Home About RSS

SLS Students Represent Client at High-Stakes Hearing

Stanford Immigrant’s Rights Clinic students Matthaeus Weinhardt (JD ’16) and Lindsey Jackson (JD ’16), supervised by IRC director Jayashri Srikantiah, recently represented their client in a hearing in San Francisco Immigration Court. Below they reflect on the experience.  

Our entire quarter was focused on preparing for this hearing. We interviewed our client around seven times to get the details of her story, which is truly horrific. Suffice it to say, she experienced trauma and torture that no human being should ever have to live through. Working through an interpreter, in our MWeinhardt and LJackson after hearing--IRCSp15interviews, we effectively asked our client to relive some of the worst experiences of her life, all in the interest of advocating on her behalf. We reviewed documents from the government, researched particular aspects of immigration law and put together our client’s application for relief (and seven extra copies, as seemingly required).

Before the hearing, we mooted twice, preparing for every possible question or scenario we could think of. We also went to observe hearings held by our judge. Some of what we did may seem like over-preparation, but we felt like the stakes were extraordinarily high, given what our client had been through and what the consequences were, should we fail to secure favorable outcomes.

Disconcerting for us was the fact that on the day of our hearing, there were supposed to be about 30-40 other cases heard, largely unrepresented respondents, but by the time it was our turn, there were only around five parties present—all of whom were represented. This would seem to suggest that dozens of people were missing their hearing, which is particularly concerning since missing a court hearing practically results in automatic deportation. One thing this might indicate is just how important representation is in immigration proceedings (where there generally is no right to counsel). It’s important because immigrants without lawyers have an incredibly hard time putting together a complete, well-researched and persuasive case; but it may also be important for the court, which has an interest in individuals appearing for their court dates.

As for our hearing itself, all went smoothly and we were able to achieve the result we were looking for. The judge seemed to appreciate our preparation and especially the work of our clinic. Our client was pleased and relieved, and afterwards it was great to all get food and drinks at a nearby café and talk about things not directly related to her case. It felt very relaxed and genuine. As we sat together, we couldn’t help but appreciate the ethnic diversity of our group; we all spoke various languages and came from countries spanning three continents, yet we all currently consider the Bay Area home.

Religious Liberty Clinic Students Appear Before EEOC

Last week, Religious Liberty Clinic students Nicole Cambeiro (JD ’16) and Daniel Renz (JD ’16) first-chaired a multi-party, bilingual conciliation NCambiero and DRenz RLC 2015before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in its downtown Los Angeles offices. The students’ work was praised by their clients, the mediator, and opposing counsel. The matter, which involves religious accommodation in employment, is pending. 

Students’ U.S. Supreme Court Brief Sparks Benchmark Ruling

On April 21, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic’s clients in an important preemption case, Oneok Inc. v. Learjet, Inc., 13-271. The case arose from the Western energy crisis about a decade ago, caused in part by a conspiracy in the natural gas industry to manipulate prices. Various entities, such as nonprofit hospitals and educational institutions, that were harmed by the anticompetitive conduct brought state-law antitrust claims. The natural gas companies argued that the claims should be dismissed on the ground that the Natural Gas Act precludes state-law causes of action that deal with subjects also falling within the jurisdiction of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Oneok v. Learjet Stanford legal team (from left to right): Brittany Jones, Gary Dyal, Jenna Williams, Ali Karol

Oneok v. Learjet’s Stanford legal team (from left to right): Brittany Jones, Gary Dyal, Jenna Williams and Ali Karol

Clinic students Ali Karol (JD ’15), Gary Dyal (JD ’15), Jenna Williams (JD ’15), and Brittany Jones (JD ’16) researched and wrote a terrific brief arguing that the state-law claims should go forward. The students then helped clinic co-director Jeff Fisher, prepare to argue the case and traveled with him to Washington, D.C. for the argument itself. The Court’s opinion – written by Justice Breyer and joined by Justices across the Court’s ideological spectrum – closely tracked the students’ brief and promises to be a significant touchstone for years to come. ◊

SLS Students Win Dismissal Mid-Trial For Innocent Bystander in Police Use of Force Case

Stanford Criminal Defense Clinic students Ashley Williams (JD ’16) and Taylor Davidson (JD ’16), under the supervision of supervising attorney Suzanne Luban, won full dismissal for an innocent client in the middle of a trial in Santa Clara County Superior Court earlier this week on Tuesday, May 12.

