Fantastic Victory in a Federal Habeas Case for Advanced Criminal Defense Clinic Student Mark Feldman
In last quarter’s Organizations and Transactions Clinic, Janice Mau (’14) and Clinical Supervising Attorney Michelle Sonu assisted a rapidly-growing San Francisco human services organization with a potential merger transaction. The work entailed regular communication with the CEO and Board members, due diligence review, advice development and delivery, and preparation of various transaction materials.
Environmental Law Clinic (“ELC”) students dove right into their work last quarter on cases involving complex issues as you’ll see below. The Clinic team also squeezed in a site visit to Joshua Tree National Park to learn more about the land (and it’s inhabitants) they continue to work to protect on behalf of clients. Read the details below:
Because of an imminent briefing schedule, Jason George ’15 and Elizabeth Hook ’15 began a whirlwind of work during the first week of the Winter quarter. In support of the claims of several plaintiff organizations, they drafted and filed an amicus brief challenging a regional transportation plan in San Diego. The case raises significant issues about the adequacy of the agency’s air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions analysis and the implications of that flawed analysis for public transit versus freeway building. The plaintiffs prevailed and asked the Clinic to file an amicus brief in the appeal. Elizabeth and Jason not only mastered the written material, but also worked with lawyers directly involved in the case, including the California Attorney General’s office. The case will likely be argued this Spring.
ELC’s long-standing, multi-pronged effort on behalf of the Pit River Tribe spilled into the Winter quarter spurring the return of students Evan Stein ’15 and Amanda Prasuhn ’15 as they finished their work on the complicated Ninth Circuit appeal brief. The case involves issues around a proposed industrial energy development on a sacred Indian site. The Clinic’s clients’ challenge to federal energy leases was dismissed on prudential standing grounds and because the district court concluded that defendant Bureau of Land Management had no discretion to decline an extension of old leases, despite the lessees’ non-compliance with the lease provisions. To draft the Clinic’s opening brief, Amanda and Evan, along with clinic-mate Joel Minor ’14, waded through thousands of pages of documents, gained an understanding of a set of complex leasing regulations, and crafted a compelling story of the case. Anuja Thatte ’14 has teamed with Amanda this Spring to draft the reply brief.
On the lighter side, ELC staff and students visited Joshua Tree National Park and nearby lands in February to learn more about an area their client, the National Parks Conservation Association, is trying to protect. Years ago, Kaiser Eagle Mountain LLC proposed locating an enormous landfill just outside the boundary of Joshua Tree National Park to accept trash from the Los Angeles area. Kaiser initiated an exchange with the federal Bureau of Land Management to secure 3,500 acres of public land needed to make the landfill a reality. First at the District Court and then at the Ninth Circuit, the Clinic succeeded in getting the land exchange thrown out and in fighting off a petition for rehearing in the Ninth Circuit and a petition for cert to the U.S. Supreme Court. Given the changing nature of landfill demand (due, in large part, to widespread recycling), Los Angeles County ultimately has decided not to freight trash to the Mojave desert.
As part of discussions about what happens next, students visited some of the lands at issue and toured the resources they work to protect at and near Joshua Tree National Park. While the group didn’t see a desert tortoise on the trip, they saw horned lizards and Joshua trees, sampled Palm Springs’ famous date shakes, found abandoned Cal clothing in the desert, and learned (a little too late) to avoid cholla cacti spines.
Community Law Clinic (“CLC”) students triumphed in their expungement work during the 2014 winter quarter. They appeared on behalf of clinic clients in the Superior Courts of San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties (Criminal) and successfully expunged approximately 25 convictions from 11 clients’ records. Many clients plan to secure employment now that their records have been cleared, some of whom have job offers pending a clean record. In addition to improving their employment prospects, several clients are realizing the psychological benefits that flow from an expunged history.
A unique feature of CLC’s expungement practice is that students have the opportunity to appear in court in small teams. Students are able to support their colleagues’ work, and observe each other’s court appearances while witnessing our criminal justice system in action. Pictured at right are Nisha Kashyap ’14, Chantal Johnson ’14 and Chris Boots ’14 in Santa Clara County Superior.
Congratulations to CLC students and clients!
Monique Loy ‘14, Sabrina Forte ’14, Nisha Kashyap ‘14, Chantal Johnson ‘14, Christopher Boots ‘14, Manal Dia ’15, Jessica Dragonetti, ‘15, Melissa Runsten ’15, Sheli Chabon ‘15, Meredith Firetog ’15
As part of their work in the Youth and Education Law Project (“YELP”) last quarter, Samantha Lefland ’15 and Kip Hustace ’15 represented 10-year-old E.V. in a combined special education and expulsion matter.
