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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

Supreme Court Grants Hearing on Clinic’s Civil Rights Cert Petition

U.S. Supreme Court buildingOn April 27, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a cert petition in a Supreme Court Litigation Clinic case involving the country’s principal employment anti-discrimination law, Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Our client, a long-time manager in the U.S. Postal Service, claims that the Service retaliated against him after he complained that he was passed over for a promotion because he is African-American. The retaliation got so severe – including false threats of criminal prosecution – that our client felt that he had no choice but to leave the Postal Service. He then claimed in federal court that this “constructive discharge” arising from the retaliation violated Title VII.  But the court of appeals did not hear our client’s constructive-discharge claim on its merits.  Instead, it threw out the case on statute-of-limitations grounds. The court said that the 45-day time limit for presenting his claim ran not from when he retired under severe pressure, but from the last retaliatory act that allegedly forced him to retire.

Clinic students Andrew Vaden (JD ’15), Alec Schierenbeck (JD ’15), Morgan Weiland (JD ’15), and Michael Skocpol (JD ’16) wrote a great cert petition, showing that there was a conflict in the lower courts on the timeliness issue and that the government’s preferred rule would be a trap for unwary employees and, contrary to the norm, would allow the time period to run even before the employee could sue for constructive discharge.  Clinic students Sam Byker (JD ’16), Alex Twinem (JD ’16), and Danny Kane (JD ’16) will now turn to our full-blown merits brief.

Religious Liberty Clinic Wraps Up Action-Packed Term

The Religious Liberty Clinic recently finished a winter quarter that included a flurry of student and case successes. Students defended the civil rights of a variety of religious groups – including Hare Krishna, Jewish, Muslim, Seventh-day Adventist, and Sikh clients – in a series of matters across the country. In a particularly intense week, they filed two trial-level complaints and two appellate briefs, and coordinated two settlement demands.

Among their projects, the students filed suit in a California federal court challenging the denial of kosher meals to a Messianic Jewish inmate; defended in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit the rights of a church to minister to the homeless; and helped secure a favorable EEOC finding for Sikh truck-drivers who lost their jobs after refusing to cut their hair. The clinic was also proud to have filed an amicus brief for the Women’s Prison Association in the Holt v. Hobbs case, where the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of broad protection for religious accommodations in prison. Read more of the history on some of this work here.

The winter-term students who worked on the above matters were Alex Kasner (JD ’15), Andria Montoya (JD ’15), Marni Barta (JD ’16) and Kimberly Larkin (JD ’16).

Criminal Prosecution Clinic: A Day in the Life

With great pleasure we introduce another blog in our day-in-the-life series–this one from the team of students involved in the Criminal Prosecution Clinic. This clinic is a robust part of Stanford Law School’s clinical education program and we’re excited to add its presence and perspective in this series. Students routinely worked out of the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office in San Jose during their winter clinical quarter and were supervised by Professor George Fisher and attorneys at the DA’s office. All six of them–Marcus Bourassa (JD ’16), Sara Estela (JD ’16), Lauren Harding (JD ’15), Courtney Khademi (JD ’16), Matt Miller (JD ’15), and Ian Stearns (JD ’15)–collaborated on this piece, bringing you a sense of a day in the life of a Criminal Prosecution Clinic student.


CPC team in court

From left: Matthew Miller, Lauren Harding, Marcus Bourassa, Courtney Kahdemi, Ian Stearns, Sara Estela


8:00 a.m. — Arrive in the office a little earlier than normal to finish preparing for a preliminary hearing at 9:00. Go over outlines and exhibits for each witness. Review the elements of each charge—auto theft and residential burglary—and the testimony needed from each witness. Grab printouts of cases to read for the inevitable delay before the hearing actually begins. Walk over to the Hall of Justice.

 9:00 a.m. — Conduct the preliminary hearing to prove that there is probable cause that the crimes were committed and that the defendant committed them. Put on testimony from the homeowner who was robbed, the police officer who examined the scene of the crime, the detective who investigated, and the fingerprint expert who linked the defendant to the scene. Along the way, respond to objections from defense counsel and object when his questions are problematic. Conclude with a short argument. The judge rules in your favor on all of the charges and holds the defendant over for trial.

