Fall 2014 Clinic Highlights
Thursday, February 12, 2015
Read summaries and highlights of the work performed in Fall 2014 by the legal clinics at UDC David A. Clarke School of Law:
Housing & Consumer Law Clinic
The Housing and Consumer Law Clinic provides representation in housing-related civil litigation. Students enrolled in this clinic represent individuals and small groups in eviction defenses, affirmative habitability actions, illegal rent increases, and real property actions, including predatory loans and foreclosure, fair housing and miscellaneous torts. Students also represent consumers against merchants and homeowners against home improvement contractors in disputes involving sales and services.
Housing problems have traditionally been the paramount concern of indigent clients. The Housing and Consumer Law Clinic has a pedigree of nearly forty years and its graduates have become tenant and housing lawyers across the country, including leaders of the local tenant bar. Proud of its tradition of feisty litigation, it has achieved expertise over the last decade in affirmative warranty litigation, fair housing eviction issues, and, currently, administrative rental housing litigation. It has adjudicated numerous tenant petitions before D.C. administrative law judges, more than most other public interest organizations.
The D.C. Rental Housing Act balances the interests of low- and moderate-income tenants in safe, affordable housing with the interests of the housing providers for a reasonable rate of return on their investments in the property. As the law currently reads, a housing provider is guaranteed a 12% return. If a housing provider is receiving less than this rate when all of the numbers reflecting income, equity, operating expenses, and encumbrances are crunched, the Rent Administrator will authorize whatever increase in rent that will bring the rate of return up to 12%. These increases greatly exceed the annual allowable increases, which are tied to the CPI-W. For many years, housing providers did not request these increases because the process is cumbersome and because they could get greater returns on other types of investments. The recent economic downturn made these “hardship petitions” more attractive for the housing providers. Low- and moderate-income tenants need legal representatives experienced in both the Rental Housing Act and administrative procedures to assure that these extraordinary rent increases are fair and legal, and to lobby the D.C. Council for changes to the law to reflect current economic conditions.
Student attorneys Jennifer Laskin, ‘15, Christian Schley, ‘15, Alex Smith, ‘15, and Gary Redding, ‘15, represented tenant associations in two apartment building regarding substantial rent increases that were provisionally granted in hardship petition proceedings that were flawed because the tenants were not given their due process notice. One of these cases involves issues that went beyond the technical problems to the substantive claims by the housing provider, who failed to provide complete and accurate financial information. Additionally, our student attorneys had to monitor the deteriorated housing conditions and to facilitate arranging for repairs from property management companies that have a history of ignoring such requests when they come directly from tenants. The tenants who paid the provisional increases, in some cases over 70%, will receive substantial refunds or rent credits, and rent levels will be returned to what they were at the time of the filing of the petitions, helping to preserve affordable housing in the District of Columbia.
Warranty of Habitability/Housing Code Violations
Housing providers are required to maintain their residential properties in a safe and sanitary condition. Bedbugs have become a serious problem. The construction boom has led to greater rat and mice infestations. And D.C. has recently passed a law concerning a housing provider’s responsibility to abate mold and other environmental hazards, which is now being implemented, including the drafting of enforcement regulations.
Student attorneys Nina Naval, ‘15, and Caitlin Russi, ‘15, represented a tenant in a case involving a severe infestation of mice and bedbugs that the property management largely ignored because they felt the tenant was “difficult” and complained too much. The tenant is a single mother with three children, two of them toddlers who are now afraid to go to the bathroom alone for fear of the mice. We are pursuing tort claims as well as claims regarding violation of the implied warranty of habitability. The pretrial conference was scheduled for early Spring semester.
Student attorneys Randle Wilson, ‘15, and Alfredo Luxardo, ‘15, negotiated the payment of damages and attorneys’ fees in a case that the Clinic filed in 2007 on behalf of a tenant, based on the housing provider’s failure to make repairs and abate mice and roach infestations. An administrative law judge ruled in the tenant’s favor and awarded approximately $24,000 in damages. The housing provider appealed this decision to the Rental Housing Commission and, when the RHC affirmed it, appealed it again to the D.C. Court of Appeals, the highest court in this jurisdiction. The Court of Appeals issued its decision this past August affirming both the award of damages to the tenant and awards granting over $25,000 in attorneys’ fees that will support our clinic program.
Other Housing Clinic Notes
The Clinic is representing a fast food worker in a case involving a motorcycle accident. The motorcyclist’s insurance company subrogated the claims and sued our client for over $65,000. Opposing counsel has been trying everything he can think of to get us off the case because we keep winning the procedural motions we file regarding depositions and discovery. Student attorneys Randle Wilson, ‘15, and Alfredo Luxardo, ‘15, traveled to Delaware to take the deposition of an eyewitness, and we anticipate a procedural battle over the use of the deposition at trial. The pretrial conference in this case is currently scheduled for the Spring semester.
After a marathon mediation session, student attorneys Gary Redding, ‘15, and Alex Smith, ‘15, settled a case that had been filed in Landlord-Tenant Court by the previous owner of the building who was contractually obligated to deliver the property to the new owner vacant, but failed to do so. The previous owner tried to cure the breach of the sales contract by trying to evict the pastor of a community church who has lived in the property, and maintained his church there, for almost thirty years. A jury trial had been scheduled for mid-January 2015. Instead, our client will receive $60,000 to help him relocate in the same neighborhood so that he can continue his ministry in the community.
