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Mills Legal Clinic of Stanford Law School
Mills Legal Clinic of Stanford Law School

Update from the Religious Liberty Clinic

Before finishing up the fall quarter, Religious Liberty Clinic advanced students Paul Harold ’14, Courtney Quiros, ’14, Afua Adjei, ’14, successfully filed a civil rights complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on behalf of an incarcerated Muslim client seeking to wear a religious head-covering (a kufi) while behind bars. The students sued Ironwood State Prison (Blythe, CA) and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation under the First Amendment and federal Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, alleging their client was unlawfully burdened in his religious expression.

Courtney and Paul also recently filed a brief in another action, this one an appeal to the Ventura City Council on behalf of Harbor Community Church, a neighborhood worship community facing zoning challenges in its ministry to the poor and homeless.

Int’l Human Rights Clinic Student reflects on his experiences and clinic’s efforts in asylum case

International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic (IHRCRC) students, Swain Uber, ’15, and Michael Frenkel, ’15, and Clinic Director, Professor James Cavallaro, appeared at a Canadian immigration board hearing on Wednesday, December 4, 2013.  Michael shares background on the case and experience.

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A week before the Thanksgiving break, our clinic director, Professor James Cavallaro, received an email from a Canadian attorney. She asked him to provide an expert declaration in the case of “Sal,” a young man from El Salvador seeking asylum in Canada.

A few years ago, Professor Cavallaro had helped to research and write the definitive study of gang violence in El Salvador, No Place to Hide: Gang, State, and Clandestine Violence in El Salvador. Since then, immigration lawyers representing Salvadoran clients have sought him out for his expertise on country conditions in El Salvador. Professor Cavallaro has written and testified in numerous asylum and refugee cases where the claims were impacted by the El Salvador’s pervasive gang violence.

Sal’s story was particularly moving. The young man had fled El Salvador several years ago after resisting a gang’s violent recruitment efforts. He had already experienced life-threatening reprisal for his refusal to join the gang and feared that a return to the country would make him a target once again.

The IHRCRC was already familiar with Sal’s case; Professor Cavallaro had previously filed two affidavits in this very matter, one of which was prepared by Swain and Nikki Marquez, ‘15. The first affidavit was a general observation about the dangers that a young man would face if he were to return to El Salvador after having rebuffed a gang’s efforts to recruit him. The second declaration was written to update the record with information about the impact of a major gang truce that had been made in El Salvador in March 2013. Swain and Nikki researched crime statistics and Salvadoran news media sources and discovered that Sal would continue to face a serious threat, even in the post-truce environment.

Now, Sal’s attorney reported that the Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) board member was seeking additional information about the nature of the risk that a young man of Sal’s age would face in El Salvador. Swain and I researched the details of recent reprisal killings reported by the Salvadoran press and found an alarming number of incidents in which gangs had acted on their threats to kill young men who had refused to join. We compiled this research and assisted Professor Cavallaro in composing an updated declaration.

A few days after submitting the affidavit and speaking with Sal’s attorney about the various ways in which the IHRCRC could support the case, Professor Cavallaro was invited to answer the board member’s questions in person. We joined him on his trip to Canada in order to help him prepare for his testimony and to conduct ad hoc research tasks.

At the hearing on Wednesday, December 4th, the board member spent approximately an hour asking probing questions about the conditions in El Salvador and the nature of the threats that Sal would face if he were to return. As soon as Professor Cavallaro had responded to each of these questions, the board member abruptly announced that he was going to make his decision then and there. Everyone in the room was confused — earlier that morning, the board member had told Sal’s attorney that he would not be reaching a final verdict that day.

As they waited for the board member’s decision, the three of us prepared ourselves for the worst. But we were relieved to see that Sal’s attorney did not appear anxious.  Well-versed in Canadian asylum procedure, she knew (unlike us) that no board member would make a negative decision without first giving her the chance to examine her own witness.

Once the board member finished going through each of the grounds and necessary criteria for successful asylum claims, he closed his book and looked to Sal, issuing his decision. With a smile on his face, he addressed Sal directly: “Welcome to Canada.”