11:30 a.m. — Grab coffee in the courthouse with your five colleagues from Stanford and Prosecution Clinic Director George Fisher, who all attended the hearing.  After a moment for self-reflection and critique, your colleagues and Professor Fisher share positive and constructive feedback about the substance and style of your hearing. It’s also an opportunity to discuss big picture and ethical issues related to the case.

12:00 p.m. — Attend a lunch lecture with the law clerks from schools around the Bay Area. The presenter this week is a Deputy District Attorney in the gangs unit who is explaining the structure of one of California’s deadliest gangs and sharing law enforcement’s strategy behind the investigation and prosecution of its key leaders.

1:00 p.m. — Return to your desk after what seems like a very long time away. Work on responding to a defense motion to suppress evidence in a pending case. The defendant in the case was stopped by a police officer for biking with no lights down the wrong side of the street. The officer states that he had the defendant’s consent to conduct the search. The defendant denies having given it.

4:00 p.m. — Step out of the office with your Law and Motions unit supervisor, who discusses her past experiences in other units–Family Violence and Sex Crimes.

4:45 p.m. — Discuss and practice an upcoming argument on the phone with Professor Fisher before the group heads out for the day. The oral argument you moot is a brief one, and the hearing isn’t for few days, but it’s for a tough case. The defendant is charged with sex trafficking. Professor Fisher flags a couple of issues to talk about with the Deputy District Attorney supervising the case before commenting that the argument is smooth overall. You’ll get the chance to practice the argument with Professor Fisher one more time during your in-person one-on-one meeting later in the week.

Criminal Defense Clinic: A Day in the Life

We are excited to introduce our first student “Day in the Life” guest bloggers, Carly Bittman (JD ’15) and Vina Seelam (JD ’16). Carly and Vina worked as full-time clinical students in the Criminal Defense Clinic in partnership on cases under the supervision of director Ron Tyler and clinical supervising attorney Suzanne Luban. Below is an account of one of their days in the clinic.


Carly Bittman and Vina Seelam of the CDC

(Left to Right) Vina Seelam and Carly Bittman of the CDC

8:45 a.m. – Arrive at the San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City.  Find our client, head over to our assigned courtroom, and discuss what the hearing will be like and answer any last minute questions.

9:00 a.m. – Time to argue two pre-trial motions.  We win the first motion, a motion to dismiss a public intoxication charge, rendering moot our second motion to sever the now dismissed charge from a second alleged offense that our client has been charged with.

9:30 a.m. – After leaving the courtroom, we congratulate our client on the dismissal and verify the date of our next meeting.  Now we need to track down the Assistant District Attorney (ADA) to discuss the case in light of the judge’s favorable ruling.

 10:00 a.m. – Find the ADA and obtain a new settlement offer in light of the recently dismissed charge.  Head back to the Mills Legal Clinic.

1:00 p.m. – Debrief with the rest of our CDC colleagues.  Learn that while we were at court in Redwood City, our colleagues were in the Santa Clara Superior Court getting a dismissal for one of their clients!

1:30 p.m. – Head to the moot court room to practice cross-examining the police officers who will be prosecution witnesses in an upcoming suppression hearing.

3:30 p.m. – Attend General Rounds.

5:00 p.m. – Finish up the day’s work and start prepping for tomorrow.



Student Argues in Court for Long-Awaited Disability Benefits for Clinic Client

Rebecca Vogel--CLC

Rebecca Vogel on the day of oral argument

On February 12, the Community Law Clinic helped a 23-year-old visually impaired and disabled client gain approval for Social Security disability benefits, after he and his mother had been trying to get the benefits for over a decade.  Rebecca Vogel (JD ’15), supervised by Clinical Supervising Attorney Lisa Douglass, represented the client in his Social Security hearing in front of an administrative law judge.  The judge ruled from the bench, finding that the client was entitled to immediate and ongoing benefits, in addition to nearly two years of back-pay for the time that had passed since the client’s latest “initial” application was submitted.  The judge complimented Rebecca’s “very well-written” brief on the record, saying he agreed with every part of her argument. The client and his mother, who also attended the hearing, were thrilled at the victory.  The client will finally receive the support he needs to pay for his share of the family’s food and shelter, take care of his medical needs, and participate in programs that will get him out of the house and help him reach his potential.

