Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

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HIRC Shares Resources for Immigrants Affected by ICE Raids

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

In anticipation of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) plans to step up immigration enforcement beginning this weekend, the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC) has posted a series of resources for affected Massachusetts residents. This includes information about immigrants’ legal rights, as well as resources for finding an attorney.

“It’s important to remember that all people in the United States, regardless of immigration status, have certain basic rights,” said Sabi Ardalan, Assistant Director of HIRC and Assistant Clinical Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. “These include the right to remain silent, the right not to speak to immigration officials or answer their questions, and the right not to open the door to your home unless immigration officers have a valid search warrant signed by a judge.”

Resources include:

HIRC, which has represented thousands of immigrants from all over the world since its founding over 35 years ago, serves as a resource for Massachusetts residents affected by any local immigration enforcement actions. HIRC engages students in removal defense, representation of individuals applying for asylum and other humanitarian protections, appellate litigation and policy advocacy, as well as in work on cutting edge issues at the intersection of immigration and criminal law.

HIRC will join other advocates tonight at the local Lights for Liberty vigil held by the cities of Cambridge and Somerville to protest immigrant detention facilities and human rights abuses being committed against children and families.

Student Loan Borrowers Sue Education Secretary Betsy DeVos

Via Legal Reader

By: Ryan Farrick

Source: Flickr

The lawsuit accuses DeVos and her Department of Education of intentionally and illegally ignoring tens of thousands of loan forgiveness applications.


Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is being sued by defrauded student loan borrowers who claim the federal government isn’t taking their forgiveness applications seriously.

CNN reports that more than 150,000 such applications are still pending. Some student loan borrowers have waited years for debt relief, with no end in sight.

So, on Tuesday, seven debtors opted to file suit against the Department of Education. All of them attended for-profit colleges, some of which charged tremendous amounts of money for sub-par educations and self-accredited degree programs.

“Department officials have not offered a timetable for reviewing these applications. It’s becoming very clear that they’re not treating them in good faith,” said Eileen Connor, legal director of the Harvard-affiliated Project on Predatory Student Lending.

The PPSL, adds CNN, filed the lawsuit on behalf of the seven borrowers.

The Education Department purportedly stopped processing applications under orders from DeVos.

DeVos—an outspoken proponent of for-profit colleges—has been rewriting and trying to reconfigure Obama-era regulations since she took office. She’s already succeeded in loosening some restrictions on private schools, including rescinding a requirement that for-profit institutes publish figures showing the average salaries and career outcomes of graduates.

So far, the courts have sided with plaintiffs. In October, a federal judge—responding to a lawsuit backed by 19 attorneys general—blasted DeVos’s application freeze as “arbitrary and capricious.”

That judge ordered the Education Department to resume processing forgiveness applications. But the agency didn’t budge—CNN says data indicates that no claims were reviewed or approved through the end of last year.

Furthermore, Connor claims there’s no reason to believe that the department made substantial progress this year, either.

Toby Merrill, the PPSL’s director, suggested the delays may be illegal.

“The law is clear: Students who experienced fraud should not be required to pay back federal loans that should never have been made by the Department in the first place,” Merrill said.

CNBC spoke to one victim of fraud, Brandon Schultz.

In 2008, Schultz decided to begin taking classes for a graphic design degree. He enrolled in an online program at the Art Institute of Pittsburg, a for-profit school that’s been the source of many ‘borrower defense’ forgiveness applications.

“I wanted to get into a field I enjoyed,” Schultz told CNBC. “The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, it sounded fancy.”

But Schultz found the classes were mediocre and low-quality—instruction seminars on how to use basic classes, rather than an in-depth exploration of graphic design.

After graduating, Schultz couldn’t find a job. His education and his degree didn’t prepare him for the kinds of common tests design firms give prospective employees.

However, he still owed nearly $100,000 to the Art Institute—and he’s struggled repaying that on a far smaller salary than he’d hoped to get.

Schultz filed a forgiveness application in 2015, but the Department of Education has yet to make a decision.

“It’s scary,” Schultz said. “All I can do is wait for the government to give me some type of judgment.”

FLPC Releases Organic Waste Bans Toolkit

Via the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) and the Center for EcoTechnology released a new toolkit today on state and local organic waste bans, policies that restrict the amount of food or organic waste that can be sent to landfills. Bans and Beyond: Designing and Implementing Organic Waste Bans and Mandatory Organics Recycling Laws serves as a resource for state and local policymakers, regulators, and advocates interested in policy solutions to reduce food waste and keep food out of landfills.

40% of the food in the United States goes uneaten. The challenge of food waste has significant impacts on the economy, food insecurity, and the environment. Not only does this wasted food require a significant amount of water and energy to produce, but most of it ends up in landfills, where it breaks down and generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas. And now, cities and states are facing an additional barrier: they are running out of space to store trash.

In recent years, state and local governments have explored policies to reduce food waste. Organic waste bans are one of the most innovative categories of policies. By restricting the amount of food waste that businesses and even individuals can dispose of in landfills, organic waste bans can drive adoption of more sustainable practices. Cost-benefit analyses have shown the potential of organic waste bans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while stimulating local economies and creating green jobs. In Massachusetts, the state’s organic waste ban supported over 900 jobs in the organic waste hauling, processing, and food rescue industries in 2016 and generated $175 million in industry activity.

Bans and Beyond examines the legal landscape of existing state and local organic waste bans. This landscape is constantly evolving:  six states and seven municipalities across the country have now passed organic waste bans, and three of these policies passed within the last year. The toolkit analyzes the structure of these different policies and the challenges that jurisdictions have faced in implementing them—for example, challenges with accessing funding, developing effective enforcement mechanisms, and building sufficient organics recycling infrastructure.

The toolkit also analyzes nine additional sets of policies and programs that can be implemented to incentivize waste reduction. These policies are essential to creating an environment where organic waste bans can succeed, and can also be effective policy tools to reduce food waste in states where an organic waste ban or recycling mandate may not be feasible. For example, states and localities can provide grant funding for food waste reduction, recovery, and recycling programs; revise permitting and zoning regulations to facilitate the development of composting facilities and anaerobic digesters; and implement “pay as you throw” systems that charge residents based on the amount of waste they throw out, in order to encourage residents to reduce their waste disposal and increase recycling and composting.

This toolkit builds on other resources FLPC has produced to support states and localities in addressing food waste through policy. FLPC’s 2016 toolkit, Keeping Food Out of the Landfill, offers an array of policy suggestions for reducing food waste, from strengthening food donation liability protections to offering tax incentives for food donors to implementing organic waste bans. Today’s toolkit builds on that with much more detail about organic waste bans.

With greater public attention on food waste, organic waste bans have become increasingly popular in the years since Keeping Food Out of the Landfill was published. Organic waste bans have the potential to transform waste management systems and drive food waste reduction, recovery, and recycling. FLPC hopes that Bans and Beyond will support state and local efforts to identify and advance organic waste management policies that are the best fit for the local context.

Read Bans and Beyond: Designing and Implementing Organic Waste Bans and Mandatory Organics Recycling Laws.

Courts cleared way for student debt relief; 180,000 people still waiting for answer

Via Longview News Journal 

By: Danielle Douglas-Gabriel

Source: Creative Commons

Courts have sided repeatedly with student loan borrowers demanding that the U.S. Education Department process their applications for debt relief, yet more than 180,000 people are still waiting for a decision. Now, some of them are again turning to the courts for help.

On Tuesday, seven borrowers sued Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and her agency after the department didn’t take action on their applications, some of which have languished at the agency for years.

The Education Department did not respond to requests for comment.

The federal agency has not approved or denied an application for debt relief in a year. People familiar with the process, who were not authorized to talk publicly and so spoke on the condition of anonymity, said more than 180,000 applications for debt relief are sitting at the department. Nearly 10,000 of them were filed more than three years ago.

“It’s not like they’re working through the backlog and it’s just taking time,” said Eileen Connor, an attorney representing the borrowers. “The department doesn’t think they have to do anything with these claims, and that’s why people are coming forward. What they want is for the court to tell the department: ‘You have to do something. You can deny them. You can grant them. But you have to do something.’ “

A 1995 law, known as “borrower defense to repayment,” gives the Education Department the authority to erase the federal debt of students whose colleges defrauded them. The Obama administration updated the regulation to shift more of the cost of forgiveness onto schools, after the closure of for-profit giant Corinthian College ushered in a flood of claims.

DeVos delayed and then suspended the implementation of the rule. The education secretary had said about the rule: “All one had to do was raise his or her hands to be entitled to so-called free money.” Then, the department began using earnings data to grant partial loan forgiveness to former Corinthian students.

Those actions resulted in federal lawsuits and subsequent judicial rebukes of the Education Department. Still, court orders blocking the Trump administration’s approach have yet to yield much for borrowers.

Instead, the department is using one of those orders as a rationale for not moving forward on mounting claims. Diane Auer Jones, the department’s principal deputy undersecretary, told lawmakers in April that a court decision barring the use of earnings data to award partial relief to former Corinthian students had hamstrung the agency.

“We are not able to determine the level of harm or level of relief a borrower should get, because the methodology we have used is being blocked by a California court,” Jones said at a House Oversight and Reform subcommittee hearing.

As a result, Jones said, the department could not commit to a timeline for processing applications. People familiar with the discharge applications say nearly 23,000 are teed up for loan cancellation.

Connor, director of litigation at the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard University’s law school, argues that the court injunction does not prevent the Education Department from creating a new methodology to deny claims or grant full relief. The Project on Predatory Student Lending brought the California case.

Applicants have endured long waits that, for many, started under the Obama administration. One of the plaintiffs in the case, Jessica Jacobson, submitted her claim against the for-profit New England Institute of Art in 2015. The school was the subject of state investigations into alleged misleading and aggressive sales tactics before it stopped enrolling students in 2015.

Another plaintiff, Tresa Apodaca, submitted her application for debt relief a month after Corinthian closed its doors in April 2015. She amassed $30,000 in federal loans to attend Corinthian’s Heald College, where she said she was told that 98% of graduates landed jobs in their fields. The Education Department cut off Corinthian’s access to federal funds because the school lied about job placement rates.

There are consequences for those languishing in debt relief limbo. Although the federal government is supposed to grant temporary postponement of loan payments while applicants await a decision, Connor said some of her clients are still receiving bills or having their wages garnished.

Even if the Education Department began processing the backlog of claims in earnest, the agency would need far more staff members to handle the volume. The borrower defense unit, responsible for reviewing claims, had six full-time employees in June 2018, when there were nearly 100,000 claims pending review, according to court documents. Several contractors are assisting, but their duties are limited.

The Education Department no longer consults with state attorneys general who supplied some of the evidence needed to process claims against Corinthian, they say. The department could process claims faster, they say, if it reestablished lines of communication. But for now, everything remains at a standstill.

“It’s outrageous that the department is ignoring these claims,” said Connor, who is working alongside Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, a nonprofit legal service, on Tuesday’s lawsuit. “Borrowers have rights. They’re invoking their rights, and the government isn’t responding to them.”

State rules would limit eligibility for medical parole for seriously ill prisoners in Massachusetts

Via MassLive

By: Shira Schoenberg

Door marked treatment room in hallway of old institution.

Source: iStock

Since Massachusetts created a medical parole program in April 2018, the state has approved only four requests to release terminally ill prisoners. Now, new rules being considered by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security could limit the pool of eligible prisoners even further.

Speaking at a public hearing on Monday, Elizabeth Matos, executive director of Prisoners’ Legal Services, called a proposed new standard for eligibility for medical parole “extremely high” and “so unreasonably restrictive” that most prisoners with serious, debilitating medical conditions would be barred from it.

Eight state senators, led by Sen. Pat Jehlen, D-Somerville, wrote to Public Safety Secretary Thomas Turco asking him to change the proposed regulations. “It is very disappointing that these regulations appear to make it very difficult if not almost impossible to fulfill the intent of the law,” the senators wrote.

The medical parole law was passed as part of last year’s comprehensive criminal justice reform bill and went into effect in April 2018. The Department of Correction issued an initial policy in August 2018. In May 2019, the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security proposed new regulations to govern the program, and instituted them immediately as “emergency” regulations.

The law says prisoners can be eligible for medical parole “due to a terminal illness or permanent incapacitation.” In both cases, the illness or disability must be “so debilitating that the prisoner does not pose a public safety risk.”

The criteria proposed by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security say the condition must be so severe that the person is “permanently incapable of committing a crime,” and that the condition requires the prisoner to be placed “in a specialized medical setting for long term care.”

Matos, several professors and attorneys and Deborah DiMasi submitted testimony to the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security opposing this definition. DiMasi is the wife of former House Speaker Sal DiMasi, who received medical release from federal prison.

They wrote that the standard is so high that it could, in theory, bar a quadriplegic from parole because if he has minimal use of his hands, a friend could give him a gun and he could pull the trigger.

The advocates also note that all four of the people approved for release so far on medical parole were to be released to hospice home care settings, not long-term care facilities. (One prisoner died before he was released.) It is also hard to place a prisoner in a nursing home.

“The practical effect of this requirement will be to virtually eliminate an entire category of prisoners from release on medical parole including those similarly situated to the only four individuals to have been released under the statute,” Matos and the advocates wrote.

Jehlen, who helped craft the medical parole law, and the other senators wrote that this definition “significantly warps the clear words of the statute and is a substantial threat to the public policy goals of releasing incapacitated and dying inmates into appropriate, less costly care settings.”

Felix Browne, a spokesman for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, said the purpose of the regulation “is to ensure the consistent administration of the medical parole statute through the application of uniform terms and processes,” and the final language of the regulation has not yet been determined.

“Monday’s hearing was part of the public process to consider comments on the proposed regulation, and all feedback to date will be considered as that work continues,” Browne said.

Both the senators and the prisoners’ rights advocates also object to additional bureaucratic hurdles placed on prisoners seeking medical parole.

For example, the rules require the Parole Board to approve any medical parole applications, rather than just the commissioner of the Department of Correction.

They place the burden on the prisoner to develop a medical parole plan, rather than on the Department of Correction.

“These are people who are incarcerated, debilitated or dying, often without access to the outside contacts who could help develop the plan,” Jehlen wrote in a second letter, which she submitted by herself in addition to the one signed by the other senators.

