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Disability Rights Advocate and LSC Alum Haben Girma on making her way in the world with help from her guide dog

Via the WilmerHale Legal Services Center 

From left to right: Senior Clinical Instructor Julie McCormack, Haben Girma ’13, and Clinical Instructor Dana Montalto at LSC’s 40th Anniversary Event. Credit: Tony Rinaldo

My guide dog crossed the street, then jerked to a halt. “Mylo, forward.” My left hand held the leather harness that wrapped around his shoulders. “Forward,” I repeated. The harness shifted, and I knew he was peering back at me. Some barrier, unseen and unheard by me, blocked our passage.

Cars created little earthquakes in the street on our left. Behind us ran the road we just crossed. I made the decision: “Mylo, right.” He turned and headed down the sidewalk. I directed him around the block to bypass whatever had stood in our way.

My dog never knows where I’m going. He has his theories, of course. You went to this cafe yesterday, so clearly you’re going there again, right? Or he’ll veer toward an open door. Seriously, Haben, we need to step in here for a sniff.

People assume guide dogs lead blind people, and once upon a time, I thought so, too. My senior year of high school, I fretted about navigating college as a Deafblind student. Perhaps I would get a guide dog to ferry me wherever I needed to go. A companion would give me the confidence I needed.

“You want to depend on a dog for confidence?” a blind friend asked over instant messenger.

“It sounds funny when you put it that way,” I typed.

“If a blind person doesn’t have confidence, then the dog and person both end up lost. Don’t depend on a dog for confidence. Build up your own.”

So instead of training alongside a service animal at guide dog school, I spent my pre-college summer honing my blindness skills at the Louisiana Center for the Blind. I learned nonvisual techniques for crossing busy streets with a white cane, baking banana cream pie, even using electric saws.

I tapped my way through college with confidence. My self-assurance didn’t come from the cane but from my hard-earned orientation and mobility skills. How could I have thought that would be different with a four-legged guide?

Still, confident as I was, something felt missing from my life. My heart ached for a travel partner whose eyes and ears would share more of the world I navigated.

Maxine the Seeing Eye dog joined me for my last year at Lewis & Clark College and all three at Harvard Law. We glided around obstacles so much more smoothly than when I traveled with a cane — imagine switching from a bicycle to a Tesla.

I learned to read her body language, and together we strode with six legs. Her big, brown eyes and pointy ears opened new dimensions for me. Having a German shepherd at my side even curtailed the sexual harassment I faced. For nine years, she stood by my side.

In 2018, Maxine died of cancer. I missed her intensely, and the loss still pains me. I also knew I could not, would not, go back to life with only a cane. I was without my partner of nearly a decade, but I was not without direction.

The school that trained Maxine matched me with another dog. That summer, I joined Mylo for three weeks at the school’s campus in New Jersey. We lurched over curbs and crashed into chairs, but in each new experience, through gentle corrections and an abundance of praise, our teamwork improved.

Now, we wander as one. In the year we’ve spent together, we’ve traveled to 12 states and four countries. One morning during a trip to Park City, Utah, for a friend’s wedding, I woke to Mylo bounding onto my hotel bed, ready to start the day. After a few strokes of his puppy-soft ears and some tugging of his toy whale, we left our room.

Mylo beelined for the elevator, and then, reading the Braille labels, I pressed the button for the main level. The doors opened, and I directed Mylo across the lobby toward the front doors. “Right.” He turned down a hallway. “Right.” He turned into a room that felt empty. “Sorry, not this one. Mylo, left.” I gestured for him to go back to the hall. “Right.” He turned into the next room.

The delightful aroma of food and coffee at last wafted over from the far wall. “Here it is! Forward.” After I ordered my hard-earned breakfast, another wedding guest approached us.

“Haben, hi! It’s Michael. Who brought you here?”

I passed the credit to Mylo; constantly confronting ableism is tiring work. But someday the world will recognize that a Deafblind person charts her own path through the unknown. For now, I know it — and so does Mylo. He takes his lead from me.

 

Legislative Advocacy for Safe and Supportive Schools

By: Alexis Farmer

From left to right: Breanna Williams JD ‘20, Mariah Lewis M.Ed. ‘19, Clinical Professor Michael Gregory, Pantea Fead JD’ 20, and Yurui Chen JD ‘20.

“Investing in a good education is something anyone can get behind,” said Breanna Williams, a 2L at Harvard Law School as she prepared her pitch to the next legislator. She was one of seven students in the Education Law and Policy Clinic/Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative who spent half of her spring semester under the gold dome of the Massachusetts Statehouse, advocating with legislators to support funding for implementation of Massachusetts’ Safe and Supportive Schools Framework statute. At the end of April, the weekly office visits and calls wind down, and only half of the group remained. Huddled in the café, Breanna, Mariah Lewis M.Ed. ’19, Pantea Faed JD ’20, and Yurui Chen JD ’20, along with Clinical Professor Michael Gregory recaped on the progress they’ve made and focus on next steps. (Other students participating in the clinic this past spring were Sarah Lu JD ’19, Sarah Mooney M.Ed. ’19, and Robyn Parkinson JD ’20.)

There is increasing acknowledgement that a significant number of children and youth in the United States undergo adversity at a young age. These experiences can have serious health and social consequences, some that can impede children from being successful in school. One study reported that two-thirds of children recounted experiencing at least one traumatic event before the age of 16. Homelessness, community violence, physical and sexual abuse, and refugee experiences are all stressful events that challenge academic, emotional and social well-being. The Safe and Supportive Schools Framework helps participating schools address these needs, through adopting trauma-sensitive practices to help all students learn and thrive in school.

In 2014, then Governor and HLS alumnus Deval Patrick signed the omnibus Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence, which included the Safe and Supportive Schools law thanks to the leadership of House Speaker Robert A. De Leo. The law aims to enable schools to develop safe, inclusive, and healthy learning environments by supporting school districts to implement the Safe and Supportive Schools Framework. The law provides for trainings, technical assistance, a grant program for schools that serve as models, and on-going recommendations from a commission of experts. The clinic, which is part of a partnership between HLS and the nonprofit Massachusetts Advocates for Children, played a leading role in advocating for the law. Every year since, the clinic has advocated at the legislature to ensure that implementation of the law continues to be funded in the state budget.

Students spent the first half of the spring semester conducting thorough research on state senators and representatives before approaching them, identifying who their staff members were and the policy issues each legislator cared about. The students scouted the statehouse for each member’s office. They positioned themselves at their door with a packet of information about the bill and an elevator pitch, knowing that they had limited time to make an impression. Meetings with a legislator or their staff can be hard to secure, so most are receptive to an impromptu visit. “Most legislators are used to people showing up and being available to their constituents,” Faed remarked. Faed was able to schedule a meeting to sit down with a legislator after showing up at his door and giving her spiel. The group hasn’t encountered any partisan friction on the issue, but they do know that legislators are more likely to support the Safe and Supportive Schools line item if schools in their legislative district receive funding from the grant program. In FY19, there were 93 schools in 38 school districts that benefitted from the funding.

Students learned quickly that they had to be able to connect with legislators and their aides on the substance of the issue. They had to explain in common terms why safe and supportive school cultures are so important. Fortunately, they had spent several weeks in the beginning of the semester conducting focus groups with urban middle and high school students across Massachusetts, asking them about their educational experiences and what their schools could be doing to better support them.

