2007-08 Student Clinic Triumphs
Columbia Law School’s seven clinics provide students with hands-on lawyering experience while giving expert legal advice to clients who otherwise might not have had access to any legal advocacy.
Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic
In May 2007, the clinic, directed by Professor Suzanne Goldberg, secured asylum for a Turkmen woman who feared persecution because of her sexual orientation and her political opinions. Jonathan A. Lieberman and John Olsen were among those who provided legal assistance to the woman.
“We are very proud that our client will be able to live openly as a lesbian and be safe from government-sponsored anti- gay persecution,” students said in a statement.
In November 2007 the clinic secured asylum for Ven Messam, a gay man who feared persecution if forced to return to his native Jamaica. Jonathan Lieberman and Simrin Parmar helped prepare Messam’s application for asylum. The students spent months conducting interviews, drafting affidavits, researching country conditions, filling out forms and providing assistance during Messam’s asylum interview.
Students in the clinic also published Defending Your Rights: A Transgender, Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual User’s Guide to the New York City Commission on Human Rights in January to explain New York City human rights law which makes it illegal to discriminate because of gender identity or sexual orientation. Amos Blackman contributed.
Adam Pulver argued a case in federal court in Boston on behalf of a gay inmate in Massachusetts whose parole was denied. The clinic brought federal claims that allege the denial was because of bias related to his being openly gay.
Jimena Avalos Capin worked extensively with the United Nations Development Fund for Women on a campaign to have transitional justice mechanisms do
Human Rights Clinic
Under the direction of Human Rights Fellow Caroline Bettinger-Lopéz and Professor Peter Rosenblum, the Human Rights Clinic successfully petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of Jessica Lenahan, formerly Gonzales, whose three daughters were killed when local Colorado police refused to enforce a restraining order against her former husband.
Jessica Ruth Gonzales v. United States of America marked the first time an individual complaint by a victim of domestic violence was brought against the United States alleging international human rights violations.
Class of 2008 students Rachel Barish, Elizabeth Howell, Suzannah Phillips, Helen Ronen, Fabrice Van Michel and Jacqui Zalcberg were among those who worked on the complaint. Students in the Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic and the Human Rights Clinic collaborated and contributed to Race and Realities in New York City, a report to the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Jonathan Lieberman and Simrin Parmar contributed.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, clinic students are working in partnership with The Carter Center to conduct field research and create an interactive online map containing information on mining companies, investors, labor conditions and supply chains, all toward engaging the government in renegotiating and reviewing mining contracts and major international agreements to be more meaningful to, and better reflect the interest of the local population. Aisha Weaver, Chia-Li Cho and Kathryn Khamsi were particularly instrumental.
Child Advocacy Clinic
Cheryl James, Alanna Frisby, Tope Yusuf, Mary Ross, Alison Wright and Kim Zafran worked on the Adolescent Representation Project. Directed by Professor Jane Spinak, students assisted clients in securing education, appropriate placements, visits with family members, post-discharge financial support and services for pregnant and parenting teens.
Students also completed the first stage of research to determine best practices when representing adolescents and identified law reform needs for youth aging out of the foster care system, which will be the basis for regulatory proposals and litigation in the 2008–2009 clinic.
Students worked under the direction of Professor Carol Liebman, with such organizations as Safe Horizon, Manhattan Civil Court, Harlem Small Claims Court and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Students settled disputes between neighbors, landlords and tenants; family members; and co-workers.
Carla Martinez and Anna Kolontyrsky mediated a dispute between a student and professor who had physically attacked each other and were suing for medical expenses and emotional distress. Carla said, “Anna I had the opportunity to mediate a very difficult case between a professor and her student. The two women had physically fought each other and were suing each other for medical expenses and emotional distress. The court did not have jurisdiction over one party, and it was not possible to reach settlement. However, we were able to begin a dialogue between the two parties. This case made me realize that some disputes are too deep to be solved amicably, but that mediation can always be used to improve communication.”
Anne Carmena Almonord and Adam Ross ’09 mediated between siblings in a credit card dispute and Sagar Ravi and Vanessa Foncke between angry neighbors. Sagar said, “Mediation can resolve complex commercial cases involving hundreds of thousands of dollars and multiple issues. But perhaps the more difficult case might be an $80 babysitting bill that involves two very angry neighbors, backstabbing, insults, threats, and of course lots and lots of yelling. Once my partner, Vanessa Foncke, and I were able to get them to start yelling at us instead of each other and to think about putting this whole mess behind them so that they can move on with their lives, we were able to work with them to put together a mutually acceptable solution.”
Environmental Law Clinic
Professor Ed Lloyd's clinic students Won Park and Sara Froikin went on a fact-finding mission this fall to São Tomé and Principe, which faces deforestation. The country’s chief environment official asked for help in curtailing the problem from Columbia University’s Earth Institute.
This spring Park, Froikin and Kristina Schwartz wrote a report reviewing the country’s environmental laws and offering solutions.
Schwartz, Johanna Coats and Alexandra Reeve successfully defended a citizen group in a defamation case brought against it for raising public health concerns about asbestos in its community. After five years of litigation, the citizen group settled the case without paying any damages to the plaintiff.
Froikin, Vivian Wang and Nathan Carle successfully represented Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, Brooklyn Community Board #1 and the Greenpoint/Williamsburg Waterfront Task Force in a challenge to a proposed power plant on the East River waterfront in Brooklyn.
In March 2008, the New York State Board on Electric Generation Siting and the Environment denied the application. The clinic represented 17 environmental groups in their successful challenge that overturned regulations adopted by the Environmental Protection Agency which failed to minimize aquatic mortality to millions of fish, shellfish and other wildlife.