AWilliams, TDavidson & SLuban in Court 5-12-15

Taylor Davidson, Ashley Williams, and Suzanne Luban debrief during trial

The client, an African-American small business owner, was arrested on October 31, 2014 outside a local bar while bearing witness to the use of force by police against his friend who had been resisting security guards and police officers inside the bar. The client’s companion was handcuffed, arrested, and punched in the rib. Then, he was taken outside and across the street to a police squad car. The client followed his friend and the police outside. From 25 feet away, he asked his companion for his mother’s phone number so he could tell her about her son’s plight. The police claimed that the client was delaying their work and they arrested him.

The client was handcuffed and detained in a squad car for 45 minutes. After his release, he began filming police conduct towards his friend, who was still on the scene. As captured on the video footage, the client’s friend was taken out of a police car, stood up by four police officers, and punched in the stomach. The officers then slammed his head into the side of a police car.

The clinic’s client was charged with resisting, obstructing, and delaying a police officer under California Penal Code Section 148(a)(1). He asserted his innocence from the start, and turned down multiple plea deal offers from the district attorney. Ultimately, he insisted on a trial by jury.

After a readiness conference, both defense and prosecution submitted motions in limine on Friday, May, 8. Ashley and Taylor prepared opening and closing statements, six cross examinations, and two direct examinations in preparation for the trial. They conducted a three-week long investigation and brought several exhibits to court for use in the trial.

The trial began and motions in limine were argued on Monday, May 11. Though the judge excluded the video evidence of police brutality from testimony, Ashley and Taylor won several important motions – including exclusion of their client’s prior convictions and an order from the judge mandating the prosecutor to turn over evidence of a use of force investigation that had been conducted in the case.

Ashley and Taylor showed the prosecutor enlarged photos of the scene outside the bar that were intended to be used in evidence. They also provided a list of witnesses who were prepared to corroborate their client’s testimony. A few hours after the argument on motions in limine, the prosecutor dismissed the case.

Taylor and Ashley were assisted by their six Criminal Defense Clinic classmates and both instructors, who provided invaluable support in preparation. The client, who has four children and is planning to get married in June, was overjoyed. He can return to his drywall business without fear of a criminal conviction. He was fully exonerated in a case of police wrongdoing.

Youth and Education Law Project: A Day in the Life

Please join me in welcoming Rylee Sommers-Flanagan (JD ’16) as a guest MLC blogger. As a student attorney in the Youth and Education Law Project (“YELP”) last quarter, Rylee details one particular day in her life in the clinical program — and happens to cover a case we highlighted in a recent post

All names have been changed to protect client identities and confidentiality.

Rylee Sommers-Flanagan (JD ’16)

Rylee Sommers-Flanagan (JD ’16)

It was early in the quarter and my clinic partner, Holly Mariella (JD ’16) , and I were reviewing documents for our first case. Our clients were a fourteen-year-old boy, A., and M., his mother.  A. was eligible for special education because he had ADHD, and he had recently been recommended for expulsion because he had a brief physical altercation with another student during his lunch period.  Before doing anything else, we needed to go through the documents recently produced by his school and see what was happening with A.

We didn’t get far before I looked up and said, “Holly, read this. I think we need to get Carly [Munson] (Clinical Supervising Attorney).”  Only a few pages into a 400-page document production, there was an email from a school district administrator saying to school staff that she wished she could just place our client in a non-public school.

This is significant because our client was desperately in need of more behavioral interventions than he’d been receiving.  It was the quintessential smoking gun: The District admitted in writing that our client needed and deserved what we were about to ask for.

