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Recent Clinic News and Victories
Marjorie Dugan, Criminal Defense Clinic (CDC) Alumna, Reflects on Her Time in the Clinic
"In the Clinic you develop the skills needed to be an effective lawyer. I was a New York State Pro Bono Scholar, so I was lucky enough to spend an entire year in the Clinic. I learned the best lawyers are those who constantly reflect -- not just on the fact pattern before them, but on their performance as a lawyer." Jorie believes the criminal justice system in particular dehumanizes people and punishment is built into every step of the process, and that it is important to instill as much dignity and humanity back into the legal system as possible. While in the Criminal Defense Clinic, under the supervision of Professors Martha Rayner and Cheryl Bader, Jorie worked on a major case that allowed her to prepare and present oral arguments before the New York Civil Supreme Court challenging a NYPD policy as unconstitutional. In another case, she was able to successfully argue before the Erie County Supreme Court, on behalf of a plaintiff who was unjustly denied parole after 26 years of incarceration.
Jorie was previously a Public Defender in Criminal and Family Courts. She is currently serving as Legal Advisor for an International Human Rights organization that advocates for women's and girls' rights.
Estelle Georges-Nason Reflects on Her Time in the Securities Litigation & Arbitration Clinic (SAC)
"I took the Securities Litigation and Arbitration Clinic in the spring before my summer associateship at a large law firm. Because of my clinic experience, I was familiar with soft practice skills like tracking and billing my time, communicating with my assistant, reporting to senior lawyers, and systematically saving documents on the firm's document management software." Estelle also reflects on understanding the arbitration process in the clinic which had not been mentioned in her doctrinal classes. She credits the clinic's supervising attorney and clinical faculty, Professor Paul Radvany, with allowing the students to interact with clients and experts directly, and taking the lead on some conversations. Estelle worked on a "churning" case that involved a component of affinity fraud. "My key takeway from that case was that in order to be a good advocate, it is important to know the objective facts of the case, and it is equally important to get to know your client as a person, what drives them and ultimately matters to them."
At Fordham Law, Estelle serves as the Professional Development Chairperson of the Black Law Student Association (BLSA), and is also a member of the Urban Law Journal.
Students and Alumni Mingle with Entrepreneurial Law Council Members at Mentoring Session
Current and former Entrepreneurial Law Clinic ("ELC") students attended a virtual mixer with members of Fordham's Entrepreneurial Law Advisory Council ("ELAC") last month. The mixer brought together students and ELAC members for a mentoring session. ELAC members were assigned to breakout rooms on topics such as Entrepreneurs, Law Firms, Tech Companies, Financial Institutions, and Venture Capital. Students rotated among the rooms to get valuable career advice from the ELAC members. The ELC is directed by Bernice Grant (top row, second from left).
Prof. Cheryl Bader
Prof. Gemma Solimene
Prof. Martha Rayner
Challenges and Opportunities for Change: Representing Marginalized Individuals During a Pandemic
Practice Tips from Three Clinical Professors
As a result of the pandemic, NYC Immigration Courts, one of the largest in the country, has been closed since March 2020. Even individuals who have been waiting for a long time, can be waiting another two years for a hearing. The pandemic has jeopardized many immigrants' ability to seek legal status in the U.S. Access to justice is being limited and, even worse, under our current immigration laws, delayed status hearings would render someone "deportable." The government has filed cases against individuals who are removable. The consequences are dire if you don't stay on top of court closings and the DOJ website. Prof. Solimene recommends going in person or emailing the court to check on your case because the phone is not always answered and some announcements never make their way to you.
On the positive side, there may be some benefit to prolonged delays in youth removal proceedings. If you have a client between 12 and 17 years old, obtaining a visa legally is not an option available to them, but the longer the delay, the closer they are to visa eligibility. Visas are much less rigorous to obtain than Lawful Permanent Resident Status. Additionally, there are more opportunities for transparency and efficiency in courts throughout the NYS and NYC system because of remote hearings.
