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A Rare Opportunity to Observe the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights In Action

During the week of October 27, 2014, Naomi Tom (JD ’16), one of five students from the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic (IHRCRC), had the opportunity to attend the 153rd Period of Sessions of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, DC. Naomi shares her impressions of this unique experience as well as highlights of some of the hearings she witnessed. 

One of the most valuable functions of the IACHR is to hear cases brought by individuals across the Americas seeking justice from an international commission in a public setting.  The 153rd Period of Sessions were held between October 23 to November 7, 2014, and we were fortunate to attend sessions and hearings held October 27 through October 31. We observed cases brought by indigenous individual petitioners before IAC member states such as Argentina, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico and Nicaragua, as well as the United States.

(from left): Naomi Tom ('16), Ruhan Nagra ('16), Hayden Rodarte (in back), Jim Cavallaro, Karsten Busby ('16), Sarracina Littlebird ('16), Farbod Faraji ('15), Stephan Sonnenberg

(from left): Naomi Tom (JD ’16), Ruhan Nagra (JD ’16), Hayden Rodarte (in back), Professor Jim Cavallaro, Karsten Busby (JD ’16), Sarracina Littlebird (JD ’16), Farbod Faraji (JD ’15), Stephan Sonnenberg

It was a unique experience to observe petitioners from various states utilizing this forum to bring their complaints to the Commission. Both sides to an argument were able to present their views uninterrupted during the first twenty minutes of the hearing, allowing each party to state their case and in the manner most effective – which varied depending on the issue and the petitioners. At all but one hearing that our group attended the state gave their response second. At times this setup served to undermine the states’ position from the outset. In general, it seemed as though publicity given to certain sessions may have been the most effective tool for increasing state responsiveness and compelling government officials to be more truthful and transparent during proceedings. The function of the Commissioners was to ask each side questions that ended up either strengthening or undermining the parties’ arguments.

Highlights from Observed IAC Cases. The full chronology of hearings, together with video and still photos, can be viewed here.

Case 12.626 – Jessica Lenahan, United States. Petitioner Jessica Lenahan spoke about the night her daughters were killed, when her husband, who was under a restraining order, took the girls and proceeded to enter a shootout with the local police. By the time local authorities responded, it was too late. It was powerful to listen to her testimony as she addressed the state respondents directly, asking for reparations and apologies for their lack of an appropriate response during the situation. The state, in turn, largely talked around Lenahan’s requests without ever actually addressing them, stating that they had no authority to launch investigations of individual cases, and refusing to offer the apology requested.

Human Rights Situation of Persons Deprived of Liberty in Buenos Aires (October 28). It was unconvincing to watch the state present a video depicting prisoners baking bread and tending pigs, when only minutes before we heard recounts of prison visits describing rotting food and peeling paint in the facilities.

National Human Rights Program in Mexico (October 30). In the wake of the disappearance and suspected murders of 43 missing Mexican students, media coverage and public protests leading up to and following this hearing were on full display. A group of protesters stood outside the courtroom chanting “Cuando?” (When?) and “Ahora!” (Now!) as a call to the Mexican government to fully investigate the students’ disappearance. When the Mexican state observed a moment of silence for the missing students, media and audience members clamored to capture the images in photographs and video. Such coverage contrasted sharply with other sessions, such as during the Monitoring the Report of the Commission on the Situation of Human Rights in Jamaica  session (October 28), which was disappointingly sparsely attended.

A view from the gallery - the National Human Rights Program in Mexico hearing

A view from the gallery – the National Human Rights Program in Mexico hearing

My general impressions: the public nature of these sessions heightens the need for states to be cautious in their responses; at times they conceded that certain areas needed improvement, while at other times they were evasive. In one case, the “Human Rights Situation of Persons Deprived of Liberty in Texas,” the state didn’t even show up.  States had varying opinions of the authority of the IACHR, and some were more vocal of their criticisms than others.  As these hearings gain more publicity, as seen particularly during several of the Latin American sessions, perhaps states such as the United States and Venezuela will become more responsive. Regardless of the level of commitment by various states to the IACHR’s proceedings, it was fascinating to see the way in which they interacted with petitioners and to hear their responses regarding a number of critical human rights issues in this public forum.   ◊

Third Year’s A Charm – 3L Year Provides Opportunity for Critical Experiential Learning

The recent Stanford Daily piece by Riya Mehta (“Evaluating the Third Year of Law School,” 10/28/14) asked whether legal education really needs to last three years. Noting that some commentators—including most famously President Obama, who attended Harvard Law School for the requisite three years—have expressed skepticism about the value of the 3L year, Mehta spoke to students and professors at Stanford Law School on their opinions.  Unsurprisingly, views were mixed.

