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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.

ELC Student Argues for Preliminary Injunction in Desalination Case

Continuing her work from the Fall 2014 quarter, advanced Environmental Law Clinic student Abigail Barnes (JD ’16) argued in San Luis Obispo Court on Tuesday, March 10 for a preliminary injunction to stop the ongoing operation of a so-called “emergency” desalination plant in Cambria. Abby Barnes--ELC

Abby and full-time winter quarter students Elizabeth Berardi (JD ’15) and Carolina de Armas (JD ’16) wrote the injunction motion and reply, in which they argued that the desalination plant was hastily built without either the environmental review required by state law or the deliberative planning needed for sound water management decisions.  Many of the other clinic’s full-time students attended the hearing and visited the plant site.

Juelsgaard Clinic Students Ask FDA to Protect Innovation and Patient Benefits in Pharmacogenomics

Juelsgaard Intellectual Property and Innovation Clinic students (pictured below) Yale Fu (JD ‘15), Hyosang (Mark) Kim (JD ‘16), and Marta Belcher (JD ‘15)  submitted comments to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on behalf of three Stanford pharmacogenomics researchers on February 2, 2015. LDT JIPIC TeamResponding to the FDA’s draft guidance on regulating Laboratory Developed Tests (LDTs), the comments urge FDA to avoid regulation that could stifle innovation in pioneering pharmacogenomics laboratories.

The comments were submitted on behalf of Pharmacogenomics Knowledgebase (PharmGKB) researchers Russ Altman (MD, PhD), Teri Klein (PhD), and Michelle Whirl-Carrillo (PhD). Pharmacogenomics focuses on using individual patients’ genetic data to predict the likely effectiveness and side effects of particular drugs on each patient. This growing field seeks to help physicians make prescription decisions. PharmGKB, managed by Stanford University and funded by the National Institutes of Health, is a publicly available resource that aggregates, curates, integrates, and disseminates knowledge regarding the impact of human genetic variation on drug response.

Historically, the FDA has not exercised regulatory authority over LDTs. Unlike direct-to-consumer genetic tests like 23andMe, LDTs are designed, manufactured, and used within a single laboratory. In June 2014, the FDA issued a draft guidance proposing to regulate LDTs, followed by a request for public comments on the guidance in October 2014. The proposal raised some concerns among pharmacogenomic laboratories and researchers because the proposed regulations could hinder clinical implementation of pharmacogenomic tests, which could be marketed as LDTs.

The comments urge the FDA to minimize regulation on pharmacogenomic tests and avoid overburdening a growing field that promises to improve patients’ health and well being. The FDA’s proposed regulation, with its broad definitions and unclear classification systems, could increase financial risk in the new technological frontier and push investors away from pharmacogenomics. Furthermore, the regulation would conflict with the White House’s recent Precision Medicine Initiative, which has made personalized medicine a national priority with $215 million in proposed research investments.

The comments submitted by the clinic emphasize that the potential burdens are neither justified nor necessary because pharmacogenomics inherently pose little risk to patient welfare. Pharmacogenomic tests differ from diagnostic genomic tests in that they do not diagnose disease risk. Pharmacogenomics-based decisions rely on extensive physician involvement and the field’s own rigorous, self-developed guidelines, which ensure effectiveness and reliability. The comments therefore warn FDA against regulating pharmacogenomics under the same framework as other LDTs.

Big Suppression Win for the Criminal Defense Clinic

CDC student Grace Kouba (JD ’16) and Emi Young (JD ’16 ) at the San Mateo County Superior Court

CDC students Grace Kouba (JD ’16) and Emi Young (JD ’16 ) at the San Mateo County Superior Court

On February 4, 2015, Criminal Defense Clinic students Grace Kouba (JD ‘16) and Emi Young (JD ‘16) argued a suppression motion in San Mateo County Superior Court on behalf of a client charged with petty theft. The motion was based on two separate constitutional violations; the unlawful search of the clients’ belongings and an unreasonable detention. After hearing testimony from two prosecution witnesses and argument from both sides, the judge granted the motion from the bench.