Tatum Pritchard, director of litigation for the Disability Law Center, says the regulations may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act in several ways. For example, they do not provide any way to help prisoners with disabilities apply for medical parole.

Several advocates noted at the hearing that prisoners with serious illnesses are the most expensive to care for and the least likely to reoffend.

Joel Thompson, supervising attorney at the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project, said for the elderly, the infirm, and those with dementia or serious illness, “Jails and prisons aren’t well designed for them. Not even close.”

Thompson said the proposed definition would exclude someone who is bedridden but could still commit a crime, like fraud. It would exclude someone with dementia who could still eat and go to the bathroom by themselves. “It’s so onerous, it’s hard to imagine who would qualify,” he said.

All the ways student debt exacerbates racial inequality — ‘it’s like landing in quick sand’

Via MarketWatch 

By: Jillian Berman

Eileen Connor, the director of litigation at the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School talked to MarketWatch, about the predatory tactics used by for-profit colleges to target students of color and explained the disparate student-loan repayment outcomes between black and white students.

“If you take, on the one hand, the knowledge that there’s targeting and disproportionate enrollment in for-profit colleges of people of color,” Connor, said. “On the other hand, you look at traditional higher education and you see that access is limited in numbers to those same groups — that’s the whole puzzle right there.”

 

Amanda Kool On Solving America’s Rural Justice Gap

Via Law360 

By: RJ Vogt

Amanda Kool left her dream job at Harvard Law School to tackle America’s rural access to justice gap from Bracken County, Kentucky.

Amanda Kool remembers listening to her law school peers describe their “average middle class” backgrounds during icebreaker sessions at the beginning of her first year.

“My mom lived in the trailer park and my dad did transient farm work and other side businesses,” said Kool, who grew up in rural Kentucky. “I was like, wait, was that not middle class?”

The moment was just one of the many times Kool has noticed the rural-urban divide that permeates the legal community.

She knows the chasm well, having grown up and gone to college in Kentucky before attending law school at Northeastern University, working in the corporate sector at Nixon Peabody LLP and spending five years running the Community Enterprise Project, a clinical program at Harvard Law School.

While at Harvard, she helped shift the clinic’s focus from primarily serving tech startups to serving more small, local community enterprises that needed help with business, finance and other transactional legal matters.

The post also gave her the opportunity and the platform to research more about the access to justice gap that the rural-urban divide can exacerbate in places like her home state.

The research and the project combined to convince Kool to give up her “dream job” and go back to Kentucky, where she could have a greater impact.

Now, she and her family have traded city life for a house and a yard in Bracken County, population 8,000, big-box retailers 0. As director of legal operations at the Lexington-based Commonwealth Commercialization Center, she’s applying her experiences in Boston to a statewide $1.2 million-plus project that aims to use Kentucky law schools to pair high quality legal services with local businesses.

She’s also helped start the Alliance for Lawyers and Rural America, an initiative geared toward facilitating conversations, ideas, information and resources at the intersection of law and rurality.

Law360 caught up with Kool at the Equal Justice Conference in May, hosted in Louisville by the American Bar Association and National Legal Aid and Defenders Association. She described how moving to rural America can be a key step in providing access to legal services where it’s needed most.

You’ve said your new project in Kentucky stems from some of the work you did at Harvard’s Community Enterprise Project. What’s the connection?

Back in the mid-’90s, Harvard Law School had put together a program called the Community Enterprise Project to help people start small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

It was located out in the community at the Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain, but in the late 2000s they brought it back to campus — in Harvard Square essentially. When I came on board in 2012, the Community Enterprise Project was rebranded as the Transactional Law Clinic. Instead of mom-and-pop businesses, low-income people, communities of color, immigrants … it was more high-tech startup types.

That work was really relevant to our students, who were going on to work at large firms in New York. But there was this entire other set of needs and people that wasn’t being served because we were no longer in those communities — and they were not getting onto train lines to come to us at campus.

I started to find these students who were social justice-minded and transactionally-minded. I started exploring more about worker cooperatives and community land trusts. We started going back to the community again: one day a week, and then it was two, and over time we built this program with a waiting list and a reputation.

What’s an example of one of the community projects that grew out of the law clinic?

The first one came along kind of organically: we called it the Food Truck Project. It was right after the city of Boston had permitted food trucks for the first time and said, you know, “we’d like to have more of these.” The city worked with Harvard’s Food Law and Policy Clinic and came up with a permitting regime.

And our clinic just naturally started seeing people saying, “I’m going to start a food truck, will you help me form an entity? Will you help me register my trademark?”

I said, well, these people have all of these other needs, too. They need to maybe finance the truck. They need to get the truck inspected. They need to have a relationship with the commissary kitchen.

What if we connected with all of those people and put together a toolkit and a training program that was like Food Trucks 101, with all the legal stuff you need to know in one place?

What made you think about going back to Kentucky?

There were certain hurdles. It’s really hard for me to help grow my clients’ business when someone just bought their building and wants to triple their rent, right? And because I come from here [Kentucky], I’m always thinking about what’s happening in other places — here, people are seeing things like falling property values as a bad thing. Where I was sitting, I saw it as an opportunity.

Secondly, I was working in a place where transactional legal services were available, basically, across the spectrum: there were clinics like mine, law firms getting involved, incubators … and I was looking at my home state of Kentucky and saying, “we have one pro bono transactional services provider in the entire state?”

And then, being at a law school, I had connected with a number of students at Harvard Law School, especially in the wake of the election, who were very catalyzed by the justice gap and access to justice. When you don’t have access to a system that works for you, you kind of pull away from that system and you no longer even see yourself as a part of it.

There was only so long I could sit in a place like Cambridge, Massachusetts, and say “people should go practice in rural places” before it was time for me to do it.

How is it different, doing what you do at the CCC in Kentucky as compared to what you did at Harvard, in Boston?

In the city, entrepreneurship is not necessarily economic development. Whereas in Kentucky, those things are much more closely aligned, which is why I’m attracted to it.

And when we talked about doing that as a state, it took me a matter of two to three months to be talking in person with the Kentucky Bar Association, with the people at law firms doing this work, with the heads of the three law schools, etc.

Within the first four months in my job, we were all sitting at the same table talking about how we work together as a state. There were three law schools talking about how they develop programming that all of their law students can enroll in and participate in together.

You can’t pull that off in other markets.

What would you say to other people who might consider working on access to justice in a rural area?

If you are a creative, innovative or proactive thinker, rural communities are for you. There’s so much room for really creative, exciting stuff to happen. You can’t invest in the city is as well as you can in rural places.

I loved Boston. I loved Harvard Law School — wouldn’t change a thing. But I’m so glad to be here. I’m not going anywhere.

HIRC Calls on Inter-American Human Rights Commission to Investigate Mexico for Rights Violations at Border

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program

Source: Pixabay

Last week, the Clinic and five other groups filed a request to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, demanding that they investigate the Mexican government’s complicity in the illegal practice of “metering,” under which thousands of individuals seeking asylum in the United States are forced to wait for prolonged periods in limbo in Mexico. This practice stands in violation of various treaty obligations, including the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. The request was jointly filed with the Border Rights Project of Al Otro Lado, Alma Migrante, A. C., Programa de Asuntos Migratorios y Posgrado de Antropología de la Universidad Iberoamericana Ciudad de México-Tijuana, and Families Belong Together Mexico.

Numerous organizations have documented the attacks on asylum seekers waiting at the border, to which Mexican authorities often turn a blind eye. The hearing request catalogs a host of rights violations along the U.S.-Mexico border, including:

  • a gay couple from Honduras in Nuevo Laredo who were kidnapped, beaten and threatened;
  • a 17-year-old Honduran boy who was attacked at knife point;
  • Guatemalan transgender women who were detained by police in Tijuana;
  • a woman from Honduras who was struck in the head and knocked unconscious; and,
  • A Salvadoran man who was deported from Piedras Negras by Mexican authorities without being informed of his right to seek asylum.

“The practice of metering entry into the United States has placed asylum seekers from Mexico at an increased risk of persecution, torture, or even death, as they wait in limbo at the border,” said Sabrineh Ardalan, Assistant Director at HIRC. “It also exposes asylum seekers from Central American countries, including Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, to deportation by Mexico back to the countries they originally fled, often in fear for their lives.”

In the hearing request, HIRC and the five signatories urged the Commission to schedule site visits on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border to monitor the treatment of asylum seekers and called on Mexico to adopt legislative and administrative changes to ensure due process and safeguard the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.

Wis. Man Liable for Tax After Ex-Wife’s Theft, 7th Circ. Told

Via Law360

By: Yvonne Juris

A Wisconsin military veteran should not get relief from tax liability on income his ex-wife embezzled, since he must have known of the ill-gotten funds after she was arrested, convicted and jailed, the government told the Seventh Circuit.

Rick E. Jacobsen is seeking so-called innocent spouse relief for taxes, interest and penalties owed on the embezzled income for 2011. His claim that he lacked actual knowledge of crimes committed by his ex-wife, Tina Lemmens, does not hold water since Jacobsen had access to bank statements showing the embezzled money, the U.S. said. The actual knowledge legal standard is used to determine whether a person must have been aware of a specific act.

Lemmens, an accountant, already had been convicted in November 2011 and incarcerated for embezzling close to $500,000 from her employer before the pair, who were still married at the time, filed their joint income tax return for 2011.

Jacobsen’s contention that it would have been “fruitless” to look at the bank statements because the ill-gotten funds had been disguised as legitimate should be rejected, the U.S. said, since Jacobsen had access to all related tax forms and bank statements and could have tracked down which funds were embezzled.

His additional argument that he did not know the “precise amount” of embezzled income was likewise meritless, since he could have also determined that with relevant bank and tax statements, the U.S. said.

“A man who knows that his wife has been convicted of embezzling large amounts, and who has access to bank statements showing the deposits of the embezzled income, cannot avoid the conclusion that he ‘knew or had reason to know’ about the embezzled income,” the U.S. said.

Jacobsen, a factory worker who also ran a joint home inspection business with Lemmens, had argued on appeal from the U.S. Tax Court that he had no background in accounting or finance and that he wouldn’t have been able to tell which funds were embezzled and which were legitimate. Since he lacked the financial savvy to use joint bank statements to determine what funds were ill-gotten, he did not posses actual knowledge of the embezzled money, which entitled him to spousal relief for 2011 under Internal Revenue Code Section 6015(f) , Jacobsen argued.

Jacobsen, who has post-traumatic stress disorder and experienced a mental breakdown following Lemmens’ arrest and their divorce, claimed he was unaware of her scheme until her arrest in June 2011, according to court documents. While his business income went into their joint account, his wages as a machine operator went into a separate personal checking account. He never reviewed bank statements and left it up to his wife to manage their finances, he said.

Jacobsen requested spousal relief for tax years 2009 through 2011 but the IRS denied the request in 2015, according to court documents. He sued in Tax Court later that year. The court found he was exempt from taxes for 2009 because the debt owed for that year had been discharged in bankruptcy, according to court documents. The court also found he was eligible for innocent spouse relief for 2010, but ruled that he did not meet the threshold for spousal relief for 2011 since he had actual knowledge of the stolen funds by that time.

In arriving at a decision for the 2011 year, the Tax Court found that out of the seven factors that determine eligibility for relief, four were in his favor, including compliance with income tax laws in later years, a divorce from the spouse who embezzled and poor mental and physical health. The other two — economic hardship and legal obligation — were deemed neutral. However, the Tax Court found that his knowledge of embezzled income that should have been reported on the 2011 return outweighed the other factors.

Carlton M. Smith of the Federal Tax Clinic at Harvard Law School, who represents Jacobsen, told Law360 that the lower court put too much weight on the actual knowledge factor in light of the fact that Jacobsen qualified for four of the seven factors and that the original purpose of spousal relief was to offer protection against a spouse who fails to report embezzled funds.

“The taxpayer concedes that the court is not bound to consider all factors as having the same weight, and that even as many as two or three positive factors can be outweighed by one negative factor,” Smith said. “However, the taxpayer argues that four positive factors can’t be outweighed by one negative factor when there are only seven factors.”

The U.S. Department of Justice declined to comment.

Jacobsen is represented by T. Keith Fogg and Carlton M. Smith of the Federal Tax Clinic at the Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School.

The IRS is represented by Bethany B. Hauser of the U.S. Department of Justice, Tax Division.

The case is Rick E. Jacobsen v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, case number 18-3371, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

–Additional reporting by Vidya Kauri. Editing by Robert Rudinger.

Read more at: https://www.law360.com/articles/1174833/…

A Legal Safety Net at the Library

Via the Legal Services Center

Julia Schutt (right) of the Veterans Legal Clinic speaking to a client as interns Arielle Lui (left) and Sana Gupta (center) observe at the Boston Public Library Community Health Fair.

Picture this: you make the decision to go to college. To afford it, you take out hefty student loans. You work hard, push through, and complete your degree. With even more hard work, you are able to pay off your student loans. Then, out of nowhere, the government reaches out to tell you that you actually haven’t paid your loans. And that they want to collect. Now. Before you can even use your degree, the government starts to take all of your income. What do you do?

This is what happened to Maria*, whom we met at the Boston Public Library’s first ever Community Health Fair on Friday, May 24th. Maria came to the Fair seeking any help she could find, and she found us. As the only legal team at the event, we were thrilled that we were there to respond to legal needs like Maria’s.

Allyson Dowds, Health & Human Services Research Specialist for the BPL and the event organizer, invited us to attend, recognizing that access to legal resources is an integral part of community health: the Legal Services Center provides legal representation to clients fighting housing insecurity, financial abuse at the hands of for-profit colleges or other predatory organizations, unsafe situations in the home or within families, and facing adverse action by the IRS. In the Safety Net Project, we help veterans, disabled individuals, and low-income folks secure the income, food access, and health care they need to protect their material well-being. In short, we work to address a multitude of interrelated community health problems through legal advocacy.

Safety Net Project interns Sana Gupta (top left), Brittney Reed (top right), Arielle Lui (bottom left), and Ellie Schelleng (center) with Julia Schutt, project manager for the Veterans’ Legal Clinic, at the Boston Public Library Community Health Fair. Taking the picture is Julie McCormack, director of the Safety Net Project and coordinator of the People’s Law School.