We spent many more hours reviewing the documents in A.’s case, but we knew we would need to reach out to our opposing counsel soon because A. had an expulsion hearing scheduled and we were seeing legal violations throughout the documentation.  It was exciting, to say the least.

Meanwhile, for my other case, I was working with fellow clinic student Emma Kleiner (JD ’16) to schedule a meeting with our clients.  We called and arranged a meeting for later in the week.

After that, I needed to figure out what a manifestation determination was – it’s a proceeding to determine whether a special education student’s behavior is a manifestation of his/her disability.  We also needed to understand the rules around suspending special education students, which are specific and detailed.  Finally, we needed to prepare for a phone call with our opposing counsel to schedule an individualized education plan (“IEP”) meeting before the expulsion hearing and within the statutory timeline.

To prepare for this, we mooted the conversation with our supervisors, YELP Clinical Director Bill [Koski] and Carly.  This was terrifying because when Bill moots phone calls he turns his back to you and then Carly watches while you and your partner fumble around, trying to handle being two people on the phone and potentially an adversarial conversation.  Of course, it’s also always a much more challenging conversation in moot because Bill and Carly both play the extreme version of any scenario. In any case, we mooted the call four times.

Later that afternoon, when we actually called our opposing counsel, there was no answer. When she called back, the conversation lasted less than a minute, but maybe because we were prepared.  She asked what our client was hoping to accomplish at the IEP meeting and we calmly told her that we really couldn’t discuss it then, but we would love to hear her client’s ideas.  She was quick to respond in kind.


Interested in learning more about the Youth and Education Law Project?  Check out the YELP website for details. 

Dinner and Details: Recap of Annual Clinic Information Event

Clinic Dinner and Information Session, May 6, 2015 (photo courtesy: Marco Zecchin)

Clinic Dinner and Information Session, May 6, 2015 (photo courtesy: Marco Zecchin)

It was a full house at the clinic Annual Dinner and Information Session last Wednesday! SLS students, clinic faculty and staff gathered to talk about 2015-16 clinical opportunities and the value clinical education brings to a future career in law. In addition to Clinic Director Juliet Brodie, students got advice from guest speakers, Dean Liz Magill, Professor Jenny Martinez and special guest speaker Fred Alvarez of Jones Day. Other highlights included an entertaining introduction of clinic instructors by Professor Ron Tyler (as only he can do), an announcement of registration dates (applications will be accepted online June 8-18), and a Q&A session.

SLS students: if you missed the event, there are several ways to learn more:

–check out the clinic web page for all details including the clinic grid
contact any clinic instructor, clinic director Juliet Brodie, or me
subscribe and read up on our work on this blog
–watch the clinic video (link coming soon)
–and, stay tuned to your email for an announcement opening registration

Fred Alvarez (photo: Marco Zechhin)

Fred Alvarez (photo: Marco Zecchin)

A special thanks goes to Fred Alvarez, Jenny Martinez and Dean Magill for their contributions—and to all of the wonderful SLS students in attendance! We look forward to talking with you and answering any questions as you consider clinical opportunities next year. Please be in touch!

Clinic Students Attain Wonderful Results for a Youth and Education Law Project Client

Rylee Sommers-Flanagan (JD '16) and Holly Mariella (JD '16)

Rylee Sommers-Flanagan and Holly Mariella

Last quarter’s Youth and Education Law Project (“YELP”) celebrated a wonderful victory with their fourteen-year-old client, A.R., and his family.  YELP students Holly Mariella (JD ’16) and Rylee Sommers-Flanagan (JD ’16) took on A.R.’s intertwined expulsion and special education cases and worked hard to reach an outstanding outcome: A.R.’s school district agreed both to drop a pending expulsion case and to place A.R. in a small special education school with robust behavior supports.

A.R. is a ninth grader in special education.  He has ADHD and has struggled with extreme behavioral problems in the school environment, including talking back to teachers, skipping classes, and a general difficulty with impulse control, for many years.  By December of his ninth-grade year, he had already been suspended for more than 20 days and was facing a recommendation for expulsion from his school district.  Expulsion in ninth grade would have been catastrophic for this young man.

