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Recent Clinic News and Victories
Two More Detainees Are Approved for Transfer Out of Guantánamo
Two men who have been held for years without charges at Guantánamo Bay — a Yemeni and an Afghan whose repatriation would most likely require reaching an agreement with the Taliban — have been approved for transfer, according to documents released on Wednesday. One of them, Sanad Yislam al-Kazimi, has been represented by the Criminal Defense Clinic since 2005.
Mr. al-Kazimi, 41, was captured in Dubai in January 2003. U.S. military intelligence considered him to be a bodyguard to Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Mr. al-Kazimi’s lawyer, Martha Rayner, a professor at Fordham Law School, and co-director of the Criminal Defense Clinic, said he was in “pretty good” health and “looks forward to being transferred as quickly as possible.” Professor James Cohen, of the Federal Litigation Clinic, now retired, also represented Mr. al- Kazimi.
The board said that Mr. al-Kazimi should be resettled in Oman, a Persian Gulf country abutting his native Yemen whose rehabilitation program received 30 detainees during the Obama administration. Yemen is considered too unstable to monitor and help rehabilitate returnees.
The board approved Mr. al-Kazimi’s transfer on Oct. 7, less than two weeks after the State Department official responsible for overseeing detainee transfer arrangements, John T. Godfrey, visited Oman, the United Arab Emirates and London in his capacity as acting coordinator for counterterrorism.
Of the 800 men that have passed through Guantanamo since it opened, there are 37 remaining after these two detainees are released.
Read the whole story at: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/
Natasha Vedananda, Inaugural Parole Justice Fellow, Making a Difference
Natasha is working with the Criminal Defense Clinic and a partner organization, The Parole Preparation Project, to advance two initiatives: the Parole Information Project and the Parole Pro Bono Project. She has already hit the ground running, recruiting and training lawyers at firms and public interest organizations. Vedananda hopes to build a stable of at least 25 lawyers this year alone.
Natasha comes to us from Volunteers Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association, where she represented low-income clients in housing and bankruptcy matters, and recruited, trained, mentored and managed pro bono attorneys. Before this, Natasha was an AmeriCorps attorney with Cambridge and Somerville Legal Services, where she worked on housing and public benefits matters. Natasha just earned a Master of Liberal Arts in International Relations from the Harvard Extension School.
Getting the Incarcerated the Parole They Deserve
I'd been told time and time again that I was a nobody, that I had no worth. But Sarah and the others came in with a sense of humanity -- they viewed me as a human being, as the person I am now, which really startled me. It was amazing to me that there were people in the world who could look at someone like me and see some good rather than judging.
The Fordham Law Clinic is leading the charge against the crisis of mass incarceration in this country, using innovative ways to turn the tide against a parole system that is broken and overwhelmingly punishes people of color. Professor Martha Rayner and her students in the Criminal Defense Clinic, are attacking the problem from the back end, by untangling New York State's parole system.
The Parole Information Project, developed by Martha Rayner and Yael Mandelstaum in the Maloney Library, is a unique data base of parole documents, that aims to make the archaic, Byzantine parole and parole appeal process easier to navigate and more transparent. Not many people, especially new lawyers, know that information about an incarcerated person's parole record is virtually impossible to obtain. Many, like Anthony Lombardo '19, who continues to do pro bono work in the area, recounts an instance, before the data base was up and running, that his firm paid $700 to obtain a client's parole file. "By the time it showed up -- too late to use -- I saw that it contained erroneous information. But by that time the judge's hands were tied. He told me there was nothing he could do."
Getting the data alone was not enough. There was clearly an access to justice issue -- parole applicants who had been denied needed representation. So Rayner collaborated with Michelle Lewin from The Parole Preparation Project to recruit and train pro bono lawyers at law firms in the parole appeals process. Prior to this, students in the Criminal Defense Clinic, under the supervision of Martha Rayner and Cheryl Bader, handled such cases.
Take the case of Daryl, imprisoned for committing a second degree murder, carrying a sentence of 25 years to life. Despite his immaculate record during his 31 years inside, he was denied parole three times. Then, in November 2019, a Fordham Law student, Sarah Acree '22, came into Daryl's life. With the advice of Lewin and Rayner, Acree was able to work with Daryl to prepare him for his next parole hearing in the middle of the pandemic. They had the right tools. Still, Daryl walked out of that hearing believing he would once again be denied parole. Instead, he received a letter two weeks later, that he would finally be released. "The first thing I did was go to a public phone and call Sarah," recalls Daryl.
And so, hopefully, begins the unraveling of New York's convoluted parole system.
Read the whole story here.
Illustration by Tom Bactell
Virtual Jousting in the National Online Trial Advocacy Competition
Despite the huge setback of canceling in-person competitions, Adam Shlahet '02, Director of Fordham Law's Trial Advocacy Programs, ranked 9th in the nation by U.S. News and World Report two years in a row, is sanguine about the transformation to online competition that took place. "The foundation of the advocacy -- asking smart questions, writing persuasive opening statements, and making creative arguments -- is still there," says Shlahet.
Adam Shlahet partnered with Justin Bernstein, director of the Trial Advocacy Program at UCLA Law to host the first ever virtual national trial advocacy competition. They expected a modest response, but underestimated the law students nationwide who were hungry to compete. They received recorded opening statements from 170 students in 67 law schools across the country and nearly 400 judges signed up to preside over the online competition.
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.
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.