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Stanford Law School’s Nisha Kashyap and Stacy Villalobos Selected as 2015 Skadden Fellows

Skadden Fellows Stacy Villalobos (eft) and Nisha Kashyap

Stacy Villalobos (left), JD ’15, and Nisha Kashyap, JD ’14, have been named 2015 Skadden Fellows.

Stanford Law School’s Nisha Kashyap, JD ’14, and Stacy Villalobos, JD ’15, were named on Thursday as 2015 Skadden Fellows, a group of 28 graduating law students and judicial clerks who are dedicating their careers to providing legal services to underserved members of society.

The highly selective Skadden Fellowship Program provides each fellow a salary, fringe benefits and debt service on student loans for two years. The program was started in 1988 to give fellows the freedom to pursue public interest work. To date, it has funded 733 fellows.

“The Skadden Fellowships will allow these remarkably talented lawyers to advocate for under-represented workers and children in the foster system. We are thrilled and proud that Nisha and Stacy will be doing this important work, and grateful to the Skadden Fellowship Program for making it possible,” said M. Elizabeth Magill, dean and Richard E. Lang Professor of Law at Stanford Law School.

Stacy Villalobos will work with The Legal Aid Society in San Francisco, providing direct representation to low-wage, immigrant women workers in Fresno, Calif. She will use community education, impact litigation and advocacy to expand and protect clients’ rights, capitalizing on recently passed state laws to strengthen worker protections.

“The Skadden Fellowship is an incredible opportunity,” said Villalobos. “I am thrilled and humbled that I will get to work with and for immigrant women workers after graduation, which is exactly what I came to law school to do. The Skadden Fellowship has made my dream job a reality.”

Nisha Kashyap will work with the Opportunity Youth Collaborative in Los Angeles, which is led by The Alliance for Children’s Rights. Her goal is to dismantle common barriers to educational attainment that transition-age foster youth encounter, using direct services, stakeholder training, and state and local policy advocacy.

“I cannot think of a better way to start my public interest career,” said Kashyap. “I feel incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity to serve the clients who inspire me, and to be a part of a cohort of dedicated and talented advocates. I am excited to begin my project and elevate the stories, dreams and aspirations of foster youth who want to pursue higher education.”

Susan Butler Plum, director of the Skadden Foundation, said the program is very competitive because applicants have to find a prospective job before they apply. The foundation received about 230 applications this year.

“Ninety percent of our graduates stay in the public interest field,” Plum said.

The full list of 2015 Skadden Fellows and their projects can be viewed here.

Grand Jury System Flawed in Ferguson Case But Still Useful for Investigations, Says Stanford Law Professor

This story was written by Clifton Parker and was published Dec. 10 in the online edition of the Stanford Report.

Gavel bring struck

A grand jury is most useful when detailed and confidential investigations into possible crimes are needed, according to Stanford Law Professor Robert Weisberg.

A special prosecutor leading the grand jury may have been a better approach in the Ferguson police-civilian death case, a Stanford law professor says.

Robert Weisberg is an expert in criminal justice and serves as faculty co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. He talked with the Stanford News Service recently about the grand jury system in the wake of the civilian deaths at the hands of police in Ferguson, Mo., and New York City.

In the federal legal system, the grand jury is used to decide whether someone should be charged or indicted for a serious crime. The grand jury hears evidence presented by a prosecutor, and it can subpoena documents, physical evidence and witnesses to testify.

What works well in the grand jury system?

They work well when detailed and confidential investigations into possible crimes are needed. And where police searches, interrogations and voluntary interviews aren’t sufficient, the subpoena power of the grand jury surely plays a pivotal role.

What standard of evidence is used in grand jury proceedings? Is that different than trial juries?

A grand jury needs only find a “probable cause” to indict – that is a much lower threshold than “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Why trust in a secretive process like a grand jury? Shouldn’t the entire American judicial process be open and transparent?

Secrecy may be useful in investigations. Even though witnesses can be forced to talk under subpoenas, the assurance of at least temporary secrecy may give them more incentive to speak openly. Secrecy also prevents untested allegations from going public and wrongly stigmatizing people.

England abolished their grand jury system two decades ago because of widespread belief that it did not work. Should that happen in America?

First, to abolish the grand jury, in at least the federal criminal system, would require a constitutional amendment, so don’t hold your breath. It’s true that the grand jury system usually rubber-stamps prosecutors, but it may sometimes provide a useful check – especially in very controversial cases, plus the investigative role remains.