This wasn’t an easy case.  Although it was initially apparent that there were some legal levers, for example the school district had suspended A.R. for more days than the law permits, none of those levers alone had the kind of weight needed to stop A.R.’s expulsion, let alone secure him a more appropriate special education placement.

Holly and Rylee had to do the footwork required in direct services lawyering – in-depth factual investigation and analysis, difficult client interviewing and counseling, and ultimately creative and collaborative problem-solving – to reach this outstanding outcome.  In particular, this case taught Holly and Rylee first-hand the value of knowing “the facts” inside and out and the importance of building and understanding relationships in lawyering.

Unlike legal casebooks might inadvertently suggest, “the facts” do not come neatly prepackaged and analyzed in the first few paragraphs of an appellate decision.  On the ground, “facts” are messy and subject to an infinite number of interpretations.  It was Holly and Rylee’s in-depth review of A.R.’s voluminous school record that uncovered the few critical documents that changed the game completely in A.R.’s case.  Without this field work and development of “the facts,” A.R. would probably be serving a year-long expulsion right now rather than attending his new special education school full-time and getting back on track to graduate in three years.

A.R. is determined to use this opportunity to learn to manage his behaviors so that he can return to his local high school in the future.  If he is successful, Holly and Rylee will have helped to change the course of this young man’s life.  Rather than ending up in juvenile hall in the near future (and perhaps remaining in the system for years to come – another victim of the school-to-prison pipeline that pulls in many of our local low-income youth of color), A.R. now has the chance to finish and graduate from high school with a diploma and then choose any education or career path.

His mother has been tearful with gratitude for the changes she is seeing and her new-found relief and hope.  YELP wishes A.R. and his family continued success at school in the coming years!

Juelsgaard IP and Innovation Clinic: A Day in the Life

Please join me in welcoming Brian Weissenberg (JD ’16) as a guest MLC blogger. As a student attorney in the Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic last quarter and as a current participant in the Advanced Clinic, Brian shares details of one particular day in his life in the clinical program. 

BWeissenberg, JDollin JIPIC

Brian Weissenberg (JD ’16) and Joe Dollin (LLM ’16) at work with supervising attorney Jef Pearlman.

9:00 a.m. — I prepare for three client calls to discuss, among other things, the adverse impact that the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (17 U.S.C. § 1201) has had on their ability to “unlock” used cell phones for use by consumers. Specifically, accessing your phone’s underlying software to unlock the phone for use on another mobile carrier is a potential violation of the anti-circumvention provisions of Section 1201, so our clients (recyclers of used phones) need a specific exemption from the Copyright Office in its triennial rulemaking to be able to make unlocked phones available to customers in the market. Our comment seeking this exemption, which I’ve been working on for the last several weeks, is due in four days, so it’s critical that we get these last bits of evidence.

10:00 a.m. —  We have three client calls back-to-back-to-back. We gain some useful evidence, particularly a powerful story about how the DMCA cost a particular company hundreds of thousands of dollars on a single deal because it was no longer able to unlock the phones it lawfully acquired. In an ideal world we’d have more of these stories in our comment, but there are some business sensitivities that limit how much some companies feel they are able to go public with such concerns. Even though I know our comment could be stronger with more stories, I learn that protecting the client’s interests sometimes means not using every helpful bit of information in the actual work product.

12:30 p.m. — I take a lunch break and decompress by watching a bit of TV at home. The rest of the day will involve legal research, so I try to reset my mind. Re-watching an episode of Firefly is good for that.

1:30 p.m. — I conduct some final legal research on whether an owner of a mobile phone is also the legal owner of the copy of the software within the phone (not to be confused with the copyright in the software itself!). The Copyright Office appears very interested in this argument, because if the phone owner also owns the underlying software copy, the owner may be legally allowed to unlock the phone pursuant to 17 U.S.C. § 117 (which allows software copy owners the ability to modify their software under certain circumstances). Trouble is, there is a major circuit split on the issue of software ownership, and I need to make the case to the Copyright Office that the case law justifies it coming out in our client’s favor under either framework.