The Social Security disability application process is difficult to navigate for even very capable lawyers, and it is a nightmare for applicants–many with significant disabilities–to handle on their own.  Each quarter, students at the Community Law Clinic represent clients in hearings, like this one, where the students’ work can make an enormous difference in their clients’ lives and futures.  For the students themselves, says Vogel, “it is some of the most meaningful and rewarding work you can ever do.”

Students Argue in U.S. Court of Appeals for Prudential Standing in Sacred Lands Case

On Thursday, March 12, 2015, advanced Environmental Law Clinic students Evan Stein (JD ’15) and Jason George (JD ’15) presented oral argument before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco.

Jason George, Evan Stein--ELC

Jason George (JD’ 15) and Evan Stein (JD ’15)

Evan and Jason represented clinic clients the Pit River Tribe and a number of environmental organizations in their effort to save the Medicine Lake Highlands in northeastern California from industrial geothermal development.  The Highlands are sacred to, and have been used for spiritual and cultural purposes by, members of the Pit River Tribe and other Tribes for over 10,000 years.  The Highlands also serve as a major water supply source for California and hold exceptional recreational, habitat, and other environmental resources.

At issue in the current Ninth Circuit appeal is whether the clinic’s clients have “prudential” standing to challenge decisions by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to extend 26 geothermal leases for 40 years, and whether the agency had to conduct environmental and cultural review before granting any such extension.  Evan and Jason argued forcefully that the answer to both questions is “yes.”

Video of the argument is available here.


Commil USA, LLC, v. Cisco System, Inc.

Commil Team Pic--IP

Joseph Dollin (JD ’15) and Mark Kim (JD ’16)

Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic students Joseph Dollin (JD ’15) and Hyosang (Mark) Kim (JD ’16) recently co-authored, as co-counsel with Public Knowledge, an amicus curiae brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to protect innovation by preserving the current intent requirement for liability for inducing copyright infringement. The brief was submitted in an important patent case, Commil USA, LLC, v. Cisco System, Inc., addressing whether an alleged patent infringer’s good faith belief that a patent is invalid is a defense to inducement of patent infringement under 35 U.S.C. § 271(b). The petitioner argued to the Court that good faith belief is not relevant to the intent requirement for inducement and thus is not a defense. Instead, it proposed that the unilateral act of giving notice of infringement to an alleged patent infringer should be sufficient to satisfy the intent requirement of patent law — effectively eliminating the scienter requirement altogether.

The Juelsgaard Clinic’s brief, on behalf of Public Knowledge, The R Street Institute, The American Library Association, The Association of Research Libraries, The Association of College and Research Libraries, and the Center for Democracy and Technology as amici, argued that such a low intent requirement is irreconcilable with the current, essential standard for copyright inducement – that a party must have culpable intent to cause acts of infringement rather than merely received notice of claims of infringement.  The petitioner’s proposed standard is deeply troubling to amici, who share a common interest in a balanced copyright system that does not stifle innovation.

The amicus brief expressed particular concern that upholding Commil’s proposed standard could risk spilling over into copyright law due to the historic kinship between patent and copyright law.  If the petitioner’s proposed standard were adopted and applied to copyright law, substantial dangers would be created, including putting product and service providers at the risk of copyright infringement liability, potentially eviscerating the vital Sony substantial non-infringing use exception to contributory infringement, and ultimately stifling innovation by impeding the advancement of technology through the threat of inducement liability.

Students Receive Dismissal for Criminal Defense Clinic Client

VSaleem & CBittmanEarlier this month, Criminal Defense Clinic students Carly Bittman (JD ’15) and Vina Seelam (JD ’16) received an unexpected and exciting email from the Santa Clara District Attorney’s office—one of the cases they had been working hard on all quarter was being dismissed!  Rather than submitting a Reply Brief to the court, the People decided to dismiss the case altogether after reading the CDC team’s Motion to Suppress.  In the motion, the clinic students had argued that the search warrant that had been used to justify a search of their client’s property was unlawful.