Organizations and Transactions Clinic Students At Work, Fall 2013

The Organizations and Transactions Clinic (“O&T”) has done great work this fall quarter providing operational and corporate governance advice to over 20 Northern California nonprofit clients.  See below for details and photos.

Lindsey Larson ('15) (foreground) and Krista Whitaker ('15) work through a complex contract structure.

Advice and Documents: Programs and Operations

Krista Whitaker (’15) and Greer Mackebee (’15) helped a statewide agricultural nonprofit design a asset-building program that enables beginning and limited resource farmers to save money for investment in their farms, and drafted three other contracts relating to the client’s programs. Krista and Greer also prepared a complex construction services agreement for a leading national affordable housing organization, and provided extensive risk management advice to a San Francisco nonprofit that helps students become the first in their families to graduate from college.

Lindsey Larson (’15) and Devon Mobley-Ritter (’15) advised a San Francisco family services nonprofit about a potential merger transaction. The project entailed multiple calls with the CEO, preparation of confidentiality and due diligence documents, advice about merger process and structural matters, and due diligence review. Lindsey and Devon also provided advice to and prepared a set of nine consulting and other contracts for a North Bay nonprofit support organization, and drafted contract materials for a large San Jose health and wellness nonprofit.

Devon Mobley-Ritter ('15) rehearsing for a board presentation with O&T faculty, staff and fellow students.

Leo Chingcuanco (’15) and Michele Cumpston (’14) reimagined the goods and services procurement process and developed a set of bidding and contract documents for a large international nonprofit that works in multiple countries to develop literacy skills in primary school children. The team also advised a Sonoma County food system nonprofit about legal and business issues associated with implementation of its new strategic plan and drafted a social media policy for a Silicon Valley nonprofit support organization.

Travis Robertson (’15) and Richard Sapien (’14) revamped a software services contract for a South Bay nonprofit that provides technology and IT services to public agencies, an engagement involving significant integration of technical and legal content. The team also provided a San Benito County nonprofit with advice about regulatory matters and drafted new documents for its community farmers’ market. Finally, Travis and Richard assisted a San Francisco commercial kitchen and business incubator with its technical assistance program for food entrepreneurs.

Leo Chingcuanco ('15) and Michele Cumpston ('14) worked together on several projects, including a suite of bidding and contract documents for a large international nonprofit.

Advice and Documents: Corporate Governance

Michele Cumpston (’14) and Lindsey Larson (’15) prepared recommendations and a suite of bylaws, committee charters, policies, and management documents for a leading national affordable housing organization. The team created a wide-ranging deliverable, corresponded regularly with the CEO, and led a lengthy meeting with board members to discuss the advice.

Richard Sapien (’14) and Krista Whitaker (’15) provided comprehensive corporate governance advice and materials for a large Marin County provider of mental and behavioral health services. Richard and Krista spoke with the CEO and members of the board on multiple occasions and presented their recommendations at a meeting of the board of directors.

Richard Sapien ('14) and Travis Robertson ('15) partnered on several projects, one involving preparation of a software services contract for a local IT services provider.

Greer Mackebee (’15) and Travis Robertson (’15) reviewed the governance practices and documents of a long-established Marin County sustainable agriculture, education, and environmental nonprofit. The team toured the farm, met with the CEO, prepared an extensive report, and presented recommendations and materials to the board of directors.

Devon Mobley-Ritter (’15) and Leo Chingcuanco (’15) worked with a large and innovative San Francisco housing provider to review and modernize the organization’s governance documents. The team met with the CEO, drafted multiple documents, and then made a formal presentation at a meeting of directors and senior executives.

Greer Mackebee ('15) and Travis Robertson ('15) provided comprehensive corporate governance advice and documents for a sustainable agriculture, education, and environmental nonprofit.

Other Matters

Clinic students also worked with ongoing O&T clients on a variety of matters, including preparing a set of collaboration, copyright licensing and services agreements for an agricultural nonprofit, assisting the nation’s leading charter school organization with assignment of a credit agreement, advising a rural community health care clinic about audit committee compliance matters, working with a national civil rights organization on documenting a coalition, and consulting with two agricultural nonprofits on collaboration matters.