“Hearing the voices of high school students first hand makes all the difference,” said Susan Cole, Director of the clinic and co-teacher with Gregory. Almost uniformly the high school students said that the most important aspects of their education were having strong, caring relationships with their teachers and feeling respected and understood by their teachers and administrators. This is at the core of what the Safe and Supportive Schools law is designed to support. “It is so much more compelling to explain the stakes of this law to legislators when you have the students’ stories fresh in your mind,” said Cole. In addition to informing their advocacy at the state house, the focus groups were also the basis of a formal report that the clinic submitted to the statewide Safe and Supportive Schools Commission in March.

From left to right: Pantea Fead JD’ 20, Breanna Williams JD ‘20, Yurui Chen JD ’20, Mariah Lewis M.Ed. ‘19.

In its budget recommendation, released in early April, the Massachusetts House proposed $400,000 in funding for the line item, no small success. But Rep. Ruth Balser, lead sponsor of the law and line item in the House, proposed an amendment seeking to raise the amount to $500,000 for FY 2020. That was also the amount Governor Charlie Baker recommended in his 2020 budget. In just one month, students were able to gather 78 representatives to co-sponsor the amendment.

The students’ work has the tangible achievements of securing funding for the legislation and building lasting relationships. 34 new legislators were elected this past November, giving students the opportunity to foster new partnerships and gain support that could have dividends later. “New legislators can become our greatest advocates down the line,” said Gregory. Some seasoned legislators have repeatedly backed the line item, such as Senator Sal DiDomenico, who is Assistant Majority Leader and lead sponsor of the law and line item in the Senate, and House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones. Both are advocates of improving educational opportunities for children in Massachusetts.

When asked about what makes legislators sign on their support, Lewis said, “They buy into the theory of change. They like the idea that schools are doing things to improve their culture, and [this bill] gives them the autonomy and the tools to do it themselves.”

By the end of the semester, the students had contacted all 160 offices in the House of Representatives and all 40 offices in the Senate. Their dogged effort to gain buy-in at the statehouse helps ensure this initiative continues and provides a model for fostering a healthy school atmosphere.

“You can’t mandate school culture,” Gregory said, “but you can set the conditions to improve it. Schools can customize the work to meet the needs of their own communities. It’s an approach that appeals to a lot of people.”

While the House of Representatives did not adopt Rep. Balser’s amendment this year, the students’ advocacy paid off in the long run. Upping the amount proposed by the House, the Senate included just over $508,000 in funding for Safe and Supportive Schools in its budget – an increase from last year. A conference committee made up of members from both houses met throughout June and most of July to reconcile all of the discrepancies between their respective budgets. The committee adopted the higher amount recommended by the Senate, and Gov. Baker signed it into law at the end of July.

A Guinean Political Activist was Granted Asylum in the U.S. After Fleeing Political Persecution

By: Angelica Merino Monge and Logan Seymour

Source: Pixabay

In 2009, Imani*, a citizen of Guinea, West Africa, fled the country with the youngest of her four children. From 2009 to 2011, the legal team at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinical Program (HIRC), worked extensively on Imani’s asylum case, which was granted in 2011. Now, eight years after being granted asylum, Imani has rebuilt her life and career in the United States. As a U.S citizen, she remains active in her community by working at Greater Boston Legal Services as an interpreter for Fulani-speaking migrants looking for safety in the United States. Imani says that she misses Guinea: “I love my country, I love my people, it is just still not safe there.” However, she knows that her family is safe in the United States and has made Boston her new home.

Imani fled Guinea out of fear of political persecution because of her participation in an opposition party. Imani’s political opinions and her activism for the equality of women, the right to education, and the need for fundamental political and social change in Guinea made her a target. After her involvement in a rally against Guinea’s military government, which resulted in the beating and massacre of peaceful protesters, Imani received threatening phone calls. “I was one of the victims, I got beaten, I got my car broken, and after that, I was threatened through messages like ‘we are going to kill you and we are looking for you,’” she recalled. Imani knew she could not stay in Guinea without risking her family’s safety, and so she fled to the United States to look for security.

When Imani arrived in 2009, she went to Boston Medical Center for health-related issues, and once there, the center’s social worker put her in touch with Boston Center for Health and Human Rights (BCRHHR), which then connected her with HIRC.  The clinical team—including Sabi Ardalan, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law and Assistant Clinic Director, along with clinical students Gabriela Vega (JD’12) and Kendra Sena (JD’12)—worked quickly on Imani’s asylum case to meet the one-year filing deadline. In 2011, Imani received good news – she had been approved for asylum. “I was so so happy! I was taking English classes when Sabi gave me a call that I was approved.  There was a little party in the class,” she remembers. After her asylum approval, Imani was referred to Catholic Charities, where they worked on her family reunification and green card applications. In 2012, Imani was finally able to reunite with her children.

Imani describes the legal team at HIRC as a family. Reflecting on the experience, Imani asserted, “We appreciate everything the clinic did for us, they helped us grow, and they follow up, it’s not like, okay, you got your papers bye-bye… If I get stuck down the road, I can call them and get help.” To this day, Imani stays in contact with HIRC, and she made a great impression on the clinical students who worked on her case. Kendra says, “I was incredibly honored to work with Imani to prepare her asylum application.  She taught me so much about being an advocate for one’s self, family, and community, and I am humbled to have played a small part in her story.” Gabriela saw her own mother in Imani. “Like Imani, my own mother immigrated to the United States with a very young child (me), and as I grew older, I saw her more and more as my own personal hero. In Imani, I felt the presence of another hero who, like my mother, endured and overcame so much, with the weight of the world on her shoulders, to pave the path of a better life for the next generation. Imani was incredibly respectful, professional, and an absolute pleasure to work with. I was in awe of her strength and bravery every time we met to discuss her story.”

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

 

 

2019 Summer Speakers Series

By: Olivia Klein

Source: Pexels

OCP’s Summer Speaker’s Series is well underway. The annual program features HLS clinicians, alumni and others who share their personal and professional trajectories in their respective fields of law to Harvard Law School staff and summer interns. Below are a few recaps from the talks that kicked off the series.

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Kendra Albert

Kendra Albert, Clinical Instructional Fellow at the Cyberlaw Clinic, was the first speaker in the series. A member of the HLS Class of 2016, Kendra did impactful work in technology law. Kendra worked at companies such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, CloudFlare, and Public Citizen. They were also a Research Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society. During their time at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, they argued and won a change in the law that makes it easier for museums and libraries to maintain archives of video games.

After graduating, Kendra worked at Zeitgeist Law in San Francisco, a law firm dedicated to addressing the legal challenges raised by technology. The firm focuses on maintaining privacy and freedom of expression in the digital age, which are matters that Kendra addresses in their own scholarship. At Zeitgeist Law, Kendra co-wrote amicus briefs in Google v. Oracle and Lynch v. Under Seal, while also counseling clients on maters including privacy, contracts, data minimization and security, and handling online abuse.

Since 2017, Kendra has been back at HLS, supervising clinical students as they learn how to practice technology law. Kendra still engages in litigation and produces scholarship covering a wide variety of topics, from transgender privacy to reference rot in legal citations. They filed a brief on behalf of two members of Congress in ASTM v. Public.Resource.org, and worked with security researchers from DEF CON’s Voting Village to publish voting machine vulnerability findings under threat of litigation.

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Phil Waters

On June 21, 2019, Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation (CHLPI) Clinical Fellow Phil Waters started his lunch talk with a question: did anyone in the room always know what they wanted to be when they grew up? Only a few hands were hesitantly raised. Phil chuckled, and he said that those few members of the room were lucky, since he never knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. Phil received his undergraduate degree in Business at the University of North Carolina, at the suggestion of his father, who worked in sales. After graduation, Phil was seeking something that sparked more passion in him. Based on the experiences he had so far, he knew that he wanted to help people and was interested in working in health, and he saw the law as an avenue to do both.