Student attorneys Caitlin Russi, ‘15, and Nina Naval, ‘15, will be appearing before the D.C. Rental Housing Commission in February for oral arguments in a case that has been appealed to the RHC for a second time. The housing provider’s attorneys first appealed the administrative law judge’s initial award of nearly $4000 in damages to our client based on hyper-technical legal issues, all of which had to be countered with equally hyper-technical opposition briefs produced by prior clinic students. The RHC sided with us on all of these legal issues; however, in December 2013, the case was remanded to the administrative law judge to correct some math errors in the chart of damages. The administrative law judge issued her new Order After Remand in late September. We were well aware at the time of the RHC decision that the housing provider’s attorneys intended to appeal the decision to the D.C. Court of Appeals, but because of the remand, the case must again go through the RHC. Ms. Russi and Ms. Naval have filed a written answer to the latest Notice of Appeal, urging the RHC to affirm its prior decision in this case.
General Practice Clinic
Student attorneys in the General Practice Clinic represent low-income clients in such areas as family law (child custody, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, child support, divorce, and adoption), health, employment (wage-and-hour and Unemployment Insurance), TANF, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), housing, bankruptcy, open government (Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act) and estate planning. Students appear before administrative tribunals and trial and appellate courts in the District of Columbia. Students also engage in transactional practice, by providing advice to non-profit organizations, such as HIPS (“Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive”). Finally, students engage in systemic advocacy efforts, such as testifying before the D.C. Council.
In Fall 2014, students had court appearances in three family law cases. In the first matter, student attorneys Chrysanthe Courniotes, ‘15, and Frank Heinsohn, ‘15, represented a maternal grandmother seeking custody of two grandchildren following their mother’s death. The student attorneys reached an agreement with the children’s father that guaranteed that the children would remain in their grandmother’s care. The agreed-upon custody arrangement also ensured that the client would continue to receive much-needed financial assistance for the children.
Ms. Courniotes also appeared in D.C. Superior Court on behalf of a defendant in a contested divorce case. In preparation for a hearing, she and her clinic partners, Mr. Heinsohn and Shannon Harris, ‘15, conducted legal and factual research into the couple’s marital property and debt. The legal team also provided counsel to the client in preparation for a court-ordered mediation and helped her to obtain necessary social services.
In the third case, student attorneys Caitlin Russi, ‘15, and Ms. Harris litigated a contested custody matter. During trial, the student attorneys presented an opening statement, introduced evidence (including numerous exhibits), cross-examined witnesses, and delivered closing arguments. The client, who is a domestic violence survivor, seeks sole legal and primary physical custody of her four-year old son. The student attorneys and client await the court’s final order in that case.
The General Practice Clinic collaborated with the Immigration & Human Rights Clinic to provide legal assistance to clients seeking Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). Mary Likos, ‘16, and Kevin Fortkiewicz, ‘15, represented a Honduran immigrant seeking SIJS status for her 17 year-old son who hitchhiked across Central America into the United States. Working closely with interpreters, the student attorneys conducted several interviews with the client and her son and counseled the client about available legal options. The student attorneys also researched international service of process issues and located social services to assist the client with her non-legal needs.
Students Amber Sterling, ‘16, and Carleigh Torres-Gavin, ‘15, represented a transgender woman referred by HIPS (“Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive”), a community partner of the clinic. The client seeks a transfer from her current public housing unit to a unit in a different section of the city. The client has experienced multiple, severe attacks by neighbors motivated by animus toward the client’s gender expression. The client has been mugged, beaten, kicked, and shot at. Her apartment has been burglarized several times in the past three years. The students submitted a lengthy written transfer request, supported by multiple exhibits, including a timeline of events and copies of police reports taken in connection with the crimes committed against the client.
Ms. Sterling and Ms. Torres-Gavin also represented a client in a child neglect matter in D.C. Superior Court. Their client is the grandmother of four children placed in foster care in September, after the murder of their mother – the client’s daughter -- allegedly by the father of the youngest child, who remains jailed awaiting trial. The client seeks to provide the children with a safe and stable home. The students are co-counsel with a senior lawyer from The Legal Aid Society of D.C., and are working closely with the children’s Guardian ad litem and Child and Family Services Agency social workers to ensure that the children are cared-for in this time of crisis.
Daniel Blackburn, ‘15, Nadia Tunstall, ‘15, Josh Ayers, ‘15, and Asia Stewart, ‘15, filed a brief in the D.C. Court of Appeals in a child abuse case. The students are representing the stepmother of a teenage girl who was allegedly beaten by her father, the client’s husband. Notwithstanding the client’s strong relationship with the young woman, the trial court denied a request for custody. The students are asking the court of appeals to overturn the trial judge’s opinion; their appellate brief was submitted in January 0f 2015.
Ms. Tunstall represented a local youth-advocacy group seeking information about sexual assaults against incarcerated juveniles. Under the D.C. Freedom of Information Act, Ms. Tunstall filed a claim with the D.C. Department of Corrections and Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services.