Though the court is technically open, the majority of hearings keeps getting administratively adjourned and languish in the court system a year later. The Criminal Defense Clinic represents individuals charged with misdeameanor crimes (lower-level) with potential for serious immigration, housing, and employment consequences. A direct cause of the delays is the Governor's suspension of "Speedy Trial" -- a fundamental right of criminal defendants. Remote hearings have a built in disadvantage for most of the clinic's low-income clients who usually don't have access to or understand the technology, or who don't have privacy when it comes to appearing from home, or who find it difficult to understand their lawyer's counsel when there is ambiguity.
Unlike the front end of the system -- court appearances -- individuals challenging parole denials want court appearances but don't always get them. Some of CDC's clients serving multiple decades of their sentence, are not eligible for release until the minimum has been reached. Yet, parole can be denied indefinitely. These clients have no right to counsel, no right to bring before a court, and can go years without the certainty of a hearing date. Facilities cancelled visits during the pandemic, but allowed 30 minute phone calls from attorneys to prep clients for a parole hearing. Legal meetings, though not cancelled, presented real risks with Covid 19 numbers so high among this population. There is no post-conviction ability to appear remotely.
It is difficult to dig out silver linings in a pandemic, but it has shone a light on the incarcerated and the conditions within our prisons. It has given us time to think about restorative justice and what it would mean to restructure the system long term.
Pro Bono Scholar Rachel Manning '19 Accepted into Honors Program at OAG's Office in NJ
Rachel Manning spent her last semester at Fordham as a Pro Bono Scholar. That meant she worked full time in the Clinical Program in the Consumer Litigation section supervised by Prof. Marcella Silverman and the seminar taught by Prof. Beth Schwartz. She worked with walk-in clients for CLARO at the court, with NYLAG handling some of their limited scope cases, and on Clinic Consumer cases with Prof. Silverman. She learned first hand what a big "win" it is for an unrepresented consumer to have their debt cancelled. Less than 1% of consumer debt clients have representation. Because Rachel was a Pro Bono Scholar, she did not have to balance her final semester with other courses, which gave her the focus to delve deep into representing clients. Moreover, Rachel received "individual and invaluable" attention while learning from Prof. Silverman, known for her fearless approach to taking on Big Banks, Car Dealerships, and any sort of BIG company using shady dealings in trying to defraud the consumer. Rachel also attributed the cases she worked on as a PBS for helping her to better understand peoples' lives, especially the barriers put in place for low-income debtors.
Rachel clerked for a NJ State Court Judge and a Federal Court Judge after graduation from Fordham Law. In these positions she learned how judges think about what is compelling and how to write in a variety of areas of law from family law to criminal law, and from bankruptcy to commercial law and anti-trust.
Though Rachel was recently accepted into the Honors Program in the Environmental Law Division of the NJ Office of the Attorney General -- her "Dream Job!" -- she starts in September 2021. This Program is very competititive, taking only 5-10 recent graduates every year across all divisions. It is considered an investment in the professional development of recent graduates. She will be working in NJ with a team prosecuting violation of state environmental laws. "New Jersey has become a progressive state for environmental issues and is a leader in off shore wind energy," says Rachel.
Listen to Prof. Leah Hill's Podcast Interview About the Trajectory of Black Boys and Girls
In this episode, Professor Leah Hill, a clinical associate professor of law at Fordham University and Director of the Family Advocacy Clinic, whose teaching and writing focuses on interdisciplinary approaches to family law problems, is interviewed. During the conversation, they discuss the role of policy in shaping the trajectories of adolescent girls and boys (32:45), factors contributing to the school-to-prison pipeline (40:15), myths and misconceptions about school discipline (40:15), and the role of gender in school disciplinary outcomes (44:20). They also discuss how the child welfare system contributes to family instability (49:50), structural solutions to addressing discipline and family law problems (55:30), potential improvements to the child welfare system (1:03:50), and Professor Hill’s upcoming projects (1:06:10).