While attending University of North Carolina School of Law, Phil worked with Legal Aid of North Carolina as a Healthcare Navigator within their Medical-Legal Partnership. He also served as a summer associate with the National Health Policy Program. In these positions, Phil engaged directly with clients and with fellow attorneys in active cases, giving him a strong perspective that he brings to his clinical work here at Harvard Law School. Now at CHLPI, Phil focuses on litigation and legislative advocacy to defend and implement public health programs aimed to preserve and expand access to care for vulnerable populations.

One student asked Phil what classes stood out to him during law school. Phil said none really stuck out to him, but said that the most important thing he was taught was how to think like a lawyer.  Phil recommended that the students in the room take classes that might not be directly applicable to their field of interest, using his experience in his 1L Criminal Law class as an example. In his current work, Phil says he needs to read and understand complex documents thick with citations quickly – and learned that skill from his 1L Criminal Law class.

After receiving his J.D., Phil returned to the Legal Aid of North Carolina, where he worked one-on-one with consumers to help them understand changing healthcare laws, primarily having to do with insurance. Phil began to feel frustrated by the repetition of issues facing his clients, and he asked himself what could be done to eliminate the issues altogether, starting at the root of the problem. He found a solution in policy work.

Phil is passionate about implementing and preserving the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, in addition to other public health programs that protect vulnerable populations, such as those with HIV and other chronic health conditions. He encouraged students to find their passion in either policy work or direct legal services. Both areas are crucial for helping those in need, he said, so it is important to find out which will create the most passion in you.

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Stephanie Davidson

There wasn’t an empty seat in the room for Stephanie Davidson’s talk – not even for Stephanie, who hopped onto a table to address the room. Davidson ’13 spoke about her path to where she is today, immediately engaging all thirty people in the room with her eloquence and storytelling.

After receiving her undergraduate degree from Columbia University, Stephanie joined the New York County District Attorney’s Office as a Sex Crimes Unit Investigative Analyst, noting that it was the office that Law & Order SVU is based on, and yes, her boss did look just like the main character. The process of working with survivors of sexual abuse moved Stephanie to pursue law school, since she wanted to serve the women she worked with in a different way than she could from within the criminal justice system.

At HLS, Stephanie joined the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) as a family law attorney and relished her time delivering quality legal services. She is now a Clinical Instructor in the Family and Domestic Violence Law Clinic, helping survivors of domestic violence obtain safety, ensuring that domestic violence is not a legal barrier to a client’s legal rights. She finds it crucial to build strong relationships with her clients in order to best serve their needs.

Stephanie sees social justice as essential to the work she does. She hopes to mobilize more people in social justice spaces to find systemic solutions to domestic abuse, though she recognized that one challenge is identifying what to ask for, other than for perpetrators to stop hurting people. She notes that the cycle of domestic abuse can increase the risk of homelessness and poverty of individuals for generations. Despite the hardships her clients face and the intensity of her work, Stephanie enjoys her work thoroughly. “Working in the clinic shows me more and more every day just how resilient humans are,” Stephanie said, which keeps her eager to take on the challenges her clients face.

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Tom Smith and Lenita Reason 

Tom is the Executive Director and Co-founder of Justice at Work, an organization driven to provide legal support for low-wage worker organizations and their members. During the lunch talk, Tom Justice for All’s as falling into three buckets: performing legal intake for workers whose rights have been violated; training staff at worker centers to help their communities “know their rights and know how to access them”; and supporting groups of workers who want to proactively improve working conditions. He stated that his goal in starting Justice at Work was to find a way to create power for organizations like worker centers, such as Lenita’s.

Lenita Reason is Community Organizer, Office Manager, and OSHA Outreach Coordinator at the Brazilian Worker Center (BWC) in Boston, which works in collaboration with Justice at Work. Lenita said that BWC was created by workers for workers, and all of the initiatives the organization takes on come directly from the workers participating in the Center. The BWC provides a wide variety of services, from health and safety training to ESL education to legal services, and Lenita is very well-versed in all areas of the wide-reaching organization.

Justice at Work and the BWC co-founded the Building Justice Committee in 2014, and Lenita and Tom both lit up with joy when discussing the committee. The committee trains workers to t o train and educate each other on their legal rights surrounding topics such as wage theft. Lenita smiled saying that she feels like a proud mother to the men who willingly give time on top of their busy work schedules to come to the BWC and learn how they can help uplift one another. She said that she can see how proud the men are of the work they do with the Building Justice Committee, and they are leaders even if they may not realize it.

Tom also touched on the topic of community lawyering, stating that the term does not necessarily need to mean you work as a public lawyer. Some of the attorneys who most embody community lawyering, he said, do private work. Tom stated that the most important aspect of community lawyering is the way you go about providing the legal service, touching on the importance of cultural competency. Whether there is a language barrier or not, Tom says it is most important to show that you are committed to the work, and you know why you are committed. Lenita backed this up with a “what not to do” attorney horror story that had the whole room aghast.

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Shelley Barron 

Shelley described her upbringing as one of privilege. She was the daughter of two doctors and lived in a wealthy Boston suburb. She wanted to use her privilege to do work that allowed her to give back to others and use her power to do good in the world. She decided on law school.

After receiving her J.D. from Northeastern University, Shelley worked at Community Legal Aid (CLA) in Worcester, MA. At CLA, Shelley learned about and worked in every area of the organization, including family, domestic violence, housing, and immigration law. This experience served her well when she continued on to work as a Staff Attorney at Casa Myrna, a community-based organization which she said allowed her to work with social justice in a different way, with a greater focus on empowerment and creating systemic change.

Timing has been an important part of Shelley’s journey. She applied for her current position as a Clinical Instructor at the TAP right when she was reevaluating her career priorities after having a child. She called her current position a “perfect change.” Working in the HLS environment is exciting, Shelley said. She is able to teach students and work with clients on housing law matters, but she is also surrounded by other clinics doing incredible work that she is eager to help out with wherever she can, once again finding broad knowledge of public service law useful.

One intern asked Shelley what TAP’s work entails on a day to day basis. Shelley explained that TAP is filling a gap in access to justice by assisting people living in public housing who are threatened with an eviction and are facing administrative hearings, which is the step before entering the criminal justice system. Shelley stated that TAP’s goal is “to keep [the case] out of court,” emphasizing the importance of an attorney’s help in these housing law issues.

Shelley shared valuable resources with the interns, including AccessLex to help students plan for potential loan repayment options and receive law school financial education. The interns had many questions for Shelley, many regarding career advice for working in civil legal aid. Shelley also provided tips for making a career in the civil legal aid field, suggesting: get as much practical experience during law school as you can, whether it be through clinics, externships, or pro bono work; be proactive about networking; volunteer and cultivate relationships at the organizations you want to work at, since a foot in the door goes a long way; and if you can be flexible with where you are willing to live, that is always helpful.

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Anna Crowe 

Hailing from New Zealand, Anna first came to HLS to receive her LLM in 2012, going on to receive an HLS Henigson Fellowship to work in Columbia for a year with the International Crisis Group. Anna then joined Privacy International as a legal officer before returning to HLS to work in the Human Rights Program, where she now serves as the Assistant Director, a Clinical Instructor, and Lecturer on Law of the International Human Rights Clinic.

The interns had a lot of questions about Anna’s work in human rights law, and more than half of the hour was spent answering those questions during discussion. Interns asked about truth commissions, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the trade-off between peace and justice, the value of living outside the society you grew up in, the difference between theory and practice in her work, and mental health for workers in the human rights field. The interns got a glimpse of Anna’s professorial skills from all the academic and theoretical human rights discussion. It was easy to imagine how engaging and exciting her seminar class might be.

