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

Update from the Community Law Clinic

I am writing to report on some of the great work being done by our students at the Community Law Clinic, who continue to maintain a full docket of civil matters representing low-income people in the communities surrounding the law school.  This past winter quarter, the students worked on a variety of housing, employment, and expungement matters.  A summary is below.

 Housing

Several students this past quarter represented clients facing eviction.  In each case, representation included legal research, client counseling, negotiation (often in the context of strong legal defenses articulated by the students) and the drafting of settlement agreements.  

Katharine McFarland & Alex Aronson (both ’12) represented an elderly, low-income Filipino couple who were completely lost in the legal system when they were served with an eviction suit for nonpayment of rent.  The students identified deficiencies with the service of the summons and complaint, and filed a motion to quash.  Pending the hearing date, the students negotiated an arrangement with the landlord’s lawyer that gave the tenants a reasonable time to find new housing. 

Dan Galindo (’12) represented a tenant whose landlord instructed her to stop paying rent after her home was scheduled to be sold at a foreclosure sale last July.  At that time, the landlord removed the kitchen appliances, leaving her with a completely non-functional kitchen.  In January, the landlord returned and sued her for possession of her home as well as for six months of back rent, claiming that his ownership of the home was never extinguished.  Dan served the landlord with discovery requests, which persuaded the landlord to drop the lawsuit altogether, and gave the tenant enough time to secure alternative housing.

Daisy Sanchez (’12) and Jess Oliva (’11) represented a man who was living in the single family home he and his estranged wife had occupied together until their separation 10 years ago.  The house had gone into foreclosure and the new owner was seeking possession.  Daisy and Jess, like their colleagues, were able to negotiate a reasonable relocation plan and a waiver of rent allegedly owing. 

Dayo Fashoro and Jenny Holmes (both ’12) represented a man who was sued for eviction on the basis of nonpayment of rent.  The students identified a strong legal defense and, in light of their intent to move for summary judgment, were able to negotiate terms on which their client maintained possession of the unit.

Maureen Keffer (’11) represented a 97-year old woman who was being evicted from the apartment she had lived in for more than decades.  Because her tenancy had converted to month-to-month, the tenant in fact had no legal right to stay beyond a legal notice period.  Based on the client’s extreme age and related disabilities, Maureen was able to negotiate a lengthy relocation period.  Maureen also helped her client identify alternative elderly subsidized housing, and to move in with a relative in the interim period (note that waiting lists for occupancy in any subsidized housing in the county are extremely long). 

J. Robert Garcia (’12) and Julia B. Cherlow (’12) successfully represented their client in an unlawful detainer action. Their client endured harassment from the landlord, and lived in an illegal and uninhabitable unit lacking heat and locks. Rob & Julia were able to negotiate an agreeable departure date, waiver of four months’ of back rent, and the return of their client’s security deposit. 

Dayo Fashoro (’12) and Allison Pedrazzi (’11) represented a tenant, recently disabled as a result of a motorcycle accident, who was being evicted on the basis of a faulty notice alleging inaccurate amounts of rent.  Based on their conversations with opposing counsel, the complaint was dismissed and the client was able to remain in his apartment.

Finally, Emily Roberts (’11) and Christy Holstege (’12) represented a Tongan family who fell behind in their rent at their HUD-subsidized apartment.  Emily and Christy identified a lease provision, backed up by federal regulations, that required a landlord participating in this program, to respond to a tenant’s representation that his or her income had decreased and conduct a re-calculation of rent.  The landlord’s failure to do so in this case put the clinic’s clients in a relatively stronger bargaining position, as did the clinic’s propounding of discovery regarding the landlord’s practices with respect to this requirement.  Christy and Emily were able to negotiate a very favorable settlement for the client family.  The case also gave Christy and Emily the opportunity to negotiate against a very inflexible landlord attorney, learning valuable lessons about when to fight (amount of rent waived) and when to fold (what word to use).