Mr. Ayers represented a non-profit organization which promotes driver and bicyclist safety. On the organization’s behalf, Mr. Ayers invoked D.C. FOIA in requesting from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department a copy of all records involving accidents that occurred between automobiles and bicyclists.
Ms. Stewart and Mr. Ayers represented a woman charged by the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) with failing to protect her children when her husband physically abused their two children. Ms. Stewart and Mr. Ayers argued that the client’s abuser repeatedly threatened to kill her and to abscond with the children if she ever called the police to report the abuse. The students argued that the client had undertaken all reasonable efforts to shield her children from the violence. CFSA ultimately agreed, and dropped the charges of child neglect.
D.C. Law Students in Court – Criminal Law Clinic
D.C. Law Students in Court (DCLSIC) is the oldest law school clinical program in the District of Columbia. The DCLSIC's Criminal Clinic is a unique partnership program with student participants from both UDC and GW law schools. Students in Criminal Clinic provide first-rate legal serves to indigent adult clients charged with misdemeanor offenses in D.C. Superior Court. Although the students appear in court under the supervision of attorneys, the students are responsible for every aspect of their cases. Specifically, they conduct extensive fact investigation, including finding and interviewing defense and government witnesses, engage in pretrial discovery, prepare and file pleadings, engage in plea negotiations, argue motions, and represent their clients at trial and other hearings such as probation or parole revocation hearings.
Students in the clinic learn effective lawyering skills and receive trial advocacy training through weekly classroom seminars, guest lectures, one-on-one supervision, and case-rounds with their colleagues. The program provides supervision and instruction that emphasizes zealous advocacy and reflection.
In Fall 2014, UDC law students Dalton Collins, ‘15, Punitha Cloud, ‘15, John Ehrhardt, ‘15, Herson Merino, ‘15, Yveka Pierre, ‘15, and Alexander Reed, ‘15, litigated several cases. Specifically, students handled cases in which their clients were charged with misdemeanors such as simple assault, unlawful entry, and theft. After each being assigned detained misdemeanor clients at arraignment, the students conducted initial client interviews in the Superior Court cellblock and crafted persuasive arguments for their clients’ pretrial release on the least restrictive conditions possible. All were successful in gaining their clients release before trial.
In the weeks since first picking up their cases, the students showed great determination to avoid guilty verdicts in their cases. They conducted detailed fact investigations that involved taking statements from complaining witnesses and interviewing police officers. The students conducted thorough legal research about the charges in their cases and made oral and written motions to advocate for better outcomes for their clients.
Ms. Cloud successfully fought to get her client reunited with his son. In addition, she negotiated with the prosecutor to obtain a diversion offer for her client that will lead to his case being dismissed after he successfully completes a period of probation.
Mr. Collins represented a client charged in domestic violence court and another client charged with assaulting a police officer. After developing a strong attorney-client relationship built on trust, Dalton entered one of his clients into a favorable diversion program that will lead to the client’s case dismissal after she successfully completes a period of probation. He also worked tirelessly on behalf of his other client, whose case is now set for trial in Spring semester, by brainstorming and filing numerous pre-trial motions.
Ms. Pierre represented a client charged with assault.She successfully fought to get her client’s release conditions reduced so that he could pick up his child from daycare. She set her client’s case for trial and was relentless in holding the government to its burden. In addition to filing numerous pre-trial motions on her client’s behalf, she diligently investigated her case, finding and interviewing several government witnesses and uncovering helpful information.
Professor Charlotte Brookins-Hudson supervised students in the Fall 2014 Legislation Clinic. During the semester, students in the Legislation Clinic worked on a variety of project assignments for the District of Columbia Council, the District of Columbia Mayor’s Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs, and the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Their assignments involved information gathering, drafting public policy, and research and writing on novel and complex legal issues. They were excited about the contributions they made in shaping local and national public policy.
Issa Al-Aweel, ’15, interned at the D.C. Council in the Office of At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds where he attended and summarized issues posed at public hearings and researched and wrote memoranda on issues that impact the lives of District residents. He analyzed Bill 20-825, the Youth Offender Accountability and Rehabilitation Act of 2014; analyzed key provisions in the fiscal year 2015 budget based on the priorities of the councilmember; analyzed and summarized several bills and resolutions in preparation for committee markup; and performed other day-to-day legislative tasks.
Christina DeLane, ‘15, worked on an affordable housing planning bill project with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. She conducted a comparative analysis of affordable housing legislation in jurisdictions throughout the country, particularly in areas that have a long history of implementing affordable housing plans, with the intent of drafting proposed language for a uniform or model affordable housing planning bill. Based on best practices, Christina proposed language for inclusion in a uniform bill for consideration by all states.
Mahiri Jones, ‘15, interned at the D.C. Council in the Office of Councilmember David Grosso (At-Large) where he researched and wrote memoranda on a variety of subjects including: the type of concealed carry information that should be subject to public release; the legal deficiencies in Initiative 71, the Legalization of Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana for Personal Use Act of 2014, which was approved during the 2014 General Election; local law enforcement’s disproportionate contact with, and impact on, African Americans; and the beneficiaries of the tax increment financing and payment in lieu of tax programs in the District and how those programs impact the statutory debt cap.
