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RLC Files Briefs for Quakers and Sikhs

Religious Liberty Clinic students wrote and filed two amicus briefs last quarter, representing a diverse group of religious believers. Read on for the background and details of both cases.


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Matthew Higgins

G Schweizer

Greg Schweizer

Matthew Higgins ’15 and Greg Schweizer ’15 drafted an amicus brief in a New Jersey appellate court on behalf of the two leading Quaker organizations in the nation – the Philadelphia and New York Yearly Meetings of the Religious Society of Friends – and in support of a home-based Orthodox Jewish synagogue facing a zoning challenge. The synagogue had appealed a trial-court decision that dismissed, without discussion, the synagogue’s argument that its alternative form of worship was covered by federal protections for religious land use. Matt and Greg placed the synagogue’s challenge in the context of the landmark Quaker struggle for religious freedom in our country, emphasizing that relevant legal protections are “all the more important where, as here, the religious practice involved is uncommon, unpopular, or misunderstood.”

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Shae McPhee

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Andrew Lawrence

Meanwhile, Andrew Lawrence ’15 and Shae McPhee ’15 drafted and filed an amicus brief to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of The Sikh Coalition and in support of Native American inmates in their petition for certiorari in Knight v. Thompson, No. 130955. The case-in-chief involves a religious liberty challenge by inmates in Alabama who had their hair forcibly cut in violation of their religious beliefs and contrary to the practice of most other states. Writing for The Sikh Coalition, Andrew and Shae stressed that Supreme Court review was needed, because the 11th Circuit fostered a circuit split by refusing to require the Alabama prison to consider the permissive hair-length practices of other states and that such a refusal harms Sikhs in particular – a minority, and perhaps unfamiliar religion in which maintaining unshorn hair is a central practice. Indeed, as Andrew and Shae noted, Sikhs have gone to death over the violation of their right to this belief and practice.



Great Day in Court for CLC Students and Their Client

Grace Tsou and Per JensenGrace Tsou ’15, with co-counsel Per Jensen ’15 looking on, calls a client from the courthouse steps to report the terrific news that the judge denied her landlord’s application for an eviction judgment! The judge agreed with the legal analysis that Grace and Per advanced in their opposing papers. Great job, Grace and Per!

Terrific Trial Experience for Winter Quarter Criminal Defense Clinic Students

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Trial strategy session; (from left) Snayha Nath ’15, Connie Dang ’15, Krisina Zuniga ’15 and Matt Henry ’15

Early in the winter quarter, several students returned to the advanced Criminal Defense Clinic to see their cases through to trial. Below are highlights of their work and results.

Acquittal Win on One of Two Charges at Misdemeanor Trial

Under the supervision of Director Ron Tyler, students Matt Henry ’15 and Snayha Nath ’15 conducted a misdemeanor battery trial on January 27 through February 3. The Clinic’s client had been stopped on Caltrain by two conductors who wrongly believed that he was fare evading. After one of the conductors pushed the client, he responded by trying to free himself, and a second conductor also grabbed him. As a result, the client was charged with two counts of battery on transportation personnel. On February 3, based on Snayha and Matt’s excellent trial work, the jury returned a verdict finding the client not guilty of one of the counts of battery. Unfortunately, he was convicted on one count. Matt and Snayha are preparing for a sentencing hearing that will likely take place soon.

Students Litigate Three-Day Jury Trial

During the week of February 10, 2014, Krisina Zuniga ’15 and Connie Dang, ’15 represented a client charged with three criminal misdemeanor counts in the clinic’s third full jury trial. Their client was charged with claims of driving under the influence and causing hit and run property damage. Krisina and Connie presented the defense that a third party, not their client, was the actual driver involved in the accident in question. The trial took place over three days and involved strategic jury selection, two separate motions in limine hearings, multiple cross-examination of law enforcement and civilian witnesses, and a direct examination of their client. Krisina and Connie were successful in winning an important set of motions in limine, filed by the prosecutor midway through their trial, defeating the claim that evidence of third-party culpability should be excluded – the basis of their client’s defense.

Although the jury unfortunately returned a guilty verdict on all counts after hours of deliberation, their client expressed deep gratitude for his “day in court.” Immediately following the verdict, Krisina and Connie presented mitigation evidence to the judge who granted their proposed sentence. The team was supervised by Clinic Director Professor Ron Tyler.

Students Secure Amazing Results for Clinic Client

Arwa BenOmran ’15 and Jordan Flanders ’15 teamed up in last quarter’s Youth and Education Law Project (“YELP”) to represent a client facing school district expulsion. They achieved wonderful results for their client beyond prevention of the discriminatory expulsion. Read the account below for background of the case and Arwa and Jordan’s great work.

Arwa BenOmran '15 and Jordan Flanders '15 at work in the clinic office, Winter 2014

Arwa BenOmran ’15 and Jordan Flanders ’15 at work in the clinic office, Winter 2014


O.G. is a 14-year-old boy with profound hearing loss, partial vision loss, and severe mental health issues. Although American Sign Language (“ASL”) is his only means of communication, O.G. has never received direct academic instruction in ASL and has had no way of communicating effectively with his hearing peers, teachers, and other school staff. In addition, although required by law, prior to YELP’s involvement O.G. had never been provided with any kind of psychological, behavioral, or mental health supports at school.  Rather than providing these critical and legally mandated services, O.G.’s school repeatedly suspended him for behaviors that were manifestations of his mental health conditions and inability to communicate effectively across his language barrier.