Anna also shared valuable career advice with the interns. Speaking to the beginning of her career, Anna said it is important to look beyond the options you see in front of you. She did not find her passion working as a New Zealand government lawyer after receiving her undergraduate degree, so she made the decision to expand her horizons and come to HLS. On the same note, she emphasized the importance of flexibility in any career field, but specifically in human rights work. “You need to be comfortable with uncertainty” to work in human rights, Anna said. “I never had a ten-year plan. You need to be okay with not knowing where you’ll be in ten years’ time.” When an intern asked how to break into a field as nebulous as human rights, Anna said that mentorship was a big factor in her career, and it is important to be proactive about reaching out to people who have careers you want to emulate.

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Cathy Mondell 

Cathy Mondell is a mediator and a Clinical Instructor in the Harvard Mediation Program (HMP).

Cathy’s professorial nature came out when speaking to the interns, as she paced the room and took questions from many engaged interns. She described her time as a student at Harvard Law School, her entrance into the corporate world of law, where she worked at Ropes & Gray for eighteen years, and her decision to switch from being an advocate to being a neutral: becoming a mediator.

When deciding to make her career switch, Cathy said that she wanted to focus on things she enjoyed the most from her corporate career and do more of them in a new way. “I get to be selfish, it’s my career,” she said, met with laughter and nods from the room. The things she wanted to focus on were mediation, teaching, and jury research – all of which come together in her current work at HLS and in her private practice, Mondell Dispute Resolution.

The question and answer portion of Cathy’s talk started off with one intern asking: “What is mediation?” Cathy was more than happy to explain, and she took the group through an overview of her work in commercial mediation and HMP’s work in small claims court. Cathy and the interns went on to discuss the debate over court-ordered mediation, the potential of online dispute resolution, and mediation on the international level. Another intern asked what the most important skill for a mediator to have is, and Cathy replied that genuine curiosity is crucial, as well as adaptability, since no two mediations are the same.

When the room fell quiet once the interns ran out of questions, Cathy let the pause linger. “This is what’s known in the mediation world as ‘using silence’,” she said, and the silence disappeared as everybody laughed. Cathy encouraged the interns to consider becoming mediators in the future, citing programs all over the country made for people of all backgrounds to become mediators.

A Honduran Activist Pursues Justice in the Face of Persecution

By: Alexis Farmer

Source: Pixabay

“I suffered persecution because of my strong beliefs that the government should guarantee the basic rights of its people,” said Elvia*. The 57-year-old mother of two from Yoro, Honduras was persecuted by corrupt political actors in Honduras for her activism. Elvia never thought about living in the U.S. until she found her house burned to the ground and the death threats she received became increasingly more acute.

Elvia had aspirations to become a teacher. At 18-years-old, Elvia, with hair as dark as shoe polish, honey-colored skin and piercing eyes took an exam that would determine whether she would receive one of five available jobs in the teaching market. She scored much lower than she anticipated, despite studying for months. She noticed that the highest score winners were all friends or family members of a powerful congressman in Honduras, or people who were politically connected with the education department. Elvia began asking questions and demanded for her exam to be rescored. “People told me not to go against him,” she said, her eyes full of defiance and patience. She thought the exam process was rigged. Hearing of her intentions, the Congressman visited Elvia’s house to warn her against meddling in the results. His threat didn’t stop her. “I kept going and appealed the decision.” She won her appeal and her corrected score placed her in second. “Fighting for myself made me want to fight for the rights of others,” she said cheerfully. Word of her success spread around the community, and soon she was asked to help advocate for others. That was her first encounter with the Congressman who later became an even more powerful national leader. But it wasn’t her last.

Elvia became a prominent community organizer and an activist for women, teachers, workers, and children in Honduras. Her work with anti-domestic violence advocates led to confrontations with abusers, who opposed advocacy efforts for the humane treatment of women. Through this work she crossed paths again with the Congressman and believed him to be involved in the detention, rape, and disappearance of a woman. She would tell him, “I know what you did,” when they saw each other in town. Soon after, she received threatening phone calls and she believes her house was purposely burned down by allies of the Congressman. “My repeated confrontations with the Congressman and others led to serious consequences such as threats against my life and lives of my loved ones, my father being kidnapped, and being detained unlawfully,” Elvia remarked.

Elvia knew she couldn’t stay in Honduras without risking her family’s safety. In 2000, she and her family fled to Austin, Texas where she and her husband found decent jobs. Moving to the U.S. was challenging, she said. “English was hard to learn. We worked like mules.” Elvia and her husband needed the money, not only to survive, but also to rebuild their house in Honduras. “I always hoped to return to Honduras,” Elvia said. “I fought hard to make Honduras a better and safer place for myself, for my children and for all future citizens and I always maintained the hope that I could resume that work.”

But returning to Honduras was not a possibility. The systematic corruption and violence in the country had only worsened.

After seeking help from friends, Elvia was put in touch with Greater Boston Legal Services, which connected her with the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic (HIRC). “Thank God for institutions like this clinic that restore the value of the people and their dignity. After meeting with community groups and now that I’m involved in the clinic, I feel valued as a human being.”

Elvia felt well represented by the students and the clinical staff. Reflecting on the experience, she exclaimed, “The clinic’s presentation was great!” It took two and a half years for her family’s asylum application to be approved. Elvia and her husband now beam with pride, elated to have U.S. citizenship status. “For me [and] my family, Harvard [Law School] is a blessing. This work is so important and powerful. I feel blessed. One day, one of my grandchildren will study at Harvard.”

Elvia and her family are happy with their life in the Greater Boston area, but she never forgets where she came from. “Even from the United States, I cannot sit by while the country deteriorates,” she stated. Elvia remains active in community-based organizations advocating on behalf of teachers and women. She even helped establish the new political party LIBRE (libterdad y refundacion – liberty and re-foundation) in Honduras. She is happy now that her family can live safely and she wishes the same could be true for others in Honduras. “You can’t choose where you were born, but you can choose where you live.”

*Name changed to protect the client’s confidentiality.

 

PLAP Appeals MA Parole Board’s Decision to Deny Parole to an Inmate with Mental Health Needs

By: Jarrod Nelson, JD ’21

Source: Pixabay

*Calvin resides in a prison that for him is also a purgatory. For nine years, Calvin has found himself at the center of a legal controversy that involves two state agencies which, despite their considerable power over his life, have portrayed themselves as helpless to assist in his transition back to society.

In 2010, Calvin was granted parole by the Massachusetts Parole Board, on the condition that he be admitted to a Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (DMH) inpatient facility for continued treatment of his mental illness. For years, Calvin had handled his illness well, consistently working at a job in the prison and avoiding any disciplinary issues. “Calvin’s institutional adjustment has been excellent,” the Board said at the time.

However, this seemingly straightforward condition turned out to be anything but. Massachusetts is a state of over 6 million people but has just over 2,500 inpatient psychiatric beds for them. Thus, when DMH denied him services, Calvin found himself between the rock of knowing he had qualified for parole, and the hard place of not being able to claim it. DMH’s denial of services meant that Calvin had his conditional parole rescinded.