For now, the third year of law school is here to stay. But this doesn’t mean students should spend all three years in traditional lecture- and discussion-based courses. Students should take advantage of the wide range of educational modalities available in law school to tie together the core skill of “how to think like a lawyer” with the more complex and diverse skills associated with actually being a lawyer. Clinical legal education, where students represent real clients in real cases (under close supervision by faculty), along with externships, practicums, and simulation classes, supplement the classroom curriculum and enable students to use their three years in law school to evolve from a student to a professional.

Alums report that their SLS clinical experiences helped them better succeed in their first jobs and beyond. Megan Byrne, who graduated from SLS in 2014 and is now a litigation associate at Kirkland & Ellis says, “I found my third-year clinic to be a perfect capstone to my law school experience, as I was able to integrate the knowledge base and practical skill set I had gained from two previous years of course study.” 

Mike Smith, a sixth year lawyer at Wilmer Hale in Washington DC comments, “Participating in clinic while I was at SLS helped me hit the ground running when I started as an associate at a large law firm.  Clinical practice helped me learn how to work through complex legal issues with clients and put together a persuasive case.  I use those same skills in private practice, whether I am counseling clients on intellectual property matters or representing them in litigation.”

Summer jobs of course are a way to experience real practice, but they are not explicitly designed with the student’s education in mind; rather, lessons learned often depend on where you work and what projects, cases, or clients happen to be on tap. Clinic courses, by contrast, are designed to expose students to universally useful professional dilemmas and skills that translate to many areas of law and into the business world as well. And law school clinical faculty are able to emphasize constant, one-on-one mentoring, deeply reflective learning, and student responsibility for their work and clients.  Manal Dia (JD ’14), COO and Co-founder of the tech startup Rabbit Proto says, When I co-founded and ran a startup, I built on many of the skills I developed at the Clinic: from negotiating and structuring contracts, to developing empathy towards our startup’s users. I gained many insights, from supervisors and case partners, about my leadership and communication style. In both these respects, the Clinic was a great course in how to be an entrepreneur.”

Other alums have experienced the inherent benefit of taking a full-time clinic at SLS: developing the interpersonal and collaboration skills to successfully navigate today’s work environment.  As Jack Donohoe (SLS JD ’14), associate at Gunderson Dettmer points out, “Clinics force students to navigate real-life work dynamics. This includes working on a team, divvying up a project among multiple people, collaborating on a common work product, and just learning how to build camaraderie and/or be a well-liked and helpful person in an office setting. For a lot of recent law school grads, that personal-professional element is going to be as steep a learning curve as the content of their early-career work.”

Law schools across the country, as well as the entities that regulate them and the legal profession, are debating whether to make such experiential learning a graduation or admission requirement. But even absent a requirement to do so, Stanford Law School is encouraging all of its students to take advantage of Stanford’s clinical and other experiential learning courses before they finish their three years. Like a medical school residency, clinical legal education puts classroom knowledge into practice and propels students into professional life. And it also can make that third year go faster!    ◊

Ninth Circuit Rules in Favor of Noncitizen in Landmark Immigration Case

On November 10, 2014 the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion in Almanza-Arenas v. Holder in favor a of a noncitizen fighting his deportation. In May 2013, the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic – with students Pat Gutierrez (JD ‘14) and Mia Crager (JD ‘14) – helped to prepare and file an amicus brief on behalf of various immigrants’ rights organizations, urging the Court to rule that a noncitizen should not be precluded from securing  humanitarian immigration relief based on his or her criminal record, when his or her prior criminal records do not conclusively demonstrate that the noncitizen is subject to the legal bar.

