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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

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.