Should the grand jury process have been used to investigate the police roles in the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in New York City?

It’s too soon to know what happened in regard to the grand jury deliberations in Staten Island (the Eric Garner case,) but in places where the prosecutor has discretion whether to proceed by grand jury – as opposed to a court filing followed by a preliminary hearing before a judge – prosecutors sometimes think the grand jury ensures a broad-based review of the evidence.

Sometimes in such cases, instead of the usual practice of just providing enough exculpatory evidence to establish probable cause, the prosecutor presents a fully neutral and balanced case, and then leaves things to the jurors.But in Ferguson, the prosecutor went a step further by essentially making a case against indictment. He was virtually admitting that he never wanted to go to the grand jury in the first place, and just thought he could not get away with that politically.

Is there a better way to investigate civilian deaths involving the police than through grand juries?

It would probably be better to have a grand jury scheme set up for such cases, perhaps with a special prosecutor, so the regular grand jury process doesn’t get distorted.

Robert Weisberg, the Edwin E. Huddleson Jr. Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, recently wrote an op-ed on the grand jury issue for Stanford Lawyer. Stanford Law Professor David Sklansky also weighed in recently with an opinion piece in Stanford Lawyer about the constraints of grand juries.

SLS Students Protest Police Actions With ‘Die-In’

Close-up of students at Die-In

Stanford Law School students demonstrate by pretending to be dead.

About 100 Stanford Law School students and more than a dozen faculty and staff members participated in a “Die-In” on Friday to call attention to recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island and to lives lost during police interventions.

At 5 p.m. participants assembled and lay down on the ground in the large rotunda at the entrance to the Neukom Building, simulating death for four-and-a-half minutes to represent the nearly five hours that Michael Brown lay dead and unattended on the street in Ferguson.

“The event was meant to bring attention to the unsettling events that continue to happen in our country,” said Clifford Mpare, JD ’16, co-president of the Black Law Students Association (BLSA) at the law school.

Poster lists black lives lost.

A poster lists black lives lost during confrontations with police.

He and BLSA Co-President Ashley Williams, JD ’16, organized the Die-In.“The systematic death of black citizens at the hands of police and law enforcement is unacceptable and hurts us all. The event helped us to express our sorrow while sending a silent, peaceful message that black lives matter,” Mpare explained.

Mpare said the event was “hugely successful,” noting, “The sight of 100-plus Stanford Law students on the ground, representing the deaths of countless people at the hands of those meant to protect them, was extremely powerful and, I think, will have a lasting effect.”

Students are already planning other events, including a video campaign and some panels featuring professors and scholars discussing the issue of law enforcement and people of color, according to Williams. On January 5, they are inviting students and faculty to wear a “My Life Mattered” T-shirt that includes the name of one of the unarmed victims of police intervention on the back. The T-shirts can be ordered for $12 from Krista Whitaker at kwhita@stanford.edu.

Students mill around before the Die-In.

Students mill around before the Die-In.

The Die-In on Friday was fully supported by Dean M. Elizabeth Magill and Student Affairs. It was the first of several responses the law school community will hold to address the troubling events.

On Tuesday, Dec. 9, staff from Student Affairs and the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law will host an informal drop-in session from 1 to 3 p.m. for students who want a safe place to turn to one another for support.


ALEP Releases New Translations for Two of Afghanistan’s Most Important Sources of Law

The Afghanistan Legal Education Project (ALEP) publicly released its English translation of the Afghan Commercial Code this week, a follow-up to its translation of the Afghan Civil Code in September 2014.

This represents a significant development for the legal and commercial sectors in Afghanistan, which have been operating without reliable English translations of two of the country’s most important sources of law relating to sales.Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 9.19.56 AM

ALEP conceived of the translation project when students Sam Jacobson, JD ’14, Chris Jones, JD ’14, Pete DeMarco, JD ’14, Ian Aucoin, JD ’14, Joy Basu, JD ’14, Tarana Riddick, JD ’14, and Arash Aramesh, JD ’14, working under the guidance Erik G. Jensen, Director of the Rule of Law Program, were tasked with writing a textbook on the law of obligations and couldn’t read the contracts material in the Civil or Commercial Codes.