A Student’s Perspective On An Extraordinary Win in Immigration Court

In immigration court earlier this week, the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic experienced a phenomenal win for their client in an unexpected manner. David Watnick ’15 and Atenas Burrola, ’14 partnered on the case under the supervision of clinic director, Professor Jayashri Srikantiah and Clinical Supervising Attorney, Lisa Weissman-Ward.  David’s account of the experience follows.

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On Tuesday, December 3, 2013, Atenas Burrola and I represented our client at a master calendar hearing at Immigration Court in San Francisco.  We were optimistic that the hearing would be the only time that we would go to court to represent our client, who was facing deportation.

Our optimism was, I believe, warranted:

Before we left for Thanksgiving, Atenas and I left a message with the government attorney responsible for handling our client’s case. We explained to her that, based on our research and analysis, we did not believe that the government could meet its burden of proving that our client was subject to deportation. We told her that we would be moving to terminate the case, and asked that she forward any documents she intended to submit in support of the government’s case, so that we could proceed as quickly as possible.

The day before the hearing, we contacted the government’s attorney to confirm that she had received our message. She informed us that she had received the message, which had prompted her to review our client’s file. She said she agreed with our analysis, and that she would move to terminate the case at the next day’s hearing.

Atenas and I were ecstatic to learn that the government was planning on dropping our client’s case. We had been very confident that we would ultimately prevail, but we had been preparing our client and ourselves for a protracted battle. We were still nervous that the government would reverse course before the hearing, but had no rational reason to think that it would.

When we got to court the next day, we had to wait nearly two hours before our case was called. It was excruciating at the time, but it was a small price to pay; when our case was finally called, the government’s attorney immediately told the judge that she would be moving to terminate the case based on the argument we had made to her.

The judge asked Atenas and me a few basic questions about our client, and asked if we objected to the government terminating the case. We told her we did not object, and that we waived our appeals. Our very brief hearing was over. The judge handed us the termination order, and the government attorney returned our client’s green card on the spot.

The extremely quick resolution of our client’s case was an almost unimaginably good outcome. Now that our client has his green card back, he will likely be able to travel home to see his family for Christmas, which was one of his foremost priorities in resolving his case. The successful termination of our client’s case was a thrilling and unexpected Christmas gift for our client and for us.

Environmental Law Clinic Student Argues at Hearing in U.S. District Court

A team of Environmental Law Clinic students, faculty and staff appeared in U.S. District Court in Sacramento on November 22 at a hearing on behalf of their clients Western Watersheds Project and Wildearth Guardians.  The hearing concerned how to remedy violations of the National Environmental Policy Act by the Bureau of Land Management when the agency authorized continued cattle grazing in habitat for sage grouse and pygmy rabbit in eastern California.  Clinic student, Evan Stein (’15), argued against Assistant U.S. Attorney Earlene Gordon, attorney for the Bureau of Land Management. A ruling is expected early next year.

The students involved in the case and in attendance at the hearing (as pictured here from left): Jackie Iwata (’14); Amanda Prasuhn (’15); Josh Malone (’14); and Evan Stein (’15).

Clinic Students Reflect on Their Work in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic

Immigrants’ Rights Clinic students, Christina Yang, ’14 and Tiffany Yang, ’15 represented their client in immigration court last week. They share background on the case and perspective on their work below.
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IRC Students, Christina Yang and Tiffany Yang at Immigration Court, Oct. 31, 2013

On Thursday, October 31, 2013, we had the privilege of representing our client at immigration court in San Francisco.  She was placed in removal proceedings following a misdemeanor offense, and the earliest possible resolution for our client would be scheduled as far away as 2016. She was at risk of losing avenues for relief unless we fought against this delayed docket. In the weeks prior, we strategized, outlined, and mooted as many scenarios as we could to prepare. All of this work culminated in a twenty-minute hearing, in which we successfully advocated for our client and her interests.

Looking back, it is hard to believe we met our client for the first time only four weeks ago.  Although it was exciting, as law students, to have the opportunity to appear in court, the most fulfilling part of the day was our client’s relieved smile that she would not be alone.