As a law school clinical program, our mission to “Advocate. Educate. Innovate.” compels us to provide education not just to the law students and interns who join us throughout the year, but also to our community on their rights within the legal system, through our program The People’s Law School. We used our time at the Community Health Fair to do exactly that.

The Fair brought together several key players in the food security landscape, including Project Bread, the Department of Transitional Assistance, and the Department of Public Health. Connecting with folks from these organizations was especially important as we consider our role in closing the Massachusetts ‘SNAP Gap.’ The SNAP Gap refers to those eligible for, but not receiving, SNAP benefits – according to the Mass Law Reform Institute, over 700,000 Massachusetts residents who are likely eligible for SNAP are not receiving benefits. This summer the LSC is reopening our SNAP appeals intake; we will represent those who have been denied benefits when they should have been approved. By helping individuals in complex situations secure SNAP benefits, we hope to take part in a larger movement to close that gap and make food security a reality for all of low-income Massachusetts. Connecting with these groups allowed us to consider future partnerships and to gather materials so that we can increase outreach and education efforts through our office.

Also at the event were many incredible community partners dedicated to serving the people of the greater Boston area. We spoke with many, including representatives of Bay Cove Human Services and Samaritans Inc., about ways we can partner to better serve our communities and share resources – such as workshops and presentations. Often, legal problems are the cause of mental or physical health problems. Other times, the root cause of a legal problem is really a housing or food issue. It was vital for us to connect (and reconnect!) with the government, non-profit, and social service organizations working in health, food, and housing so that we all can provide our clients with the broadest base of assistance available. It is so rare that someone is facing only one issue – to get at the root causes of the problems facing our clients, we need to call on each other.

In addition to talking to partner organizations, we met many people interested in learning how we can help them. We provided advice and referral information on a range of issues including overpayment of benefits, predatory student loans, and veterans’ legal issues. Because our services are free, we don’t have the resources to take every case, so events like this are a great way to get information to people who may not otherwise have access to it. Maria wouldn’t have known about our services if we hadn’t been at the Health Fair.

Plenty of folks also came to our table who didn’t have a specific issue they needed help with; they just wanted to know what kinds of services we offer. We are always happy to talk about our services to anyone who will listen! In addition to providing general information about the Legal Services Center, Julia Schutt of the Veterans Legal Clinic attended the Fair to showcase the project she manages developing an online tool to help veterans and military families learn if they are eligible for state Chapter 115 benefits.

After the Fair, we followed up on Maria’s case and, after consulting with other advocates here at LSC, determined that Maria’s situation would best be handled directly by the Project on Predatory Student Lending. Maria will be directly assisted by our office, thanks to the opportunities provided at the Community Health Fair.

The Community Health Fair was an extremely useful event and we are glad to have been invited. We are excited to see it grow and hope to be included every year!

Revolutionizing the food systems in Israel and U.S.

Via YNet News 

By: Sarah Vorsanger

Source: Pexels

Education is an essential way to make the general public aware of the food they are eating. School children in Israel are learning healthy, fun eating habits from an early age by growing their own vegetables in newly implemented school gardens and learning healthy recipes from older students that they can make with their parents at home.

Professor Emily Broad-Leib, Director, Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard University was the keynote speaker at a lecture regarding food systems and strategies given at Tel Aviv University in May.

“This is the beginning of an opportunity to share ways the U.S. and Israel are similar and different in food strategies,” says Broad-Leib. The various initiatives to grow food in schools shows the “level of thoughtfulness and sophistication in Israel” that could be brought to the U.S., says Broad-Leib. These new programs have a long lasting societal impact on children in a way that shows them the need to make conscientious and healthy food based decisions.

Dr. Efrat Oron, the Director of Research & Outreach of the Manna Center Program for Food Safety and Security at Tel Aviv University, defines the food system as “the entire envelope from designing, producing, storing, packaging, distributing, consuming, and wasting of food.”

Maya Oren, Program Director of the Manna Center, adds that “to think of the food system in a circular way is a new concept that is only about 15 years old.”

Regulating the food systems

“From my time here, what I am seeing on food policy and matters, in general, is that there are more similarities than differences,” says Broad-Leib.

Growing environmental and health concerns are forcing us to change how we interact with our food system, but this comes with its own challenges. In the U.S., many government offices have different roles in the food system, but since they are isolated from one another, they lack communication, and their oversight is inconsistent and insufficient.

Israel has similar issues when it comes to communication. Oron explains that ministries should communicate and reach agreements together, however, they are not.

According to Professor Ronit Endevelt, Nutrition Division Manager of the Ministry of Health and lecturer in the School of Public Health at Haifa University, who was also presenting at the lecture, it takes a lot more time and work to pass new laws with today’s government.

Professor Nir Ohad, head of the Manna Center, explains that in Israel, “there are closer connections to agriculture since we evolved as an agricultural country. Agriculture is in the DNA of the society.” He adds that there is a “tight link between what we produce and what we eat.”

He notes that Israel’s food system is only independent when it comes to fruits and vegetables.

National food strategies

Israel, like the U.S., is a melting pot. However, according to Broad-Leib, the U.S. does not have a healthy, native cuisine that ties its people together as the Mediterranean diet does for Israelis. Therefore, it is harder to find common ground when explaining what Americans should and should not eat.

The National Nutrition Security Council under the Ministry of Welfare, works with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) to collect food waste from the industry. The name of this council, according to Oren, is misleading.

“The scope is extremely limited since they are dealing with poorest people in Israel. Their focus is a very ‘now’ approach, which is not looking to solve food security. This is not a food systems approach,” she says.

There is not much oversight in the foods delivered in food baskets to those in need. While the basket provides overall sufficient dietary quality, Ohad, Oron, and Oren agree that the food baskets may not be the healthiest or culturally appropriate.

“This is where the Ministries of Health and Welfare butt heads,” say Oren and Oron.

Why do we care?

“Food is a powerful topic. Everyone has an opinion on food because everyone interacts with the food system on a daily basis,” says Broad-Leib.

There has been an increase in diabetes, obesity, and heart disease in both the U.S. and Israel. Trends in the U.S. show that as household income decreases, money spent on food increases.

In Israel, Endevelt attributes these health risks to the fact that families are not cooking. She also says that since the cost of fruits and vegetables has increased by 45% while ultra-processed foods are cheap, these unhealthy foods are the main nutritional problem in Israel.

Environmental impacts are also prevalent. Broad-Leib mentions that the agricultural industry uses 70-80% of the water in the U.S., while 20% of this water goes to watering crops that will eventually be thrown away.

Since a third of the greenhouse gases emitted in the U.S. comes from this industry, the third best way to reduce this is by cutting down on food waste. Right now 30-40% of food all food is wasted in both the U.S. and Israel.

Improvements to the food system

As Director of the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, Broad-Leib aims to make policy changes to the food system in the U.S. by educating law students on how to write legislature and providing legal advice for companies regarding food. She also launched the academy of food in law and policy.

During her time director, she and her students have helped farmers receive subsidies and support from the government as well as improve bills to reduce food waste.

“Last year’s U.S. Farm Bill had nine food waste provisions, and seven of those were written by us,” says Broad-Leib. “Policy takes time, but we have had a lot of success,” she added.

In Israel, an initiative recently passed that will implement healthy foods in schools starting next year. Endevelt explains that this was a difficult law to pass because all the food contracts had to be canceled. “These old contracts focused on food safety, but now they will also provide healthy food too,” she says.

Other recent initiatives include nutrition guidance and monitoring at Well Baby Clinic nationally, healthier options in vending machines at hospitals, and incentivizing Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs) to provide nutritional education for selected groups.

In 2020, the Ministry of Health will put red stickers to all products in Israel that have a high amount of sugar, sodium, and/or saturated fats, and green stickers to healthier food options. Endevelt hopes that consumers will choose healthier products, and companies will change their recipes if their product has been given a red sticker.

What else should be done?

Since it is easy for people to turn a blind eye to the food that they eat, Broad-Leib encourages the use of media outlets to promote policies pertaining to the food system, whether it is about food waste or utilizing resources sustainably.

Sustainability is a necessity of the food system. “You can’t give someone advice on food without including this concept,” says Broad-Leib.

“If we don’t tend to a more sustainable food system (i.e., increased pay and livelihood of farmers and workers in the industry), more people will be food insecure in the future.”

“It is a challenge to integrate these kinds of programs because a decision has to be made where to impose an increase in the price of sustainable foods,” says Professor Dov Chernichosky, Chair of the Israeli National Nutrition Security Council.

Student loan borrowers who say they were defrauded sue Betsy DeVos for failing to cancel their debt

Via CNBC

By: Annie Nova

More than 150,000 former students of for-profit colleges filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on Tuesday, claiming the agency is depriving them of the student debt relief to which they’re legally entitled.

The plaintiffs, represented by Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending and Housing & Economic Rights Advocates, accuse the Department of Education under DeVos of failing to implement an Obama-era regulation known as “borrower defense, ” which allows students to have their federal student loans cancelled if their school misled them or engaged in other misconduct.

“The law is clear: Students who experienced fraud should not be required to pay back federal loans that should never have been made by the Department in the first place,” said Toby Merrill, director of Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending.

Around 160,000 people have filed claims with the government that their school defrauded them, and new applications continue to pour in. Almost all of these complaints concern for-profit schools, of which there are some 7,000 around the country and which take in around 15% of government financial aid.

However, student loan borrowers have found themselves waiting without answers. The Department of Education hasn’t approved or denied a borrower defense claim since June 2018.

An audit in 2017 by the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General found that government staff working on borrower defense claims had been instructed not to submit any additional applications for approval.

A federal judge ruled last year that DeVos’ delays of the borrower defense regulation were unlawful. Still, advocates say the agency continues to neglect the applications.

Liz Hill, a spokeswoman for the Education Department, said the agency stands ready to process borrower defense claims.

“The only thing stopping the Department from finalizing thousands of these claims is the constant stream of litigation brought by ideological, so-called student advocate special interests,” Hill said.

Barmak Nassirian, director of federal relations at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, says the Department of Education needs to proceed with these applications as quickly as possible.

“These folks need relief desperately,” Nassirian said. “Their lives are on hold.”

One of those people in limbo is Brandon Schultz, who decided to finally pursue his dream of becoming a graphic designer in 2008. He enrolled in the online division at the Art Institute, one of the for-profit schools that has produced a slew of borrower defense claims.

“I wanted to get into a field I enjoyed,” Schultz, 38, said. “The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, it sounded fancy. ”

He was disappointed to discover how basic the classes were. “It was just a bunch of beginner lessons on how to use these programs,” Schultz said. “I never did any graphic design work.”

He says communication with professors was sparse and his time with the school’s tutors was strictly limited. “I could only talk to a tutor for so long until they cut me off,” he said. “A lot of them couldn’t really speak English.”

Schultz went on interviews for graphic design positions, but said he was unprepared for common job tests such employers assign.

Today, he strings together a living through odd jobs, including painting and landscaping, and says there’s no way he can repay the nearly $90,000 he owes for his time at the Art Institute. He makes less than $20,000 a year.

He filed a borrower defense application in 2015. The Department of Education tells him his case is still undecided.

“It’s scary,” Schultz said. “All I can do it wait for the government to give me some type of judgment.”

2 Mass. Women Among Those Suing U.S Education Dept. To Force Action On Student Debt Relief

Via WBUR 

By: Kathleen McNerney

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifies before the House Education and Labor Committee at a hearing on ‘Examining the Policies and Priorities of the U.S. Department of Education’ on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
Source: Flickr

class action lawsuit filed in California Tuesday claims the U.S. Department of Education is “intentionally” not processing debt relief claims by students who were defrauded by for-profit colleges.

“They don’t have any timetable to resolve these claims and it’s pretty clear that they don’t have any intention to,” said Eileen Connor, legal director for the Project on Predatory Student Lending at the Legal Services Center at Harvard Law School, which brought the suit with the California-based legal service organization Housing and Economic Rights Advocates.

The suit names seven plaintiffs, including two from Massachusetts, who filed for debt relief under the so-called “borrower defense” rule. It allows borrowers to request federal loan forgiveness if their school was found to be fraudulent. The suit claims the department has not processed a single claim since June 2018, leaving more than 160,000 borrowers in financial limbo.

A spokesman for the Department of Education initially refused comment Tuesday, but issued a statement from press secretary Liz Hill on Wednesday.

“The only thing stopping the Department from finalizing thousands of these claims is the constant stream of litigation brought by ideological, so-called student advocate special interests,” Hill’s statement said. It went on to say, “We have a responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure that claims are properly substantiated so that students receive the relief to which they are entitled.”

At a congressional hearing in May, the department’s principal deputy undersecretary, Diane Auer Jones, testified that the backlog was due to a 2018 federal court ruling that blocked the administration’s methodology for calculating how much debt should be forgiven for each student.

Connor said the delays are devastating for the students.

“Every day that goes by they’re being harmed even more. They can’t engage in normal financial transactions. Their credit is ruined,” she said. “They’re not able to pursue actual education that will give them job training … because of these bad student loan debts.”

The two Massachusetts women among the named plaintiffs are 35-year-old Jessica Jacobson of Lunenberg and 37-year-old Chenelle Archibald of Worcester.

According to the suit, Jacobson completed a media arts and animation program at the New England Institute of Art in Brookline in 2008. The school stopped enrolling students in 2015, and Jacobson filed a “borrower defense” claim to relieve approximately $25,000 in federal loans.

The Department of Education has not ruled on Jacobson’s case. The suit says her credit has been “destroyed” and her federal loans have grown to more than $35,000. (The U.S. Department of Justice reached a $95.5 million global settlement agreement with the school’s parent company, Education Management Corporation, in 2015 over consumer fraud and other allegations.)

Archibald graduated from Salter College, a two-year college in West Boylston, in 2010. She borrowed over $20,000 in federal loans, and has struggled to pay them back. The suit said she “cannot financially plan for her future because of the uncertainty of her debt” and that getting a car loan was a challenge. (The Massachusetts attorney general reached a $3.75 million agreement with Salter’s parent company, Premier Education Group, in 2014 over misrepresentations to enrolling students.)