 Employment

Allison Pedrazzi (’11) represented a day laborer in the house painting industry, who began being underpaid when the economy slowed down.  His employer offered vague assurances that he would be paid in full “soon,” but after three months of not being paid at all, the worker quit.  He asked for his wages from the employer repeatedly.  Ten months later, he came to the clinic and Allison was able to negotiate with his employer prior to filing an official complaint.  The client was thrilled to recovered four thousand dollars in unpaid wages and penalties.

Nancy Hanna (’11) and Rob Garcia (’12) represented an auto mechanic who worked at a San Mateo auto shop.  When our client left the job, the boss failed altogether to pay him for his final week of work.  Nancy, who initiated this case a year ago, attempted to negotiate, and finally filed a claim in the state labor agency on the client’s behalf.  Finally, after numerous promises and missed meetings, the employer paid a settlement of the wages plus penalties literally on the day of the scheduled hearing.  Jacques Ntomne (’12) also worked on this case during his quarter at the clinic.

Recently, Jessica Ou (’11) and Maureen Keffer (’11) successfully represented a kitchen worker in a claim against his former employer, a Palo Alto restaurant. Based on an exhaustive review of the client’s payroll records, they determined he was owed thousands of dollars in unpaid overtime wages. When the employer failed to respond to their initial demand for compensation, they filed a claim with the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. The pressure paid off, and the Clinic ultimately achieved a settlement of $9,300, amounting to all of the client’s unpaid overtime, plus a substantial portion of the waiting time penalties to which he as entitled under California law.

Expungement & Licensing

Dayo Fashoro (’12) helped a client expunge a misdemeanor conviction from her record in Santa Clara County Superior Court.  Over the past few years, Dayo’s client developed a passion for working in health care, but had been unable to secure employment as a certified medical assistant because of her conviction.  With her criminal record cleared, Dayo’s client is eager to start the next chapter of her life, which will include returning to school to become a registered dietician and help others fight preventable disease.

Jess Ou (’11) represented a former expungement client of the clinic in an appeal for her security guard licensure.  The California Bureau of Safety and Investigative Services had previously denied Jess’s client her security guard license, citing her extensive criminal record.  Jess engaged in intensive negotiations with the California Attorney General’s offices, collecting and providing the Bureau and AG with proof of her client’s rehabilitation, her expungements, her recent award of guardianship, and her role as an upstanding member of the community.  After several weeks, the Bureau ultimately awarded Jess’s client with a three year probationary licensure arrangement.  Combined with her expunged record, this probationary licensure arrangement will finally permit Jess’s client to fully pursue her professional goals.

Jess Ou (’11) successfully represented a client in San Mateo County Superior Court on an expungement matter.  Her client’s convictions occurred many years ago, when he was coping with recent immigration to the United States.  He hoped to have his criminal record expunged in order to close the preceding chapter of his life, so that he could obtain secure, permanent employment in his trade and provide for his new family.  Jess drafted three expungement motions in this case and collected substantial supporting documentation.  Upon oral argument in San Mateo Superior Court, the judge granted all three of the expungement motions at his discretion and in the interests of justice.  Jess’s client looks forward to moving on in his life, and to building a home with his wife and three young children.

Jennifer Holmes (’12) represented a client in an expungement case in San Mateo County Superior Court to a successful result.  Jennifer’s client was seeking expungement of four misdemeanor convictions in order to broaden her employment opportunities and to seek recognition from the court of her successful drug rehabilitation, adult education achievements, and other recovery efforts.  Jennifer drafted and filed four motions and argued those motions before the court.  Despite the District Attorney’s opposition to the motions, the judge granted expungement of all four convictions.  The expungements will bolster the client’s pending job application, and she feels like she has been given a second chance.

Alex Aronson (’12) successfully represented a client on two expungement matters in San Mateo and Santa Clara County Superior Courts. Alex’s client approached the clinic seeking to expunge his outstanding convictions: a misdemeanor and a nonviolent felony that occurred over 20 years ago. His client hoped to clear his record in order to pursue a career in the real estate industry, and to formally close the door on a troubled chapter of his life. In addition to securing the expungements, and despite vocal opposition from the Santa Clara D.A., Alex successfully argued for the felony conviction to be reduced to a misdemeanor pursuant to California Penal Code §17(b). His client expressed great relief and optimism about moving forward with his life, having shed the social and professional stigmas attached to a felony conviction.