Curveball: We just decided that I also need to develop the argument that unlocking a mobile phone is a fair use under 17 U.S.C. § 107, and I have three days to do it. To our knowledge no one has properly articulated this argument to the Copyright Office before our comment. No big deal.

3:30 p.m. — I meet with Joe Dollin, my partner on the project, to discuss our daily progress and next steps. These meetings are key to keep us both on track, since we only had about four weeks to conceptualize and write two very complex, 25-page comments.

5:30 p.m. — I go home for dinner and start thinking about the fair use argument in the abstract. It hits me that this is just like prepping for an exam. Only this time consumers’ access to technology, and people’s livelihoods, are potentially at stake.


Interested in learning more about the Juelsgaard IP & Innovation Clinic?  Check out the clinic website

The International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic goes to the Inter-American Court

The International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic (IHRCRC) engages in advocacy in partnership with individual victims and potential victims of rights abuse, as well as with communities and human rights organizations. The clinic also focuses on use of international mechanisms for promotion of human rights–as featured in the blog below written by IHRCRC student Nari Ely (JD ’16). Nari shares her clinic work experience contributing to cases for the Inter-American Human Rights Commission. She and fellow student Enrique Molina (JD ’16) attended the hearings of the Inter-American Court of  Human Rights last week. 

IAHRCHuman Rights en vivoThere are very few places in the world where a lawyer can engage in human rights advocacy and hope to have an impact. Last week, I was lucky enough to go to one such place: the 52nd extraordinary session of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.  Fellow 2L Enrique Molina and I joined Professor James Cavallaro in Cartagena, Colombia to assist the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in its work before the Inter-American Court.

The Inter-American Commission decides cases of human rights violations by member states under a number of regional instruments in the first instance and refers cases to the Court when the defendant state has not complied with the Commission’s recommendations.  The Inter-American Court has the power to order monetary and equitable relief against member states that have submitted to its contentious jurisdiction generally, or specifically for a given case.  All but two of the 25 states that have ratified the American Convention have submitted to the Court’s general contentious jurisdiction.

Prof. Cavallaro in discussion with Kerry Kennedy and the other representatives for Velásquez Paiz from the RFK Foundation after oral argument.

Prof. Cavallaro in discussion with Kerry Kennedy and the other representatives for Velásquez Paiz from the RFK Foundation after oral argument.

Prof. Cavallaro (director of the IHRCR Clinic) is one of seven elected Commissioners on the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  Alongside two Commission staff lawyers, he represented the Commission for the final oral arguments of two cases in the 52nd extraordinary session: Velásquez Paiz v. Guatemala and Ruano Torres v. El Salvador.  Enrique and I assisted the Commission as it prepared for both cases.  Incredibly – to me, at least – not only were we tasked with critical legal research and analysis (we used Lexis!), but the results of our analysis helped guide the Commission’s litigation strategy as we went into court.

In Velásquez Paiz v. Guatemala, the father of a young victim of femicide filed a petition with the Commission against the state of Guatemala.  The Commission ruled that Guatemala had violated the victim’s rights under Articles 1, 4, 8, and 25 of the American Convention on Human Rights and the Convention of Belém do Pará and forwarded the case to the Court. (Adopted in 1994, the Convention of Belém do Pará is also known as the Inter-American Convention on the Prevention, Punishment, and Eradication of Violence Against Women.) Guided by the research and analysis Enrique and I produced, the Commission opted to pursue a litigation strategy that included not only the failure of the duty to investigate, but also asked the Court to clarify its jurisprudence on the duty to prevent.  In particular, the Commission sought to persuade the Court to apply more clearly the standard first
articulated in Pueblo Vello v. Colombia (2006).  This standard evaluated the state’s obligation to actbased on what it knew, or reasonably should have known, at the time that the state became aware of the threat (in this case, the parents’ report of their daughter’s disappearance).

The State of El Salvador (left), the Commission (center), and the Victim's Representatives (right), just before the final oral argument in Ruano Torres v. El Salvador.