It was at that point that the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), jumped in on Calvin’s behalf. PLAP is a student practice organization in which HLS students volunteer to represent state prisoners in parole and prison disciplinary hearings. Since 2014, six student attorneys from PLAP have appeared before the Parole Board on Calvin’s behalf, and finding no adequate resolution there, have filed suit in the Superior Court. The case was being handled by Regina Powers ’19 and Justin Kenney ‘19, who were supervised by Joel Thompson, one of two attorney supervisors that work with PLAP. The parole process has been marked by the Board’s insistence that DMH be involved in any potential placement for Calvin, and DMH’s insistence that Calvin does not qualify. A Board-appointed forensic psychologist made his own determinations about Calvin’s treatment and potential release plan, noting that Calvin’s case represented “a classic example of bureaucratic rules overcoming common sense, and an unnecessary correctional system expense with no clear end-game to break the deadlock.”

Unfortunately, the psychologist’s report fell on deaf ears. When the Board last saw Calvin, in 2017, it flatly denied parole, postponing his next parole hearing for three years. Moreover, and seemingly without irony, the Board suggested that Calvin apply for DMH services while he awaited his next hearing.

PLAP appealed the Board’s decision to the Massachusetts Superior Court. This is not the first time that PLAP students have sought judicial review of an agency’s decision. It is the first time, however, that PLAP has pled in not one but two agencies: the Parole Board and DMH.

Along with a claim that the Board’s decision was arbitrary and capricious, the lawsuit alleges that the Board and DMH have each violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to develop a workable release plan, essentially keeping Calvin in prison because of his mental illness. The claim follows a recent PLAP victory in a case involving the ADA’s application to the parole process, Crowell v. Massachusetts Parole Board.  In that case, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts confirmed that the mental disability of a parole candidate must be accommodated as part of the parole process.

Powers and Kenney successfully fended off a motion to dismiss from DMH. Oral argument was recently held on the question of whether the Board’s latest decision is arbitrary and capricious, with further development of the ADA issue to follow.

Calvin is 61 years old. He has been in prison for 22 years. For the last nine of those years, he has been advised that, with the right treatment plan in place, he could be released on parole. It is hoped that, with a favorable outcome in court, he will not have to wait any longer.

*Names changed to protect the client’s confidentiality.

U.S. Permanent Resident Almost Deported Until HLS Crimmigration Clinic Proved the Government Wrong

By: Alexis Farmer

Source: Pixabay

Raymond* lived as a legal permanent resident in Arizona for nearly 30 years before being apprehended by local law enforcement and charged with possession of narcotics with the intent to sell. Not long after serving time in prison for his offense, the father of three spent seven months in La Palma Detention Center.

This was Raymond’s first criminal offense, but one that almost got him deported. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) argued that his prior criminal conviction was one of the disqualifying crimes that makes someone with legal status in the U.S. deportable. Although Raymond had paid his debt to society in prison, the government said his offense prompted a second and grave consequence: leaving the United States for good. The Crimmigration Clinic at Harvard Law School, which represented Raymond, challenged the government’s claim and eventually proved them wrong. An Arizona immigration judge ruled in Raymond’s favor, but ICE appealed the decision, arguing that Raymond’s conviction triggered a provision under federal immigration law that required his removal.

Criminalizing immigration status has been increasing over the past twenty-five years, according to Phil Torrey, the managing director of the Crimmigration Clinic at Harvard Law School. Crimmigration – the intersection of criminal law and immigration law – became a burgeoning field of law in the late 1980s and ‘90s when Congress passed a number of measures responding to concerns of unauthorized immigration. These policies made many more types of crimes by noncitizens deportable, emphasized border enforcement and increased the use of detention facilities.

Numerous studies have shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crime than native born U.S. citizens, and the numbers are even lower for immigrants like Raymond that are lawfully present. A 2018 report from the Department of Justice (DOJ) stated that almost 7 percent of the “known or suspected aliens” in DOJ custody were legally present and undergoing removal proceedings. According to a 2018 U.S. Sentencing Commission report, immigration offenses and minor drug related offenses are the most common crimes of noncitizens.

Source: Flickr

An expert in crimmigration law for over ten years, Torrey says, “there has been an exponential increase in prosecution of certain federal crimes and the use of criminal enforcement mechanisms in the immigration context.” Immigration infractions are one of the most federally prosecuted crimes, including drugs, firearms, and fraud according to a the Sentencing Commission’s recent report. Just over 200 private immigration detention facilities currently exist across the country housing close to 400,000 individuals. The Pew Research Institute found that “immigrants with past criminal convictions accounted for 74 percent” of all U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests in 2017. Many of these offenses, however, are minor and can be classified as non-violentdrug offenses or simply re-entering the U.S. without authorization.

“Deportation is an extreme consequence for many of the charges,” Torrey said, “but efforts to decouple criminal and immigration law from the federal government are unlikely to happen during this administration.” Torrey noted that many local and state jurisdictions like Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston have established protections that block local resources from aiding civil immigration enforcement efforts ICE.

Source: Flickr

2020 Democratic presidential candidates have voiced ideas for decriminalizing immigration if elected. Presidential hopefuls Julian Castro and Elizabeth Warren supported repealing Section 1325 of the U.S. Code which makes entry into the U.S. a criminal offense. Torrey thinks that  “decriminalizing unlawful entry and re-entry would be a tremendous first step in ensuring an immigration system that remains civil rather than criminal and protects individuals with bona fide aslum claims.” Castro and former Vice President Joe Biden say that immigration enforcement should focus on individuals with “serious” or “major” criminal convictions – similar to what both President Obama and President Trump claimed to prioritize – but it is unclear whether there would be mitigating provisions for individuals with legal status like Raymond. It’s also unclear what would be considered a “serious” or “major” conviction.

While Raymond was detained, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials confiscated his green card, which isn’t supposed to happen, according to Torrey. Raymond’s time in the detention center was “very stressful.” “I suffered a lot when I was inside there being away from my family. They give you bad food, there is no attention, and they treat you very bad. I was hopeless.” He also said the facility was overcrowded, estimating that, “there were maybe 3,000 people in the center while I was there.”

When ICE appealed the immigration judge’s decision, the case moved up to the Board of Immigration Appeals, (BIA) the administrative appellate body responsible for immigration-appellate appeals. An HLS alumnus who monitors the BIA docket at the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), a non-profit organization that provides legal services for immigrants, referred the case to the Crimmigration Clinic. Torrey and two Harvard Law School students, Joy Lee, J.D. ’19 and Harry Larson, J.D ’19 represented Raymond during the appeals process. Torrey and the students were based in Cambridge – some 2,500 miles away from Raymond who was detained in Arizona. Their only interaction was through the phone and mail. “I had a lot of confidence and patience. I trusted them,” Raymond said when reflecting on his experience with the students.

The clinical students argued that in Raymond’s case, the federal drug schedule – categories of drugs classified by the drug’s safety, the potential for abuse or dependency, and acceptable medical use – did not match Arizona’s drug schedule, and therefore did not qualify as the type of crime that should make Raymond deportable. The team was victorious in upholding the immigration judge’s ruling, allowing Raymond to stay in the country he knows as home. “The clinic helped me a lot. Thank God.”

Raymond was successfully released from the detention center in December 2018. In the time since, Raymond resumed his job in maintenance and construction and found an apartment for himself. “I have a different perspective on life,” he said and he was happy to be working again. He was released around the start of the government shutdown, which made it an administrative headache to try and retrieve his green card. Six months later, he’s still missing his green card, which means he can’t travel to Mexico to see his family. “It’s been 4 years since I’ve last seen my kids. What I need is help, for them to give me back my green card. If I don’t get it back, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

*Names changed for the client’s confidentiality.

Animal Law and Policy Clinic launches at Harvard Law School

Via Harvard Law Today

Credit: Chris Green
Rising 3L Boanne Wassink pets Charlotte, a rescued pig who was on campus for a screening of the documentary “The Last Pig.” Wassink will be one of the inaugural group of students working in the Animal Law & Policy Clinic this September.

