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Spring 2017 Clinic Highlights

Friday, March 24, 2017   (0 Comments)
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The Clinical Program at the University of the District of Columbia David Clarke School of Law (UDC-DCSL) represents a significant departure from traditional legal education. One vital purpose of the Clinical Program is to provide legal services to citizens of the District of Columbia who could not otherwise afford representation. The clinical approach has also proven its effectiveness as a method of teaching the law. It places theory within the only context in which it is truly meaningful: the resolution of actual legal disputes.

The faculty and students at UDC-DCSL are engaged in the practice of law on a continuing basis. By representing clients with legal problems, students learn substantive law and lawyering skills in the most realistic setting. This clinical experience not only contributes to a better understanding of the law learned in the classroom, but also gives UDC-DCSL graduates a significant advantage in the workplace over those whose legal education lacks such practical experience.

All UDC-DCSL students participate in at least two of the following clinics:

DC RowhousesCOMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CLINIC

This clinic has students learn transactional and lawyering skills while representing non-profit organizations and small, urban entrepreneurs by exploring and implementing models of legal practice that assist clients in developing control and ownership of economic and social assets in their communities.

The students’ work begins with ascertaining the client’s goals. Following an analysis of the client’s needs, the students and client plan an approach. They may start with the basics: drafting organic rules to guide the organization’s functioning, advising on governance issues or educating the client about the responsibilities of a Board of Directors. They may partner with accounting or other consultants to achieve solutions to financial needs, such as access to capital, or to conduct risk assessments. They may work with others, including organizers or policy makers, to resolve community issues that stand in the way of their client’s goal. Finally, they may negotiate and prepare the documentation for complex transactions, including sales of real estate – experiences that many lawyers do not get until they have several years of post-law school employment under their belts.

During the 2016-17 academic year, several students are assisting three housing cooperatives that provide homes to 57 families with structuring their loans and resolving other financial challenges. Students are helping a tenant association acquire and renovate 14 units of slum rental housing property and convert it to a cooperative for the building’s residents. CDLC clients offer students a diverse range of subject matter. In addition to tenant associations and housing cooperatives, students are representing nonprofits that provide services to incarcerated youth, offer job readiness training for asylum seekers, and enable child care workers to form their own businesses.

DC Law Students in CourtCRIMINAL LAW CLINIC

This clinic provides the opportunity for students to represent adult clients charged with misdemeanors in DC Superior Court and children involved in delinquency matters.

Law school students who have an interest in criminal law have the opportunity to acquire hands-on experience in criminal cases through the Criminal Law Clinic, run by D.C. Law Students in Court – Criminal Division, which is located in the law school. Created in 1968, D.C. Law Students in Court is the oldest clinical program in DC and is open to student participants from multiple DC area law schools. Students represent adult defendants in misdemeanor cases in the District of Columbia Superior Court and children involved in delinquency matters and are responsible for every facet of their cases, from extensive fact investigation through pretrial preparation, negotiation and representation at trial and in other hearings.

This fall, UDC law students handled cases in which their clients were charged with misdemeanors such as simple assault, unlawful entry, assault on a police officer, and sexual abuse. Prior to their clients’ first court appearances, each student interviewed his or her incarcerated client and crafted arguments to the arraignment judge in favor of his or her client’s release from jail on the least restrictive conditions possible. At the arraignment hearings, students advocated on their clients’ behalf and secured their clients release into the community. Students thoroughly investigated their cases, going to the scenes of the alleged offenses, taking photographs, and interviewing various witnesses and police officers in order to gather facts and develop case theories. As a result of the information they gathered, the students filed numerous pretrial motions and diligently prepared for trial. Many of the students obtained dismissals in their client’s cases before trial. Other students negotiated with prosecutors and obtained favorable outcomes for their clients, such as diversion agreements. In addition to their time in the courtroom, students assisted with expungement proceedings, and attended training sessions with judges, lawyers and service providers.

Students at a U.S. Supreme Court LectureGENERAL PRACTICE CLINIC

Students in this clinic represent low-income clients dealing with some of life’s hardest issues. Some students help seniors and persons with disabilities remain as independent as possible and avoid institutionalization. Others may help resolve family problems that are likely to escalate and traumatize children.