“They aren’t asking for a handout. They aren’t asking for a policy change,” Connor said of the plaintiffs. “They’re asking for the current law to be followed with respect to their student loans.”

This post has been updated with a statement from the U.S. Department of Education, which was provided on Wednesday, after publication.

 

Going Against the Government at the Public Defender in D.C.

By: Alyssa Bernstein, J.D. ’19

Alyssa Bernstein ’19

“There should be a copy of the Guidelines  in your office,” my supervisor at the Assistant Federal Public Defender told me. There wasn’t a copy of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines in my office. If there had been, it would have been hard to miss. It’s a red tome, published in paperback  because it becomes obsolete every few years. The back cover features a giant table with roman numerals indicating an individual’s criminal history level and 43 rows determining months of sentences ranging from 0-6 months to 360 months-life. The 2018 edition comes in at about 600 pages and eight pounds. It makes a satisfying thwack on a desk when you throw it down in vexation. For a first-timer, it can be a bit overwhelming.

It was a week into my semester-long clerkship at the Federal Public Defender for the District of Columbia. Instead of shivering in Cambridge all spring, I’m in the Government Lawyer: Semester in Washington program. There are about a dozen other 2- and 3Ls who don’t mind missing a semester of Wasserstein lectures and non-pizza lunch each year. Instead, we work full-time in government offices across the federal branches.

But being a public defender in the government is not synonymous with representing the government. I’ve drafted numerous motions against the government on a number of issues, including arguing that a pre-schooler’s muffled statements should not be the basis of probable cause for a car search and why spending 90 days transporting someone 250 miles for a mental health evaluation (when a statute permits 10 days) cannot be justified as a “reasonable delay.”

I did eventually delve into those Federal Sentencing Guidelines. My assignment was to analyze how the guideline for illegal possession of a firearm (§ 2K2.1) developed over time. The guideline originally gave nine offense levels in 1987, but today goes as high as 33. Moreover, I found that the length of recommended sentences under the guideline has only increased in its 30 years of existence, with increases added as recently as 2015.

The Sentencing Guidelines are the standards that judges use to decide how long to send people to prison. There is an entire government commission to develop them. There is a smaller NGO dedicated to deciphering and reforming them. The whole set was first developed in 1987, at Congress’ behest. Congress was concerned about two things: wide disparities in sentences meted down on defendants for the exact same crime; and the prevalence of early release for good behavior – a practice that many representatives viewed as too lenient.

The Sentencing Commission confers with the Department of Justice and other agencies before revising guideline ranges. While, technically, public defenders have an opportunity to also provide feedback, my research revealed that the Sentencing Commission has not historically heeded their input, at least for the firearms possession guideline. Instead, the Sentencing Commission seems to always respond to the voices of law enforcement and prosecutors, justifying its changes in the name of “increasing deterrence” and “enabling law enforcement.”

Regardless of my personal positions on gun ownership, I believe that the law should be administered equitably across geographic areas. Prohibited weapon possession is a broad category, however. One of the problems with the prohibited possession laws is that they are disproportionally levied against those who are also subjected to the most intense level of police surveillance and searches –that is, communities of color.

D.C. recently changed its criminal gun policy. In order to obtain harsher penalties and sentences, D.C. now prosecutes gun possession charges in federal court, instead of D.C.’s equivalent to state court. It’s fair to surmise that the change in D.C. policy is intended to protect the people in neighborhoods where gun violence is more prevalent. But the targets for gun possession searches are almost always people of color – in fact, every firearm possession case I’ve worked on has been for a client who is a person of color.

Unfortunately, the very communities that are the most affected by the Sentencing Guidelines have the least influence over their determination. During this clerkship I’ve watched trial attorneys work every day, from meeting a client for the first time to attending their sentencing.

Sentencing is a sobering experience that couldn’t be farther from analyzing cases in class. More than any other experience at law school, this clerkship has shown me how the legislative, executive, and judicial branches can form structures whose course and policies are difficult to re-direct, especially for those with the least access to effective democratic mechanisms. Perhaps my classmates on the Hill who listen and respond to constituent input feel that our government is for and by the people. In the Public Defender’s office, the gap couldn’t be wider.

Reflections on the U.S. Attorney Clinic

Medha Gargeya ’19

Judge Merrick Garland wrote, “The great joy of being a prosecutor is that you don’t take whatever case walks in the door. You evaluate the case; you make your best judgment.”

This semester I was fortunate to work at the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Massachusetts.

Initially assigned to the public corruption unit, I was unsure what to expect when I moved to the major crimes division my first week. Over the past semester, I worked on international kidnapping, homicide, armed robbery, and food stamp fraud cases. Through reading records, attending trials, and speaking with FBI and other law enforcement agents, I tried to learn about the defendants. In the myriad cases I worked on, I felt that my supervisors were thoughtful, deliberate, and compassionate in considering the aims of federal prosecution, defendants’ histories, and their best chances at rehabilitation.

My experience may not have been the norm and reminded me that several things that need to be improved in the criminal justice system, but it affirmed my deep respect of the bureaucratic norms, independence, and integrity upheld by the attorneys in the office.

My time at the USAO taught me that doing justice is extremely difficult, but ultimately an aim worth pursuing.

— Medha Gargeya, J.D. ’19

 

Pamela Gaulin ’19

I chose to participate in the United States Attorney Clinic because I knew it would provide an experience unlike anything I would get in my first few years as an Army Judge Advocate. While in the clinic I was able to work with both the major crimes and appeals units and found both aspects extremely rewarding. In the major crimes unit, I was given the opportunity to sit in on numerous court sessions, interview and prepare witnesses for hearings, and attend meetings in the judges’ chambers. It was beneficial to see just how different each lawyer’s advocacy style is, and that regardless of how I choose to style my own advocacy for clients I can be successful. As part of my work in the appeals unit I was fortunate to help draft a response brief for a case involving charges of material support to a terrorist organization. This case was particularly rewarding for me because of my background in the military, and also because it gave me a chance to help create the end product that was eventually argued in the circuit court. The feedback I received on my writing and research for the appeals unit was far superior to any of the feedback on legal research and writing that I received elsewhere during my time at Harvard Law School. This experience helped to strengthen my writing skills and provide confidence for me in my abilities to research and craft persuasive and effective arguments. Lastly, in April I was invited to come back to the courthouse to watch my supervisor argue the brief at the circuit court. I also found that the lawyers, legal, and administrative staff at the office were fantastic people to be around. Not only were they passionate about their work, but they were intent on ensuring I was given a robust and rewarding experience in my short time with the clinic.

— Pamela Gaulin, J.D. ’19

My Time in the State Attorney General Clinic

By: Sharon Kelleher, J.D. ’19

Sharon Kellher ’19

One of my most meaningful experiences at Harvard Law School was serving as a clinical student with the Consumer Protection Division (CPD) of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office in the fall of my 3L year.

As a part of the State Attorney General Clinic, my three months at CPD provided firsthand exposure to the variety of ways in which the Attorney General protects the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable consumers through civil investigations, litigation, and policy work. I now more fully appreciate the expansive ability of the Attorney General to advocate for fairness in the treatment of consumers by organizations that do business in our state. I also gained valuable legal research, writing, and advocacy skills and a significant glimpse into public service within state government, which is a career path I am now interested to pursue.

Throughout the semester, I reviewed consumer complaints for investigations of unfair and deceptive practices by debt collectors, observed depositions and interviews, and conducted legal research to support arguments in litigation over data breaches. I also had the chance to observe court appearances, draft motions, and learn more about the legislative side of CPD’s work, such as advocating for consumer protection policies. I was introduced to nearly all facets of CPD’s practice areas during my clinical experience, and each project proved educational and eye-opening. I appreciated the unique latitude the team afforded to me in contributing to CPD’s efforts.

Of all the experiences during this clinic, I was proudest of my legal research and writing projects. By receiving active feedback from attorneys throughout the process, I honed these skills and contributed to ongoing matters at CPD. While these projects often revealed the difficulty in advocacy work, I felt energized to craft the strongest argument or to master the law on a niche issue presented. I am more confident entering my legal career having had this experience and, as a Massachusetts’ native, am proud and honored to have contributed to the important work CPD handles every day on behalf of citizens.

States where HLS students have worked through the clinic over winter term.
Credit: Melissa Courage Korta

Besides the substantive work, I also felt welcomed and appreciated by the attorneys working in the CPD. Through the leadership of the clinical program and CPD supervisors, I hit the ground running and felt part of the team from day one. The attorneys included me in case meetings, conference calls with opposing counsel, and court visits. These opportunities provided vital insight into the interpersonal, analytical, and judgmental skills necessary to work in a division that deals with a variety of pressing, and often publicized, legal issues.

I am so grateful for my time working with the Consumer Protection Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. Few experiences in law school have so significantly contributed to my understanding of the power of lawyers to make positive changes in our communities, and I hope to continue seeking experiences that provide a similar balance of intellectual rigor and public service.

 

Rachel Krol ’12 and Sara del Nido Budish ’13 named co-Assistant Directors of HNMCP

Via the Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program 

Rachel Krol

The Harvard Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP) is pleased to announce that Rachel Krol ’12 and Sara del Nido Budish ’13 have been promoted to co-Assistant Directors of HNMCP.  They will also be continuing their activities as Clinical Instructors in the Dispute Systems Design Clinic.

In their roles as Assistant Directors, Krol and Budish will help establish and pursue strategic priorities and curricular objectives for HNMCP, and assist with various administrative and programmatic aspects of HNMCP’s activities.  Krol will have primary responsibility for managing the processes of the Dispute Systems Design clinic and supervising clinical instructors in their project work.  Budish will have primary responsibility for creating, implementing, and managing HNMCP’s communication and content strategy and supervising the Clinical Fellow, Harvard Mediation Program staff, and student organizations (HLS Negotiators, Harvard Negotiation Law Review, and the Harvard Mediation Program).

Sara del Nido Budish

“I am overjoyed that Sara and Rachel Krol have agreed to take on leadership roles within HNMCP,” said Director of HNMCP and Assistant Clinical Professor Rachel Viscomi.  “Rachel and Sara are each enormously talented and committed to our work, our field, and our students. Their teaching, supervision of students, work with clients, and insight have made a huge impact over the last several years. I am thrilled that our program will continue to benefit from their wisdom and guidance, and grateful that they will be my partners in leading the next phase of the clinic’s work.”

Krol and Budish were both clinic students in HNMCP during their time at Harvard Law School, and since returning as alums they have served in a variety of roles within HNMCP, including as Clinical Instructors and teaching team members for numerous courses in negotiation and dispute systems design.

“I couldn’t be more excited for this unique opportunity to support HNMCP’s growth, development, and impact,” said Budish. “I’ve been so inspired by the work of our students, clients, and colleagues across the country who share a commitment to constructive conflict engagement, and it’s a gift to be able to deepen our program’s connections and build new ones.”

Krol added, “I echo Sara’s sentiments and look forward to contributing to the vibrant HNMCP community in this new role. I am honored to continue supporting our efforts to provide meaningful educational opportunities for our students and high-quality services for our clients.”

Before joining HNMCP, Krol taught negotiation at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and practiced law at the firms Drinker, Biddle, & Reath LLP and Ahmad Zaffarese LLC in Philadelphia.  Budish previously served as a Research Associate in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School, where she wrote case studies and helped design a curriculum focused on negotiation and incentive systems.

 

Real Estate Boom Threatens Rooming Houses At The Bottom Of The Housing Market

Via WGHB

By: Chris Burrell

Source: iStock

A hot real estate market in Boston and surrounding cities is fueling rent hikes and evictions in what has long been one of the cheapest housing options in poor neighborhoods — rooming houses.

Housing advocates say rooming houses — also known as SROs, meaning ‘single room occupancy’ — are a vital source of affordable shelter for minimum-wage workers, the elderly and people with disabilities or mental illness. But as urban real estate values surge, some investors and property owners are raising rents, evicting tenants and trying to shift away from low-income residents.

“People are being thrown out, and that’s happening across the city, because these properties are now so valued,” said Eloise Lawrence, an attorney at Harvard Law School’s Legal Aid Bureau who has defended tenants. “What was once considered housing at the last resort is now seen as desired and profitable.”

It’s not clear whether the number of rooming houses in the Boston area has declined over time, because city agencies don’t keep accurate historical records of such properties, but the New England Center for Investigative Reporting found many cases of rooming houses being sold and tenants displaced or under threat of eviction.

Read the full story here.

Press Release: For-Profit College Students File Lawsuit to Force Betsy DeVos to Follow the Law and Cancel Their Student Loan Debt

Via the Project on Predatory Student Lending

Over 158,000 students of abusive colleges applied for loan cancellation, yet the U.S. Department of Education has been refusing to process any of their claims for over a year, with some students waiting over four years for action

The Project on Predatory Student Lending is calling for students still waiting for debt relief to submit written testimony in the lawsuit

BOSTON, M.A. – [On June 25], 158,110 defrauded former for-profit college students filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seeking to force the agency to follow existing law and issue the debt relief to which the former students are entitled.

Under existing law, students and former students are eligible for federal loan cancellation if the college misled the students or violated state laws relating to the students’ education—as is the case for all the colleges these former students received loans to attend.

The former students are pressing Secretary DeVos and the Department to follow the law and immediately process their claims for debt relief. The Department has not processed a single claim in over a year and many of these students and former students have been waiting over four years for resolution. The Department’s inaction comes after it issued these predatory loans in the first place, using taxpayer dollars, and despite known fraudulent conduct by for-profit colleges.

The case, Sweet v. DeVos, was filed today in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in the San Francisco Bay Area. The plaintiffs, represented by the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard’s Legal Services Center along with Housing & Economic Rights Advocates (HERA), are suing on behalf of a class of more than 158,000 former students who have filed applications for borrower defense to repayment. As the complaint states, the Department of Education is intentionally ignoring students’ borrower defense claims, has taken no action to resolve them, and in many instances, forcibly collects loans in spite of the students’ claims that the loans are not valid.