Prior to the clinic’s involvement, E.V.’s school district had a long history of ignoring his escalating behavioral and mental health needs at school, although E.V. was in special education and legally entitled to receive such care and support. As a result, E.V. had repeatedly engaged in impulsive and aggressive behaviors, including kicking classroom aides, throwing chairs, and eloping from school grounds, demonstrating over and over that he could be a danger to himself and others.
Then last fall, while unsupervised at school, E.V. found a knife that was left lying out by staff and carried the knife down a school hallway. E.V. was tackled by adults and fell to the floor, hitting his head. The police were called and E.V. was admitted to the hospital for his second involuntary psychiatric hold incident this school year.
E.V.’s mental health professionals reported that they believed he had disassociated during the incident and needed additional help at school. Instead of responding lawfully by providing an appropriate school placement with necessary therapies, behavioral supports, and supervision, the school district chose to try to expel E.V.
E.V.’s mother soon called YELP seeking legal assistance and Kip and Samantha began work. They learned, after a thorough investigation, that the district had been on notice of E.V.’s needs for a long time and had failed to act appropriately. Kip and Samantha were able to use this knowledge and the corresponding risk of litigation to negotiate a very favorable outcome for their client. As a result, E.V. was recently placed in a therapeutic day treatment class with constant supervision and his expulsion has been suspended and may be expunged from his record in the future.
Advanced Immigrants’ Rights Clinic student, Nicole DeMoss ’14 writes below on the experience of representing a client facing potential deportation.
I met our client (“M”) for the first time in December 2013. I am not the first and certainly not the last student-attorney to assist him in his ongoing legal struggle to remain in the United States.
I had read his entire file and was familiar with his story—a young man not even 21 years old who was brought to the U.S. by his family when he was only five. In middle school, lacking guidance and support, he had made a series of youthful mistakes. These have proven remarkably difficult to overcome, not because most of them were more than a series of petty abuses, but because of the way police in his community labeled him and ultimately, because of his “illegal” status in the U.S.
Barely past his 18th birthday, and having never lived anywhere but his parents’ home in Northern California, immigration officials placed M in removal proceedings. When I met with him in December, I quickly realized that he was, on the one hand, a young 20-year-old still working to mature and to make positive decisions. But on the other hand, he was already managing the incredible responsibilities of a full time job, a long term relationship, overtime work, and raising two beautiful young children. It was our job, advocating for his right to stay in the United States, to make this side of M come alive to the Immigration Service. We wanted to explain that despite his interaction with law enforcement, he was an incredible young man who had spent all of his formative years here. He graduated from high school in the U.S., had built deep roots here, was an adoring father to his children and warranted the opportunity to stay. On this theory, we filed a DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) application for M in February 2013. Working closely with M from December until February was an incredible experience and a brief, but powerful glimpse into the effects of the threat of removal (deportation) on not one individual, but an entire family.
The Immigrants’ Rights Clinic has been working with M for well over a year to work through his various legal options and to take advantage of every possible avenue to stay in the U.S. with his parents, his fiancée and his two young U.S. citizen children. The DACA application was just a small piece of this effort and yet it provided an opportunity for me to spend a significant amount of time with M and his family. I met with M and his fiancée here at the clinic on multiple occasions. I listened to stories about their lives; their involvement in their kids’ early education, celebrations with extended family in the area, their efforts to save money for their own home, and their deep fears about the possibility of M being forced to leave the U.S. and leaving his parents, his fiancée and his children behind. We discussed the unsettling but realistic possibility that the application we were filing might not be successful and that the Immigration Service might not grant the relief we were requesting. Despite all of this, M and his entire family were incredibly appreciative of the support that the clinic provided and of the work students and supervisors had done on their behalf. I feel privileged to have been a small part of the clinic team working for M.
In January, the Supreme Court granted the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic’s petition for certiorari in Riley v. California. The petition, drafted last spring by Julia Reese ’13, Ben Chagnon ’14, and Seth Lloyd ’14, presents the question whether the Fourth Amendment allows police officers to search the digital contents of smart phones they seize from people incident to arrest, without seeking any kind of warrant or judicial authorization. Ben and Seth worked during the winter quarter, with the assistance of Professor Jeff Fisher and in collaboration with the Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic, to draft the clinic’s opening brief on the merits. This spring, the clinic will draft a reply brief and travel to Washington, D.C. for the oral argument on April 29. Excitement is running high: the case offers the Court its first opportunity to opine on the scope of privacy in the digital age and could produce a landmark decision.