This ruling came despite a surprise development from the prosecution on the day of the hearing. The prosecution’s briefing relied on an account of the facts virtually identical to that in the defendant’s briefs—and these facts were very favorable to the defense arguments. However, on the day of the hearing, both prosecution witnesses suddenly remembered that the items recovered in the search were in “plain view.” Because these facts were not only missing in, but also inconsistent with, the witnesses’ prior reports, Grace and Emi successfully impeached their testimony. It was apparent from the subsequent ruling that the judge did not believe the testimony was credible.

This victory means that much of the evidence the prosecution could have relied on at trial is now excluded. The team and their client are confident they’ll be able to secure a favorable outcome as they move forward in the case.

SCOTUS Clinic Takes On Confrontation Clause in Ohio v. Clark

Professor Jeffrey Fisher and students from the Supreme Court Litigation Clinic took on the Constitution’s Confrontation Clause this week during oral arguments in the clinic’s case Ohio v. Clark. The Confrontation Clause guarantees all defendants in criminal prosecutions “the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” At issue here is whether the prosecution in a child abuse case may introduce statements a child previously made to teachers alleging that the defendant abused him, without providing the defense any opportunity at trial to cross-examine the child.

SCOTUS Clinic students on the steps of the Supreme Court.

SCOTUS Clinic students on the steps of the Supreme Court. Photo by Bill Petros.

“All we are asking for is that a state not to be allowed to have it both ways,” argued Fisher. “Introducing such evidence while at the same time prohibiting the defense from any form of confrontation whatsoever.”

The clinic represented the respondent in the case, Darius Clark, who claimed that a trial court violated his right to confrontation by allowing teachers to testify about the statements a three-year-old child in their preschool class made to them. The child’s statements constituted the only direct evidence that Clark, and not someone else, committed the abuse. An Ohio appeals court ruled that the teachers shouldn’t have been allowed at the trial to convey the child’s allegations, finding a violation of the Confrontation Clause.  The case was then taken to the Ohio Supreme Court, which agreed with that ruling by a 4-3 vote.  The State then took the case on to the Supreme Court-where it was argued on Monday.

Clinic students Morgan Weiland, JD ’15, Stephany Reaves, JD ’15, Percy Lee, JD ’15, and Michael Skocpol, JD ’16, under the guidance of Fisher, who argued the case, outlined and drafted the response brief on the merits. The group also traveled to Cleveland to meet with Clark and the local co-counsel.

“Meeting Mr. Clark reminded us of his great personal liberty at stake, and we remembered this throughout the experience,” said Lee.

Morgan Weiland, JD '15, Professor Jeffrey Fisher, Stephany Reaves, JD '15, Percy Lee, JD '15, and Michael Skocpol, JD '16,  leave Court after oral arguments in Ohio v. Clark.

Morgan Weiland, JD ’15, Professor Jeffrey Fisher, Stephany Reaves, JD ’15, Percy Lee, JD ’15, and Michael Skocpol, JD ’16, leave Court after oral arguments in Ohio v. Clark. Photo by Bill Petros.

Reaves echoed Lee’s sentiments, “By now, as students, we’ve become emotionally invested in Mr. Clark’s case—and know the facts and legal issues so well,” said Reaves. “It was great to have the opportunity to see the case through to the oral argument.”

The clinic students worked full-time on the case during the fall quarter—even leading a workshop with other Supreme Court Clinic students to receive feedback at various phases. It was Fisher’s, they say, that was most impactful.

“Jeff is equal parts appellate advocate and teacher,” said Weiland. “After we mooted the case, we reviewed argument substance and strategy —and even then, just days before the argument, he focused on illuminating the craft and method of appellate advocacy to teach us how to use these tools for ourselves and our future clients.”