“We’re suing Betsy DeVos and the Department of Education to hold them accountable and protect students across the country,” said Project on Predatory Student Lending Director Toby Merrill. “The law is clear: students who experienced fraud should not be required to pay back federal loans that should never have been made by the Department in the first place. Since Betsy DeVos continues to ignore these students’ legal rights, the only way they can have their voices heard is through the courts.”

Jessica Jacobson, one of the named plaintiffs, submitted her borrower defense claim in 2015 after being scammed by the for-profit college, New England Institute of Art. She is still waiting for her $30,000 in federal loans to be cancelled.

“This has put my whole life on hold. I can’t sign for home, a car, anything because I don’t know what’s going to happen to this debt. It’s extremely stressful and impacts my whole family,” Jacobson said. “It’s beyond disappointing. The Department of Education did nothing to stop these schools from doing this in the first place and now they are ignoring those of us who were cheated on their watch.”

“The Department of Education has knowingly enabled for-profit colleges to defraud students,” said Eileen Connor, Legal Director at the Project on Predatory Student Lending. “It recklessly continued to act as a loan broker for disreputable schools despite clear records of abuse and misconduct, and now the Department refuses to acknowledge the damage it has done by issuing these predatory loans to students, at taxpayers’ expense. With this lawsuit, we will hold Betsy DeVos accountable and deliver justice for those students awaiting debt relief.”

“The Department has a duty to act on behalf of the countless Americans, including dozens of HERA clients, who have been defrauded by predatory for-profit schools,” said Natalie Lyons, Senior Attorney for Housing & Economic Rights Advocates. “Rather, the Department is abdicating its duty while thousands of individuals struggle under the weight of burdensome student loan debt and without the benefit of a credible education to advance their lives and the lives of their families. We’re taking this action, because of the Department and Secretary DeVos’ failure to do so.”

In addition to filing suit, the Project on Predatory Student Lending is calling on students—specifically those who were cheated by for-profit colleges and are awaiting the Department’s decision on their borrower defense claims—to support the litigation and share with the court the countless ways they have been hurt by the for-profit college industry and the Department. Students can supply written testimony in this lawsuit by filling out a simple online form here.

Click here to view quotations from students across the country who were defrauded by for-profit colleges, as well as statements of support for today’s litigation from organizations and elected officials.

Currently, 45 million Americans have nearly $1.6 trillion combined in student loan debt, depressing the economic progression of families and the broader economy. Today’s lawsuit addresses the most pernicious type of student loan debt—the kind made to students at abusive for-profit colleges. The Department of Education issued these loans despite glaring indicators that the schools would do nothing but rip off students. Ultimately, the students are paying the price for a worthless degree that has failed to improve their lives, and in many cases, has caused severe personal and economic setbacks. For-profit colleges account for 13 percent of the student population, but 47 percent of federal loan defaults. And 98 percent of all loan cancellation applications sent to the federal government in 2016 and 2017 were due to fraudulent for-profit colleges.

Background on the Case:

Over the past several decades, hundreds of thousands of students borrowed federal student loans to attend various for-profit colleges, including ITT Technical Institute, Corinthian Colleges, the Art Institutes, the New England Institute of Art, Salter College, Brooks Institute of Photography, and more. The schools falsely and deceptively promised students high-paying jobs, state-of-the-art vocational training, and long and fulfilling careers.

Since 2015, over 200,000 of these former students have asserted their right according to existing federal law to a complete discharge of their federal student loans due to their schools’ misconduct. As it was legally obligated to do, the Department of Education started to adjudicate these borrower defenses, approving nearly 28,000 borrower defenses in the six-month period before January 20, 2017.

Since then, under Secretary DeVos’ tenure, the Department of Education halted all processing of borrower defense claims. It has refused to adjudicate any borrower defense from any student since May 2018, and has ordered the office of Federal Student Aid (“FSA”) to stop processing any borrower defense application.

The Department of Education’s affirmative decision to keep these students in limbo—some for over four years—has further destroyed students’ credit and limited their access to federal student aid. For students who have defaulted on their loans, the Department of Education has invoked extraordinary extrajudicial powers to garnish their wages or seize their tax credits (for many, their Earned Income Tax Credit).

Named Plaintiffs bring this lawsuit under the Administrative Procedure Act on behalf of themselves and all other former students whose claims for loan cancellation have stalled.

Today’s lawsuit builds on past legal efforts to hold this administration accountable and protect students through court action. In the case of Williams v DeVos, students fought back against having their tax refunds stolen by the Department of Education, and won. In the case of Calvillo Manriquez v DeVos, students stopped the Department from using its illegal partial denial rule. And in Bauer v DeVos, a judge told the Department  of Education that it must implement the 2016 Borrower Defense rule.

About the Project on Predatory Student Lending

Established in 2012, the Project on Predatory Student Lending represents former students of predatory for-profit colleges. Its mission is to litigate to make it legally and financially impossible for federally-funded predatory schools to cheat students and taxpayers.

The Project has brought a wide variety of cases on behalf of former students of for-profit colleges. It has sued the federal Department of Education for its failures to meet its legal obligation to police this industry and stop the perpetration and collection of fraudulent student loan debt.

About HERA

Housing and Economic Rights Advocates (HERA) is a California statewide, not-for-profit legal service and advocacy organization dedicated to helping Californians — particularly those most vulnerable — build a safe, sound financial future, free of discrimination and economic abuses, in all aspects of household financial concerns. It provides free legal services, consumer workshops, training for professionals and community organizing support, creates innovative solutions and engages in policy work locally, statewide and nationally.

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My Student Loan Truth: Theresa’s Brooks Institute Story

Via the Project on Predatory Student Lending  

By: Theresa Sweet

Source: Flickr

When Theresa graduated from the Brooks Institute in 2006, she never imagined that she would find herself suing the U.S. Department of Education years later over her student loan debt. But after being cheated by her school and years of waiting for answers, she is a plaintiff in Sweet v DeVos – representing over 158,000 students who were cheated by their schools and have been ignored by Betsy DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education. This is her story.

My name is Theresa Sweet.

On the day I graduated from college, my fellow students and I were lined up in a cordoned off area, under the perfect Santa Barbara sun, waiting to enter the theater and accept our diplomas. Myself and several other students turned our heads toward a commotion beyond the ropes only to see an exasperated administrator tailing my father, sternly telling him that he needed to wait until after the ceremony to speak with his student. My mounting concern quickly turned to laughter when he hurried over, gave me a quick hug, and said, “I just wanted to tell you again how proud I am of you.” That moment remains among a literal handful of times in my life that I ever saw my father cry.

While The Brooks Institute (then owned by Career Education Corporation) is no longer in operation, I know that there are plenty of predatory, for profit trade schools still operating in California today. I am here today to share my story in the hope that I can prevent others from living through a similar experience.

I attended the Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara and Ventura, CA from January 2003 to June 2006, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Photography. Once a source of pride, my education quickly became a ruinous source of personal and financial stress.

Since graduation, I have never had a job where I used the education I received at Brooks. I have never had a job that has helped me earn an income that is remotely close to what is necessary to pay off these loans. I can’t finance a car, much less a home. It is unlikely that I will ever be able to marry or adopt children as I would essentially be condemning my family to a lifetime of poverty.

I currently work as a Certified Nursing Assistant, and I would love to be able to further my education and obtain a Nursing degree. Unfortunately, Brooks, like so many other for-profits, actively misled students as to the transferability of the course credits they earned. In addition, Brooks also made sure to guide students to borrow the maximum amount of Federal Student Loans allowed in pursuit of a Bachelor’s Degree, making me ineligible for student loans and financial aid to pursue nursing.

Brooks used unethical, high pressure sales tactics such as pain points about me being the first person in my immediate family to attend and graduate from college. They relied on the fact that there was no one in my life who could help me ask the right questions. They made a point of never answering questions via email, only over the phone. They created the false impression that the admissions process was competitive when, in fact, all they cared about what getting the maximum number of students enrolled and filling out student loans applications. In reality, Brooks admitted anyone with a high school diploma or a GED, as long as that person could get a student loan.

Although I had no way of knowing it at the time, after I graduated I found out that the “Admissions Counselors” were just commissioned sales people. They weren’t paid to give me accurate information about the school, to tell me how much it could cost me, or to counsel me on whether the school would help me reach my goals. They were only paid to get me to enroll.

After graduation, the “Career Services” office regularly contacted me with financially meaningless opportunities for unpaid jobs that they found on the local Craigslist page.

Perhaps worst of all, Admissions Counselors blatantly lied about the employment rates of students after graduation as well as the amount of money these graduates were making, knowing that the lies they were telling were giving students false impression that they would be able to pay back their student loans. You wouldn’t have to look very hard to find evidence of all of this.

In short, while I worked multiple jobs to stay at school, Brooks and CEC were happily raking profits by defrauding thousands of students. And NO ONE was stopping them. No one was alerting the public or prospective students. No one was there to help any of us recoup our financial losses, to say nothing of the disastrous effect this high level of debt has on personal relationships.

If this seems outrageous to you, GOOD! It is outrageous, and it isn’t hyperbole. There are hundreds of former Brooks Students who have already filed Borrowers Defense to Repayment claims, and that number is sure to grow. I filed my own paperwork in 2016. I’ve been waiting for a response for three years. It is one of 158,110 applications that sits at the Department of Education unanswered right now.

The Department of Education is determined to sit on their hands, doing nothing to help. So us students have been forced to turn to the courts for justice. We are done waiting.

Learn more about the lawsuit Sweet v. DeVos

A Simple Online Legal Tool Helps Reduce Poverty for Military Veterans

Via the Legal Services Center

The Veterans Legal Clinic at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center of Harvard Law School (LSC) is piloting a new technology tool to help fight poverty among the state’s most financially vulnerable military veterans and their dependents and survivors. The tool is designed to increase access to vital safety net benefits that can help reduce financial insecurity, homelessness, and hunger in the Commonwealth’s veterans community.

If successful, the program could improve the lives of tens of thousands of low-income Massachusetts veterans — and thousands more of their family members — whose incomes are at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or lower.

The innovative project introduces an easy-to-use, web-based tool to determine potential eligibility, similar to an online tax preparation tool like TurboTax or an online Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (Food Stamp) Calculator.  The new tool is called the Mass Vet Benefit Calculator, and is being launched through a public-private partnership between LSC and three local veterans’ services offices participating in the pilot.

Marrying legal expertise and tech to address poverty

“The ultimate goal of the project is to help reduce poverty among the Commonwealth’s veterans and military families,” says Daniel Nagin, Faculty Director of the Veterans Legal Clinic and LSC. “We can do so by leveraging our legal expertise and using new technology we’ve developed to more effectively link those in need to an underutilized veterans’ safety net program that already exists.”

“While the core role of LSC and the Veterans Legal Clinic is to represent clients, we also have a role in innovating to fight poverty, addressing gaps for people who may not have access to attorneys, and finding ways in which the marriage of technology and legal expertise can make a difference,” says Nagin. “The Mass Vet Benefit Calculator is intended to help pursue these broader goals.”

“Because of the technology’s design, this project has the potential to help us better understand how technology and online self-guided interview formats, informed by legal expertise, might help other vulnerable populations, such as people harmed by consumer fraud, those with family law cases, and immigrants,” he adds.

Low numbers of eligible veterans access Chapter 115 benefits

The Massachusetts Veterans’ Services Benefits Program – known as Chapter 115 for short because of the statute that authorizes the program – can provide monthly financial assistance that, depending on income and circumstances, can range from a few hundred dollars per month to $1,000 per month to eligible low-income veterans and their dependents. It can also provide reimbursements for out-of-pocket medical costs, emergency payments to prevent eviction, foreclosure or utility shutoffs, and funding for home repairs, moving costs, and transportation to medical appointments.

Yet, as state data shows, too few people are aware the program exists, and too few know if they are eligible or how to apply.

A 2017 report by the Massachusetts State Auditor urged that new strategies be undertaken to make the Chapter 115 program more accessible.  The report showed that between 2014-2016, only 14,390 individuals received Chapter 115 benefits, despite state estimates that as many as 70,000 of the 380,000 veterans in Massachusetts live at 200 percent of the federal poverty level or below and would likely qualify for the program. Only 1,460 of the 13,679 veterans who received MassHealth over a two-year period simultaneously received Chapter 115 benefits, although the income criteria to qualify for MassHealth and Chapter 115 are similar.

These numbers only reflect the number of actual veterans who could qualify. Many thousands more family members could also benefit – if they applied.

Recognizing the need to expand access for veterans and their families, the Veterans Legal Clinic initially developed an online self-help guide, and then began experimenting with a benefits worksheet that synthesized the complex eligibility criteria of the program into a two-page document.

Why not an online calculator to determine eligibility?

“We soon realized that easy-to-use online calculators exist for everything from preparing your tax return to applying for a mortgage and applying for SNAP benefits (Food Stamps), and wondered if we could convert our worksheet into an online calculator that anyone could easily access without professional help,” Nagin said.

Drawing on the software development savvy of William Palin at the Developing Justice program at Harvard Law School, Veterans Legal Clinic attorneys converted the worksheet into a series of simple online questions that a veteran or a family member, friend or advocate can answer. Once individuals answer the questions posed by the tool, they receive immediate analysis of whether or not they may be entitled to benefits, how much they might receive, how and where they can apply, and what documents might be needed to establish eligibility.

Addressing all likely scenarios

Working in collaboration with the Massachusetts Department of Veterans Services and three veterans service officers or VSOs (the VSOs for Boston, Cambridge, and the Upper Pioneer Valley Veterans’ Services District) that were eager to be part of a pilot project, Veterans Legal Clinic Program Manager Julia Schutt and program evaluation colleagues from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health conducted a series of focus groups with VSOs, veterans themselves, and with family members and dependents. The goal: to ensure that the tool addresses all the likely scenarios that someone using it might present in an effort to qualify for Chapter 115 services and to make sure the tool was simple to use.

Further fine-tuning of the tool based on focus group feedback has been completed and the pilot study is being rolled out now in the Boston, Cambridge, and the Upper Pioneer Valley (which includes the towns of Ashfield, Bernardston, Buckland, Charlemont, Colrain, Conway, Deerfield , Erving, Gill, Greenfield, Hawley, Heath, Leverett, Leyden, Monroe , Montague, New Salem, Northfield, Plainfield , Rowe, Shelburne, Shutesbury, Sunderland, Warwick, Wendell, and Whately). This pilot will both test the Mass Vet Benefit Calculator and strategies for increasing awareness of the Chapter 115 program.

