In the first Social Security Income hearing of the quarter, Community Law Clinic students Sabrina Forte ’14 and Cody Venzke ’15 won a favorable bench decision for their client. At the hearing, the Administrative Law Judge found that the client had severe impairments stemming from a 1991 trauma and that these impairments prevented her from working full-time. The Judge based her decision on the clinic’s hearing brief and medical records that Cody and Sabrina obtained in the weeks prior to the hearing. As a result of their victory, their client will receive nearly two years of benefits dating from May 2012, ongoing monthly supplemental income payments, and Medicaid coverage.
Earlier this quarter, the Environmental Law Clinic team of students, faculty and staff appeared in Marin County Superior Court for a hearing in a case the clinic and it’s co-counsel brought on behalf of SPAWN (Salmon Protection and Watershed Network). The case challenges Marin County’s zoning plan, which would allow increased development in the Lagunitas Creek watershed–the best remaining habitat for the imperiled Central Coast coho salmon.
As pictured here, the clinic took an opportunity to visit Lagunitas Creek after the hearing to learn more about the salmon and their habitat.
Congratulations to the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic and Professor Jayashri Srikantiah, recipients of the CLAY (California Lawyer Attorney of the Year) award from California Lawyer magazine! Along with others, the IRC is being recognized for its work establishing rights to bond release hearings for immigrants detained for more than six months. With the ACLU, the IRC has been litigating the prolonged detention issue in the Ninth Circuit for many years, through individual cases as well as Rodriguez v. Robbins, a long-standing class action suit for which the U.S. District Court issued a summary judgment ruling last summer requiring automatic bond hearings as soon as immigrants reach six months of detention. Many terrific students have worked on this project over the years, including Michael Kaufman (JD ’07), who has now gone on to work at the ACLU as a lawyer on Rodriguez.
The Supreme Court Litigation Clinic experienced a fabulous fall quarter under the supervision of Professor Pam Karlan and Clinic instructor Kevin Russell, with logistical support from Joanne Newman. Below are a few highlights of student work and experiences this past quarter.
Students, Lydia Gray, ‘15, Andrew Noll, ’14, and Kyle Rifkind, ’14 represented the Paraprofessional Health Institute as amicus curiae in support of the respondents in Harris v. Quinn, a case involving the question whether Illinois can offer collective bargaining to home healthcare workers in its Medicaid program and require objecting workers to pay an agency fee if they choose not to join the union. The Clinic’s brief offered information to the Court about the nature of the home healthcare workforce and the difficulties states face in finding, recruiting, and retaining a skilled workforce.
In Air Wisconsin v. Hoeper, a merits case argued in November by Clinic instructor Kevin Russell, the Clinic represents the respondent, Bill Hoeper. Clinic students Elizabeth Schmitz-Robinson, ’14, Lydia Gray, ’15, Andrew Noll, ’14, and Kyle Rifkind, ’14 were responsible for crafting the respondent’s merits brief in this case concerning a provision of the Aviation and Transportation Security Act that protects airline employees who report security issues to the TSA. The Clinic’s client, an airline pilot, successfully sued his employer after another employee made a damaging and inaccurate report about him. The Clinic also worked with Mr. Hoeper’s trial and appellate counsel Scott McGrath and Jason Rietz, attorneys from Denver, Colorado. Hoeper was the first case in which a Clinic alumnus appeared on the other side: Eric Feigin ’05, now an assistant to the Solicitor General, argued as an amicus on behalf of the United States.
In its representation of the petitioner in Hoagland v. Ada County, the Clinic’s client brought a section 1983 suit against the county and several county officials after her son, who was mentally ill, committed suicide in the county jail. She alleged he has unconstitutionally been denied medical care. The Idaho Supreme Court held that Idaho’s common law abatement rule meant that section 1983 suits involving fatal constitutional violations are barred. The Clinic team of Daniel Kuo, ’14, Sal Bonaccorso, ’15, Ali Karol, ’15, and Kerrel Murray, ’14, prepared the cert petition, working with Professor Pam Karlan and Ms. Hoagland’s lawyer, Darwin Overson.
The Clinic often conducts moots for lawyers arguing cases before the Court. This Fall, in addition to mooting cases argued by Professor Jeff Fisher and Clinic instructor Kevin Russell, we mooted our first clinic alumnus, Jameson Jones ’07.
Although not active during the Fall 2013 quarter, the Youth and Education Law Project (“YELP”) nonetheless celebrated a great victory in a momentous ruling from the California Supreme Court, the benefits of which will extend to eligible children state-wide.