Swati Kuthiala, ‘15, interned with the D.C. Council Committee on Health which is chaired by Councilmember Yvette Alexandria. Swati was extremely busy working on several timely health issues that directly impact residents of the District of Columbia. Her assignments included research and writing memoranda on the constitutionality of prohibiting or restricting persons with mental health diagnosis from carrying firearms and imposing mental health screening requirements for firearm license applicants. In light of the Ebola crisis, Swati also reviewed and analyzed area hospital readiness for handling emergency medical epidemics and their existing medical crisis management systems.
Tamara Lewis, ‘16, worked in the District of Columbia Mayor’s Office of Policy and Legislative Affairs where she spent the majority of her time researching and analyzing District statehood issues; researching revenge porn policies (public sharing online of sexually explicit photos without consent) in other jurisdictions; and attending strategy meetings with executive agency officials on a variety of policy matters.
Christina Modi, ‘15, interned at the D.C. Council in the Office of Councilmember Marion Barry where she researched and analyzed legislation on the timing of the use of arrest and conviction information during the hiring process; on when District residents may carry a pistol; on the proposed soccer stadium development proposal; and conducted a comparative analysis of local pregnancy statistics with national statistics. Christina also researched and analyzed multi-jurisdictional legal protections for senior citizens and wrote policy recommendations on how to better protect senior citizens in the District.
Anna Oguntimein, '15, (at right), interned at the D.C. Council Committee of the Whole where she researched the number of times the Council has voted to exempt a street naming proposal from the statutory time period a person must be dead before a street may be named to honor his or her legacy, for use in drafting a uniform policy for naming public streets in the District.
Anne Zmuda, ‘15, interned at the D.C. Council Committee on Government Operations which is chaired by Councilmember Kenyon McDuffie. She researched issues and prepared introductory remarks and comments on legislation for the councilmember. In addition, she researched and wrote memoranda and committee reports on a variety of subjects including reclassifying OEA hearing examiners as administrative law judges; ballot access issues; public health warrant search exception to the 4th Amendment; propriety of notice to tenants upon the expiration of Low Income Housing Tax Credits to landlords; and compensation system changes for Excepted Service public safety employees.
Community Development Law Clinic
CDLC’s guiding goal is to teach students transactional law and Lawyering skills, while at the same time exploring and implementing models of legal practice that assist clients in developing control and ownership of economic and social assets in their communities.
For the Fall 2014 semester, CDLC students applied transactional law and research, writing, counseling, and policy advocacy skills to assist housing organizations, advocacy groups, small businesses and cooperatives who are seeking to better their lives and the lives of those in their D.C. communities. The clinic also worked with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on law reform initiatives in Louisiana.
Working with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law as co-counsel, Jomo Graham, ‘15, and Laura LaPrade, ‘15, assisted a Louisiana non-profit advocacy organization on work with precedent setting housing and finance law reform, which will be presented in the next legislative session. Together with Sam Samuel, ’15, they counseled a D.C. affordable housing cooperative on a number of finance and governance issues. In addition to his work with the housing cooperative, Mr. Samuel researched and advised another client on an issue arising under an overreaching loan guaranty agreement.
Phillip Turner, ‘15, assisted a D.C. affordable housing cooperative with several pressing issues affecting its financial health and governance, including the transfer of a share owned by a deceased member who died intestate and the co-op’s continuing obligations pursuant to a decades old homesteading agreement.
Kristin Moore, ‘15, and Paris Anderson, ‘15, assisted a socially conscious food service and education business through the process of drafting a complex operating agreement. They researched securities, employment and business organization law to structure a unique agreement providing for democratic decision making and shared equity amongst the worker-owners. They also drafted a model catering contract and advised the business on tax issues. They assisted another nonprofit client with contract drafting and intellectual property issues.
Robert Baldwin, III, ‘15, and Lakuita Bittle, ‘15, assisted a D.C. nonprofit focused on justice for formerly incarcerated individuals through the formation and tax exemption process. They drafted governing documents for the organization, advised the initial Board of Directors and completed a new IRS form on behalf of the client. They also advised a health justice company on a government contracting certification program for small, disadvantaged businesses.
Evening division student Patrick Bahn, ‘15, researched D.C. and federal regulations for a client devoted to a achieving a more accountable, equitable banking system and is advising the client with respect to the formation of a financial services institution that will direct local financial resources to the community.
CDLC LL.M. student, supervising attorney and UDC-DCSL alum Eva Seidelman, ‘13, has centered her LL.M. systems change project on working with community based organizations to develop resources and supportive structures for cooperative models of ownership. She is focused on workplace democracy and profit-sharing.
Government Accountability Project Clinic
UDC Law students play an important role in GAP’s work representing whistleblowers and developing the campaigns for the issues they raise. Below are some highlights of the client and issue work UDC students have participated in this year. Clinic students in Fall 2014 included: Suzanne DeFelice, ‘15, Matthew Donohue, ‘15, David Hampton, ‘15, Matthew Hodgman, ‘15, Ashley Krapacs, ‘15, Sally Tyler, ‘15, and Janet Arnott, ‘14.
Federal Inspector General whistleblower #1: Over several semesters, UDC law students have played a key role in GAP’s investigation of this whistleblower’s disclosures about how her/his IG office killed an investigation and report that would have exposed and sought corrective action concerning many millions of dollars in unlawful overcharges to consumers. Students have prepared FOIA requests, analyzed and prepared memos regarding key issues, participated in discovery, prepared motions, and engaged in other pretrial activities concerning the litigation of the whistleblower’s unlawful termination claim.
