged at James and attempted to attack him. The other student – not James – had to be restrained by a school security guard. As a result of the encounter, James was suspended and then referred for expulsion. The school took no disciplinary action against the other student.

Grady and Nicole also learned that James had a long history of conflict with the school district and had, perhaps, been unlawfully searched on several occasions. Grady and Nicole also determined that the school district had failed to implement an Individualized Education Program (IEP) for James. Under the IEP, James was legally entitled to accommodations for his specific learning disability. In addition, the district had tried multiple times to suspend or expel James—yet each time, the district was unable to find any evidence supporting an expulsion. It began to look like James was being singled out.

Well-armed with the facts, Grady and Nicole engaged in extensive negotiations with the school district and were able to secure a settlement for their client. Under the terms of the settlement, James is finishing his final coursework in independent study, is participating in his school’s senior year activities, including his Sports Award Ceremony to celebrate his years as a student-athlete, and then, will walk across the stage with all of his peers to receive his high school diploma.

James, who came very close to losing it all, is excited and grateful.


*Names have been changed to protect client confidentiality.

The Religious Liberty Clinic: A Day in the Life

With pleasure, we welcome SLS student Kimberly Larkin (JD ’16) to the MLC blog. Continuing our Day-in-the-Life series, Kimberly shares what one day was like for her as a student attorney in the Religious Liberty Clinic last winter quarter.  

K Larkin8:45 a.m. – I arrive at clinic, coffee in hand. My colleagues and I check email and catch up about our cases. Our docket includes Seventh-day Adventists wanting to abstain from Saturday work without losing their jobs; a Messianic Jewish inmate seeking a kosher meal; and a Muslim community fighting to secure a permit for a mosque.

9:15 a.m. – My partner in one of my cases flags new authority from another court that supports our client’s position. We discuss the new authority with our director and decide to file a short letter alerting the court in our case to it. My partner and I dissect the legal points, assign section drafts, and set a call with the client for later today. Respecting client ownership of the case, we struggle with whether to ask the client now for approval to file the letter. We ultimately decide to send a draft first so that the client can make an informed decision.

10:15 a.m. – On another case, my partner and I field an urgent call from a client worried about the non-legal consequences of proceeding with a lawsuit. We listen and validate the client’s concerns but suggest it might be best to meet in person to discuss further and resolve the dilemma in a manner consistent with the client’s goals. We set an in-person meeting for later in the week. The client is grateful, and we are relieved to be on the same page.

11:00 a.m. – I draft my section of the case update letter, drawing upon the new authority and other relevant case law. My partner and I combine our sections into a draft letter and submit it to our faculty director for review and a joint editing session this afternoon.

12:45 p.m. – While waiting for feedback, I grab lunch from one of the many Stanford food trucks with a friend and take a moment to enjoy the beautiful California weather.

1:30 p.m. – My partner and I join our director to workshop the letter. We put the draft on a projector and discuss line edits, honing our analysis and word choice to make sure we represent the new authority accurately and persuasively. We are mindful of the court’s rules for a short, non-argumentative letter. While watching favorite phrases morph and change through group editing can be painstaking and humbling, the final product is strong and effective.

3:45 p.m. – My partner and I email the draft letter to our client and take a coffee break to recharge before our call.

4:15 p.m. – My partner and I call our client to discuss the letter. We review the draft, answer questions, and solicit changes. The client likes the draft a lot but asks us to include a discussion of further harm that has occurred since the last time we appeared in court. We share in the client’s frustration but explain the court’s rules on the limited, informational purpose of the case-update letter. The client is pleased and authorizes us to file the letter.

5:00 p.m. – My partner and I work together to finalize the letter to the court, incorporating the minor changes requested by our client. With the help of clinic staff, we e-file the letter. We then reflect on today’s work with our director.

6:00 p.m. – I leave the clinic and head for home. I’m a bit tired but pleased to have done critical, hands-on legal work for real clients in dynamic situations.

Religious Liberty Clinic Returns to Ninth Circuit

Continuing their representation of a homeless ministry in Southern California, members of the Religious Liberty Clinic recently participated in a mediation at the Pasadena courthouse of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Clinic students Andrew Lawrence (JD ’15), Kimberly Larkin (JD ’16), Claire Chapla (JD ’16), and Clifford Mpare (JD ’16) led the mediation effort on behalf of their client, under the supervision of director James Sonne and staff attorney Jared Haynie.

Kimberly Larkin leads mediation team.

Kimberly Larkin leads mediation team.

Reflections on the Unjust Influence of Police Reports in the Criminal Justice System

Stanford Criminal Defense Clinic students Maya Perelman (JD ’16) and Jeannie Lieder (JD ’16), supervised by CDC instructors Ron Tyler and Suzanne Luban, recently wrapped up their final case. Below they reflect on their experience navigating the criminal justice system. 