“Given all of the international advice that Afghanistan has received on its legal framework over the last decade, it was particularly surprising to find that some of the most important sources of law in the country were not adequately translated,” Jensen said.

ALEP students worked to mobilize their textbook translation resources to produce a professional-quality translation and, with the help of ALEP Student Director Tres Thompson, JD ’15, ALEP Adviser Rohullah Azizi, and Elite Legal Services, Ltd. saw the project to completion this year.

“ALEP’s work on the translations of the Afghan Civil and Commercial Codes represents our continuing effort to identify and remedy obstacles to legal education and practice in Afghanistan,” said Thompson. “We believe these new translations will be of great help to Afghan students and teachers, as well as legal practitioners, NGOs, and other members of civil society.”

You can download the publication at: http://alep.stanford.edu/publications-2/afghan-code-translations/.

About ALEP

Founded in 2007 as a student–driven initiative, the Afghanistan Legal Education Project at Stanford Law School (ALEP) develops innovative legal curricula to help Afghanistan’s universities train the next generation of lawyers and leaders. ALEP has developed an extensive law curriculum at the American University of Afghanistan (AUAF) with strong support from the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.





Proposition 47’s Successful Implementation Depends on New Alliances, Say Prison Reformers

“Now the real work begins,” said Michael Romano, director of Stanford’s Three Strikes Project at a forum on California’s recent prison reform initiatives held Tuesday at Stanford Law School. Others on the panel were George Gascon, district attorney for San Francisco and Robert Rooks, organizing director of Proposition 47 and Californians for Safety and Justice.

From left, panelists George Gascon, district attorney for San Francisco; Michael Romano, director of Stanford’s Three Strikes Project; and Robert Rooks, organizing director of Proposition 47 and Californians for Safety and Justice at a forum held at Stanford Law School.

From left, panelists George Gascon, district attorney for San Francisco; Michael Romano, director of Stanford’s Three Strikes Project; and Robert Rooks, organizing director of Proposition 47 and Californians for Safety and Justice at a forum held at Stanford Law School.

Romano was referring to the recent passage of Proposition 47, which reduces penalties for many nonviolent offenses in California, such as drug possession and petty theft crimes, from felonies to misdemeanors. In order to be successful, Romano argued, the new law is going to require progressive organizations that favor the law to work together with law enforcement leaders who, for the most part, fought Proposition 47. The end result could be a reduction not only in incarceration but also in recidivism and, therefore, in crime, as more former inmates turn their lives around with help from churches, job training, drug rehabilitation programs and community organizations.

“Lawyers who think their only goal is to get clients out of jail are going to have to think more as problem solvers,” said Gascon. He was one of only a few law enforcement leaders who worked for the passage of both propositions. He noted that the ballot victories show the public supports measures that create “more sustainable safety models.”

Like Proposition 36, an initiative that California voters approved in 2000 that modified the state’s “Three Strikes” law, Proposition 47 won traction from voters who believe in giving people second chances, he explained.

“Law enforcement leaders and elected officials are way behind the voters on these issues,” Romano said.

Rooks credited an unusual alliance of labor leaders, Catholic church bishops and “door knockers” who cared about progressive legal issues for the successful passage of Proposition 47. “We were able to bring networks of people together who had never worked together before,” he explained.

The ramifications of Proposition 47 are enormous. Rooks notes that San Diego County alone identified 200,000 people who might be able to change their record from a felony to a misdemeanor, based on the new law. He said his organization, Californians for Safety and Justice, will be working with legal clinics and community groups across the state to help deal with the anticipated flood of requests.

Gascon’s Public Defender’s Office in San Francisco has already set up an information line to assist former clients and others seeking relief under the new law at (415) 553-9344.

Proposition 47 calls for the money saved from incarcerating fewer people to be used for a “Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Fund,” for truancy and drop-out prevention programs in schools, victims’ services, and mental health and drug treatment programs designed to keep individuals out of the criminal justice system. Rooks said that funding – an estimated $200 million to $250 million per year –

will become available in early 2016, as the measure calls for a full year of baseline data to be collected first.

While there has been much talk about savings at the state level, Gascon pointed out that cities and counties also will benefit from reduced costs in prosecution and police services. “The question is, are local governments going to shift the money and do the right things?” he said.

The three panelists agreed that prison reformers in other parts of the U.S. are following California’s efforts with interest. They are learning, Romano, said, that “the people really want this.”