Federal Inspector General whistleblower #2: This whistleblower’s disclosures concern fraud in the finance and banking industries. S/he identified and exposed more than one billion dollars in losses suffered by certain government supported entities. The IG office involved refused to address the extent of the losses causing the whistleblower to disclose the problem outside the IG office. This disclosure triggered harsh retaliation and termination. UDC students have directly assisted in the development of this case and GAP’s efforts to prepare and file a complaint challenging the actions taken against the whistleblower.
Donna Busche, nuclear and environmental safety whistleblower: In March 2009, Ms. Busche was assigned to perform the duties of Manager of Environmental and Nuclear Safety at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Hanford facility for the contractor URS Energy & Constriction, Inc. (URS). Specifically, Ms. Busche’s work at Hanford focused on the Waste Treatment & Immobilization Plant (WTP). The WTP will be an industrial complex of facilities for separating and vitrifying (immobilizing in glass) millions of gallons of high-level nuclear tank waste. Beginning in 2010, URS's focus moved away from nuclear and environmental safety compliance and toward meeting deadlines regardless of the quality of the work. In this atmosphere, site management viewed Ms. Busche as a roadblock to meeting deadlines, rather than as a valuable check against noncompliance, and managers sought ways to retaliate against her and to circumvent her.
Since late 2010, Ms. Busche has been subjected to escalating retaliation from URS and other contractor officials. To try and combat these attacks, Ms. Busche filed two Complaints with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) under the employee protection provision of the Energy Reorganization Act (ERA), 42 U.S.C. § 5851. These Complaints are pending. Then on February 18, 2014, Ms. Busche was fired by URS. Subsequently, she filed a third complaint with the DOL.
UDC students have been reviewing an extensive array of records provided by the client, prepared FOIA requests, and are assisting in presenting the case to the Department of Labor during the investigative stage. Specifically, they have prepared a brief covering all of the critical issues for Ms. Busche and have addressed the defenses raised by the respondents.
Legal analyses for work on the Hill: UDC students provided key research on federal court docket burdens for the jury trial provisions of the NDAA contractor whistleblower law, both in terms of overall caseload and more specifically for Intelligence Community employees. The research was very significant for GAP’s campaign to restore contractor whistleblower rights. All of the students who participated came up with timely, consistent research findings that enabled very effective advocacy with the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence. This was particularly impressive, because none of our summer interns and even a project attorney GAP hired failed to make any findings.
Community Bank Whistleblower: UDC students continue to assist GAP in the development of this banking whistleblower case. Our client was terminated from her/his position when s/he blew the whistle internally and to a federal agency alleging that the bank engaged in investment activities that meet the definition of ‘unsafe and unsound’ banking activities, and that the bank knowingly filed false reports with federal agencies. Two of the whistleblower’s causes of action have been filed with the Department of Labor and the investigative process is underway. UDC students are researching additional causes of action for a federal court complaint.
Intake evaluation: Each semester UDC students participate in GAP’s case intake process by reviewing and assessing intakes, participating in or conducting follow up interviews, and researching intake issues. This work provides the students with a look at potential cases from the earliest stage and helps them to develop issue spotting, interviewing, and research skills.
Juvenile & Special Education Law Clinic
The Juvenile and Special Education Law Clinic’s primary area of advocacy is representation for parents of children with disabilities in special education matters against the public schools in D.C. Of the young people for whom clinic faculty and students seek special education services, the vast majority are involved, as well, in the juvenile delinquency system or the adult criminal system. Some of these young people are, or have been, involved also in the child neglect system. The young people for whom the clinic has advocated are students of color from the District of Columbia and come from families that are indigent or that have extremely low income. The delinquency and criminal systems in D.C. are populated almost exclusively with people of color, and the overwhelming majority of people in the D.C. delinquency and criminal systems also have disabilities.
Through the experience of representing clients in the clinic, law students have multiple opportunities to practice and to improve interviewing, counseling, and negotiation skills. Law students in the clinic represent clients in special education matters, including in administrative special education due process hearings and in school discipline matters. Some of the clinic’s clients have delinquency or criminal cases. To protect the interests of those clients, law students develop legal theories and employ problem-solving strategies to minimize the clients’ exposure to punitive sanctions and, consistent with the clients’ objectives, to promote educational opportunities. In some cases, law students might be able to extricate clients from incarceration or from the delinquency or criminal system altogether. The supervisors also engage the law students in constructing and implementing systemic responses to the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
Throughout the semester, all students in the clinic regularly attend meetings on behalf of their clients to discuss academic progress and advocate for modifications to the students individualized education programs and behavior intervention plans. The law students work collaboratively with their clients’ related service providers to ensure that their clients receive appropriate services. Students also assist clients with developing transition service plans, including preparing for post-secondary education and developing opportunities for employment.
Most of the young people for whom the clinic currently advocates are between the ages of fourteen and twenty-two, and have been denied appropriate educational services for many years. Law students advocate for appropriate individualized education programs, identify necessary services, and work with related service providers. Clinic students seek compensatory education services and work to secure appropriate public or private school placements for the young people who are the subject of the representation. For young people who are approaching the end of their special education eligibility (ordinarily, in D.C., the end of the semester in which the special education student turns twenty-two), law students in the clinic often argue, either during pre-litigation negotiations or within the administrative due process proceedings, for “extended eligibility” to compensate for the years during which school personnel failed to provide appropriate services.