When O.G. came to the clinic for help, things had become so severe that he was facing expulsion from his school district.  Arwa and Jordan made the school district aware of its unlawful conduct and got the school district to agree to immediately stop the expulsion proceedings, acknowledge O.G.’s mental health conditions, and take steps to identify an appropriately therapeutic and ASL-rich school environment so that O.G. may attend school and benefit from his public education.

Following these initial negotiations, Arwa and Jordan helped the family search for a school placement that would address O.G.’s complex needs. After two months of further negotiations, O.G. ‘s school district agreed to fund an out-of-state therapeutic and residential placement that serves children with deafness and co-occurring mental health conditions. After four months out of school and years without academic instruction in his language, O.G. will finally have opportunities to communicate with teachers and peers in an ASL-rich environment that addresses his academic, social, and emotional needs. O.G. is excited about this opportunity to learn and catch up with his hearing peers, and hopes to return home in a year to attend the California School for the Deaf.

IRC Students Receive Ruling on Motion They Filed Last Spring Requesting Termination of Client’s Deportation Proceedings

Neha Gupta ’14 and Mia Crager ’14 (pictured below) worked in the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic a year ago to draft an important motion for their client in a case with challenging issues. The judge recently ruled on the motion.  Please read below for Neha and Mia’s account of the experience.


On March 6, 2014, after nearly a year riddled with extensions and continuations on a client’s deportation case, the Immigrants’ Rights Clinic won a challenging motion to terminate removal proceedings.  Our client is ecstatic to return her attention to her family, her career, and her every day life, free from the threat of deportation.   N Gupta and M Crager

Our client’s case involved several interrelated charges of both inadmissibility and removability that made drafting the motion to terminate a complex task.  We focused our energy during our spring 2013 quarter in the clinic strategizing with our client, examining how various criminal and immigration laws intersect, and negotiating with the ICE trial attorney assigned to our client’s case.  But after learning that ICE intended to move forward with the case and completing a draft of our brief, all we and our client could do was wait for our client’s hearing, set for the fall of 2013.  After receiving our briefs, the judge granted our motion to terminate removal proceedings and canceled the hearing.

Throughout the representation, we were humbled by our client’s resilience and positivity, and could not be happier about the result.

Fantastic Victory in a Federal Habeas Case for Advanced Criminal Defense Clinic Student Mark Feldman

Mark Feldman ’14 (pictured here) returned to the Advanced Criminal Defense Clinic last quarter to represent a CDC client serving 30 years to life under California’s three strikes law.  The client is challenging his conviction and sentence for robbery in a federal habeas petition.  Mark worked with Clinical Supervising Attorney Galia Phillips to draft an opposition to the Attorney General’s motion to dMark Feldmanismiss the client’s habeas petition for failure to exhaust state remedies.  The Attorney General argued that because our client failed to present his arguments to the California Supreme Court, he had not exhausted his claim and could not present any arguments in federal court.  Mark was able to show that the client had tried to file both a Petition for Review and an Application for Relief from Default in the California Supreme Court but was unable to timely do so because, among other things, he did not receive notice of the need to file an Application for Relief from Default until after the deadline for filing one had already passed.  Judge Illston, of the Northern District of California, agreed with the clinic’s arguments and denied the Motion to Dismiss, finding that under the unique circumstances of this case, our client had complied with the exhaustion requirement.  This is a crucial victory as it allows us to keep fighting for a chance to have a federal court address on the merits the substantial violations of our client’s constitutional rights.

O&T Clinic Assists with Merger

Mau_JaniceIn last quarter’s Organizations and Transactions Clinic, Janice Mau (’14) and Clinical Supervising Attorney Michelle Sonu assisted a rapidly-growing San Francisco human services organization with a potential merger transaction. The work entailed regular communication with the CEO and Board members, due diligence review, advice development and delivery, and preparation of various transaction materials.

Students Launch Work Immediately; Experience Joshua Tree National Park

Environmental Law Clinic (“ELC”) students dove right into their work last quarter on cases involving complex issues as you’ll see below. The Clinic team also squeezed in a site visit to Joshua Tree National Park to learn more about the land (and it’s inhabitants) they continue to work to protect on behalf of clients. Read the details below:

Because of an imminent briefing schedule, Jason George ’15 and Elizabeth Hook ’15 began a whirlwind of work during the first week of the Winter quarter. In support of the claims of several plaintiff organizations, they drafted and filed an amicus brief challenging a regional transportation plan in San Diego. The case raises significant issues about the adequacy of the agency’s air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions analysis and the implications of that flawed analysis for public transit versus freeway building. The plaintiffs prevailed and asked the Clinic to file an amicus brief in the appeal. Elizabeth and Jason not only mastered the written material, but also worked with lawyers directly involved in the case, including the California Attorney General’s office. The case will likely be argued this Spring.