In August 2012, YELP submitted an amicus brief to the California Supreme Court on behalf of a statewide coalition of advocacy organizations that represent low-income and traditionally under-served families in special education matters under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”). The case, Los Angeles Unified School District v. Michael Garcia, concerned which local education agency should be held responsible for providing special education to eligible students detained in county jails under California law. Although there has long been agreement that these students are entitled to receive special education services, the question of agency responsibility has been hotly contested. Amici curiae argued that existing California laws provided a clear, concise, and bright-line rule that a student’s school district of residence remains responsible for providing and/or funding special education services for that student while he or she is detained in a county jail. Amici curiae further urged the Court to reject the school district’s position that an unwritten exception to this general rule exists because of alleged unworkable results.
On December 12, 2013, the California Supreme Court issued a unanimous landmark decision that, as amici had argued, the school district in which a student’s parent resides is responsible for providing special education services to that student while he or she is detained in a county jail pursuant to California Education Code section 56041. This decision will have a huge impact across California as it is the first time that any court has clearly established a responsible public agency for providing and/or funding special education services to this particularly vulnerable and disenfranchised population of students. In addition, now that this question of law has been settled, the corresponding class action that has been pending in the Central District Court since 2009 will be allowed to move forward. The class action suit seeks to remedy the local school district’s longstanding failure to provide any services to any eligible student detained in Los Angeles County Jails. YELP Clinical Supervising Attorney, Carly Munson, was counsel of record on both matters before joining YELP in 2010 and authored the coalition’s amicus brief.
This past fall, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument in a Supreme Court Litigation Clinic case, Fernandez v. California. In this case, the police came to the home of Clinic client Walter Fernandez to investigate suspicions of his involvement in a robbery. He objected to any search of his home without a warrant. The police then arrested him, took him away, and conducted a warrantless search anyway, relying on the consent of his girlfriend, who remained in the dwelling. In an earlier case Georgia v. Randolph (2006) (incidentally, one of the Clinic’s first successes) the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the police from conducting a search of a home based upon the consent of one resident when another resident is present and objects to the search. The issue presented in Fernandez v. California is whether the same prohibition holds when the police arrest and remove the objecting resident from the premises before obtaining consent from the other resident.
The State of California, backed by the federal government, argued that Randolph no longer applies as soon as the objector is no longer physically present. The Clinic countered on behalf of Mr. Fernandez that physical presence is not the talisman the State makes it out to be. Once a tenant invokes his right to privacy in his home, the police should honor that invocation unless and until they believe that the objector has changed his mind.
Professor Jeff Fisher, co-director of the Clinic conducted oral argument in this case on November 13, 2013, which was attended by the seven students who helped put together the Clinic’s briefs: Neil Sawhney, ’14; Sal Bonaccorso, ’15; Lydia Gray, ’15; Ali Karol, ’15; Kerrel Murray, ’14; Andrew Noll, ’14; and Kyle Rifkind, ’14.
Professor Fisher’s opening remarks to the Court summarize the Clinic’s argument: “The doctrine of third-party consent is best understood as establishing a rebuttable presumption. When the police arrive at a house at which multiple people live, they can assume, according to social custom, that if one person grants consent to enter, that person is speaking for everybody who lives in the dwelling. But when somebody is present and tells the police officer that he refuses consent, that presumption is reversed. Then when the police full well know that one person doesn’t have a delegated authority to speak for the others, they must respect the objection. And a failure to do so violates the Fourth Amendment.”
Jeff had several lively exchanges with the Justices while arguing on behalf of Mr. Fernandez. A full copy of the transcript can be found here. For a recap of the argument, please see Rory Little’s summary appearing in the SCOTUS Blog.
Students in the Criminal Defense Clinic ended a strong Fall Quarter with successful resolution of many clients’ cases. For those cases carrying over into the current term, several students have returned to the Advanced Clinic course for the opportunity to continue their work. Connie Dang (’15) and Krisina Zuniga (’15) are two such students who will represent and defend their client against claims of driving under the influence and causing hit and run property damage at trial scheduled January 27, 2014. As it so happens, trial is set on that same day in another clinic case–this one with Matt Henry (’15) and Snayha Nath (’15) at the helm to defend their client against charges of battery. While trials offer wonderful experience for clinic students, there is just as much value in the work leading up to it. This work might call upon students to conduct witness interviews, research and develop facts, enter into discovery and motion practice, and develop and use skills in negotiation. The Criminal Defense Clinic is instructed by Professor Ron Tyler and Clinical Supervising Attorney, Galia Phillips.