Some of the clinic’s current work includes efforts to ensure that young people with disabilities in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) receive appropriate special education and Youth Rehabilitation Act services. As a result of the 1997 D.C. Revitalization Act, D.C. closed Lorton Prison in 2000. Since then, persons convicted of felonies and sentenced in “state” court – i.e., the Superior Court of the District of Columbia – go to federal prison if the sentence is for a period of incarceration that is about nine months or longer. This arrangement (state prisoners in federal custody) is unique to the District of Columbia. The BOP does not provide special education services and procedural protections to inmates. D.C. inmates who are sentenced pursuant to the Youth Rehabilitation Act have a right also to rehabilitation services. Clinic faculty members believe that the BOP is not providing those Youth Act rehabilitation services, and, accordingly, the clinic is seeking to enforce those rights, as well.
Further, the work of the clinic includes efforts to ensure that young people (through age twenty-two or, in appropriate cases, older than twenty-two) with disabilities who are in the criminal system and, in particular, those who are detained at the D.C. Jail and the Correctional Treatment Facility have access to appropriate special education services.
Chris Connolly, ‘15, and Jenn Laskin, ‘15, conducted a due process hearing on September 15, 2014, and prevailed, obtaining compensatory education services for a client for a period of time that he was detained at the D.C. Jail.
Paris Anderson, ‘15, John Erhardt, ‘15, and Anne Zmuda, ‘14, drafted and filed a due process complaint on behalf of a client with an extensive trauma history. Because of the intensive work the students invested in developing and presenting the evidentiary basis for their claims, the representative for D.C. Public Schools offered to settle the case by funding the student’s tuition at a private, 100% special education school. The client accepted the settlement offer, and the young woman who is the subject of this representation is thriving in her new school.
For a client in a federal prison in California, law students, including Cristina Calderón, ‘15, are advancing a novel legal theory based upon section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. We have identified local counsel in the jurisdiction of the federal prison. We have found no reported case enforcing the special education rights – pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. §1400 et seq. – of anyone in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Sara Turley, ‘15, is drafting a due process complaint on behalf of a twenty-year-old client who has been denied appropriate educational services and illegally removed from special education, which the clinic will file at the beginning of the Spring 2015 semester. The client will be released from BOP custody this spring, and the clinic is working to develop a placement for him to ensure a smooth reentry into the community.
Frank Heinsohn, ‘15, and Mr. Connolly successfully advocated for reasonable accommodations to their client’s probation requirements, including limiting the amount and frequency with which the client was required to travel for meetings.
At the end of the fall semester (during the law students’ exam period), Professor Tomar Brown represented a fourteen-year-old client in a long-term suspension hearing, successfully contesting the school’s imposition of a 45-day suspension and failure to comply with notice requirements. Subsequently, the school system chancellor reversed the order of the administrative law judge, and Professor Brown is reviewing the legality of that reversal.
Naveed Ahmed, ‘15, accompanied Professor Joe Tulman and Professor John Brittain to a meeting with an official from the White House Domestic Policy Council (DPC); Anika Harris, ‘15, accompanied Professor Tulman to a meeting with the Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) of the U.S. Department of Justice; and Mr. Heinsohn went with Professor Tulman to a meeting with three national staff members of the union (AFGE) that represents BOP correctional officers. The primary focus of the first (DPC) and third (AFGE) meetings was enforcing the rights of young people with unmet special education needs who are in BOP custody. The focus of the second meeting (OJJDP) was a range of juvenile justice system reform issues. Ms. Calderón and Ms. Turley accompanied Professor Tulman and Professor Julie Zibulsky, instructor and LL.M. candidate, to a meeting with two high-level administrators from the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency (CSOSA) recently to discuss the BOP special education and Youth Act issues. The CSOSA administrators are working collaboratively with the clinic to address the issues.
Dara Gold, ‘14, attended the Chancellor’s Address of the State of D.C. Public Schools, during which Chancellor Kaya Henderson outlined her vision and plan for the 2014-2015 school year.
Professor Joe Tulman conducted a statewide training sessions for public defenders in June 2014 for approximately eighty juvenile defenders in Vermont. In October 2014, Professor Tulman conducted a statewide training session for juvenile defenders in Colorado. In mid-November, Professors Tulman, Brown, and Zibulsky conducted a two-day training for public defenders in New Orleans. Each of these trainings emphasized special education strategies that defenders could employ to effectively advocate for their clients.
In August 2014, Professor Tulman was on the faculty of, and led two sessions at, the Institute for Special Education Advocacy at William & Mary for a national audience of attorneys and advocates.
In November 2014, Professor Tulman spoken on a panel at a national meeting of the ABA Commission on Disability Rights.