Consumer Clinic's Comments Quoted in California Ruling in Favor of Consumers in Auto Finance Cases
In almost all cases where consumers financed their car purchases through dealers and the contracts were assigned to finance companies, banks, (or later, to debt buyers), and where the consumers have claims against the selling car dealers, the Holder Rule makes the assignees/holders also liable for those claims. But the Holder Rule language states that "recovery by the debtor cannot exceed amounts paid by the debtor." Because attorney's fees in any significant litigation under this issue run way higher than the amount the consumer paid in under contract, this can mean that a there is a cap artificially placed on what has been paid in and the holder of the contract is not required to pay any more than that, including attorney's fees. The case is Pulliam v. HNL Automotive, Inc., et al., and the Court of Appeals held that there is no cap for attorney's fees.
The all-important "FTC Holder Rule" was cited to reflect the 2016 comments, attached here, contributed by Profs. Marcella Silverman of the Consumer Litigation Clinic, Dora Galacatos of the Feerick Center, and Ariana Lindermeyer of MFY. The trio proposed strengthening the Holder Rule by eliminating the cap on attorney's fees among other measures to encourage lenders to proactively respond to consumer complaints.
Marcella Silverman is a former Supervising Attorney of The Legal Aid Society, and has taught the Consumer Litigation Clinic at Fordham for several years. She currently teaches and supervises some of the 2021 cohort of Pro Bono Scholars in their external placements and in the Clinic.
Federal Litigation Clinic Students Argue Employment Discrimination Case in Second Circuit By Phone
For most of the past year, Clinic students have been appearing in court and arguing cases virtually via videoconference or over the phone. Recently, a Federal Litigation Clinic team, under the supervision of Profs. Michael W. Martin, Ian Weinstein, and Jennifer Louis-Jeunne, handled oral argument on appeal from a motion to dismiss before the Second Circuit on appeal from a motion to dismiss in an employment discrimination case. The case came to the Clinic via the Second Circuit's Pro Bono Panel, of which Prof. Martin is a member. Rebecca Guthrie, with Prof. Martin present, argued by phone from the law school clinic, while Elena Cicognani and Quinn D'Isa were listening by the public audio stream. "There was about a 5 minute delay in the public feed before we could hear what was said, so it was a little strange," both Ciccognani and D'Isa commented, "but it was exciting nonetheless." Though Becca did the oral argument, "all three were ready to go," says Prof. Martin.
The client had three legal claims: a failure to hire claim under Title VII and a retaliation claim under Title VII and 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1981. The client alleged that he was hired through a subcontractor as a security guard for the US Open, but, when he went to pick up his credentials, the USTA said he had not been cleared for credentials. The client returned to the subcontractor and who told him that the USTA was denying his credentials because of a prior complaint and lawsuit of racial discrimination against the USTA's primary security subcontractor. Complicating the matter in the district court was the client's having proceeded pro se when responding to the Association's motion to dismiss. Without knowledge of the complicated law on discrimination and retaliation, the client struggled to address the threshold issue of whether the Tennis Association had control over employees hired through its subcontractors. The clinic students addressed this head on with research and persuasive logic.
When asked if there were any surprises in the questions she was asked, Becca said that the intense mooting had prepared her well and that she was calm during the actual argument because of it. As to the drawbacks of doing an oral argument over the phone, she added that it was difficult not seeing facial expressions of the judges or adversary but the advantage was that they coudn't see her either and that made her more open. She and Prof. Martin could motion to each other and even high five each other (socially distanced, of course) when a particular segment went well -- without anyone else seeing their exuberance.
The students' combined reaction was positive particularly because the retaliation argument was so clear and the judges appeared to zero in on it. While the Court has yet to rule, the tenor of the argument gave cause for optimism that the case would be returned to the district court for discovery -- this time with the assistance of the Clinic.
Lincoln Square Legal Services, the professional law firm run by the faculty of Fordham Law’s clinical program, has launched its new website. The site spotlights the practice areas of the School’s live-client clinics and the clinical faculty lawyers who supervise them. It highlights news about the firm and its advocacy for, and victories on behalf of, clients.
Lincoln Square Legal Services provides Fordham Law students with valuable legal training. Students participate in all aspects of the casework and are supervised by Fordham Law clinical faculty throughout their work.