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Recent Clinic News and Victories
Consumer Litigation Clinic Students with Professor Marcella Silverman. From right: Andrew McAllister ’20, Thomas Kendris ’20 , Brandon White ’20, Matthew Ioannou ’20, and K. Douglas Herring ’20.
Helping People Get Out From Under
Since the mid 2000's, hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers have been sued in collection cases, with filings peaking in 2008, when more than 300,000 debt collection cases were brought in NYC's civil court alone. Now the numbers are on the rise again. Stagnating wages and thin margins have left many New Yorkers vulnerable to subprime lending, that is, credit cards with abusive terms that can trap them into a vicious debt cycle.
Students in Professor Marcella Silverman's Consumer Litigation Clinic ("CLC") get hands on experience providing full legal services to low-income consumer defendants in federal, state and local trial and appellate courts. Students take primary responsibility for every aspect of a case. Thomas Kendris '20 is currently working on a case in which a woman was asked by her ex-husband to co-sign a loan for a used BMW. Years later, she discovered she was the sole signatory. Now she is being sued for more than $16,000 which is "money she doesn't have, for a car she never meant to own, never wanted, and never drove," explains Kendris who found several deficiencies in the case from the contract violating the Truth in Lending Act, to dealer misconduct, to the over-inflated amount contained in the lender's document to reclaim the car. "Some cases are so factually complicated and legally complex that there is no way a person can win without being fully represented by a lawyer," notes Silverman. "Those are the cases we bring back to the clinic." From The Fordham Lawyer, January 2020. Learn more.
Federal Litigation Clinic Wins Habeas Motion in Case That Began with a Controversial "Stash House Sting."
A group of Federal Litigation Clinic students, under the supervision of Professors Michael W. Martin and Ian Weinstein, took on representation of a client in 2015 who was arrested in a controversial drug stash house sting. A stash house sting is a controversial law enforcement tactic that has been heavily criticized, including by the Chief Judge of the Northern District of Illinois. The cases known as "reverse stash house stings" involve government agents or informants seeking co-conspirators to rob fictitious narcotics stash houses, often with representation that the crime will be an inside job, and all but guaranteeing a big payoff for little relative risk. The Chief Judge opined that "operations like this were "tinged with racial overtones." In a sting of this nature, the police picked up the Clinic's client and arrested him on three charges. Pursuant to a plea agreement, the client pled guilty to conspiracy to Hobbs Act (conspiracy to rob a drug dealer) and possession of a firearm. The government dismissed the only remaining count of the indictment, conspiracy to distribute narcotics.
When the case began, the client was pursuing his GED and engaged to his son's mother. His fiancee passed away from natural causes during the client's imprisonment. Having served the minimum 5 year sentence of imprisonment imposed by Judge Scheindlin, the client is now in Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) custody. Though he was a permanent legal resident of the US, ICE is trying to deport him to a country which he and his parents left when he was 6 years old, and in which he has no family. His entire family lives in NYC, including his young son. The outcome of this habeas decision was critical to the client's ability and ongoing effort to regain his status as a lawful permanent resident of the United States.
The habeas issue flows not from the stash house sting controversy, but from Supreme Court opinions beginning with US v. Johnson (and ending with US v. Davis) that found certain statutory language void for vagueness regarding what consitutes a crime of violence. In a brief submitted to the Southern District of New York on September 28, 2019 and a reply brief submitted on November 11, 2019, the students argue defects in the government's case. They argued that neither the firearms conviction and sentence nor the conspiracy conviction and sentence was a violent crime, nor were they predicated upon violent crimes, as the relevant law dictated. The government had been erroneously relying on the narcotics charge (which was eliminated in the original plea agreement) to support these convictions. The government had also relied on cases that modified this law post the client's sentence and applied it retroactively.
Natalie Hoehl '20, who worked on the brief in Fall 2019, feels the clinic experience of teamwork and how you, as a lawyer, can affect the big picture is "single-handedly the most rewarding law school experience" she has had. Sean Donoghue '20 echoed this sentiment and added, "This case was emotional, but Mike Martin and Ian Weinstein taught us how to turn our anger into smart action to produce the best outcome for our client."