Harvard Law School today announced the launch of the new Animal Law & Policy Clinic. Animal protection is one of the fastest developing areas of public interest law. Reflecting this interest, the number of schools in the United States offering Animal Law courses has increased dramatically from only nine institutions in the year 2000 to 167 such law schools today.

The Animal Law & Policy Clinic will provide students with direct hands-on experience in litigation, legislation, administrative practice, and policymaking, both in the U.S. and internationally. The clinic will work on a broad range of issues affecting farmed animals, wildlife, animals in captivity, and the overarching threat to all forms of life from climate change. Establishing such a clinic at HLS will leverage all of Harvard University’s institutional strengths and resources to develop creative strategies utilizing law, science, and public policy. These educational opportunities will enable Harvard Law School students to make crucial contributions to the field while HLS trains a new generation of leaders for the animal protection movement.

The clinic will be part of the Animal Law & Policy Program, led by Faculty Director Professor Kristen Stilt. Announcing the clinic, Stilt said: “The Animal Law & Policy Clinic at HLS will train and prepare our graduates to embark on careers in the animal protection field, produce impactful litigation and policy analysis to benefit the animal protection movement, and provide an internationally renowned platform for educating the broader public about the many pressing issues involving animal law and policy.”

The clinic will be led by Visiting Assistant Clinical Professor Katherine Meyer and Clinical Instructor Nicole Negowetti. Recent HLS graduate Kate Barnekow ’19 will be returning to serve as the first Clinical Fellow, and Sarah Pickering will be joining the team as Communications Manager for both the clinic and the program.

Katherine Meyer

Nicole Negowetti

The Animal Law & Policy Clinic’s inauguration is made possible by major gifts from the Brooks McCormick Jr. Trust, the Brooks Institute for Animal Rights Law and Policy, the Animal Welfare Trust, and other generous supporters.

“Animal law is a vitally important and rapidly growing field,” said Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning ’85. “Our new Animal Law & Policy Clinic will  give students real-world experience in this burgeoning field, build on Harvard Law School’s long tradition of innovative pedagogy, and prepare future graduates to address significant societal challenges. I am delighted to welcome Katherine Meyer to the Harvard Law School community and congratulate her, Kristen Stilt, and Nicole Negowetti on the launch of this terrific initiative.”

Katherine Meyer joins HLS as one of the most experienced animal protection litigators in the country, having founded the nation’s leading environmental and animal public interest law firm 26 years ago. At Meyer Glitzenstein & Eubanks, Meyer developed a long track record of training many other leading attorneys now practicing in the animal protection movement––as she did while also teaching Civil Litigation and Public Interest Advocacy at Georgetown University Law Center.

“I am thrilled to become part of the team that is launching the new Animal Law & Policy Clinic at Harvard, and very much look forward to mentoring and working with HLS students to advance the very important cause of fighting for non-human animal rights, protection, and conservation,” Meyer said.

Richard Lazarus ’79, the Howard and Katherine Aibel Professor of Law, praised both Meyer’s experience and the contributions she will bring to students.

“This is truly thrilling news for our law students and for the entire law school community. Katherine Meyer’s contributions as a public interest lawyer and animal welfare advocate in Washington D.C. are legendary,” said Lazarus, who teaches environmental law at HLS. “She has been a consistent path-breaker and it is wonderful that Harvard Law students will now have the tremendous advantage of learning from Katherine in the law school’s new Animal Law & Policy Clinic.”

Nicole Negowetti is a nationally recognized food systems policy expert, and comes to the Animal Law & Policy Clinic from the HLS Food Law and Policy Clinic, where she was a clinical instructor and lecturer on law. Prior to that she was the Policy Director for the Good Food Institute and an associate professor of law at Valparaiso University. Negowetti has focused her teaching, scholarship, and advocacy on the impacts of industrial livestock production on animal welfare, the environment, and human health. In addition to her work at the Animal Law & Policy Clinic, she will also teach the reading group “Disruptive Food Technologies: Law, Politics, and Policy” in the fall semester.

“I am honored to help launch the Animal Law & Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School,” said Negowetti. “The clinic will provide outstanding training for a new generation of advocates as we identify and pursue high-impact legal strategies to achieve a resilient, healthy, and just food system—for the benefit of human and non-human animals alike.”

One of Negowetti’s current students said: “Nicole’s drive to help others and her unique background, particularly her expertise related to plant-based and cell-based meat regulation, make her an invaluable resource for students like me at Harvard Law. Nicole is patient and supportive of student learning, and has gone out of her way to serve as a mentor to me. It is great news that she will be joining the new Animal Law & Policy Clinic,” said Kelley McGill ’20, co-president of the HLS Animal Law Society.

As Gabriel Wildgen ’20, co-president of the HLS Animal Law Society, explained, “Having advocated for animal protection laws with Humane Society International for over six years, HLS was my obvious first choice because it was the only top law school with a program dedicated to animal law and policy. The world-class faculty and visiting fellows in the Animal Law & Policy Program have exposed me to cutting edge issues, enabling me to focus on my particular interest in the intersection between cruelty to farm animals and the food innovations that are making animal products obsolete. The new Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic will be another huge step forward for Harvard and for the field of animal law as a whole, and I am excited to be taking part in its groundbreaking work.”

The Animal Law & Policy Clinic will develop and strengthen synergies across HLS’s wide-reaching clinical program, given that many of the harmful impacts to animals from major commercial uses have adverse effects on a range of other public interest concerns, including environmental protection, labor rights, human rights, and other social justice issues. As one example, the externalities of industrial animal agriculture, such as air and water contamination, food safety risks, worker exploitation, and greenhouse gas emissions, present an opportunity for collective legal action by a consortium of affected constituencies. The Harvard Animal Law & Policy Clinic will be able to convene and represent a diverse coalition of stakeholders who are injured by such practices, and thus build a strong foundation for catalyzing change.

At the US Education Department, applications for loan forgiveness languish

Via CNBC 

By: Annie Nova

Source: Wikimedia Commons

When Morgan Marler’s 5-year-old daughter, Lilian, asks her why she doesn’t work anymore, Marler doesn’t know what to say.

“I can’t explain debt to her,” Marler, 29, said. “And how I went to school and it was all for nothing.”

Marler attended ITT Technical Institute, a now-shuttered for-profit school, between 2013 and 2016. The school has since been found to have misled students with false advertisements. Marler, for her part, was told students typically went on to make $70,000 a year. After she graduated, the best jobs she could find were at call centers that paid $10 an hour — less than she’d been making before she enrolled at the school.

Her associates degree at ITT left her with $30,000 in student loans, and she’s asked the Department of Education to cancel her debt, but has yet to hear back. That was nearly three years ago.

A federal judge ruled last year that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ delays of an Obama-era regulation aimed at forgiving the student debt of defrauded students were illegal. Still, advocates say, the department continues to neglect the applications of those like Marler.

More than 180,000 claims for student debt forgiveness remain “pending” and no borrower has had their request approved or denied in more than a year.

“The Department of Education under Betsy DeVos is just ignoring the claims,” said Eileen Connor, the director of litigation at Harvard Law School’s Project on Predatory Student Lending, which is currently suing DeVos. “These people can’t plan for the future.

“They’re losing faith in the government.”

Nearly 900 former for-profit school students recently described the consequences of their education to the Project in written testimonies. Their stories make clear that a few years at a bad school can cast a shadow over the rest of someone’s life.

More than two-thirds of the defrauded student debtors said they struggled to get a mortgage or auto loan, half of them said the uncertainty around whether or not their debt will be cancelled has caused them to delay marriage or children, and nearly all of them said their lives are worse off today than before they went to school.