In January 2007, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the EPA’s rules on six grounds argued by the clinic. The case is now before the United States Supreme Court. Jim Doggett, Dan Brian and Sarah Hollinshead assisted.
Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic
Professor Conrad Johnson's clinic students Sarah Harnett, Diana Marter, David Mindell, Sarah Mullin and Melody Wells worked with programmers at the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning to create the “Collateral Consequences Calculator,” the second phase of a project that provides attorneys and jurists with an overview of the collateral consequences in immigration and public housing of commonly charged provisions of New York’s Penal Law.
Aden Allen, Amardeep Bharj, Bachir Karam, Julian Moore and Benjamin Rose helped create an online database and extranet to help Project FAIR provide information and service to those facing a denial or reduction of subsistence welfare benefits. The database allows advocates to track and address systemic problems in real time and make referrals.
The extranet puts advocates and those seeking help in touch with additional resources. All students successfully represented at least one client through a “Fair Hearing,” securing essential benefits and preventing evictions.
Tayo Giwa, Shan Jiang and John K. Johnson represented long-term homeless clients through administrative hearings. In both cases, the clients received favorable decisions which included benefit awards. The students represented their clients through administrative hearings, presenting persuasive testimony, evidence they had uncovered and lengthy memoranda of law. In both cases, our clients received fully favorable decisions which included substantial benefit awards. The Coalition For the Homeless leveraged these wins to move both clients from homeless shelters and into permanent, supportive housing.
Gabriel Gershowitz, Kelly Ann Shaw, Jared Foley and Zee Zhiyuan successfully represented mentally and physically disabled clients referred by the Coalition for the Homeless. The victories produced financial benefits that allow their clients to leave the homeless shelter system.
Columbia’s new Center for Institutional and Social Change worked with Sarah Calvert, Christopher Castillo, Laura D’Allaird and Jiandong Li to consider the effective use of technology and information in developing an architecture of inclusion in higher education.
Each year nearly two million New Yorkers appear in cases lodged in our Justice Courts, which make up nearly three-quarters of New York’s trial courts. The jurisdiction of these courts is broad, ranging from evictions, abuse petitions and small claims actions to trying misdemeanor and lesser offenses to arraignments for very serious crimes. A large majority of the nearly 2,000 justices who preside in these courts are not lawyers. In a joint effort with Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and the New York State Judicial Institute, Neal Hannan and Samuel Siegel helped create the prototype of a new online judicial training and education resource which will be used to train the next incoming class of town and village justices.
Courtney Colby, Ruven Ellberger, Anne-Lise Quach, Heather Mitchell, Patrick (Russell) Wong, and Neil Yang have worked to develop a prototype Web site for the branch of Legal Aid that works with not for profit corporations and small business. In addition, they have all worked with corporate clients on direct service, including an after school program, the incorporation of a non-profit group that will bring musical mentoring and performance opportunities to the young people of Harlem, and a tenants association that will form a corporation to own and manage their building.
Becca von Behren who started with the with the clinic in the fall of 2006, did sophisticated health law work with Legal Aid, taming the complexities of responding to an overburdened hot-line. She was a powerful advocate for the clients and a resourceful in her diligent research and writing. Pallavi Guniganti, helped diagnose what systems could be applied to facilitate the work of interns in the program.
Rob Watkins worked with the Harlem Office of the Legal Aid Society updating an advanced rent calculator that allows stabilized rents to be calculated in accordance with the complex annual rent orders to create an accurate rental history of an apartment. He demonstrated the calculator to a large gathering of Legal Aid staff, and helped them install it on their own desktops so that it can be a powerful, time-saving tool as they check for rental overcharges in their client interviews.
Tom O’Reilly, Collin Peng- Sue, Veronica Andrews, and Gabriel Reyes worked on a variety of landlord tenant issues: digital evidence for the courtroom, powerpoint educational materials for tenant groups, court appearances for individuals and electronic knowledge management techniques for tenant organizers.
Jon Solorzano worked with a 2L partner to program a userfriendly interface that prompts a tenant, through simple questions, to produce a customized legal document, as an avatar walks the tenant through what would otherwise be legal jargon to support an ex parte application to the Housing Court by a tenant acting without legal representation. The product is a printed, well drafted Affidavit. The project was commissioned by Chief Administrative Judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York and is hosted on the Court’s website. The system in being tested now, to enthusiastic comments by judges and practitioners, and will be available soon for unrepresented tenants.
Nonprofit Organization/Small Business Clinic
Non-profits are an increasingly important sector of our economy and are growing in significance throughout the world. Micro-enterprises are key players in grassroots economic development. This clinic, directed by Professor Barbara Schatz, helps students become effective and ethical lawyers by providing high-quality transactional representation to both types of organizations.
Shannon Rebholz positioned a 40-year-old East Harlem organization for expansion of its community development programs.
Brian Larkin represented a major provider of low-income housing to analyze possible changes in its corporate structure.
Zahra Egal gave a presentation to more than 50 budding non-profits on the corporate and tax law governing their organizations.
Helen Ogbara helped a program for the homeless and survivors of domestic violence get started.
Michael Rosado and Jordana Grodnitzky helped a group working in Kenya with its corporate and tax structure.
John Bennett wrote a chapter of a book for lawyers advising nonprofits.
Iqbal Khan provided the corporate and tax help to get a small Web-based business off the ground.
Chiraag Kumar helped devise an appropriate legal structure for a group that trains the homeless for restaurant jobs.