The Ninth Circuit's decision in Almanza-Arenas is the first of its kind in the country

The Ninth Circuit’s decision in Almanza-Arenas is the first of its kind in the country

The Ninth Circuit Court agreed with the IRC that its prior contrary decision in Young v. Holder, 697 F.3d 976 (9th Cir. 2012) (en banc), was abrogated by the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Moncrieffe v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 1678 (2013)another case in which the Mills Legal Clinic was deeply involved. Monday’s decision is the first of its kind in the country.  ◊

To Serve and To Make a Difference – My Favorite Client

Jessica Dragonetti ( JD ‘15) became involved with the Social Security Disability Project (SSDP) in her first year of law school, and since then has represented at least two clients at their administrative hearings – winning one matter, which she describes below. Jessica is currently an advanced Community Law Clinic student and a senior board member with the SSDP.

You’re not supposed to have favorite clients, but I have to admit that the client I just represented in his Social Security Income (SSI) hearing has a special place in my heart. Maybe because we’ve been working together ever since I was a 1L and because it’s been a thrill to see his case through to a successful conclusion. Maybe it’s because his good cheer and calm are inspirational to me given what he’s faced in his life. Anyway, here’s the story.

I first met my client in February of my 1L year, when I was participating in the Social Security Disability Project, one of Stanford Law School’s pro bono programs. He had recently been paroled, and in addition to the typical challenges of transitioning from prison, he faced another one: an injury-related disability that prevented him from working.  Between his felon status and his disability, the client knew that he would likely never get a job. We worked together on his initial application for disability benefits; when it was denied a few months later, we filed together his request for reconsideration. I wasn’t in the clinic last spring, so Community Law Clinic (CLC) Attorney Lisa Douglass represented him before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearing; due to inadequate medical documentation, the judge ordered an additional examination by a Social Security doctor and a continuance. That’s how, as an advanced CLC student in the fall quarter, I was able to re-join the team and to continue my advocacy of this client.

Where the magic happens - CLC, home of the Social Security Disability Project

Where the magic happens – CLC, home of the Social Security Disability Project

I like this client a lot.  Early on, I admired his sense of calm amid all the turmoil in his life.  Because of his injury, he cannot do many of the things he used to do: fix cars and houses, lift a cup of coffee, walk more than a block, stand in the DMV line. He spends his nights shuttling to sleep between his truck and shelters. He waits many months to be seen at the public orthopedics clinic.  And yet he is quiet, self-contained, and funny, rather than defeated.  If only law school students were so equanimous.

A couple of weeks ago, I represented him at the supplemental hearing before the same ALJ who had heard the case in March.  Armed with new medical evidence of my client’s physical impairments, we won a bench decision granting him ongoing and retroactive benefits.  According to our client, this money will change his life.  He can use the back benefits to repair his truck, and the steady disability income will enable him to provide for himself and to finally qualify for affordable housing.

I am glad we won; glad that I did not fail him.  I am also grateful that he trusted us to help him with something so important.  Among the many gifts of clinical education are these miraculous relationships with clients, the placing of enormous faith in us as not-quite-yet lawyers.  This generous faith, in turn, prompts us to strive harder to deserve it.  It causes us to be ecstatic – as I was – when we do right by the people we pledge to serve.  ◊

Report Finds Immigrants Represented by Attorneys Three Times More Likely to Win Deportation Cases

In 2013, Francisco Martinez was the primary breadwinner for his longtime resident wife and four U.S. citizen children in Oakland when he was locked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. While he was gone, his wife worked a night shift, then came home and immediately began caring for their children. Often she went without sleep for days. Yet she didn’t make much money, and she was terrified that she and her children would be evicted. After three months in custody, Francisco was ready to give up, but an attorney from Centro Legal de la Raza in Oakland helped him get out of detention last January and allowed him to support his family while his immigration case is resolved.

A report released today (Nov. 6) by Stanford Law School’s Immigrants’ Rights Clinic and the Northern California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice (NCCIJ) shows the dramatic impact that legal representation has on detained immigrants like Francisco: Those with lawyers are three times more likely to win their deportation cases than those without attorneys, yet two-thirds of detained immigrants have no legal representation at any point in their removal proceedings. The report also details the dire consequences that detention can have upon immigrants and their families.

Stanford Law School students (from left) Al Montelongo (JD'15), Kara McBride (JD'15) and Natalia Renta (JD'15) develop a plan regarding the Immigrants' Rights Clinic's report on Access to Justice for Detained Immigrants in Northern California.