Environmental Law Clinic students traveled throughout the bay area for several court appearances near the start of the winter quarter, two of which resulted in wins for clinic clients. Read on for the highlights:
On January 14, 2014 Pete DeMarco ’14 appeared on behalf of clinic client, Monterey Coastkeeper, at a status conference hearing in Monterey County Superior Court. Monterey Coastkeeper has sued the defendant, Monterey County Water Resources Agency, in an effort to get the Agency to regulate or otherwise take responsibility for its role in transporting and discharging heavily polluted agricultural waters in the Salinas Valley. At the hearing, Pete successfully argued that our case against the Water Resources Agency should go forward. Briefing is scheduled for this summer and a trial for September 22, 2014.
Chris Jones ’14, delivered oral arguments in the California Court of Appeal in San Francisco on February 13, 2014 on behalf of clinic client, Salmon Protection and Watershed Network. This case concerns a challenge under the California Environmental Quality Act to a general plan adopted by Marin County. The plan would allow development in the Lagunitas Creek watershed, which serves as one of the last – and the most critical – spawning grounds for the Central California Coast coho salmon. The trial court denied our petition to require the County to do more comprehensive environmental review, and we appealed. On March 5, 2014, the appellate court issued a decision holding that the County violated the statute by failing to adequately consider cumulative impacts and potential mitigation measures and reversed the trial court’s ruling.
A few days later, Jackie Iwata ’14 appeared in U.S. District Court in Oakland on behalf of our clients, a group of individuals, at a hearing on motions to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Pacific Shores Property Owners Association. The Association is trying to block a plan to purchase and permanently conserve lots in a subdivision near Crescent City, California, to mitigate impacts to wetlands from a safety project for the City’s airport. The subdivision, which abuts the largest coastal lagoons in the lower 48 and is naturally flooded during the winter, cannot be developed because it is located on sand dunes and coastal wetlands. Our clients, who own lots in the subdivision, are supporting the airport’s plan to buy lots from willing sellers and permanently protect them as state park lands. On March 7, 2014, the district court granted the motion, dismissing the case and clearing the way for the purchase program to go forward.
Religious Liberty Clinic students Caitlin Bradley ’14, Peyton Gulley ’15, Paul Harold ’14, Christian Perez ’15, Courtney Quiros ’14 and Mark Storslee ’15 recently presented a brief and oral argument to the Ventura City Council on behalf of their client, Harbor Community Church. The students argued that their client should have the right to continue its ministry to the poor and homeless at its neighborhood church notwithstanding strong opposition from some neighbors. The students’ work was profiled in a recent feature in the Stanford Daily and the actual argument given by Peyton can be viewed here.
The brief, which Paul and Courtney filed last fall, emphasized that their clients’ pastoral care and worship with the city’s poor are forms of religious exercise protected by federal laws enacted to protect religious land use. Peyton, Caitlin, Christian, and Mark followed up this winter by presenting argument to the Council at two televised hearings that lasted a combined 10 hours and were attended by more than 200 supporters and opponents. The Council’s decision is expected this spring.
On Friday, March 14, Criminal Defense Clinic students Lucia Roibal, ‘15 and Nida Vidutis, ‘15 prevailed in their domestic violence case, gaining dismissal of the charge filed against their client.
Lucia and Nida knew they had a strong case for their client’s innocence. His wife’s extremely violent behavior over the past year made it clear that their client was acting in self-defense. However, they knew the hurdles they would face in trial: jurors usually assume the defendant is guilty in domestic violence cases, and their client was both taller and larger than his wife. Most importantly, trial came with the deeply unsettling news that the prosecutor planned to call the couple’s five-year-old son to testify.
Five days before trial, Lucia and Nida met for 45 minutes with the prosecutor. They showed her a record laying out his wife’s acts of violence over the past year, and they provided a letter written by their client’s ex-wife, who planned to fly in from out of state to testify that during their 20-year marriage, he was never violent toward her. They even had pictures of some of the property damage the wife had caused. They asked for outright dismissal, knowing that this was unlikely.
The next day, they mooted their client’s direct examination in front of their clinic mates. In their minds, they assumed they might have to keep fighting all the way through trial. On Friday afternoon, three days before trial, they got fantastic news: the prosecutor agreed to dismiss the case! Nida and Lucia ran to the nearest conference room to call their client. Nida remarked after the conversation, “It’s not every day you get to give someone such great news! He said it felt like Christmas.”