Students in the General Practice Clinic assisted a 90-year-old man who was in danger of losing services that enabled him to live on his own. He sought help from the Clinic when the company that provided him with four hours of assistance, which included such basic things as doing his laundry and sweeping his floor, cut his services in half. The services are among those to which seniors are entitled under Medicaid to enable them to avoid institutionalization. Two students negotiated with the provider and were able to restore him to the level of service upon which he had come to rely. Their quick and effective action enables him to continue to live in his home and with dignity.

Clinic student Shakira Hansley
Shakira Hansley, '17

In another case, Clinic students served as the guardian ad litem for three children in a custody dispute. The parents had a long history of conflict but also had considerable strengths and deep love for their children. The students’ job was to investigate the case and advise the court as to what course(s) of action and results were, in their view, in the best interests of the children. To that end, the students interviewed both parents, both sets of grandparents, school teachers, doctors and, of course, the children who were our clients. They obtained records from the police, the school, the doctors, and the court. The students then represented the children in court and conducted opening and closing statements, as well as direct and cross examination of witnesses including parents, other family members, school teachers, and a psychiatrist. While the case has not been completed, we expect that the students’ work will reduce the ongoing conflict to which the children have been subjected.

US Supreme CourtGOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILITY CLINIC

This clinic provides students a unique opportunity to work with leaders in the legal community who preserve freedom of speech by protecting those who blow the whistle on corporate and governmental abuses of power that betray the public trust.

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) is a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)(3) public interest organization that seeks to promote government and corporate accountability through advancing occupational free speech and ethical conduct, defending whistleblowers, and empowering citizen activists. GAP's lawyers represent government and private employees who are threatened with retaliation for speaking out against fraud, waste, mismanagement, abuse of authority, environmental dangers, and public health and safety problems. GAP clients span a wide spectrum, including persons who deal with environmental issues, nuclear oversight, food and drug safety, worker health and safety, international reform and national security.

Clinic students primarily focus on three dimensions of the work: 1) investigating claims of retaliation and developing evidence to support the claims; 2) filing complaints under the Whistleblower Protection Act and other anti-retaliation laws; and 3) conducting legal research to monitor whether employers are adhering to the law or whether laws need strengthening.

GAP Clinic Director Tom Devine
Professor Tom Devine speaking at
a congressional committee hearing

GAP is particularly concerned with government agencies that misuse their own whistleblower protection mechanisms. They have had cases where an agency’s internal investigators have themselves retaliated against a whistleblower. Students have played important roles in these cases. In one, a GAP Clinic student drafted the Whistleblower Protection Act Complaint that GAP filed in federal court on the whistleblower’s behalf. In another case, which involved managers in a government agency who rewrote an investigator’s findings with respect to a retaliation complaint, UDC students worked as a team to take statements from the employees whose rights were violated by the government investigators as well as by their employers. In the second case, the students’ investigative work produced over two dozen statements, sparked congressional oversight, and is likely to lead to a new, independent investigation, including an outside audit of the government program where the whistleblowing and subsequent cover-up effort occurred.

Protestors in DCHOUSING & CONSUMER LAW CLINIC

This clinic fights for safe and affordable housing for some of the most vulnerable DC residents in eviction defenses, affirmative habitability actions, illegal rent increases, and fair housing cases.

A local nursing home had housed elderly and disabled residents in the District of Columbia for more than 125 years. Some residents had called the facility their home for decades. Following repeated reassurances to residents that there were no plans to sell, in September 2015, the nursing home publicly announced its plans to sell the building. Residents, who would be forced to leave, called the clinic for help.

Students Jessica Galvan, ’17, Marsha Williams, ’17, Larin Connor, ’17, and Peter Ajuonuma, ’17, researched whether DC law provided protections for these older, frail residents. They identified an issue that DC courts had not previously considered – that the nursing home residents were also tenants under the law. This argument was significant because, if they were tenants, DC law would give them a first right to purchase their building in the event the owner contemplates a sale.

Guided by their instructors, the students proceeded to file a lawsuit, and experienced first-hand the way fast-paced litigation unfolds. They asked the Court for emergency relief to stop the sale. When the nursing home asserted that it had not provided the residents with an opportunity of first purchase because the residents were disabled, elderly and poor, the student attorneys responded that the home’s position violated federal and local discrimination laws. Altogether, the student attorneys wrote eight sets of substantive court papers and conducted two hearings at which they examined witnesses, admitted documents into evidence and presented oral arguments. These are opportunities many lawyers do not get until they have been out of law school for several years.