ELC’s long-standing, multi-pronged effort on behalf of the Pit River Tribe spilled into the Winter quarter spurring the return of students Evan Stein ’15 and Amanda Prasuhn ’15 as they finished their work on the complicated Ninth Circuit appeal brief. The case involves issues around a proposed industrial energy development on a sacred Indian site.  The Clinic’s clients’ challenge to federal energy leases was dismissed on prudential standing grounds and because the district court concluded that defendant Bureau of Land Management had no discretion to decline an extension of old leases, despite the lessees’ non-compliance with the lease provisions. To draft the Clinic’s opening brief, Amanda and Evan, along with clinic-mate Joel Minor ’14, waded through thousands of pages of documents, gained an understanding of a set of complex leasing regulations, and crafted a compelling story of the case. Anuja Thatte ’14 has teamed with Amanda this Spring to draft the reply brief.  National Parks Conservation Association 1

On the lighter side, ELC staff and students visited Joshua Tree National Park and nearby lands in February to learn more about an area their client, the National Parks Conservation Association, is trying to protect. Years ago, Kaiser Eagle Mountain LLC proposed locating an enormous landfill just outside the boundary of Joshua Tree National Park to accept trash from the Los Angeles area. Kaiser initiated an exchange with the federal Bureau of Land Management National Parks Conservation Association 2to secure 3,500 acres of public land needed to make the landfill a reality. First at the District Court and then at the Ninth Circuit, the Clinic succeeded in getting the land exchange thrown out and in fighting off a petition for rehearing in the Ninth Circuit and a petition for cert to the U.S. Supreme Court. Given the changing nature of landfill demand (due, in large part, to widespread recycling), Los Angeles County ultimately has decided not to freight trash to the Mojave desert. National Parks Conservation Association 3

As part of discussions about what happens next, students visited some of the lands at issue and toured the resources they work to protect at and near Joshua Tree National Park. While the group didn’t see a desert tortoise on the trip, they saw horned lizards and Joshua trees, sampled Palm Springs’ famous date shakes, found abandoned Cal clothing in the desert, and learned (a little too late) to avoid cholla cacti spines.

Successful Expungement Work for Community Law Clinic Students

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from left: Sabrina Forte and Jessica Dragonetti

Community Law Clinic (“CLC”) students triumphed in their expungement work during the 2014 winter quarter.  They appeared on behalf of clinic clients in the Superior Courts of San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties (Criminal) and successfully expunged approximately 25 convictions from 11 clients’ records.  Many clients plan to secure employment now that their records have been cleared, some of whom have job offers pending a clean record.  In addition to improving their employment prospects, several clients are realizing the psychological benefits that flow from an expunged history.

A unique feature of CLC’s expungement practice is that students have the opportunity to appear in court in small teams.  Students are able to support their colleagues’ work, and observe each other’s court appearances while witnessing our criminal justice system in action.Nisha Chantal & Boots 1 (1) Pictured at right are Nisha Kashyap ’14, Chantal Johnson ’14 and Chris Boots ’14 in Santa Clara County Superior.

Congratulations to CLC students and clients!

Monique Loy ‘14, Sabrina Forte ’14, Nisha Kashyap ‘14, Chantal Johnson ‘14, Christopher Boots ‘14, Manal Dia ’15, Jessica Dragonetti, ‘15, Melissa Runsten ’15, Sheli Chabon ‘15, Meredith Firetog ’15

Students Negotiate Appropriate and Safe Educational Environment for Clinic Client

As part of their work in the Youth and Education Law Project (“YELP”) last quarter, Samantha Lefland ’15 and Kip Hustace ’15 represented 10-year-old E.V. in a combined special education and expulsion matter.

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Samantha Lefland ’15 and Kip Hustace ’15, Wint Quarter 2014

Prior to the clinic’s involvement, E.V.’s school district had a long history of ignoring his escalating behavioral and mental health needs at school, although E.V. was in special education and legally entitled to receive such care and support. As a result, E.V. had repeatedly engaged in impulsive and aggressive behaviors, including kicking classroom aides, throwing chairs, and eloping from school grounds, demonstrating over and over that he could be a danger to himself and others.

Then last fall, while unsupervised at school, E.V. found a knife that was left lying out by staff and carried the knife down a school hallway. E.V. was tackled by adults and fell to the floor, hitting his head. The police were called and E.V. was admitted to the hospital for his second involuntary psychiatric hold incident this school year.

E.V.’s mental health professionals reported that they believed he had disassociated during the incident and needed additional help at school. Instead of responding lawfully by providing an appropriate school placement with necessary therapies, behavioral supports, and supervision, the school district chose to try to expel E.V.

E.V.’s mother soon called YELP seeking legal assistance and Kip and Samantha began work. They learned, after a thorough investigation, that the district had been on notice of E.V.’s needs for a long time and had failed to act appropriately. Kip and Samantha were able to use this knowledge and the corresponding risk of litigation to negotiate a very favorable outcome for their client. As a result, E.V. was recently placed in a therapeutic day treatment class with constant supervision and his expulsion has been suspended and may be expunged from his record in the future.