Julia B. Cherlow (’12) successfully represented a client in Santa Clara County Superior Court on an expungement matter.  Julia’s client approached the clinic because she wanted to expunge a series of felony and misdemeanor convictions from the 1990s that were preventing her from securing employment. Last March, clinic student Stephanie Rudolph (’11) represented this same client in an initial filing. Although one mandatory expungement was granted, three discretionary petitions were denied and the client was told to, “Come back in 20 years.” Despite this disappointment, Julia refiled the three discretionary motions this February, highlighting the passage of time since her client’s convictions. During oral argument, the D.A. fought vociferously against granting relief; however, the judge ultimately recognized Julia’s client’s transformation and granted the requested expungements and felony conviction reductions in the interests of justice. Right after the hearing, Julia’s client thanked the clinic for providing her, “the first good outcome I’ve ever seen come out of a courthouse!”

Dan Galindo (’12) represented an expungement client who had been haunted by a plea deal for more than 15 years for a fairly controversial misdemeanor conviction.  Dan’s client approached SCLC to pursue an expungement as a step toward restoring his dignity. In the fall, Jacques Ntonme (’12) researched how an infraction while on probation and a court-ordered modification of probation might affect the client’s chances at expungement. This quarter, Dan prepared a motion and supporting documents and successfully convinced a San Mateo Superior Court judge that the client’s expungement was mandatory, despite ostensible intervening factors that could have made his motion within the court’s discretion and in the interests of justice.

Maureen Keffer (’11) filed the SCLC’s first ever Motion for Early Termination of Probation, a purely discretionary motion, on behalf of a domestic violence survivor convicted of two felonies. The client’s trouble with the law grew out of a long history of drug addiction and abusive relationships. When given the option at sentencing of serving time in jail or time in a residential substance abuse treatment program, Maureen’s client opted for treatment, and she has since made a remarkable recovery. She currently works helping other women battling addiction and dealing with the scars of domestic violence. In light of the client’s recovery and extraordinary contributions to the community, the court granted the Clinic’s motion to release her from probation six months early, and she is now entitled to seek expungement of her convictions.

Nancy Hanna (’11) represented a client in Santa Clara Superior Court on three expungement matters.  The stakes were high in this case because the client had a pending job offer contingent on the expungement of these convictions.  Nancy successfully presented her motions and supporting documentation to the court, offering a novel interpretation of applicable case law and materials on the deeply archived legislative history of Penal Code §1203.4a (one of California’s two expungement statutes).  Nancy’s client made extraordinary efforts towards rebuilding her life after decades of homelessness and substance dependence.  Over the past five years, she had dedicated herself to recovery from her addiction, gaining job skills and becoming a community advocate, reaching out and helping to provide services to the very homeless community of which she was once a member. 

Jennifer Cain (J.D./M.B.A. ’11) worked on an expungement matter for a client and was successful in expunging his most recent felony conviction.  Jen’s client had struggled with substance abuse since he was a teenager.   He achieved sobriety over 10 years ago and obtaining the expungement of this felony conviction was a milestone for him.  He told Jen that his expungement court date and the successful result “was the best day of his life in the past two years” because he really accomplished something in his life by being able to put his old felony conviction behind him.

J. Robert Garcia (’12) successfully expunged and reduced a felony conviction from his client’s record; the last conviction to be cleared from her history.  Since achieving sobriety, his client obtained her GED and is working towards a degree in the medical profession. The expungement and felony reduction granted by the Presiding Judge (Criminal) of the San Mateo Superior Court will open up significant job opportunities to Rob’s client as she moves forward with her career goals.

All the work in the Community Law Clinic is supervised by Clinic Director, Professor Juliet Brodie, together with Lecturer Danielle Jones and the Jay Spears Clinical Teaching Fellow, Nisha Vyas.  Vital support is provided by Guadalupe Buenrostro and Adelina Arroyo.

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