Welcome to the new clinic blog, CLINIC CONNECTIONS: Real cases. Real clients. Real news.

Check out the new UB School of Law’s clinic blog, CLINIC CONNECTIONS.

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Immigrant Rights Clinic secures asylum for three clients in as many weeks

Emily Torstveit NgaraProfessor Elizabeth Keyes, director of UB’s Immigrant Rights Clinic, sends exciting news:

I am so happy to let you all know that, under the supervision of Emily Torstveit Ngara (above), our fellow in the Immigrant Rights Clinic, the clinic just got its third asylum victory in as many weeks. These cases were filed two years ago — the asylum office backlog has been that bad — and the clients have been in limbo.

Now a young gay man from Jamaica, a delightful yet deeply traumatized young woman from Rwanda and an older Rwandan man (a lawyer in Rwanda) have gained the ability to stay here, which puts them on a path toward permanent residence and citizenship down the road. Over the years, clinic students Rexanah Wyse, Amanda Heffernan, Miranda Russell and Erika Flaschner did superb lawyering work for all these clients, especially Erika (now a 3L), who worked on both Rwandan cases. It’s a proud and happy day for all of us. Please congratulate Erika if you know her!

The Rwandan lawyer found work at a local nonprofit that provides support for asylum seekers. He learned to paint there and gave Emily one of his paintings today to thank her for her work and her commitment!

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Alternative Spring Break: A week of giving back to the community

Last week, about 35 law students took part in Alternative Spring Break activities organized by UB’s Law Career Development Office (LCDO).

In addition to serving dinner to veterans at Baltimore Station (see March 19 blog post), UB School of Law students and staff took part in a range of activities throughout the week:

• On Sunday, March 15, 10 UB law students participated in an informational fair on the Eastern Shore organized by the Maryland Immigrant Rights Coalition (MIRC). UB’s Immigration Law Association and Latino Law Students Association helped to plan the event and to recruit volunteers, reports Professor Elizabeth Keyes, director of UB’s Immigrant Rights Clinic. Keyes said approximately 150 immigrants were served at the fair, where students worked alongside lawyers from Maryland and Washington, D.C., firms and nonprofits to screen immigrants for visa and benefits eligibility. Law students from the University of Maryland and George Washington University also took part, Keyes said.

• The next day, four UB law students began work on postconviction case reviews under the supervision of lawyers with the Maryland Office of the Public Defender. Assistant Dean Jill Green, who heads the LCDO, organized the postconviction review opportunity.

• On Tuesday, 20 students took part in a resume review and interview preparation session at Safe & Sound, which helps people recently released from prison to reenter the workforce. The event was sponsored by The University of Baltimore Law Review.

• On Wednesday, a total of 23 student and staff members volunteered at Baltimore Station, Paul’s Place and the Maryland Food Bank.

Special thanks to the LCDO’s Emily Rogers for organizing the events!

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Law school hosts three-day conference on veterans in the legal system

Vets conf IIIScholars and judges from across the United States attended a three-day conference at the University of Baltimore School of Law devoted to the situation of veterans, particularly those whose rocky return to civilian life lands them in trouble with the law.

The March 15-17 conference, titled “Veterans’ Needs: The Current State of Veterans in Our Courts,” examined the cultural, legal and clinical situations of U.S. service members who return from war to a society — and, often, family — that has little understanding of what they’ve been through.

Panelists discussed the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), traumatic brain injury, drug and alcohol addiction, depression, domestic violence, homelessness and legal difficulties among veterans, many of whom were deployed multiple times to Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Make no mistake, our country is watching how we treat our returning veterans,” said Professor Hugh McClean (above, far left), director of UB’s Bob Parsons Veterans Advocacy Clinic.

McClean, an attorney who served in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps from 2003 to 2014, cited a government survey that found more than 50,000 U.S. veterans are homeless. In Baltimore, he said, about 300 veterans are on the streets each night.

He also pointed to a 2012 Veterans Administration study that found 22 U.S. veterans kill themselves every day – a casualty figure that, added up, outstrips all American combat deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.

“Fifty-seven percent of post-9/11 veterans seen by the Veterans Administration are diagnosed with a mental disorder,” McClean said in a panel discussion that he presented March 16 with three clinic students.

The students (shown left to right) – 2L Kris Vallecillo, 3L David Shafer and 3L Kellye Beathea – told the audience, which included 65 judges, about their clinic experiences helping veterans and working to enact systemic reforms to smooth soldiers’ return to civilian life.

Clinic students handle diverse civil and veterans’ benefits matters.

Shafer, who served six years in the Marines and completed tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, spoke of a “decoupling” between veterans and the general public.

“We have a rising generation of citizens who are ignorant to the hardships of war, to the troubles of military families, to the stress and strain of multiple deployments, to homelessness, addiction and suicide,” Shafer said, adding that more Marines under his command died at their own hand than were killed in action.

Calling soldiers’ return to society “a large leap,” Shafer said that he is inspired to help veterans make the transition – and that his experience with them has led him to reexamine his career path.

“I can advocate as a means for social change,” said Shafer, who said he entered law school planning to become a corporate attorney. “I have those means.”

Vallecillo said he particularly enjoyed the task of taming “the bureaucratic monster” that veterans must wrestle with once they enter the legal system.