The police had relied on this warrant to justify a search of their client’s home and to charge her with being under the influence of a controlled substance and for possession of a controlled substance.  The police also conducted a warrantless blood draw of the client, which the team argued was unlawful in the motion to suppress. After receiving this extensive motion from the clinic, the prosecution decided to drop the case rather than proceed to oral arguments at the scheduled suppression hearing.

Right after receiving the DA’s notice of dismissal, Carly and Vina called their client to share the good news.  She was thrilled, and she informed them that she was looking forward to coming to court to witness the DA’s dismissal of her case.

SLS Alumna Reflects on Recent Ruling in Appeals Case Pertaining to Fees in Special Education Disputes

SLS and Mills Legal Clinic alumna, Lila Miller (JD ’14), writes below on a recent Ninth Circuit opinion in a case concerning an adverse award of attorney’s fees against a parent of a disabled child under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Lila authored an amicus brief in the case while enrolled in the Youth and Education Law Project during the winter and spring of 2013.

Since graduating, Lila has gone on to do full-time civil rights litigation at a non-profit firm in New York. She was the recipient of Stanford Law School’s Deborah L Rhode Public Interest Award in 2014. 


Lila Miller (JD '14)As a student attorney in the Mills Legal Clinic, I had the opportunity to work with several special education advocacy organizations on an amicus brief for a case in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.  The case, C.W. v. Capistrano Unified School District, pertains to an adverse award of attorney’s fees against a parent under the Individuals with Disabilities and Education Act (“IDEA”).  In this case, the district court actually invited a school district to seek attorney’s fees against the mother of an eleven-year-old with cerebral palsy.  We argued that such an invitation runs contrary to the letter and spirit of the IDEA, which deputizes parents as private attorneys general.  Parental enforcement of the IDEA is crucial to achieving the statute’s remedial goals, and fee awards like the one in this case will chill meritorious litigation and, ultimately, harm the students most in need of help.

Last week, almost seven months after the case was argued and about twenty-one months after we submitted the amicus brief, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion.  Just as we argued in our amicus brief, the majority reversed the fees awarded under the IDEA, meaning that school districts should not be entitled to recover fees against parents and children in most special education disputes, except under the most egregious circumstances.  Nonetheless, the court went on to affirm the fees awarded under a number of other statutes under which the family’s claim was deemed frivolous.  Judge Reinhardt wrote an impassioned dissent, arguing that the entire fee award should be reversed.  His opinion is worth a read, but one point in particular is worth highlighting:

By punishing a small firm for arguing a non-frivolous claim under the wrong sections of the United States Code, the precedent established by the majority opinion will discourage disability lawyers from taking on the very cases that the IDEA sought to encourage. In light of the majority’s opinion, small firms will have to weigh the risk that they will incur a costly sanction for a minor legal error intended to benefit a disabled child. This despite the fact that IDEA practitioners — indeed, nearly all civil rights practitioners — rarely have the time or the staff to handle the volume of cases for which they are responsible with the same attention or devotion of resources as their counterparts who represent the defense.

As someone who has gone on to work at a small civil rights litigation firm, I could not agree more.  The majority’s piecemeal resolution loses sight of the forest for the trees.  By awarding any fees at all, the decision subverts the remedial goals of the statutes under which C.W. and her mother sought relief and will deter attorneys from taking on cases like this one.

Working on this case meant a great deal to me.  Not only did I develop practical skills that I’ve already put to use in my career, but I also gained a unique perspective.  Namely, I had the rare opportunity to provide direct services to parents and students while simultaneously working on appellate litigation in the same niche area of law.  The very people who will be affected by those decisions are the modest means clients YELP represents on a regular basis.  But unless and until the Mills Legal Clinic and the handful of legal organizations that provide similar direct services grow large enough to serve all of the special education students in California, last week’s ruling risks gratuitously hobbling parental enforcement of the IDEA.  Thank goodness future generations of YELPers are here to prevent that from happening.