Professor Tulman continued his involvement with a number of national disability and children’s rights organizations. He is on the organizing committee of a national Civil Rights Roundtable focused on disproportionality of children of color and children with disabilities in the school-to-prison pipeline, which convened most recently in November 2014, and included approximately twelve representatives of the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education. He is also on a national working group, sponsored by the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), regarding legal theories and organizing strategies for maintaining and strengthening the rights of parents and children in regard to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
Professor Tulman has also been active with respect to local children’s rights issues, including with the Children and the Courts Committee of the Council for Court Excellence in D.C., which is studying school exclusion in D.C. and is preparing to submit a report in early 2015. Professor Tulman is also one of the founders of the Every Student Every Day Coalition in D.C., a coalition working to reduce school exclusion.
Immigration and Human Rights Clinic
Students in the Immigration & Human Rights Clinic learn about the specialized area of immigration law and other areas of law (such as employment law and civil rights law) that frequently impact representation of noncitizens and immigrants more generally. Students represent clients under the supervision of the clinic director and a graduate student instructor. In addition to attending the required twice-weekly seminar, students meet individually with their supervising attorney and participate in case rounds.
Depending on the scope of representation, students may represent clients at interviews with immigration officials and/or litigate in Immigration Court, the Board of Immigration Appeals, state court, United States District Court or the United States Court of Appeals. Specific activities may include applications for Cancellation of Removal, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), and asylum; preparation of Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitions; challenges to indefinite detention, via either administrative review petitions or the filing of writs of habeas corpus; bond hearings for detained noncitizens (Joseph hearings); appeals of removal orders for detained noncitizens by the Immigration Court to the Board of Immigration Appeals and/or the Circuit Courts of Appeals; representation of low-wage immigrant workers with employment related issues, such as failure to receive minimum wage and unemployment compensation denials; and creating and conducting "Know Your Rights” presentations for noncitizen residents of the District of Columbia.
In Spring 2014 and Fall 2014, the Clinic was able to successfully negotiate the administrative closure of the deportation cases of two clients in removal proceedings before the Immigration Court. In both cases, the clients are parents of young United States Citizen children who would suffer grave hardship if the clients were deported to their countries of origin. After engaging in pre-trial negotiations with the government attorneys, both cases were closed by the Immigration Judges on the joint motion of the parties in order to allow the clients to remain in the United States and seek to adjust their immigration status through administrative, rather than judicial, proceedings. Students who worked on these cases were Norman Roman, ‘15, and Julia Pham, ‘15.
Clinic students Kathryn Blake, ‘15, and Rebecca Jones, ‘15, represented at trial a young mother from Guatemala, who was in deportation proceedings in Arlington Immigration Court. The client, who has been a Lawful Permanent Resident of the United States for nearly a decade, recently escaped an abusive marriage and began rebuilding her life with her two young children after time spent in and out of domestic violence shelters. However, the government initiated deportation proceedings against our client due to a criminal conviction related to the abuse she suffered during her marriage. At trial, Clinic students argued that our client was eligible for relief from deportation under a special provision of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that allows an immigration judge to terminate proceedings if it can be proved that the criminal conviction was connected to the domestic violence she suffered. The immigration judge accepted the students' arguments, and granted our client's application to cancel her deportation proceedings. She may now take comfort in knowing that her Lawful Permanent Resident status is secure, and that she will be able to apply for citizenship at the earliest possible opportunity.
Clinic students Maureen Murat, ‘16, and Kenrick Roberts, ‘16, who are both enrolled in our evening program, are assisting a detained client with his appeal before the Board of Immigration Appeals. The client, who came to the United States as a refugee at the age of 10, is a Lawful Permanent Resident whom the government is seeking to deport due to several minor misdemeanor convictions. The client, who represented himself at trial, successfully argued that his deportation should be cancelled due to his long duration in the United States, as well as his role in caring for his elderly, disabled United States citizens parents. However, the government appealed the decision, arguing that our client is statutorily ineligible for relief due to his convictions. Because a circuit split exists regarding the appropriate level of evidence necessary for our client to sustain his burden of proof in order to receive relief from deportation, the case was referred to our Clinic and we agreed to assume representation of the appeal. The client has been detained for more than two years while fighting his deportation, and a decision on the appeal is expected before this summer.
Christen Capron, ‘16, Sharla Dixon, ‘16, Samantha Jachion, ‘15, Anthony Green, ‘16, Philana Weiss, ‘16, Anika Harris, ‘15, Anthony Marsh, ‘16, and Traves Bills, ‘16, are all working on asylum cases pending in Arlington Immigration Court. Several of our clients with pending asylum claims are unaccompanied children (UACs) from Central America, and in one case, we represent both a mother and son fleeing severe domestic violence in El Salvador. Other pending asylum cases in our Clinic concern the representation of individuals fleeing persecution based on their sexual orientation, mental illness, and extortion by gang members.
Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic
The Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic at UDC David A. Clarke School of Law primarily concentrates on assisting taxpayers in the Metro D.C. area to resolve income tax controversy cases with the Internal Revenue Service. The Tax Clinic conducts federal tax policy analysis and systemic advocacy as part of its core mission. The Clinic is also a participating academic clinic in the United States Tax Court Calendar Call Program, providing free counseling to eligible pro se petitioners.
During the fall semester, the clinic actively assisted more than 50 area taxpayers and also engaged in a tax policy project in partnership with the National Health Law Program (NHeLP). Following the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the 2015 tax filing season will begin the reconciliation process for various tax credits, including the Advance Premium Tax Credit (APTC). Each clinic student contributed a research paper on timely topics like the APTC, identifying how the ACA will affect the tax filing season, and potential complications in the reconciliation and tax filing process that could contribute to a surge in federal tax controversies.