“You take your time, you look at the facts,” he said. “It’s really rewarding work for a law student to do.”

Beathea, who said she had no experience with the military before starting in the clinic, said she was now considering a career helping veterans.

“The reason why I came to law school in the first place is to help people,” she said, citing a client who, traumatized by his service and return to the U.S., went from a professional career to an entry-level job.

“It struck at me,” she said. “You are compelled to help people like that.”

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Dean Weich, law students serve dinner at Baltimore center for homeless veterans

UB - Balt Station 3-18-15Dean Ronald Weich and several law students served dinner Wednesday night at Baltimore Station, a residential treatment program that helps veterans and others to end the cycle of poverty, addiction and homelessness and to become self sufficient. About 80 percent of Baltimore Station’s 90 residents are veterans, many of the Vietnam War. Residents, all men, can stay for up to two years at the facility, located at 140 W. West St., Baltimore, MD 21230. Website: http://www.baltimorestation.org

Serving dinner in the photo above are (from left) Weich, 2L evening student David Fraser and 2L Carisa Hatfield. Not pictured are 1L Stanley Carignan, Kush Patel (J.D. expected in May 2016) and 3L Alex Geraldo. The community service event was part of this week’s Alternative Spring Break activities organized by UB’s Law Career Development Office.

Watch this space for more news about Alternative Spring Break and thanks to all who have taken part!

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Community Development Clinic and Community Law Center hold daylong event to provide free legal help to nonprofits

Community Development Clinic teaching fellow Parag Rajendra Khandhar provided the following report:

On Saturday, Feb. 28, the University of Baltimore School of Law Community Development Clinic and Community Law Center Inc. held a daylong program to provide free advice and legal consultations to Maryland community based nonprofits. The program organizers scheduled free, 45-minute meetings between Community Law Center attorneys and representatives of 21 organizations from Baltimore City and elsewhere. The event took place in the John and Frances Angelos Law Center at the University of Baltimore.

The event, the third in a series, evolved from an initiative planned last spring by student-attorneys in the Community Development Clinic (CDC) and by Community Law Center. To date, the collaboration has provided legal advice, counsel and resources to more than 60 organizations across the state, while more than 20 groups have submitted applications for further services.

“Clients walk in with so much hope and inspiration for their projects, but also with some real fear. They wonder ‘Am I doing this right?’ and ‘What am I missing?’” said Jaime E. Lee, assistant professor of law and director of the Community Development Clinic.

At the Feb. 28 event, seven Community Law Center attorneys and a CDC clinical professor worked with a rotating group of eight CDC student-attorneys to interview representatives of community groups and nonprofits. They met organizations with tax and compliance questions, and groups with complex concerns regarding startups and exciting new initiatives. They were even asked a basic question or two that the attorneys could answer on the spot.

“Community Law Center was delighted to partner with the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Community Development Clinic once again to provide access to free legal advice for Maryland’s community and nonprofit organizations,” said Kristine Dunkerton, the group’s executive director and an alumna of the University of Baltimore Community Development Clinic.

The critical, and largely unmet, need for free and affordable legal services for poor and middle-class Marylanders has been well documented by the Maryland Access to Justice Commission. However, the need for organizational and transactional legal services for small nonprofits and community enterprises that serve those populations remains understudied. Most groups surveyed after the Feb. 28 event reported that they had never spoken to an attorney about corporate, tax, employment and other areas of law and compliance that directly affect their ability to operate.

“By offering these free brief advice sessions, we were able to assist 21 nonprofits and answer a wide array of legal questions,” said Kelly Pfeifer, a supervising attorney with Community Law Center, who added that several groups had already applied for further legal representation.

The two collaborating programs continue to plan initiatives to meet the demonstrated need for free and affordable legal services for community groups and organizations throughout Baltimore and Maryland as a whole.

Learn more about UB’s Community Development Clinic.

Learn more about Community Law Clinic, Maryland’s only legal services organization dedicated solely to strengthening neighborhoods and the nonprofit sector.

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Prof. Colin Starger signs on to amicus brief in same-sex marriage case before Supreme Court

Professor Colin Starger is a signatory to an amicus brief filed in the Obergefell litigation before the U.S. Supreme Court. Written primarily by Aderson Bellegarde François (Howard University) and Peggy Cooper Davis (NYU), the brief makes the historical argument that guaranteeing rights of family recognition was a driving purpose of the 14th Amendment, to rectify the horrors of “natal alienation” during slavery. The brief thus makes a historical argument for marriage equality based on the idea that marriage is one of our most important civil rights, Starger says.

The brief reads in part:

“As students and heirs of antislavery traditions, we argue that unjustified denials of the right of family recognition violate the privileges we hold under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Citizenship Clause and the Liberty we are guaranteed under its Due Process Clause.

“We embrace, but do not repeat here, Petitioners’ argument that to deny recognition of same sex marriages is to deny the equal protection of the laws. Similarly, we embrace, but do not repeat here, Petitioners’ argument that there is no legitimate justification for denying same-sex marriage recognition. Our focus is on the constitutional need to give skeptical scrutiny to a state’s failure to honor a couple’s commitment to marry.”

Read the brief here.

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