Lieder and PerelmanAnyone who believes that police reports tell the whole story should spend some time on the defense side of the criminal justice system. In each of our clinic’s cases, even the most cursory investigations revealed huge gaps, inconsistencies, and mistakes in the police version of events (a version that, unfortunately, too many prosecutors summarily adopt as the truth).

The inaccuracies are partly a function of police bias and partly the result of insufficient investigation. These sources of error—as well as the government’s failure to acknowledge these errors—can, and often do, have grave consequences for criminal defendants.

Police have clear incentives to avoid liability or self-incrimination, and their reports are inherently one-sided. Often, the police have a checklist of factors indicating guilt. They fill out their reports with the same rote language (sometimes just substituting, or forgetting to substitute, a different person’s name into a previously written report). During our time in clinic, we have seen the identical incriminating language used in multiple police reports, regardless of its relevance to the conduct at issue. In a vandalism case, for example, where the police awakened our client at 7:00 a.m., the officer inserted language straight from a DUI report regarding our client’s “blurry red eyes”—even though the vandalism had occurred the evening before, and alcohol use played no part in the vandalism charge. This police report read much like the DUI police report we encountered in another case.

In our DUI case, we saw how police reports rely on shortcuts over fact-specific investigations. Police DUI investigations employ the Standardized Field Sobriety Test, a battery of three tests administered systematically to evaluate a person’s level of impairment. However, because the results are also standardized, it’s easier for officers to simply check off the factors that could signal impairment without regard to a suspect’s actual performance on the test. In our client’s case, the officer’s report listed several of the go-to factors signaling impairment on field sobriety tests—but these statements were inconsistent with our client’s performance captured in the footage of the traffic stop.  However, tracking down and extracting the footage from the police “dash cam” was not easy, and in the vast majority of cases, judges and prosecutors will never see it. Thus, although our review of the footage in this case helped us secure a better offer for our client, in most cases, the police report is the only “evidence” that the prosecutor and judge will use to determine a client’s sentence.

Other times, the inaccuracy stems not from sloppiness, but from purposeful deception, In another one of our cases, which involved eight police officers surrounding and tasing our client, an unarmed black man, the police had clear incentives to minimize their use of force. To this end, the police report claimed that the taser caused our client no pain and resulted only in a “small abrasion.” Unsurprisingly, our client later revealed that the taser had caused him excruciating pain.

For two of our clients, the failure to thoroughly investigate resulted in unjust charges. In one such case, three drunken intruders broke into our client’s home through his doggy door in the middle of the night. When our client, who’d been sleeping, emerged from his bedroom, he “assaulted” X, one of the intruders, in self-defense. Yet the police accepted at face value X’s later claim that he was our client’s roommate who was simply trying to get back into the house late at night. This was despite the fact that X was listed as having a different address, could never produce a key to the house, was not listed on the lease, was explicitly warned away from our client’s home, and had never paid rent. Based only on X’s self-serving claim noted in the police report, one judge threatened our client with felony charges and told him he was “stupid” for refusing to take a guilty plea. Later on, in front of a different judge, the prosecutor in the case disputed our claim that the intruder was not a roommate by reading directly from the complaining witness’s statement to the police (given a full day after the drunken intrusion took place). He, too, had failed to thoroughly investigate before the pre-trial conference.

Those familiar with rules of evidence may point out that police reports are technically inadmissible at trial. Given this, why does the unreliability of police reports matter? Won’t the true facts be revealed anyway over the course of an adversarial trial, where the defendant gets to present his side of the story and confront the witnesses against him? The short answer is that trial is an unrealistic option for most defendants, and 94% of state cases end in a plea bargain. This phenomenon has many different explanations, including the reality of the “trial penalty,” wherein a prosecutor or judge can exercise his or her discretion to punish a defendant (for example, by adding, increasing, and stacking multiple counts) for refusing to plea. Trial is not only unrealistic because of the trial penalty but because of the uncertainty it presents, the time it takes up, and the fact that many criminal defendants will not, or cannot, take the stand at trial. Some fear having their words distorted.  Others worry that their past “bad acts” will come in and humiliate them. Their fears that they will not be believed are well-founded: most jurors view police officers as more trustworthy, and credit their testimony over that of the accused, presumption of innocence be damned.

Thus, for the vast majority of criminal defendants, the police report represents the sum total of the evidence that will determine their fate: it is the one document that prosecutors will always review in making an offer and the one that defense attorneys will always review in advising a client whether to accept. Under this system, the “presumption of innocence” mantra becomes meaningless; after all, in making an arrest, police don’t have the equivalent obligation to presume innocence—and their judgments continue to taint a court’s view of a defendant long before he ever gets to tell his story.

For further reading on this topic, please see Michelle Alexander’s New York Times article on “Why Police Lie Under Oath.” Find it here.