Following the completion of another productive semester, students were asked to reflect on their practice in the Tax Clinic over the past few months both to share success stories and in contemplation of the impact of the U.S. Tax Code on the lives of our clients. They shared the following:
Tara Bonzani, ‘15: “I had the pleasure of performing wrap up work for a success story achieved by a previous student attorney, Laura LaPrade, ‘15. Since 2012, a client was having his wages garnished to pay off an old tax debt. The IRS’ Collection Statute Expiration Date (CSED) would have expired several years ago, but for multiple actions taken in efforts to settle this debt. Through Laura’s efforts, in collaboration with the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), an in-depth analysis of the client's IRS transcript confirmed the CSED had indeed expired in June 2014. I was not only able to ensure that the client's tax liability was resolved, but also that he was reimbursed for all wages garnished after the June 2014 CSED, recovering nearly $1500 on the client’s behalf.
I also took two new cases that were not what they seemed upon intake. I believed I was potentially dealing with dependent exemption and innocent spouse relief issues. However, after taking a closer look at the files with my supervisor, we were able to identify that both clients' tax debts stem from non-employee compensation for work performed as an independent contractor. After speaking with the clients about the level of control their employers held during their employment, we felt, and the clients agreed, that they should have been treated as employees. After conducting research, I realized that tax debt accrued by taxpayers due to employer misclassification is commonplace in many professions and that many employers purposefully misclassify their employees to avoid tax obligations. I was excited to get some hands-on experience with this issue.”
Soonwuk (Tony) Cheong, ‘15: “Despite the fact that tax issues do not usually involve a life or death decision, the issues are oppressive enough for people in economic hardship. Ironically, for people who are in economic hardship that the government can recognize, their seemingly difficult tax issues can be resolved relatively easily with negotiation with the government. In contrast, for people who are barely managing their lives without economic hardship, they are often not in a position for the government to forgive the debt, and their tax issues place them in a financially difficult position. Knowing that a route to resolve their tax issues may not be what they wish for, it is not easy to tell them that the route would serve their best interest. My learning through this clinic is to tell the client my best possible assessment in order to advance a potential resolution of the situation. I believe expressing my best possible assessment, while often difficult for a client to accept, is serving the client’s best interest.”
Jamie Holland, ‘15: “A blind, partially deaf, and disabled D.C. resident was referred to the UDC Tax Clinic this year. There have been several unique aspects to this client’s situation. First, we have had to visit him at home due to his disability. Second, and more importantly, this client’s story has demonstrated a great injustice in the law, one in which statutes and case law are nearly directly opposed to the facts in the client’s case. This client improperly attempted to rollover his retirement savings in order to protect the funds following rumors that his former company’s retirement accounts could be in jeopardy. Unsophisticated in the ways of retirement rollover procedures in tax law and without the means to properly receive financial advice, the client placed the funds in the bank, incurring large penalties immediately and additional taxes assessed later. As a result of these tragic circumstances, we are filing a petition in U.S. Tax Court in an attempt to address and hopefully alleviate some of the resulting, additional financial burden experienced by this client.”
Anna Massoglia, ‘15: “This semester, I assisted low-income taxpayers attempting to resolve liabilities with the IRS, Maryland Comptroller’s Office, and the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue. Further, I aided a taxpayer whose identity was stolen, and provided assistance to pro se indigent taxpayers at United States Tax Court calendar calls. I also conducted research in support of the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) on best practices for providing assistance to domestic violence victims seeking innocent spouse relief, and advanced premium tax credits.”
Daudi Sanghe, ‘15: “One client’s legal issue involved chronic payroll deduction inaccuracy and late tax return filing. Sizeable federal and state tax obligations, combined with a moderate annual income posed a dilemma when seeking either an Offer in Compromise (OIC), or Currently Not Collectible (CNC) hardship status. Supporting documentation for filing an OIC and request for CNC was obtained. The client was counseled on the importance of accurately claiming payroll deductions and monthly income to expense figures were evaluated. OIC compliance terms caused the client to disfavor this approach in preference for potentially filing for a CNC. Unfortunately, the client’s payroll deduction and return filing practices, coupled with above poverty income made the client a poor candidate for CNC acceptance. Consequently, the client was advised of self-help options, beginning with stemming the cycle of tax debt by instituting appropriate payroll deductions.”
Khoa Vu, ‘15: “By helping a client resolve his tax issue, I have found my clinic experience to be very satisfactory. Initially, I picked up his call, and he had an accent. Due to my background as an immigrant, I related to his struggles in this country, and the difficulty of adapting to a new culture. I immediately connected to his story, and requested an in-person consultation. When he showed up to the Clinic, we went over his paperwork, and discovered his tax liability was caused by the IRS denial of education credits. Through my research, I was able to find a solution for the education credit claims. As a result of my efforts, the IRS accepted his claim for education credits, and his Tax Court case will not need to proceed to trial. I was particularly pleased that I was able to open and close the file within one semester, due in part to a diligent and responsive client. Thus, I could experience the result of my direct efforts in a positive outcome for him.”