“The Boston VSO conducts door-to-door outreach in subsidized housing complexes, particularly those for the elderly and disabled, to connect with veterans, dependents and survivors, for example,” says Schutt. “They can use the online tool on tablets to help complete eligibility screenings on the spot, for example.”

A game-changer

“The Mass Vet Benefit Calculator is a game-changer and is very handy during events,” notes Pierre Darius of the City of Boston Veterans Services. “Instead of asking the same questions over and over again, I can have the applicants answer the questions electronically in seconds.”

LSC Staff at Stand Down, where the benefits calculator was tested with veterans. From left: Betsy Gwin, Dana Montalto, Dan Nagin, Julia Schutt, Keith Fogg, clinical student Steven Kerns, Evan Seamone

“The Mass Vet Benefit Calculator is the quickest and easiest way to check on your Chapter 115 eligibility without a VSO,” he adds. “Answer the questions truthfully, and then you’ll get an eligibility determination instantly. Even if a person’s eligibility is Medical Only, it can be hundreds or thousands of dollars in reimbursements every month.”

“My staff and I look forward to the help the Mass Vet Benefit Calculator will provide to our veterans and their dependents,” says Timothy Niejadlik, Director of Upper Pioneer Valley Veterans’ Services District. “By allowing them to begin the application process online, we hope they will contact us to answer questions and ensure they receive all the benefits they may deserve from the Commonwealth.”

Once the pilot phase is complete and lessons learned are implemented, a more intensive, statewide rollout of the tool will begin.

The Mass Vet Benefit Calculator project is supported by a grant from the Klarman Family Foundation.

Using technology to access legal remedies, social services

“We believe technological innovation to help low-income individuals access social services and legal remedies can have a meaningful impact,” says Nagin. “It is critical that legal services providers continue to expand their toolkit.  Technology tools need to be harnessed to help us pursue our justice mission. We are very grateful to the Klarman Family Foundation for supporting this effort.”

Reform Meets Response: LSC Launches Criminal Record Sealing Initiative in Wake of Massachusetts Criminal Justice Reform

Via the Legal Services Center

The Legal Services Center strives to place the voices of Boston’s communities at the heart of its practice.

While Julie McCormack, Director of the Safety Net Project, facilitated People’s Law School community workshops around the Boston area over the past 5 years, she learned first-hand from clients and community partners of the staggering, unmet demand for criminal record sealing services. Due to LSC’s specialized projects serving domestic violence survivors, low-income individuals, people with disabilities, veterans, and others, Julie recognized that the Legal Services Center had a unique opportunity to leverage its existing resources to respond directly to requests from community partners and clients to expand access to these critical criminal record sealing services.

With criminal record information publicly available to employers, banks, and landlords, a criminal record operates as a de facto sentence for individuals long after their time is served by erecting barriers to financial stability. Indeed, for the estimated one in three American adults with a criminal record, ordinary essentials such as finding a well-paying job, obtaining safe and affordable housing, getting a student loan, and purchasing a decent car are nearly impossible to attain. This reality means that those with criminal records experience poverty, unemployment, and homelessness at far higher rates than their peers without records. In effect, a criminal record is a harsh, life-long obstacle for those striving to lift themselves out of situations of personal and financial hardship. The discrimination experienced by individuals after their encounter with the criminal justice system reverberates throughout their families and communities, exacerbating inequality and hardship.

Fortunately, the 2018 Criminal Justice Reform Act has accelerated and expanded sealing opportunities. Individuals with old criminal records can now have their Criminal Offender Record Information (CORI) sealed so that it cannot be seen or held against them by potential employers, landlords, and banks. For the first time in Massachusetts history, the 2018 law also provided for the expungement of a criminal record for de-criminalized offenses (such as the possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana). These reforms provide a path toward a brighter future for individuals fighting against the barriers and stigma that accompany a criminal record.

However, this change in the law did not provide the legal resources necessary to help people exercise their right to criminal record sealing. Organizations such as Greater Boston Legal Services and Rosie’s Place have taken an early lead in identifying the need for sealing services by providing self-help resources and walk-in clinics. We applaud the groundbreaking work of these organizations and seek to expand CORI sealing opportunities – particularly to the veterans, military families, low-income students, disabled individuals, and domestic violence survivors that we already serve – through free workshops every third Tuesday of the month, from 4pm to 6pm.

We believe this is a valuable service with tremendous spillover effects in combatting inequality and injustice. Moreover, we believe that by hosting these CORI Sealing Workshops, LSC is leveraging its connections with the veteran and local communities – as well as its easily accessible location – to respond to an urgent community need.

For more information about our new CORI Sealing Initiative, please visit our information page.

HIRC client wins asylum after eight years

Via the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic

Pictured left to right: Clinical Instructor Phil Torrey, Abraham, Clinical Instructor Cindy Zapata, and Alicia Coneys, J.D. ’19

Abraham* began his journey at the Harvard Immigration Clinic (HIRC) in 2011, when he first met Managing Attorney Phil Torrey. Abraham had suffered severe persecution at the hands of the government in his home country in East Africa and came to HIRC to help him build his case for asylum.

Though Abraham had strong evidence of well-founded fear, his road to political asylum was not an easy one. “The process was incredibly long and included multiple asylum office interviews and many delayed hearings due to the government shutdown and the interpreter not showing up,” Torrey explained.

Abraham’s case was particularly heart-wrenching because while he fought to move his case forward in the United States, his wife and children remained thousands of miles away in his home country. He had not even met one of his sons, who was born after he came to the U.S.

Despite facing roadblocks, Abraham and his team from HIRC continued to push forward with his case. In the weeks leading up to his day in court, Abraham spent long hours at the HIRC office with Clinical Instructor Cindy Zapata, who had taken over his case, and Alicia Coneys ‘19 preparing him for his day in court. Then, on April 30, 2019, all their hard work paid off when Abraham finally received the news he had waited so long to hear – he had been granted asylum.

“When he won, the first thought I had was of his family. I am so happy that he will finally be able to reunite with them in a place where they can all live safely,” said Coneys, who was in court with Abraham that day. Cases like Abraham’s remind us of the real-life impacts immigration has on families, both here in the U.S. and across the globe. Here at HIRC our goal is always to keep families together and we are so thrilled that Abraham will soon be with his family once again.

“Abraham is an incredible person. In spite of all the setbacks, he remained incredibly focused. His resilience, passion, and kind spirit are an inspiration. It’s been a true honor working with him,” said Zapata.

We would like to extend our thanks to Phil Torrey, Cindy Zapata, and Alicia Coneys for their tireless work on this case.

*Client’s name has been changed to respect his privacy

Prosecuting a Jury Trial

By: Joseph Rosenberg, J.D. ’19

Joseph Rosenberg, ’19

“An hour-and-a-half?” I repeated over the phone. “But the trial is starting now!” Today, I was prosecuting an operating under the influence (OUI) jury trial, but the state trooper who arrested the defendant had forgotten. Now he was on the way, his day off interrupted.

I relayed this information to the judge in Boston Municipal Court’s Dorchester District Court. He was more understanding that I thought he would be. While we waited, we could return to the problem more immediately at hand: a surprise witness (the complaining witness, no less) had shown up at 8am after not responding to our summonses for months. He recounted some observations and third-party statements that weren’t in the trooper’s report. I wasn’t sure what to do, but I thought I had better tell defense counsel immediately. The defense counsel told me he’d object to at least the new third-party statements because they were hearsay.

“Your honor, that’s actually not hearsay. It’s not being offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted but rather to show its effect on the listener,” I argued. I was an Evidence scholar just weeks removed from my final exam. That third-party statement was excluded.

After the evidentiary hearing—while still we waited for the trooper—the judge suggested that we begin the trial. Before long, I had conducted voir dire, opened, and put on the complaining witness.

It was speeding by. Now the trooper was here. I met him, and then he took the stand ten seconds later. I had prepared an examination for him and hoped to meet with him beforehand to prepare. Alas! This would have to do. It went better than expected. He was an expert. He’d done this a hundred times.

I rested my case, defeated a motion for a directed verdict, and closed. I couldn’t believe I had just done all that. I had no idea what I was doing; I was sure I’d lost. I was happy that I would lose, actually. True, the defendant was drunk— breathalyzer results that the jury couldn’t see confirmed that he was twice over the legal limit—he was driving, and he caused a crash. But he was younger than I was, he had no record, and his parents were there in the courtroom to support him. He held the courtroom door open for me once. I  was happy for him: he had the good fortune to come up against me. He could move on from this mistake, never drink and drive again, and no harm would have been done.

The jury returned after about an hour and found the defendant guilty. I didn’t react on the outside, but my mind was racing. “I won?! Good for me—he has a private lawyer. But poor guy. Now he’s been convicted. I convicted him.” I couldn’t look at him or at the jurors. When the jurors finally filed out, the judge said:  “Alright, shall we proceed to sentencing?” “Sentencing?” I asked. “Of course, your honor,  just one moment.” I hadn’t had any idea that sentencing for OUI convictions takes place right then and there. I turned to my supervisor and asked her what was going on. She said to ask for one year of probation with mandatory attendance at alcohol counseling: the standard sentence for a first OUI offense. “Can I ask for six months?” I asked. “Sure.” My proposed sentence—crafted at counsel table the moment before it was offered—was accepted by defense counsel as “generous.”

I picked my things up off the table and finally turned to the defendant. He was facing the back of the courtroom. His head was buried in his parents’ chests, and they held him tight. His whole body heaved as he sobbed. I shook defense counsel’s hand and walked out as quickly as I could.

At 5:30, I left the courthouse and started my walk towards  the Shawmut stop on the Red Line. I called my girlfriend and my parents to tell them about my day—the good, the bad, the I-still-don’t-know-what.

Looking for Tools to Change

Via the Harvard Dispute Systems Design Clinic (Harvard Negotiation and Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP))

Margaret Huang ’19

Margaret Huang ’19 came to law school looking for tools for change. Inspired by seminal Supreme Court cases like Roe v. Wade and Brown v. Board of Education, Huang set her sights on finding her particular path into change agency. At the time, law school seemed like the best way for her to acquire the skills to combat systemic racial and economic inequalities. However, by providing new frameworks for analyzing problems, law school has complicated her theory for how change happens.

HNMCP: When you were a student in the Negotiation & Mediation Clinical Program (HNMCP), you worked on a project with the New Hampshire Judicial Branch Office of Mediation & Arbitration, which oversees alternative dispute resolution programs in the state. Your project looked at the use of alternative dispute resolution models in the family division specifically, focusing on the process for handling re-opened divorce and parenting cases. But this wasn’t your first hands on experience with clients, was it?

Margaret Huang: In undergrad I volunteered as a telephone counselor at the Women’s Law Project. My role was to provide legal information and referrals when people called in with their stories. It was the first time that I truly began to understand how interconnected problems in people’s lives were. Divorce, parenting, domestic violence can affect safety, shelter, and food insecurity, as well as be affected by them. This experience helped me in thinking about the project with the New Hampshire court because it gave me a deeper understanding of divorce and parenting disputes.

HNMCP: What was it about HNMCP that made you choose it for a clinical experience?

Margaret: I wanted to do more work in alternative dispute resolution. The Negotiation Workshop and the Harvard Mediation Program influenced the way I looked at disputes. These experiences taught me that sometimes the truth can be impossible to determine, but they also gave me the tools to figure out how to move forward despite that. And then the clinic, HNMCP, does a good job of providing a framework in which to analyze how individuals act within a system. By figuring out how a system influences the people who are within it (e.g., through the options it provides, or the difficulty or ease of taking a certain path), we can figure out how we might shift things for a different experience.

HNMCP: How did you see this fitting in with the work you want to do after law school?

Margaret: Like many people at this law school, I feel an urgency in the work of reforming the criminal system. The criminal system is both a result of, and a force in, perpetuating trauma and racial and economic injustice. But because of the power that prosecutors have, I also believe that to implement effective change, we need progressive prosecutors. After law school, I am going to the New York City Law Department’s Family Court Unit to work as a prosecutor in the juvenile court system, with the diversionary programs that exist there, and its focus on rehabilitation. When I worked there last summer, I learned about all the alternatives to placement programs like job training, family therapy, etc. to help keep a child from going back through the system. I think it’s a good model on how to handle juvenile cases and I am thinking about how can it translate into the adult system. No matter how gung ho individual prosecutors are, at the end of the day the outcome is supposed to be the least restrictive. Understanding systemic models better will help me move into policy work at local and state levels in the future.

HNMCP: While respecting client privilege, what were some rewarding and challenging experiences you had in your clinical work that you felt helped you move forward in your growth as a lawyer?

Margaret: I was amazed at how the people we worked with in the New Hampshire Court System were so forward-thinking. I feel like the way law school teaches the common law means there is a focus on the past, a mentality of ‘we do things this way because this is the way we’ve always done things.’ But the people we met in New Hampshire were constantly innovating and trying new models to help the people who go through their system. They were so inspirational!

The most rewarding part of the clinic was when [my project teammate] Michael [Haley] and I presented our findings and recommendations to the court administrators. Our analysis was objective, presenting both the positive and negative things that we had seen, but the court administrators were excited about our findings and seemed energized to start fixing some of the problems that we had found.

We did have challenges. As part of the project, we spent time calling folks who went through the New Hampshire system to get stakeholder feedback. Not all of them were very happy that their number had been given to us and one guy called around 15 times in 10 minutes to complain.

Margaret Huang & Michael Haley

HNMCP: So you had that on-the-ground learning of interacting with folks who had challenging experiences in the system and you were the one who had to talk to them and take that blow back.

Margaret: Yes. This is one of the places we got support from our supervisor. I learned a lot seeing Rachel [Krol] talk to him and calm him down. It was so admirable.

HNMCP: You also participated in the Harvard Mediation Program (HMP), a student practice organization. What was it about alternative dispute resolution as a discipline that attracted you to spend so much of your time in law school focusing on these skills?