Stanford Law School students (from left) Al Montelongo (JD’15), Kara McBride (JD’15) and Natalia Renta (JD’15) develop a plan regarding the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic’s report on Access to Justice for Detained Immigrants in Northern California.

The report, “Access to Justice for Immigrant Families and Communities,” summarizes the findings of two new studies of Northern California immigrants whom the federal government locked up for approximately one year during 2013 and 2014 while their deportation cases were pending in San Francisco Immigration Court. The federal government generally takes the position that immigrants facing deportation – even those who are detained – are not entitled to attorneys unless they can pay for them or find someone to represent them for free.

Strong family ties

The report found that many of those detained had families in Northern California. More than 50 percent of immigrants represented by the nonprofits that were surveyed—who represented Northern California’s detained immigrants over a one-year period—had lived in the United States for 10 years or more, and 77 percent had family members living at home in the United States.

“The report reveals that immigrants who are locked up are much more likely to be able to stay with their families and communities if they have an attorney to help them fight deportation,” said Professor Jayashri Srikantiah, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School. “But, unfortunately, detained immigrants are the least likely to actually have attorneys.”

“Our organization, Community Legal Services of East Palo Alto, provides free legal services to detained immigrants, but we cannot serve the overwhelming majority of individuals who contact us for help because we simply lack the resources to do so,” explained Ilyce Shugall, directing attorney of the Immigration program at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto, California.

Students enrolled in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic at Stanford Law School have represented dozens of immigrants in immigration court on a pro bono basis in response to the shortage of attorneys. Three of those students, Natalia Renta (JD ’15), Alfredo Montelongo (JD ’15), and Kara McBride (JD ’15), developed and conducted the survey of all of the nonprofits (10) that represented Northern California’s detained immigrants for low cost or no cost, which forms the basis for one of the studies in the report. The other study evaluated all removal cases (8,992) in which a San Francisco immigration judge made a final decision between March 1, 2013, and February 28, 2014.

Jail-like conditions

The report explains that immigration detention is similar to being in jail. Immigrants who are locked up are often kept in facilities with barbed wire and cells, alongside others serving time for criminal convictions. They wear prison uniforms and face restrictions on their visitation, movement, meals, education, phone access and recreation. They may be subject to solitary confinement.

Attorneys can help immigrants obtain bond, so that they can be released more quickly from detention. Eleni Wolfe-Roubatis, immigration program director at Centro Legal de la Raza, explained, “Immigration cases are often legally and factually complex. Having an attorney can make the difference between staying in Northern California with family and permanent banishment from this country.”

The report suggests that a first step toward addressing the attorney gap for detained immigrants in removal proceedings is a pilot program funded by public and private sources.

“Northern California should join New York City, which has recently established a universal representation model for detained immigrants facing deportation,” said Robin Goldfaden, senior attorney for the Immigrant Justice Program at Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. “Given that deportation can mean life or death, attorney representation should be a requirement.”

The report was written by Srikantiah and Lisa Weissman-Ward, clinical supervising attorney with the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, along with students McBride, Renta and Montelongo. It is available online here.

ELC Students Continue Work With Pit River Tribe to Protect Medicine Lake

ELC team (clockwise, from left): Debbie Sivas, Matt Sanders, Amanda Prasuhn, Elizabeth Hook, Philip Womble, Liz Jones (above), Raza Rasheed, Abbie Barnes, Heather Kryczka, Rose Stanley, Alicia Thesing, Caroline Parke

ELC team (clockwise, from left): Debbie Sivas, Matt Sanders, Amanda Prasuhn, Elizabeth Hook, Philip Womble (above), Liz Jones, Raza Rasheed, Abigail Barnes, Heather Kryczka, Rose Stanley, Alicia Thesing, Caroline Parke.

Environmental Law Clinic students recently took a three-day trip to the Medicine Lake Highlands, an unspoiled area located in the Modoc National Forest in northeastern California that the clinic is trying to protect from geothermal fracturing or “fracking.”

Besides being sacred to the Pit River and other Native American Tribes for over 10,000 years, the Highlands are filled with ancient lava flows, intact forests and watersheds, and threatened and sensitive plants and animals.