Clinic student Jessica Galvan
Jessica Galvan, '17

Despite their efforts, the judge ruled against the residents and declined to stop the sale. The remaining residents found alternative housing, but did not give up. The residents’ families, with the continued support of the Housing Clinic, continue the fight to protect nursing home residents. In February 2017, the Clinic submitted written testimony to the Performance Oversight Hearing on Health of the DC Council to support legislation that would strengthen the laws that preserve affordable housing for older District residents, especially those who live in Long Term Care Facilities.

The value of the clinical experience, even though it did not achieve all of the clients’ goals, is immense: As Jessica Galvan noted, “As my first litigation experience, it was priceless. Not only did I learn and utilize necessary legal skills, I gained an understanding of client-centered lawyering that few law students gain while still in school.”

Students at Immigration Court in Arlington, VirginiaIMMIGRATION & HUMAN RIGHTS CLINIC

This clinic represents asylum seekers fleeing violence and persecution at interviews with immigration officials and/in litigation before the Immigration Court, the Board of Immigration Appeals, state court, United States District Court and the United States Court of Appeals.

In the Fall 2016 semester, students Jessica Christy, ’17, and Leslie Benjamin,’17, traveled to Dallas, Texas, with Professor Kristina Campbell to represent a woman and her minor child in their asylum hearing at Dallas Immigration Court. The students first met their clients when they traveled to the Karnes Family Detention Center in Karnes City, Texas, in the summer of 2015, as part of the law school’s service-learning program. The students in the service-learning program represented the mother and her child in their bond hearings and succeeded in getting them released on a low bond pending their asylum hearing. The Clinic continued to represent them in their asylum case. In preparation for the 2016 trial on the clients’ asylum petition, the students drafted declarations, prepared witnesses and submitted a brief arguing for asylum relief. The students had hands-on roles in the trial, during which they examined witnesses and introduced documentary evidence. Unfortunately, the court issued an unfavorable decision, but the Clinic will appeal the case to the Board of Immigration Appeals.

Teacher and pupilJUVENILE & SPECIAL EDUCATION CLINIC

This clinic protects students from improper school discipline practices and policies and ensures that students with disabilities receive the accommodations and services to which they are entitled.

For too many low-income children, going to school is fraught with danger and the constant fear of failure. Too many students are subjected to unwarranted suspensions and expulsions; minor infractions too often lead to involvement with the juvenile or even adult justice system. Students with learning, cognitive or physical disabilities, or those who struggle with mental health problems, do not receive the accommodations to which they are entitled and which they need in order to learn. UDC’s Juvenile and Special Education Clinic breaks the “school to prison pipeline” by challenging improper disciplinary responses by DC schools and advocating for accommodations to enable students with disabilities to succeed.

Recently, clinic students Brian Stubits, ’17, and Michael Wakefield, ’17, represented a 15 year-old student with a disability who is in 9th grade. His school sought a 45 day (“long term”) suspension, alleging that he had attacked a teacher. Although it initially seemed like the school’s case was “open and shut,” the two students assigned to the case were not convinced. As they dug into the facts, their research revealed a completely different story than that presented by the school. Eye witnesses refuted the story of the student-initiated assault. Instead, they described how the teacher hit the student and lifted a chair to strike the student. When the student knocked the chair out of the air, both the student and teacher fell to the ground. At the next hearing, the students examined the witnesses and convinced the judge that the student was not primarily at fault. After reprimanding the teacher, the judge ordered that the student be returned to school. The students negotiated a plan that provided the student with tutoring to enable him to catch up for the time he missed, ensures on-going attention to his educational needs and clears his record. It is not an exaggeration to say that the students’ work was life-changing for their client.

Students at the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Workforce Committee MeetingLEGISLATION CLINIC

In the Legislation Clinic, students focus on learning about legislative lawyering and experience the development of thoughtful public policy first hand, representing non-profit and community organizations before legislative bodies and regulatory agencies.

This year, Legislation Clinic students, Aysha Iqbal, ’17 and Shannon Cooper, ’17, immediately jumped into efforts to shape new law. These student attorneys testified before the D.C. Council in support of the Feminine Hygiene and Diapers Sales Tax Exemption Amendment Act of 2016, a bill which proposed elimination of the DC sales tax for feminine hygiene products. The students testified on behalf of, and alongside, the Clinic’s client, BRAWS (Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters). Along with new bras, BRAWS collects and distributes sanitary pads and tampons which it distributes to women and girls in over 24 local shelters.