Margaret: It was learning that 90% of cases settle out of court that made me want to learn about ADR. I stayed with it because of the experiential learning model and the practical skills I was receiving. Black letter law classes teach one set of skills, so studying ADR gave me that continued learning.

HNMCP: You started in HMP your 1L year, served as Training Director your 2L year, and by your 3L year you served as co-President (along with Laura Bloomer). What are some important leadership lessons you’ll be taking with you into your career?

Margaret: One of the gifts of being co-President was being able to see the organization in the long term. It also gave me the opportunity to tackle some of the problems I saw as a 1L.  As Training Director, I had the ability to address issues, make changes right away, and move forward quickly. But as co-President, of course, I had to run things by the Board and Staff, and know that I might not see changes before I graduated. Hearing [Advisory Board Member] Florrie [Darwin] share with me the growth she’s seen in the organization over the years, helped me understand that despite the fact that I could not immediately see the progress the organization was making, the changes Laura and I tried to implement might have an effect in the future. I also learned that working with colleagues who are committed and caring makes a huge difference.

HNMCP: What did you learn about yourself in your work in HNMCP and HMP?

Margaret: In both HNMCP and HMP I learned how to receive feedback, which is much harder than people acknowledge. But I needed to acknowledge where my weaknesses were in order to improve. So now I hear feedback as not about what’s wrong with me, but where I can get better.

I know I have said this a lot already, but HNMCP and HMP has influenced how I think about change. I used to believe that it was extraordinary individuals who were change-makers. Not to diminish the extraordinary things these individuals have done, but the picture is much more complicated. I now understand that because ADR teaches people how to analyze situations as stakeholders with their interests and agendas, I can see that change happens when some stakeholders agree on a solution that fits their needs. By using this framework, one can make change by influencing stakeholder agendas, by empowering certain stakeholders, finding creative solutions, and countless other possibilities.

I’ve also become more aware about how people make choices in a system. I was at the Prison Abolition Symposium that the Harvard Law Review put on earlier this year, and one of the speakers, Angel Sanchez, said something that really resonated with me. Paraphrasing, he said, “we should allow people to be normal.”

We should allow people to be normal. How can we construct a system where people do not need to be extraordinary to “make it?” How do we construct a system where people are allowed to make mistakes?

HNMCP: How have you found these skills translating into your own life?

Margaret: I’ve become a much better active listener [laughs]. In law school, we’re taught to provide solutions when people come to us with problems, but sometimes that’s not what someone needs. Sometimes it’s better to just acknowledge what’s going on and help them figure out what is the best solution for them.

HNMCP: Anything you want to add before we go?

Margaret: A big shout out to the 5th floor of Pound Hall [where HNMCP and HMP have their offices] for being so welcoming!

“They Don’t Teach You This in Law School,” Moments in the Domestic Violence and Family Law Clinic

By: Tara Louise Casey, LL.M. ’19

Tara Louise Casey LL.M. ’19

As an LL.M. student who has recently finished my primary law degree in Ireland – where there is not a great amount of emphasis on practical legal  education – I was eager to explore clinical and pro-bono opportunities at Harvard. I had previously studied domestic violence from an academic perspective and completed an internship at a prominent family law firm in Dublin so a clinical program that combined the two sounded like a perfect fit.

While I had previously participated in a clinical program at the University of Texas while studying abroad there during my primary law degree, working at the Legal Services Center (LSC) was unlike anything I had done before. From the very beginning, my supervisor Nnena Odim made it clear that the cases I would be working on would be my own, that I would be responsible for the vast majority of the case – keeping the client up to date, getting information from them, communicating and negotiating with opposing counsel and representing the client in court. Being thrown into the deep-end was at first rather intimidating, but the community spirit at LSC was a great help. Surrounded by other law students – some in the Domestic Violence/Family Law Clinic, some in other clinics, some returning students, some first-timers like me – I quickly got to grips with drafting documents in the correct form, who to call at the court house for certain information and appropriate tones to take with opposing counsel, parties and my own clients on the phone.

My favorite aspect of the clinic was without doubt meeting with the clients. Before our meetings, I would generally read up on their case and try to ascertain where they were at procedurally, what was the most recent thing they had asked for and what further information we needed to get from them for our next filings with the court. I often thought about my academic study of domestic violence, trying to remind myself to keep in mind its multi-faceted nature. When I met with the clients, however, oftentimes all of my forethought would go out the window. There would be a new issue we had never heard about before – she had received a document from the court that did not make sense,  the visitation  arrangement for her child  was drastically different from that ordered by the court or she had a separate legal issue that could be dealt with by other clinics at LSC. These were classic “they don’t teach you this at law school” moments and I relished them. The skills that would come out of these interactions, I have come to learn, are some of the most fundamental that any lawyer can have – adaptability, understanding and basic people skills.

While it was fantastic to have the opportunity as a law student to speak to a judge as an authorized student attorney and argue on behalf of my client against seasoned opposing counsel, it was the meetings with clients where we could chat about what was going on in their lives now, what they wanted and what it was that I could do to help them achieve their goals that stand out as the highlights of my clinical experience at Harvard.

 

Are Americans Getting Enough Fiber?

Via Harvard Law Today

By: Elaine McArdle

Susan Crawford, author of “Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution-and Why America Might Miss It”
Credit: Dana Smith

Imagine an internet connection so fast and clear that all the musicians in an orchestra can play their instruments from their own homes in perfect time with colleagues scattered across the country. Imagine students in a tiny rural school taking high-level science classes taught by expert teachers 2,000 miles away, with such visual clarity that they can participate in real-time scientific experiments.

That level of internet connectivity is standard in South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sweden and China. But internet service in most parts of the U.S. continues to be slow, unreliable and expensive. Because of a series of telecom policy decisions, the U.S. is falling further and further behind other nations, with a host of serious implications that affect not only the economy, education, health, and well-being but also the fabric of democracy, says Susan Crawford, clinical professor at Harvard Law School.

On the national level, almost no one is paying attention, says Crawford. And she is out to change that.

Fiber optic technology, which results in dazzlingly fast and reliable internet connectivity, should be available at a low price to everyone in the U.S., just as it is in other countries, argues Crawford in her latest book, “Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution—and Why America Might Miss It,” published this year by Yale University Press. The contemporary notion of a decent, thriving life “requires a persistent, cheap data network that reaches everyone”—and that means fiber optic technology for everyone, she says.

“Fiber optic plus advanced wireless is going to be the place where all the new industries for the next 100 years are born, where all the new jobs, all the new ways of making a living, come to being,” says Crawford, who served as special assistant for science, technology and innovation policy for President Barack Obama ’91. “We need it—now—to make sure we have a world-class health care system, the best education for our children and the ability to cope with climate change.”

In the near future, fiber access will be available in 68% of Asia. Meanwhile, due to the deregulation of the telecom industry, the U.S. lags far behind in this critical technology, says Crawford: In terms of average download speed, the U.S. ranks 25th out of 40 nations that are in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. Fiber connects American cities, but only about 13% of individual homes and businesses, mostly in very affluent places, have fiber optic connections—what’s called “last-mile fiber connectivity.” Most Americans get their internet from a single provider, typically one of five companies that control high-speed internet access. These companies have no incentive to upgrade to fiber.

“We are really not in the game,” says Crawford. Internet providers “have divided markets very successfully. They can charge whatever they want for the services they provide. We’ve got a really stagnant, noncompetitive market.”

But her book is not about technology but rather progressivism, and it tells a story of hope, she stresses. Electricity was once controlled by a few companies and available only to the wealthy. It took “enormous local courage” and the leadership of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the face of incredible opposition, to make sure that everyone, despite economic status, received it. Fiber is equally astonishing in what it offers for improving lives, Crawford says, and similarly should be regarded as a public good, a utility service to which every American is entitled.

Susan Crawford tells the stories of localities in the U.S. that have sidestepped powerful forces to bring fiber to their residents.
Credit: Melissa Beck

Crawford places her focus on human stories, including those drawn from the successes of 800 plucky localities in the U.S. that have sidestepped powerful forces to bring fiber to their residents: places like Chattanooga, Tennessee, and rural Minnesota, where 27 tiny townships created a fiber services cooperative to bring first-rate, affordable internet service to farms. It makes good sense at every level, Crawford argues. While costly to install, once laid in the ground, fiber is infinitely upgradeable, and because the lines can be shared by numerous operators, service prices are competitive.

“Localities are just sick of being bossed around. So that’s why they’re building their own networks,” she says. The big internet providers have successfully supported laws in 19 states that now prohibit local governments from supporting fiber optic build-out, arguing that internet service should be a private enterprise. But that’s misleading, Crawford insists—the utility lines themselves should not be controlled privately but instead should be shared by as many service providers as want to jump in, thus driving prices down. The issue of fiber optics “may be highly partisan at the federal level, but at the local level it’s just people wanting everybody to lead a decent life. This really is the seeds of what we’re seeing across the country, this sort of movement toward ensuring that people get their basic needs met at a reasonable cost.”

Crawford, who wrote “Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age” in 2014, launched her current book project around the same time during a trip to South Korea, where she witnessed the enormous digital divide between that country, where fiber connectivity is pervasive, and the U.S. A visit to Stockholm shortly afterward drove the point home, during which the mayor asked Crawford how Sweden could help the U.S. get on board with fiber optics in order not to drift into irrelevance. She traveled to Tokyo, Oslo, Hong Kong, and Singapore, which all have 100% fiber adoption, to find out why connectivity was so available and so cheap, with typical prices of $25 to $40 a month.

By contrast, American telecom and cable companies, with no incentive to support fiber technology, are strongly opposing it, including by trying to confuse the issue, she says. For one thing, they are promoting 5G wireless service, the latest generation of cellular mobile connection, as an alternative to fiber. In fact, 5G depends on fiber lines in order to work, Crawford explains, and 5G won’t function in rural areas because it would require cell towers every 200 feet, which is extremely expensive. “It is in their interest not to have people fully understand this issue,” she says. And as the local communities have taken matters into their own hands, the industry has fought back hard.

Crawford got encouragement in her research from then-HLS Dean Martha Minow, who recognized the social justice implications of telecommunications policy. Another supporter, Professor Yochai Benkler ’94, faculty co-director of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, praises her book. “At this moment in American history, [as we are] facing a deep loss of trust in government and good governance, Crawford’s rich case studies of municipalities that have overcome destructive corporate lobbying to deliver for their citizens is a lesson we all need,” he says.

A key part of the story is that China is planning to connect 80% of their homes and businesses to fiber very soon. Moreover, China is loaning $68 billion to other countries for infrastructure and soon will be touching 65% of the world’s population and 40% of the world’s GDP, Crawford says. She’s hoping that awareness of China’s primacy in this arena “will be a Sputnik moment” for national attention in the U.S. “American companies will have no leverage to be part of that market, won’t be able to reach that global population, and we seem to have no response to that in this country,” she says.

But the U.S. won’t get a massive upgrade to fiber unless there is a concerted effort at the national level. The FCC, she says, should set fiber as the standard for all citizens, so they enjoy opportunities for education, jobs and health care.

“Human decency is at our core and should be attached to our policy,” says Crawford, whose next project is addressing the effect of rising sea levels in Charleston, South Carolina, which poses essentially the same question: What is the role of local government in solving major problems?

While the issue of fiber optic connectivity is urgent and the challenges significant, Crawford is optimistic. “America has saved the world from tyranny,” she says. “We built a transcontinental railroad system. We built the federal highway system. We built the Hoover Dam. Americans are capable of this,” she stresses. “And we can turn quickly to projects of national importance. It’s just that we’re a bit in the dark right now about this one.”

LSC Housing Clinic student helps win precedent-setting case for domestic violence survivors facing eviction

Via Harvard Law Today

WilmerHale Legal Services Center’s Family Law and Housing Clinic attorneys Maureen McDonagh and Julia Devanthéry, with Emily Mannheimer ’19. The LSC team helped win a precedent-setting case for domestic violence survivors facing eviction.
Photo courtesy of the Legal Services Center

A recent Massachusetts court case spearheaded by clinical students and teachers at the WilmerHale Legal Services Center(LSC) has created important new protections for survivors of domestic violence. Working in LSC’s Housing Clinic, Emily Mannheimer ’19 represented a woman who had been evicted from her apartment for not paying her rent after she had been physically abused and robbed by her partner. Mannheimer worked with the client for three semesters, first in the Eastern Housing Court, then to appeal the case to the Massachusetts Court of Appeals, and finally through hearing at the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (SJC).

Just days before Harvard Law School graduation in May, the SJC ruled in favor of Mannheimer’s client, holding that the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) protects tenants in federally subsidized housing from eviction when the cause is tied to their domestic abuse. The court’s ruling in Boston Housing Authority v. Y.A. also held that a domestic abuse survivor can invoke VAWA protections even if he or she reveals the abuse late in the eviction process or after defaulting on an agreed upon payment plan, and that it doesn’t matter when or how the survivor alerts the court and the landlord that she is the subject of abuse.

The new precedent reduces the risk that domestic violence will lead to eviction and homelessness, a decision that has vital implications for survivors of domestic violence who are facing eviction in Massachusetts and across the nation.

“Staying housed has helped our client and her two children heal and take important steps towards freedom from abuse,” said Julia Devanthéry, lecturer and attorney in LSC’s Housing Clinic, the lead attorney on the case. “This terrific result reflects the incredible work of many great advocates—including our stellar and devoted clinical student, Emily Mannheimer—and a very brave client.”

In addition to representing Y.A. during Housing Court hearings, Mannheimer drafted motions and portions of the appellate brief, and was responsible for primary client contact and client support at each stage of the process.

“Being able to work on the same case for three semesters, and build such a meaningful connection with a client and have such a positive outcome was a great experience,” said Mannheimer. “The Housing Clinic, and particularly the work the clinic does on behalf of domestic violence survivors, is so important.”

When Mannheimer picked up the case, the client had already been fighting to keep her home since 2014 when Y.A. first received an eviction notice for nonpayment of rent. Y.A.’s abuser subjected her to physical and emotional abuse and stole the income she earned from her job. Y.A. had made attempts alone to negotiate repayment of back rent – but her abuser stole her rent money, putting her in violation of an agreed-upon settlement.