Immigrants’ Rights Clinic Students Testify at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Immigrants’ Rights Clinic students, David Watnick, ’15 and Atenas Burrola, ’14 appeared at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. this week along with clinic director, Professor Jayashri Srikantiah. David writes below about the hearing, the testimony he and Atenas presented and his experience.

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On Monday, October 28, Atenas Burrola and I presented at a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington, D.C. The Commission is a branch of the Organization of American States tasked with examining human rights abuses in the Americas.

Our hearing, brought by a broad coalition of organizations, concerned the human rights of immigrants in the United States. Atenas and I presented on the failure of American immigration agencies to appropriately exercise prosecutorial discretion in deportation decisions. By failing to consider family unity in every deportation decision, these agencies are violating America’s obligations under the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.

Immigrants' Rights Clinic students David Watnick and Atenas Burrola outside the Organization of American States

In our presentation, Atenas and I requested that the Commission recommend that America’s immigration agencies require the consideration of family unity at all phases of every deportation cases. Such reforms can be adopted on an agency level with no legislative approval, meaning that America’s immigration policies can immediately be improved, regardless of Congressional efforts to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

The day after our hearing at the Commission, Atenas and I joined Professor Jayashri Srikantiah, the director of the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic, for a series of meetings to expand our advocacy efforts into America’s political branches. We meet with officials at the Department of Homeland Security, the White House Domestic Policy Council, and the offices of Senators Reid, Durbin, and Menendez.

The trip was a great reminder that there are many ways to substantively contribute to an advocacy effort other than litigation (a fact often forgotten in law school), and I am very grateful to have been able to participate so directly—Atenas and I were definitely not kept on the sidelines. Immigration reform is proving to be a very difficult process, and our efforts will encounter no shortage of obstacles, particularly America’s reluctance to honor the decisions of international bodies, and the political preference of many in Washington to address immigration policy solely through legislation. But I’m confident that our work will be one link in the chain of a successful immigration policy reform effort.

Students Investigate and Report on Prisoner Rights Violations in Panama

On behalf of clients, The International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic released a Spanish-language report this week, Protecting the Rights of Prisoners, addressing Panamanian prison conditions. Clinic students, under the supervision of clinic director, Professor Jim Cavallaro, clinical teaching fellow, Clara Long, and a consultant, Maria Luisa Romero, began fieldwork on the project in November 2012 assessing rights violations within the country’s prison system, in which roughly 14,600 inmates are living in space designed for 8,600. Many students have been involved in the investigation and resulting report including: Kat Mateo ’14; Nick Snavely ’14; Jennifer Williams, ’14; Katherine Scherschel, ’14; Atenas Burrola, ’14; Alex Miller, ’14; Swain Uber, ’15; and Michael Frenkel, ’15.

There will be a hearing on this issue at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights tomorrow, October 31, 2013. For more on this, see the press release and the English translation of an op-ed piece on the clinic’s work in Panama’s La Prensa newspaper.

Religious Liberty Clinic Hosts Moot for Middle School Students

On October 29, 2013, Religious Liberty Clinic director Jim Sonne and advanced clinic students Courtney Quiros ’14 and Paul Harold ’14 hosted a moot court at the law school for 18 eighth graders from the Sacred Heart Preparatory school in nearby Atherton. The middle-schoolers presented arguments in Town of Greece v. Galloway, a high-profile case pending in the U.S. Supreme Court concerning the constitutionality of legislative prayer. It was a fantastic and rewarding experience for all involved.

Supreme Court Litigation Clinic Honored with Stanford Pride Award

From left: Bailey Heaps, Elizabeth Dooley, Michael Baer, Nicolas Martinez, Pamela Karlan

The team of Supreme Court Litigation Clinic students: Bailey Heaps; Elizabeth Dooley; Michael Baer; Nico Martinez and faculty instructor, Professor Pam Karlan pose for a photo on October 19, 2013 after receiving an award from Stanford Pride, the university’s LGBT alumni organization, for its work on the team representing Edie Windsor in challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.