Clinic students being interviewed by Tom Sherwood
Students being interviewed
by Tom Sherwood after
testifying before the D.C. Council

On behalf of BRAWS, the students argued that the tax has a disparate impact on women and, in particular, burdens women and their families living in poverty by increasing the cost of products essential to meeting natural biological functions. They also explained that the tax has an unintended consequence of limiting the supply of feminine hygiene products donated to shelters and organizations like BRAWS. Following delivery of their prepared testimony, Aysha and Shannon ably fielded questions from reporters and Councilmembers, who expressed appreciation for their thoughtful and well-prepared analysis.

All of the students in the Legislation Clinic contributed to the effort, through research and writing support, by assisting Aysha, Shannon, and their client prepare for the presentation and by developing materials for a grassroots outreach campaign. Their efforts paid off: in November, 2016, the Council voted to eliminate the tax; Mayor Muriel Bowser signed it into law on December 8; and it became law on February 18, 2017.

Clinic student Shannon CooperI had a fulfilling experience testifying on behalf of BRAWS before the DC Council in support ofB21-0696, now DC Law 21-201. The opportunity to testify gave me invaluable experiences that I will take with me for the rest of my law career. I was able to compose and deliver testimony on behalf of a client, field media questions and conduct interviews as a tool to educate the public about the issue of taxation on feminine hygiene products and its significance. Plus, I was confident enough in my research to be able to answer anticipated follow up questions from DC Councilmembers and other advocates who were interested in this area of social equality. - Shannon Cooper, ’17 (participant in the Legislation Clinic)

Clinic student Aysha IqbalI particularly enjoyed my experience working with BRAWS because our client was so enthusiastic about learning how to navigate the policy world, and we saw the immediate results of our advocacy. We combined our activism and resources as student attorneys, with her passion and together were able to testify in support of a bill that passed at DC Council. - Aysha Iqbal, ’17 (participant in the Legislation Clinic)

Tax Clinic Students in Moot Court RoomLOW INCOME TAXPAYER CLINIC

This clinic gives students the opportunity to help clients overcome serious financial hardship by resolving tax problems which threaten their stability. LITC clients are persons of modest means, often low-wage immigrant workers, for whom the assistance can be life-altering.

In the 2016-17 academic year, students in the Tax Clinic have negotiated reduced tax obligations for clients and have corrected errors in tax returns which, in at least one case, turned what initially appeared to be a tax debt into a tax refund. In that case, clinic students Jason Imbiano, ’17, and Sylvano Alvarez, ’17, represented a single father of several young children who was unable to make payments to the IRS on an alleged tax liability. The students determined that the tax debt was incorrect and, with the assistance of the Taxpayer Advocate Service, obtained a recalculation of multiple years of tax returns. The recalculation indicated that the client was actually due a federal refund of over $18,000, significantly more than his annual income.

Clinic student Michael Wilk
Michael Wilk, '17

The LITC recently partnered with the Harvard Law School Federal Tax Clinic to litigate U.S. Tax Court test cases. It also launched the Tax Court Research Project pilot, which offers first-year law school students the opportunity to satisfy their requirement of 40 hours of community service by conducting on-site research at the Tax Court to connect unrepresented taxpayers with one of a dozen participating law school clinics around the country in order to protect more low-income taxpayers.

Student enthusiasm for the Clinic is palpable. As student Michael Wilk, ’17, explained, “You hit the ground running in this Clinic. It functions like a real law firm. . . . the clients are real people with real problems; you are their lawyer. I can't underscore how rewarding it was to hear a client say ‘I think I'll finally get some sleep tonight’ after getting some good news about his case.”

 

Professor Karin and Legislation Clinic students
Mississippi State Capitol
Service-Learning trip to Mississippi
Legislation Clinic students and faculty
Service-Learning trip to Texas
Students testifying before the D.C. Council
Professor Campbell with Jessica Christy, ’17, and Leslie Benjamin,’17, at  Dallas Immigration Court
Erika Cummins, '17
Peter Ajuonuma, '17, at the US House of Representatives
Jason Diggs and Tracey Jackson, 18, at the John A. Wilson Building
Tax Clinic students
Tamika Carroll, '17, Service-Learning trip to Texas

 


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7/3/2020
No Classes/University Closed (Independence Day)

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