“The student team did an outstanding job working through a very difficult legal problem,” said Fisher. “And there’s nothing for them quite like seeing all of those hours of hard work come to life in thoughtful dialogue with the Justices.”

And it was that thoughtful dialogue that students say they won’t soon forget.

“It was thrilling to have Justices point out parts of our brief or highlight an argument and think, “Hey, I worked on that!” said Weiland.

“I was surprised by how nerve-racking it felt to watch the arguments,” said Skocpol.

SCOTUS Clinic Students debriefing after oral arguments Ohio v. Clark.

SCOTUS Clinic Students debriefing after oral arguments in Ohio v. Clark. Photo by Bill Petros.

“We were all remarking as a team afterward that even though all we did was sit in the audience, our adrenaline was still pumping several hours later. It’s one thing to go to the Court and hear interesting intellectual issues being debated, but it’s quite another when you’re there and you’ve got a client, and you care about him, you’ve been pouring your heart into his case, and he’s got thirty years of his life riding on the arguments. We all really felt the stakes for Mr. Clark in there.”

The Court’s opinion in Ohio v. Clark is expected to be issued later in the term. You can read the oral arguments from the case here. 

Organizations and Transactions Clinic Autumn 2014 Projects

The Organizations and Transactions Clinic was hard at work this past Autumn quarter, with eight full-time students involved in a number of contractual and advisory matters. At the local, county, and state levels, clinical students contributed to diverse legal fields, from health and agriculture, to education and corporate governance.

Advice and Contract Matters:

Photo APhillip Arredondo (JD ‘16) and Christopher Deetz (JD ‘16) advised a statewide agricultural organization about a substantial change in its corporate structure and drafted related documents for its board and members. The team also prepared a range of advice, contract, and employee communication materials for the nonprofit affiliate of one of the world’s leading design firms, and helped refine and document a new program for a Peninsula nonprofit that connects STEM professionals at large companies with K-12 students for weekly mentoring sessions.

 Photo BGordon Grafft (JD ‘16) and Tiffany Mason (JD ‘16) prepared medical clinic site agreements for a Santa Cruz County health center that is a principal provider of primary medical and dental care to low-income families in the Monterey Bay area. Gordon and Tiffany also designed and documented governance arrangements for a newly-formed statewide alliance of farmers’ markets, and drafted a contract for a group of Bay Area cycling organizations relating to Bike to Work Day planning and activities.

Photo CErin Cho (JD ‘15) and Yonatan Moskowitz (JD ‘15) provided advice to a large San Francisco social enterprise about joint venture and collaboration design, and also drafted a set of contracts for the client relating to facility use, job training programs, and other matters. Erin and Yoni also prepared transaction review tools and worked on several contract projects for a rapidly-growing national organization focused on K-12 teacher development, and for a San Mateo County organization that designs and delivers sex education programming in local schools.

Photo DHaley Horton (JD ‘16) and Blake Meyer (JD ‘16) drafted an option agreement and letter of intent for one of California’s most prominent agricultural land trusts. Haley and Blake also provided fiscal sponsorship advice and documents to a national organization committed to advancing the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals, and they developed compliance program materials and employee communications for a large Silicon Valley health services and advocacy organization.

Corporate Governance:

Photo EIn addition, all O&T students executed comprehensive corporate governance reviews. These engagements involve reviewing the client’s existing governance documents and practices, preparing a detailed advice deliverable, drafting an extensive suite of bylaws, board committee charters, and other documents, and making a formal presentation to the board of directors and to the CEO. Phillip Arredondo and Blake Meyer represented a long-established San Mateo County affordable housing organization. Christopher Deetz and Gordon Grafft advised a prominent East Bay theatre company. Tiffany Mason and Yonatan Moskowitz worked with the board of a growing Santa Cruz provider of residential and outpatient substance abuse services. Erin Cho and Haley Horton worked with a North Bay organization that operates a major children’s museum and research center.   ◊