Full-time clinic students Rose Stanley  (JD ’16), Philip Womble (JD ‘16), Heather Kryczka (JD ‘16), Caroline Parke (JD ‘16), Liz Jones (JD ‘16), Raza Rasheed (JD ‘15), and Abigail Barnes (JD ‘15), along with advanced clinic students Amanda Prasuhn (JD ‘15) and Elizabeth Hook (JD ‘15), toured the area, together with clinic director Debbie Sivas and clinical supervising attorneys Matthew Sanders and Alicia Thesing. The clinic members attended a Pit River Tribal Council meeting, conferred with members of the clinic’s non-profit clients to learn about the twenty-year history of the case, and discussed opportunities for protecting this unique area from industrial development.

Medicine Lake Highlands in Modoc National Forest is home to lava beds, rim volcanoes, pine forests and protected wildlife species. It is a sacred place to the Pit River and other local tribes

Medicine Lake Highlands in Modoc National Forest, home to lava beds, rim volcanoes, pine forests and protected wildlife species, is a sacred place to the Pit River and other local tribes.

The clinic continues to pursue its case against the extension of geothermal leases in the Medicine Lake Highlands on behalf of the Pit River Tribe and non-profit clients. The case has been briefed before the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and the clinic looks forward to oral argument.   ◊


Striking Accomplishment for SLS Alumna

Annie Bersagel

Bersagel on her morning run to the office. (David B. Torch/The New York Times)

Former Stanford Law School and Environmental Law Clinic student, Annie Bersagel (JD ’12) was featured in an article published in the October 30, 2014 edition of The New York Times. The article highlights her outstanding accomplishment as a runner as well as–and in addition to–her success as an International Law and Policy attorney with KLP in Oslo, Norway.

Annie does not train as a full-time athlete; however she consistently performs as one. This past Sunday, November 2, Annie competed in the New York City Marathon finishing in the Top 10, with a time of 2:33.02. See The New York Times and Forbes Magazine for more.


Students Attend Sessions of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights

Between Monday and Thursday of last week, students enrolled in the International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic traveled to Washington D.C., to observe the 153rd Period of Sessions of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights.

IHR clinic students share a rare opportunity to observe IAC Session hearings in October

IHR clinic students share a rare opportunity to observe IAC Session hearings in October

Five clinic students Karsten Busby (JD ’16), Farbod Faraji (JD ’15), Sarracina Littlebird (JD ’16), Ruhan Nagra (JD ’16) and Naomi Tom (JD ’16) attended, along with Professor James Cavallaro, the clinic’s director and clinical supervising attorney Stephan Sonnenberg. Professor Cavallaro also serves as a Commissioner and country rapporteur for Barbados, Guatemala, Guyana, Mexico, Peru and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as thematic Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons Deprived of Liberty.  While in Washington D.C., students also met in private settings for frank discussions with numerous civil society actors familiar with the workings of the Inter American system, including petitioners’ counsel who brought cases before the Commission during this session; government representatives; Commission staff and other Commissioners, past and present.   ◊

Professor Bill Koski Speaking at Luncheon Promoting the Work of Educate Our State

William Koski, director of the Youth and Education Law Project (YELP) will be speaking at the annual Educate Our State! Luncheon in San Francisco on Tuesday, October 28, 2014. The event and more information about the program is available here.

Since 2001, Professor Koski and YELP students have represented hundreds of California youth and their families in anti-discEducate Our Staterimination, student discipline, and disability rights matters. Over the years, YELP has trained new generations of attorneys and advocates committed to juvenile defense in the highly specialized area of special education advocacy, and recently collaborated with Educate Our State! on comprehensive school discipline reform before the California legislature.

Clinic students have had the opportunity to litigate several complex school reform cases under the supervision of Professor Koski and YELP’s supervising attorney, Carly Munson. Currently, YELP is co-counsel for some 60 children in the landmark Robles-Wong v. California, a lawsuit pending before the California Court of Appeal, that aims to reform the public school finance system in the state; Emma C. v. Eastin – a civil rights case now entering its 18th year before U.S. District Court Judge Thelton Henderson – that has restructured the special education service delivery system in an East Palo Alto school district; and Smith v. Berkeley Unified School District, an anti-discrimination case that successfully reformed school discipline policies in Berkeley.

Professor Koski also presented expert testimony during the Williams v. California proceedings – a class-action lawsuit against the State of California, alleging that the state had denied its children many of the “basic educational necessities,” including access to textbooks, safe and clean facilities, and qualified teachers.  ◊