At a hearing in the Eastern Housing Court in January 2018, where she was facing immediate eviction and was unrepresented by an attorney, Y.A. explained that domestic violence caused her to fall behind on her payment plan. Nevertheless, the judge granted the Housing Authority’s motion to forcibly remove Y.A. from her home. In doing so the judge ignored a key provision of VAWA, the landmark 1994 law, which includes protection for tenants and applicants of federally funded subsidized housing from denial of housing or eviction from housing “on the basis that the applicant or tenant is or has been the victim of domestic violence.”

LSC began representing Y.A. after she lost her case in Housing Court and helped her appeal the decision. The SJC took up the appeal of its own accord, and the case received national attention, with 14 advocacy groups filing amicus briefs in support of the survivor. Oral argument was held on January 7, 2019.

The SJC’s May 10, 2019 decision was unambiguous, declaring that: a survivor may raise a VAWA defense to eviction at any time during an eviction proceeding; there is no prescribed method or words needed to do so; there is no restraining order prerequisite to prove eligibility for the defense; domestic violence can be disclosed to the court without first disclosing to the landlord and still form the basis for a defense; that the defense can be raised even in instances of chronic non-payment; that covered housing providers have an affirmative duty to help survivors and not evict them for reasons directly related to domestic violence; and that judges, upon hearing evidence of domestic violence, are obligated to inquire further to fully evaluate the applicability of VAWA and write findings before issuing decisions.

Daniel Nagin, Faculty Director of the Legal Service Center, described the decision as “a powerful example of how LSC’s individual representation cases have the potential to make real change for entire communities.”

The impact of the ruling has already been felt by survivors and their advocates, including those in the United States House of Representatives. “Housing is a basic human right, and stable housing is critical to stemming the cycle of the trauma faced by survivors of domestic violence,” said Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, representative of the Massachusetts 7th Congressional District. “This ruling is a victory not only for Y.A. and LSC, but for every survivor who has faced housing instability as a result of domestic violence. I’m eternally grateful to Y.A. for her bravery and to LSC for reaffirming protections for survivors.”

Before releasing its full opinion, the SJC issued a brief order reversing the Housing Court’s earlier decision. The order allowed LSC to negotiate a new agreement with the Housing Authority on behalf of Y.A. that will allow her to stay housed and avoid another hearing in Housing Court.

Y.A., who fought her eviction for years without legal representation before finding LSC, expressed her happiness at the decision after a long and difficult fight, saying, “I tried for so long to get help, and to explain my situation. When [the Housing Authority] told me I had to leave the apartment, I cried, night and day. It was wonderful to get help from LSC, and I’m so glad that my case will help others.”

The result represents the culmination of a determined, collaborative effort by LSC’s Housing Clinic and numerous allies around the state who helped prepare the Clinic for oral argument. Massachusetts-based organizations contributing amicus briefs in the case include the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, Casa Myrna, the Domestic Violence Institute of Northeastern University School of Law, Greater Boston Legal Services, the Foley Hoag Domestic Violence Prevention Project, Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, the Volunteer Lawyers Project, and the Women’s Bar Foundation. In addition, national and out-of-state organizations including the ACLU of Massachusetts, the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, the National Housing Law Project, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, and the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law filed amicus briefs in support of Y.A. with the court.

Health care systems turn to a ‘new’ old medicine: healthy food

Via MassLive

By: Shira Schonenberg

Source: Flickr

A few times a week, Katie Macomber, medical home care coordinator at Amherst Pediatrics, writes a “prescription” for patients and their families.

Macomber is not a doctor, and the prescription is not for medicine. Rather, it is a form from the Amherst Survival Center, designed to look like a prescription, that sends families to the center to pick up groceries, diapers or fresh produce from the food pantry, eat a free hot lunch or dinner, or get help applying for food stamps.

Amherst Pediatrics asks patients on a screening form if they have experienced food insecurity and has posters around the office telling patients to talk to a doctor if they struggled to afford food in the past year.

“Socioeconomics are such a huge part of overall health,” Macomber said. “You can’t focus on medical health if there are other issues impacting that family’s ability to care for their medical health.”

Macomber said “prescribing” food at a medical practice “really helps put it under the umbrella that this is all part of your medical health and well-being.”

The Amherst Survival Center’s Project HungeRX is part of a growing movement statewide to treat food as medicine.

On Tuesday, the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School, and Community Servings, a nonprofit that cooks and delivers medically tailored meals to sick people at home, released the first Massachusetts Food is Medicine State Plan.

The plan examines the importance of programs that deliver medically tailored food, that provide vouchers for fresh produce and that offer healthy food to people who cannot easily access it.

One 2019 study by researchers from the University of North Carolina, Massachusetts General Hospital, Community Servings and elsewhere found that medically tailored meals were associated with fewer admissions to hospitals and nursing homes and a reduction in health care costs. A report by Children’s Healthwatch and the Greater Boston Foodbank estimated that food insecurity in Massachusetts leads to $1.9 billion in avoidable health care costs annually.

Sarah Downer of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation, one of the authors of the Food is Medicine plan, said the goal is to develop steps to change the state’s health system to better connect individuals with food and “set up pathways to build better overall community health.”

The report was released as the public is becoming more conscious of the need for healthy food, with farmers’ markets and buy local campaigns. MassHealth, the state’s Medicaid program, recently adopted a new structure in which some money will be available to address social factors that affect health.

In interviews, the researchers found that health care insurers and providers said they were interested in addressing food insecurity but many were unsure how to integrate that into medical care.

The report lays out multiple ways to integrate food and health care, such as by having doctors screen patients for food insecurity and by training health care providers about the importance of nutrition and about what resources are available to patients.

The report envisions connections between community-based nutrition organizations, like food pantries, and health care providers. It also envisions an increase in funding — through reimbursement from health insurers and other sources — for programs that offer medically tailored meals, mobile farmers markets, food vouchers and other nutrition services.

The report identifies 26 high-priority areas with a particular need for food services, including Agawam, Chicopee, Holyoke, North Adams, Pittsfield, Springfield and West Springfield.

Experts say the biggest barriers to people buying healthy food tend to be cost and transportation.

Read the full article here.

Collecting on Dreams

Via Harvard Law Today

By: Julia Hanna

Toby Merrill ’11 Credit: Leah Fasten

As a 2L, Toby Merrill ’11 was enrolled in a Harvard Law School consumer clinic litigating against predatory lenders of subprime mortgages. There she fought for the rights of individuals who had hoped to fulfill the American dream of home ownership. Now Merrill has a new mission, no less urgent: to bring a measure of fairness to people affected by the predatory lending practices of some for-profit colleges that are alleged to provide worthless degrees in exchange for thousands of dollars in government-backed loans. Frequently members of some of society’s most vulnerable populations, these clients often began their journey with the simple desire for upward mobility—namely, a better life through education.

In 2012, Merrill founded and became director of the HLS Project on Predatory Student Lending, focusing on for-profit schools that promised students a direct path to well-paying, middle-class jobs via programs focused on a specific role—medical assistant or paralegal, for example—but failed to deliver. Senate hearings and a two-year investigation into these schools led by then-Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin detailed the systematic use of inflated job placement data and aggressive recruitment tactics to target groups that included immigrants, people of color, veterans, and single mothers. In one case, noted by Harkin, a school claimed that it placed 70% to 90% of students in jobs, when the actual rate was 20% to 30%.

The financial fallout of that widespread fraud, when combined with the poor quality of instruction found in many programs, was catastrophic: Statistics show that individuals enrolled in for-profit colleges typically account for 13% of the student population but 47% of all federal loan defaults, often because of the inability of the borrowers to secure well-paying jobs; and more than $30 billion in federal tax funding goes to for-profit institutions every year, in the form of those student loans.

Eileen Connor, director of litigation at the project
Credit: Leah Fasten

In her work with victims of predatory subprime mortgage lending, Merrill had been a firsthand witness to the power of affirmative litigation on behalf of individuals harmed by unscrupulous lending practices. She saw how that work could not only help individuals get restitution but also, in the best-case scenario, lead to improved policy. When she learned more about the tactics used to lure students into shoddy degree programs with little value on the job market—students who were trying to improve their lives by getting an education and who, at that point, had virtually no options for legal action—the issue had a visceral pull.

“Predatory student lending sits right at the intersection of racial and economic justice,” says Merrill, whose interest in fighting injustice and race discrimination in America led her to spend the summer after her second year in law school working on the NAACP’s voting rights project and in its death penalty practice.

Located in HLS’s Wilmer­Hale Legal Services Center in Jamaica Plain, the project and its staff of 12 are engaged in class-action lawsuits on behalf of tens of thousands of students at now-defunct institutions such as Corinthian Colleges (with a class of 110,000 plaintiffs) and ITT Technical Institute (750,000). But they also take on individual cases which they feel will effect change in industry or government practices. Director of Litigation Eileen Connor has met hundreds of people whose lives have been upended by predatory student lending, but she still finds herself thinking about Crystal, a young single mother who was recruited away from Roxbury Community College by a Corinthian school subsidiary.

Attorney Josh Rovenger (at desk) joined the project last year, inspired by the passion of Toby Merrill and her team.
Credit: Leah Fasten

“They told her, ‘You can do what you’re doing here, but twice as fast—so you’ll be able to work that much sooner and support your young child.’ Of course, that was appealing to her,” Connor says. The report issued by the Harkin Senate committee found that recruiters at some for-profit colleges are frequently instructed to exploit just such a “pain point” in order to convince a prospective student to enroll. But the quality of education Crystal received didn’t provide her with the skills she needed to compete in the job market. The Senate report also found that, on average, only 25% of the money paid to for-profit colleges is rolled into needed teaching materials, equipment, and instructor pay; the remaining 75% is used for marketing, executive compensation, and profit. Unable to find employment in her chosen field of medical assistant, Crystal was forced to default on her loan and ended up living in a homeless shelter; the default had disqualified her from applying for subsidized housing. In addition, the government garnished her wages and took her earned income tax credit, which she had been planning to use as the first and last months’ deposit to rent an apartment. There is no time limit on the collection of student loan debt, so these penalties can continue for decades.

“This all happened because a predatory company took advantage of someone with the earnest desire to learn and to work,” Connor says. “It’s a perversion of the ideal of higher education when the reason we have a federal student loan program at all is to create opportunity.”

Josh Rovenger ’13 joined the project last year. While he had always been drawn to public interest law, he hadn’t been following the legal cases involving for-profit colleges before interviewing for an attorney position with Merrill and Connor. Then he got excited: “It wasn’t really an exact moment or case, but more the passion they showed. Toby said that once you learn about the work, you can’t help but get angry and worked-up about what’s going on.”

Every semester the HLS Project on Predatory Lending trains six to eight students, including this spring, Levi Barry ’19 and Sejal Singh ’20.
Credit: Leah Fasten

And if he ever feels distanced from that moment, a clinical student’s reaction brings it all back: “It’s a reminder to everyone here of how absurd some of the actions are that we’re challenging,” Rovenger says. Each semester, the project hosts six to eight clinical students, providing exposure to the class-action cases underway while also enabling students to act on behalf of individuals. “My clients are people who have been taken advantage of,” says Sejal Singh ’20. “But they are not victims—they’re very smart, resilient actors who are committed to moving forward with their lives. Working with them has been inspiring, and in the process, I really feel as though I’ve been able to build a range of skills that are going to prepare me to move forward in my career as an attorney.”

Creating positive change in an area as complex and far-reaching as predatory student lending can have a frustratingly long timeline. But in its relatively brief seven-year existence, the project has earned substantial wins, bringing clients that much closer to justice. Among its recent victories was a ruling last fall in the case Bauer v. DeVos that—in conjunction with a similar suit brought by 19 states and the District of Columbia—prevented the Department of Education from illegally delaying the enforcement of established borrower defense regulations that offer protections for students. Such protections include the cancellation of debt when an institution breaks the law and a ban on forced arbitration.

“Forced arbitration has been a longstanding issue in the context of consumer protection,” says Merrill. “The transparency that occurs with private litigation has been shown by study after study to be an important driver of public enforcement; forced arbitration cuts off an entire stream of information that’s key to functional oversight. Now, for the first time in a long, long time, we have the opportunity to bring people’s claims in court.”

Students in the project, including Zoe Kemmerling ’20, provide direct services to clients. They also get exposure to complex litigation.
Credit: Leah Fasten

Included in the project’s active impact litigation docket is the class-action lawsuit Calvillo Manriquez v. DeVos, a case brought jointly with Megumi Tsutsui ’14, a former student of the project now practicing law at the Oakland, California-based Housing and Economic Rights Advocates. The suit charges that the U.S. Department of Education required tens of thousands of former Corinthian Colleges students to repay their loans, despite earlier findings by the Obama administration Department of Education that they were not liable to do so. Rather than discharge the loans, the department reversed course, calculating a repayment rate based on private income data obtained from the Social Security Administration.

“The thrust of the case is that the Department of Education is engaged in retroactive rulemaking using illegally obtained information,” says Rovenger. For now, the team has won a preliminary injunction to freeze loan collection for thousands of students, with the eventual goal being to fully discharge them.

“Our work here has always involved fighting against a Department of Education that isn’t doing what it should be,” says Merrill. “So while we have sued the department of the current administration a number of times, we also sued the one under the previous administration.”

Credit: Leah Fasten

Merrill cites relatively recent successes, including the ruling reversing the freeze on the mandatory arbitration ban, as evidence that the legal landscape is shifting and coalescing around a new perspective on student lending. “Three years ago, [students] couldn’t sue a for-profit school. It was hard to get the government … to decide to do anything,” she says. “We were able to change both of those things.” Even so, she acknowledges that hundreds of thousands of students represented in federal courts around the country are still waiting for relief. It’s part of what keeps her and the rest of the team motivated. And they’re not alone. Merrill notes that the Project on Predatory Student Lending works with a range of advocacy organizations across the country, supplying needed information and insight to help advance policy change. And the network of clinic alumni, Megumi Tsutsui and others, has only extended its reach. “It’s been so gratifying to see former students take up the fight as part of their professional endeavors,” says Merrill. “We’re all focusing our energy on cases that we think can make a difference, moving the ball forward to make a more fair and just society.”

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