The State of El Salvador (left), the Commission (center), and the Victim’s Representatives (right), just before the final oral argument in Ruano Torres v. El Salvador.

In Ruano Torres v. El Salvador, the cousin of a man who had spent 14 years in prison filed a petition with the Commission against the state of El Salvador.  The Commission ruled that El Salvador had violated the victim’s right to a fair trial under Article 8 of the American Convention, resulting in a wrongful conviction.  As in the Guatemala Case, our work supported the Commission’s decision to ardently pursue the failure to provide the victim with effective assistance of counsel in the El Salvador case, in addition to the violation of the victim’s presumption of innocence.  The precedential value of this argument was, from my perspective, extraordinary.  This was especially so because, to our surprise, the state of El Salvador conceded the case in full, leaving it up to the Court to determine precisely why and how it will find for the victim against the state.

I will close this account with the experience of being in the Court itself.  First, an extraordinary session of the Inter-American Court – a session held outside the Court’s usual seat in San José, Costa Rica – bears little resemblance to a session of the US Supreme Court.  While both carry the necessary hallmarks of decorum and gravitas, the latter meets in a small room while the former, when it is abroad, meets in convention halls or university auditoriums, usually filled to capacity.  This was certainly true last week, where the crowd behind us at one point numbered over a thousand, with many times that on a waiting list.  A large portion of the observers were Colombian law students, who are required to learn the jurisprudence of the Inter-American Court as much as that of their own national courts – the precedent of the Inter-American Court is binding in Colombia and many other member states.

Commission staff attorney Erik Acuña (left), Prof. Cavallaro (center) and Enrique Molina (right), just before final oral argument in Velásquez Paiz v. Guatemala.

Commission staff attorney Erik Acuña (left), Prof. Cavallaro (center) and Enrique Molina (right), just before final oral argument in Velásquez Paiz v. Guatemala.

Second, participating in a session of the Court demonstrated to me the potential power of international human rights bodies.  Enrique and I observed four different states (including two additional cases involving Chile and Ecuador) argue their defenses before the Court.  While the level of respect for the Court’s judgments varies from state to state, all the state delegations emphasized the steps they had taken to comply with international human rights law, and two – El Salvador and Chile – took great pains to express their esteem for the Inter-American system.  This stood in stark contrast in my mind to the general attitude towards such bodies in the US.  By way of illustration, the US has yet to ratify the American Convention, among other international human rights instruments).

Finally, I cannot conclude without expressing my personal gratitude to Professor Cavallaro, the Mills Legal Clinic, and the Commission itself for the opportunity to support the Commission at court.  It is a rare chance indeed for a law student to experience and participate in meaningful human rights advocacy, and, last week, Enrique and I were part of the team.  Not only did our work contribute to the Commission’s legal strategy in both cases, but the Court itself took a vocal interest in the analysis that we produced.  During oral argument, the judges asked questions that indicated their interest in developing the jurisprudence the Commission argued.  For example, during argument in Ruano Torres v. El Salvador, one judge pondered whether the right to effective assistance of counsel should apply to privately retained as well as state-appointed counsel, and asked the Commission to respond to this question in its final written submissions – on which Enrique and I continue to work.  In this way, we are contributing to the development of Inter-American jurisprudence in real time.

Representatives of Velásquez Paiz, Commission staff attorneys Jorge Humberto and Silvia Serrano, Prof. Cavallaro, and, on the far right, your correspondent and Enrique Molina.

Representatives of Velásquez Paiz, Commission staff attorneys Jorge Humberto and Silvia Serrano, Prof. Cavallaro, and, on the far right, your correspondent and Enrique Molina.

Clinic Dinner and Information Session–Wednesday, May 6 at 6:00 p.m.

All SLS 1L, 2L and advanced degree students are invited to the Clinic Dinner and Information Session this evening at 6:00. Come for dinner and learn how experience as a student attorney in the clinical program can support your law school and career goals!

Wednesday, May 6  –  6:00 p.m.  –  Crocker Garden/Law Lounge

flyer 5-6-15