An Unheralded Change to Criminal Procedure Will Overhaul Arrests in New York
A highly publicized criminal justice reform law took effect on January 1, 2020. While the governor, legislators, and the legal community have focused on basically two aspects of criminal procedure -- bail and discovery -- another modification could impact the lives of New Yorkers even more significantly, says Alex Garber '21. By replacing the word "may" with "shall," the plain meaning of CPL 150.20(1)(a) now bars arrests for most low level offenses. Instead, the statute mandates that an appearance ticket be issued by police instead of arresting the individual. This could very well constitute a sea change in arrest procedures in New York State, where until now, the police have had discretion as to when to issue a ticket and when to arrest. From the Note written by Alexander Garber. Supervised by Professor Martha Rayner, Co-Director of the Criminal Defense Clinic. Learn more.
New Bill Aims to Address Disproportionate Discipline of Black Girls
According to Professor Leah Hill, Director of the Family Advocacy Clinic at Fordham Law, Black girls are over-disciplined for reasons that include their attending under-resourced schools, and frequently being taught by instructors who are unprepared to handle diverse populations in schools. "Nationwide, black girls are far more likely than any other demographic to be discplined. The PUSHOUT Act would combat this problem by establishing $2.5 billion in new federal funds that would support states that commit to banning discriminatory disciplinary policies. Learn more.
CNN Anchor Chris Cuomo Visits Fordham Law's Democracy Clinic
Clinic students had lots of questions for CNN Anchor Chris Cuomo '95 during his visit to the Democracy and Constitution Clinic. Cuomo, who has been a practicling lawyer and has spent over two decades as a journalist responded and asked some of his own. He gave them an idea of what it is like to be in the hot seat by asking them questions about the reform proposals they are developing.
The clinic's projects this semester focus on developing non-partisan reforms related to the presidential pardon power, the Supreme Court, and public officials' use of social media. "Speaking with experts is central to the Democracy Clinic's work, so we're very grateful for the time and thoughtfulness of everyone we speak with," said Visiting Clinical Professor John Rogan '14 who co-teaches this clinic with former dean John Feerick. From left to right: Student Albert Ford '21, Prof. John Rogan, and CNN's Chris Cuomo. Learn more.
Community Activists in Kibera
Last Spring, the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic, directed by Professor Chi Mgbako, partnered with students and faculty from the Strathmore Law School Clinic in Nairobi, Kenya, to continue the Clinic's global gender justice and human rights campaign. This project built on earlier work with Amnesty International, Japan, and with the feminist Kenyan organization Center for Rights Education and Awareness (CREAW). In the Fall semester, the gender justice workshop was implemented by Strathmore for participants in Kibera, the largest impoverished settlement in Nairobi, where sexual and gender based violence are very high. Building on that experience, Kenyan students from Strathmore successfully facilitated the interactive Leitner-Strathmore workshop for community activists in Kibera.
Juvenile Justice Reform in Kenya
In the Fall Semester, the Walter Leitner International Human Rights Clinic, directed by Professor Chi Mgbako, partnered with students and faculty from the Strathmore Law School Clinic in Nairobi, Kenya to develop a white paper focused on juvenile justice reform for girls in Kenya. In November, Fordham Clinic students and faculty traveled to Nairobi to conduct fieldwork for the white paper in conjunction with their Strathmore partners, including interviews with detained juvenile girls, members of civil society, magistrates and lawyers.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) Visits Intellectual Property and Information Law Clinic (IPIL)
Tim Rooney, from the USPTO, recently visited with Ron Lazebnik, supervising attorney of the IPIL clinic and spoke with clinic students about relevant topics such as various job opportunities for lawyers at the USPTO and the importance of taking advantage of experiential opportunities at the law school -- such as the clinic. He also enlightened students as to the importance of pro bono work in patents and trademarks and discussed various ethical issues the Office of Enrollment and Discipline reviews at the USPTO.
Entrepreneurial Law Clinic Holds Second One-Day Clinic for Small Business Owners
Students in Fordham's Entrepreneurial Law Clinic (ELC), directed by Professor Bernice Grant, conducted their second small business legal clinic at Community Capital New York. Collaborating with Will Malpica '00 and two of his colleagues in Martin LLP's business and corporate group, students provided valuable legal services to nine underserved small business owners, in English as well as Spanish.
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.