Community Law Clinic students, Hamida Owusu (’14), Corinne Keel (’14), Patrick Vergara (’14) and Lara Tumeh (’14) all represented clients in expungement matters this past fall quarter. Their work involved drafting motions, including writing declarations and collecting supporting exhibits, as well as representing their clients in both Santa Clara County and San Mateo County criminal courts.
They achieved fantastic results, successfully expunging several convictions from their clients’ records. As a result of their work, the clinic’s clients have an extraordinary opportunity to move on with their lives, gain or maintain employment, and put their history with the criminal justice system behind them.
Both Hamida and Corinne are pictured here in San Mateo County Superior Court.
Before finishing up the fall quarter, Religious Liberty Clinic advanced students Paul Harold ’14, Courtney Quiros, ’14, Afua Adjei, ’14, successfully filed a civil rights complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of an incarcerated Muslim client seeking to wear a religious head-covering (a kufi) while behind bars. The students sued Ironwood State Prison (Blythe, CA) and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation under the First Amendment and federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, alleging their client was unlawfully burdened in his religious expression.
Courtney and Paul also recently filed a brief in another action, this one an appeal to the Ventura City Council on behalf of Harbor Community Church, a neighborhood worship community facing zoning challenges in its ministry to the poor and homeless.
International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic (IHRCRC) students, Swain Uber, ’15, and Michael Frenkel, ’15, and Clinic Director, Professor James Cavallaro, appeared at a Canadian immigration board hearing on Wednesday, December 4, 2013. Michael shares background on the case and experience.
A week before the Thanksgiving break, our clinic director, Professor James Cavallaro, received an email from a Canadian attorney. She asked him to provide an expert declaration in the case of “Sal,” a young man from El Salvador seeking asylum in Canada.
A few years ago, Professor Cavallaro had helped to research and write the definitive study of gang violence in El Salvador, No Place to Hide: Gang, State, and Clandestine Violence in El Salvador. Since then, immigration lawyers representing Salvadoran clients have sought him out for his expertise on country conditions in El Salvador. Professor Cavallaro has written and testified in numerous asylum and refugee cases where the claims were impacted by the El Salvador’s pervasive gang violence.
Sal’s story was particularly moving. The young man had fled El Salvador several years ago after resisting a gang’s violent recruitment efforts. He had already experienced life-threatening reprisal for his refusal to join the gang and feared that a return to the country would make him a target once again.
The IHRCRC was already familiar with Sal’s case; Professor Cavallaro had previously filed two affidavits in this very matter, one of which was prepared by Swain and Nikki Marquez, ‘15. The first affidavit was a general observation about the dangers that a young man would face if he were to return to El Salvador after having rebuffed a gang’s efforts to recruit him. The second declaration was written to update the record with information about the impact of a major gang truce that had been made in El Salvador in March 2013. Swain and Nikki researched crime statistics and Salvadoran news media sources and discovered that Sal would continue to face a serious threat, even in the post-truce environment.
Now, Sal’s attorney reported that the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) board member was seeking additional information about the nature of the risk that a young man of Sal’s age would face in El Salvador. Swain and I researched the details of recent reprisal killings reported by the Salvadoran press and found an alarming number of incidents in which gangs had acted on their threats to kill young men who had refused to join. We compiled this research and assisted Professor Cavallaro in composing an updated declaration.
A few days after submitting the affidavit and speaking with Sal’s attorney about the various ways in which the IHRCRC could support the case, Professor Cavallaro was invited to answer the board member’s questions in person. We joined him on his trip to Canada in order to help him prepare for his testimony and to conduct ad hoc research tasks.
At the hearing on Wednesday, December 4th, the board member spent approximately an hour asking probing questions about the conditions in El Salvador and the nature of the threats that Sal would face if he were to return. As soon as Professor Cavallaro had responded to each of these questions, the board member abruptly announced that he was going to make his decision then and there. Everyone in the room was confused — earlier that morning, the board member had told Sal’s attorney that he would not be reaching a final verdict that day.
As they waited for the board member’s decision, the three of us prepared ourselves for the worst. But we were relieved to see that Sal’s attorney did not appear anxious. Well-versed in Canadian asylum procedure, she knew (unlike us) that no board member would make a negative decision without first giving her the chance to examine her own witness.
Once the board member finished going through each of the grounds and necessary criteria for successful asylum claims, he closed his book and looked to Sal, issuing his decision. With a smile on his face, he addressed Sal directly: “Welcome to Canada.”