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Mills Legal Clinic of Stanford Law School
Mills Legal Clinic of Stanford Law School

News from the Community Law Clinic

Students and supervisors at the Community Law Clinic have been involved in outstanding work this past Fall quarter, as reflected in the examples below.  The focus of this clinic is individual service-oriented litigation on behalf of low-income people living and working in the communities surrounding the law school.  In the past year or so, the practice has been profoundly affected by the housing crisis, as many of the clinic’s eviction defense cases now arise in the context of a pending or recent foreclosure. 

Housing

Jen Cain (JD/MBA ’11) and Jacques Ntomne (’12) represented a tenant whose post-foreclosure rights were violated by the major lender that had acquired her rental unit.  Using a device in the California eviction statute that enables owners to serve “unknown occupants” in an eviction case, the lender-plaintiff filed an eviction lawsuit against all occupants of the home, without naming the clinic’s client.  This lawsuit was filed seven days after service of a termination notice.  Under the new federal Protecting Tenants At Foreclosure Act, however, bona fide tenants are entitled to 90 days’ notice of termination, and can be sued for eviction only upon expiration of that period.  The client, who needs all of her 90 days to find replacement housing, was extremely concerned about the prospect of an eviction judgment.  Jen and Jacques filed an answer on the client’s behalf, and swiftly served the plaintiff with considerable discovery along with a letter explaining that the lender was on actual and constructive notice that a tenant was occupying the home, and that a minimally diligent investigation into occupancy of the house would have quickly revealed her possession, rendering the lawsuit legally deficient and premature.  After dismissing Jen and Jacques summarily by phone, upon receiving the discovery and letter, the plaintiff’s counsel responded immediately, agreeing to dismiss the lawsuit in its entirety. 

Jess Ou (’11) and Laura Heiman (’11)  filed a successful motion to strike an eviction complaint on the basis that the complaint was not verified in accordance with governing statute. Plaintiff-landlord was ordered to file an amended complaint, but again failed to verify it properly.  The students filed a second successful motion to strike. Jess and Laura thereby obtained additional time for their client to vacate, and the landlord eventually agreed to waive past rent and dismiss the case when the client moved out.

Julia Cherlow (’12) and Maureen Keffer (’11) also secured the dismissal of an eviction lawsuit with a successful dispositive motion.  In this case, the pro se plaintiff dismissed the case.  Julia and Maureen were then able to educate the client on her rights to a habitable home, and to assist her in having the home inspected by a county health inspector.  The inspector found numerous violations of the housing code, and the law students negotiated a departure date for the tenant, waiver of rent, and financial compensation for some of the back rent that the client had paid for the violating home.

Noah Sullivan (’11) represented a married couple whose landlord sent them an official notice that she (the owner) was facing foreclosure.  The clients stopped paying rent to her, fearful that she was no longer entitled to it, and then were served with an eviction action for nonpayment of rent.  Noah negotiated dismissal of that lawsuit in exchange for payment of the back rent. The agreement also required the landlord to make necessary repairs, and entitled the tenants prospectively to rent abatement if those repairs were not made on the agreed schedule.

Libbey Van Pelt (’11) and Jen Cain (JD/MBA ’11) represented a woman whose Section 8 housing subsidy was terminated by the Housing Authority on the ground that she had failed to live up to an agreement to make monthly payments to re-pay the HA for an overpayment her household had received in the year prior.  Libbey and Jen represented the client at the informal hearing, which involved direct examination of their client, cross-examinations of the housing authority witnesses, and closing argument.  They explained to the hearing examiner that their client did not dispute the fact of missed payments, but that the circumstances of the repayment agreement and its breach should persuade him to exercise his discretion and reinstate the client’s subsidy.  They argued that the housing authority had not given sufficient notice and time to the client for her realistically to come current, and that her English-language skills were sufficiently limited that her comprehension of the agreement and consequences for its breach were in doubt.  The hearing examiner’s written decision tracks the students’ arguments very closely and the client was thrilled with the reinstatement. 

Expungement

Libbey Van Pelt (’11) successfully represented a client in San Mateo County Superior Court on an expungement matter.  Libbey’s client approached the clinic because he wanted to expunge his misdemeanor convictions to be more attractive to prospective employers.  He had a pending job offer contingent on clearing up his criminal record and was eager to re-enter the work force after a sustained absence.  Libbey drafted two expungement motions in the case, as well as drafted her client’s declaration.  Libbey also collected important documentation in support of her motions.  During oral argument the judge complimented Libbey on the quality of her work and granted the requested expungement relief.   Just days after the motions were granted, Libbey’s client was offered a job in his field of expertise and he thanked the clinic for helping him “start his second life.”

Julia Cherlow (’12) was successful in expunging her client’s misdemeanor record and as a direct result, her client was able to secure employment shortly after the conclusion of the case.  Julia filed her motion (and accompanying supporting documentation) in San Mateo County Superior Court and achieved a misdemeanor expungement for her client.  Like many people seeking California’s expungement remedy, Julia’s client was precluded from securing employment based upon his criminal record; however, after the requested relief was granted, Julia’s client landed a job and can now support his family.

Jess Ou (’12) also helped a client expunge a felony conviction from his record in Santa Clara County Superior Court. In addition to the expungement, Jess successfully argued for the felony conviction to be reduced to a misdeanor pursuant to California Penal Code s. 17(b).   Her client felt that his conviction branded him unfairly and precluded him from seeking meaningful and permanent employment.  Now, he’s in a position to purue his interests and goals.

The Community Law Clinic is directed by Professor Juliet Brodie, who supervises students together with two other supervisors: Lecturer Danielle Jones and Jay M. Spears Clinical Teaching Fellow Nisha Vyas.  Two wonderful legal assistants, Lupe Buenrostro and Adelina Arroyo, provide critical help in myriad ways.

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