Continue reading.

Island embraces Food Is Medicine state plan

Via MV Times 

By: Brittany Bowker

Courtesy of the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation

If nutritious food prevents chronic disease and promotes long-term health, why shouldn’t it be included in our healthcare plans? That’s the notion behind Food Is Medicine, a Massachusetts coalition dedicated to increasing access to vital nutrition services for every community in the commonwealth.

The coalition, which stems from a team at the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation at Harvard Law School, launched June 18, and aims to connect food and nutrition with health and wellness, as well as legislative policy. On Monday, representatives from Food Is Medicine met Island stakeholders at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital (MVH) to discuss goals, ideas, and initiatives.

“Food and nutrition are at the cornerstone of health and wellness,” said hospital CEO Denise Schepici to a group of about 30 gathered over lunch in the hospital’s community room. Representatives from Island Grown Initiative (IGI), the hospital, Island Health Care (IHC), Family Planning, Social Services, Elder Services, and the Island Food Pantry, among other invested community members, attended.

According to a study from the Greater Boston Food Bank and Children’s HealthWatch, food insecurity costs the state $1.9 billion in annual healthcare costs.

“The cost of the healthcare system increases as severity of food insecurity increases,” said Sarah Downer, primary author of the Food Is Medicine state plan. “If someone is in the hospital and they’re malnourished, it’s going to be more expensive to the system … We want to explore what role the healthcare system plays when it interacts with the food system.”

The Food Is Medicine coalition came up with four intervention initiatives:

    • Medically tailored meals designed by a registered dietitian to respond to a specific medical condition.
    • Medically tailored groceries, a package of nonprepared grocery items selected by a registered dietitian as part of a treatment program. The recipient is usually capable of picking up the food and preparing it at home.
  • Produce prescription/voucher programs for free or discounted produce distributed by healthcare providers to address a specific health condition. Redeemable at retail grocery stores, farmers markets, or CSA (community-supported agriculture) programs.
  • Population-level healthy food programs, where antihunger programs partner with healthcare providers to distribute healthy food to any patient regardless of health status.

The hospital and IHC, along with health providers across Massachusetts, have begun adopting these initiatives. The hospital has rolled out two food insecurity primary-care screening questionnaires developed by Hunger VitalSign and Children’s HealthWatch to identify young children and families who may need assistance, with inquiries like these:

  • Within the past 12 months, we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more.
  • Within the past 12 months, the food we bought just didn’t last, and we didn’t have money to buy more.

“People are more frank when asked to answer a questionnaire,” said Aletheia Donahue, primary-care physician at MVH. “It’s an effective, validated screening tool where we can get data and compare it with other institutions.”

IHC is rolling out a similar screening questionnaire for all social determinants of health, according to Kathleen Samways, chief quality officer at IHC. “We know we have something really big to tackle,” Samways said.

Just this week, IHC launched a produce prescription pilot in partnership with IGI. Six chosen patients will receive free locally grown produce and free cooking classes.

“We’ll start getting a sense for the way these programs can influence blood pressure, weight, and shopping habits,” said Noli Taylor, community food education director at IGI.

“Patient profiles show the need is huge,” said IHC nurse practitioner Marcia Denine.

Food Is Medicine is also focused on getting food access resources ingrained in statewide healthcare systems. “We want to make sure healthcare providers are equipped with all the information they need to screen a patient for food insecurity,” Downers said. “It would be ingrained in the system. There would always be something in the community for the patient to be referred to.”

Taylor gave an overview of the existing food-equity services on Martha’s Vineyard. Among them are the Food Equity Network, a group of over 22 organizations focused on tackling food equity issues on the Island. There’s the Island Food Pantry, which doubled its number of clients between 2017 and 2018, and is seeing a 30 to 80 percent monthly increase in 2019, according to Island Food Pantry executive director Kayte Morris. The Island also has robust SNAP, WIC, and HIPservices. According to Taylor, more than 600 Islanders utilize SNAP, which represents a fraction of individuals who could sign up for those services. “More outreach and coordination are necessary, and I’m looking forward to being a part of that,” said Eve Gates of Dukes County Social Services.

The Island clergy are another robust food and grocery voucher distributor. Mandi Moran of the Good Shepherd Parish said they distributed 75,000 pounds of food in one year. There’s a food resource hotline, 508-693-7900, ext. 410, launched by Martha’s Vineyard Community Services in partnership with IGI. IGI’s gleaning program has collected and redistributed 25,000 pounds of produce from local farms, and 1,000 pounds of produce from grocery stores. IGI also has a processed-food programand a partnership with Kitchen Porch Catering to prepare and freeze food to make it easier for Islanders to eat. IGI is expanding its processing program with Camp Jabberwocky this winter. IGI also offers a free lunch program, and a year-round Mobile Market.

“Even though so many of us are working on this, we know we’re not reaching everyone,” Taylor said. “We’re excited to be working with the hospital and health center. Together we can have a stronger food-equity support structure, and our programs will be more impactful.”

“The hospital is committed to being a ‘Food Is Medicine’ leader,” Donahue added.

Food Is Medicine is working closely with state policy and legislation. “We’re in the business of making sure we’re on the agenda,” Downer said. Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, was supposed to appear at Monday’s gathering, but had a prior engagement. Cyr, who represents the Island in the state Senate, has been instrumental in getting Food Is Medicine through to policymakers, according to Downer. “In the healthcare legal and policy world, it’s hard to get people to pay attention until you have studies,” Downer said. “We now have bodies of emerging research showing things we’ve been witnessing.”

“This is all very heartening to me,” IGI executive director Rebecca Haag concluded. “The only way we start making a difference is if we collaborate and cooperate — just sharing information. Let’s get back together in a year and see how far we’ve come.”

Representatives Pingree and Newhouse Introduce Legislation to Standardize Food Date Labels

Via the Center for Health Law and Policy Innovation

Last week, Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) introduced the Food Date Labeling Act of 2019 (H.R. 3981), federal legislation to standardize date labels on food products. The Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) enthusiastically supports this legislation, which will reduce consumer confusion and food waste.

40% of food in the U.S. goes to waste each year, and confusion over date labels is a significant contributor to food waste. Currently, date labels are not regulated at the federal level. In the absence of federal legislation, manufacturers use a dizzying variety of date labeling phrases, most of which are meant to communicate when food will be at its peak quantity. However, many consumers misinterpret these date labels to be indicators of food safety, leading them to throw out food prematurely. Moreover, states have developed their own date labeling requirements, resulting in a patchwork system of inconsistent state laws.

FLPC has championed federal legislation to standardize date labels and alleviate this confusion since 2013 when we released our report, The Dating Game, in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). According to ReFED, standardizing date labels is the most cost effective solution to food waste.

Legislation to standardize date labels was first introduced in 2016, when Representative Pingree and Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced the Food Date Labeling Act of 2016. Date label standardization was also proposed in the Food Recovery Act of 2017. The Food Date Labeling Act of 2019 builds on these previous legislative efforts with changes that make the standards more flexible for food labelers.

Under the new legislation, manufacturers or retailers may choose whether or not to use date labels on food products. However, if they choose to use a date label, they must use one of two prescribed phrases. This gives industry the freedom to decide whether or not to use date labels on their products but still ensures that labeling language is consistent on food products across the country. If a labeler wishes to indicate a food’s peak quality, the labeler must use the phrase “Best if Used By.” If a labeler wishes to communicate when a food should be discarded for safety, the labeler must use the phrase “Use By.” These phrases are consistent with voluntary date labeling initiatives developed in recent years (discussed below), and a national survey shows that most consumers understand these phrases to convey quality and safety.

This legislation will address the current patchwork system of state-level date labeling laws by pre-empting any state labeling regulations that require alternative date labeling language. The legislation also bars any state-level prohibitions on the donation of past date food based on a quality date. This will help ensure that wholesome food can be donated to food rescue organizations. Finally, the legislation requires the creation of a national consumer education campaign to inform consumers about the meaning of the new standard labeling language.

In recent years, federal agencies and industry leaders have taken important steps towards standard date labeling language. On May 23rd of this year, the FDA Deputy Commissioner for Food Policy and Response, Frank Yiannas, penned an open letter to the food industry encouraging the adoption of the standard term “Best if Used by” for quality dates on food products. This FDA recommendation mirrors USDA’s 2016 revised guidance, which similarly encourages the use of the phrase “Best if Used by” to indicate quality. Two years ago, the Food Marketing Institute (FMI) and the Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) launched the Product Code Dating Initiative, a voluntary call to the industry to adopt standardized quality and discard date phrases. Federal legislation will bolster the success of these existing initiatives and allow for complete uniformity nationwide.

With so much recent momentum in support of standardized date labels, the time is now to pass legislation to establish a uniform national system. FLPC is pleased to support this bill, which will alleviate confusion over date labels and ensure that more safe, wholesome food gets eaten.

To follow the status of the legislation, click here. For Representative Pingree’s press release, see here.

96% of Students Defrauded by For-Profit Colleges Report Their Lives Are Worse Now Than Before They Went to School

Via the Project on Predatory Student Lending

Nearly 900 Former For-Profit College Students Submitted Testimony Explaining the Harsh Impact of Federal Student Loan Debt on their Lives  
Testimony Includes Stories from Students who Have Put Off Other Education, Avoided Starting Families & Some Considered Suicide because of their Student Loan Debt 

BOSTON, M.A. – The Project on Predatory Student Lending announced that nearly 900 defrauded former for-profit college students submitted personal testimony in a lawsuit, Sweet v DeVos, against the U.S. Department of Education and U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. They are seeking to force the agency to follow existing law and issue the debt relief to which the former students are entitled.

In less than a month after the lawsuit was filed, hundreds of students voluntarily submitted their testimony to have their voices heard. The extensive testimony provides a comprehensive summary of the harsh real-life impact of the continued debt on students’ lives due to the Department of Education’s refusal to process their claims. Specifically, students reported the overwhelming harm that this debt and uncertainty has had on their lives, from financial and mental health consequences, to delaying basic life decisions like starting a family or pursuing additional education.

The testimony data shows:

  • 96 percent of students reported that their lives are worse today than before they went to school.
  • 92 percent of students reported experiencing physical or emotional harm.
  • 61 percent of students reported deferring further education because of no decision on debt.
  • 47 percent of students reported deferring marriage and children because of no decision on debt.
  • 32 percent of students reported continuing to receive payment demands after submitting their Defense to Repayment.
  • 958 days (2.6 years) is the average time students have been waiting for an answer from the U.S. Department of Education on their Borrower Defense applications.

“My claim has gone unanswered for over three and a half years. That’s ridiculous,” said Denise Heard-Bashur, former student at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh. “The Art Institute has even closed in that time. Those of us who were financially abused by for-profit educational institutions deserve to be considered. We were fed lies by society that a degree would ensure financial stability. It doesn’t. We were fed lies by these organizations that we would land great jobs, especially with their help. We haven’t. We were fed lies that our course credits would transfer should we decide to pursue our education elsewhere. They won’t. The government under the Trump administration has done nothing but prove in every way, shape and form that the average American is the very least of their concerns.”

The former students are pressing Secretary DeVos and the Department to follow the law and immediately act to cancel their loans. The Department has not processed a single borrower defense claim in over a year with many of these former students waiting over four years for resolution.

“By ignoring these claims, Betsy DeVos is willfully harming the very students the Department of Education is supposed to protect,” said Project on Predatory Student Lending Legal Director Eileen Connor. “The harm these students have experienced is undeniable. Many of these students are parents who can’t earn a living wage to support their families. Many expressed emotional and physical trauma caused by this illegitimate debt and the fear they will be denied loan cancellation. Several of the students said they have even contemplated suicide because of their debt. Their faith in government is understandably eroded. The time for excuses from the Department of Education is over. The Department needs to follow the law and cancel these loans now because hundreds of thousands of students cannot afford to wait any longer.”

“I have an overwhelming fear of debt because of this money that was wasted with this school,” said Morgan Marler, former student at ITT Technical Institute. “I can’t find a school that takes any credits from ITT and also I can’t find the strength to go to another school because I will be in twice the amount of debt. I worry that my daughter will have to feel the effects of this debt – I pushed myself in school to better myself for her, she was one when I graduated. I thought I’d have a better life for her than this.”

Click here to view testimonial excerpts and videos from students across the country who were defrauded by for-profit colleges.

The case, Sweet v DeVos, was filed on June 25, 2019 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.

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.

“Students are calling for the Department to act,” said HERA Senior Attorney, Natalie Lyons. “It is shameful that the Department continues to sit on tens of thousands of borrower defense applications, in light of the additional harms caused by its inaction. Surely it is enough that these former for-profit students expended money, time and energy on a fraudulent education. As powerfully described by the nearly 900 students’ own words, the Department’s silence causes significant anxiety and distress in their day-to-day lives, as well as active harm to their livelihoods.”

The Project on Predatory Student Lending is continuing to call for 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 continue to supply written testimony in this lawsuit by filling out a simple online form here.

Currently, 45 million Americans have nearly $1.6 trillion combined in student loan debt, depressing the economic progression of families and the broader economy. This 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.

This 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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FLPC Welcomes New Team Member Melissa Shapiro

Via the Center for Health Law and Policy

Melissa Shapiro

The Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) welcomes Melissa Shapiro to the team as a Clinical Instructor!

Melissa joined the Harvard Law School Food Law and Policy Clinic in July 2019 as a Clinical Instructor.

Immediately prior to coming to FLPC, Melissa served as a consultant to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, working with the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food to increase the visibility of the right to food mandate, and as an Attorney-Advisor with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of General Counsel. Melissa received her J.D. and Master of Environmental Law and Policy from Vermont Law School in 2016, where she led the Food and Agricultural Law Society and worked with Hunger Free Vermont as a Schweitzer Fellow. Melissa received her B.A. in Human Ecology from Middlebury College in 2013. She is a licensed member of the bar of the State of New York.

How to balance safety and privacy with a car tracker

Via The Parallax

By: Kristin Burnham

Source: Pexels

Last month, North Carolina teenager Macy Smith credited a GPS tracker on her phone, along with a Bible within reach, for her survival after she lost control of her car during a heavy rainstorm. It hydroplaned, flipped, and slid down a ravine, pinning her below it. Hours later, her family used the Find My Friends app to pinpoint her location.

Smith, who suffered neck and nerve injuries from the crash, was lucky that her phone, which she couldn’t reach, had battery power, cellular connectivity, and an active location-tracking app that she’d shared with loved ones. For parents terrified about what might happen when their fledgling drivers hit the road without them, an always-on car-tracking device can help alleviate a fear or two.

By tracking details like location, speed, and sudden braking, these devices can help people keep tabs on where and how their cars are being driven, not to mention whether their teens are obeying curfews. On the other hand, privacy experts caution that car trackers can be used to stalk, intimidate, or otherwise invade drivers’ privacy.

“The No. 1 thing people should remember is that once data exists, it can be a challenge to keep it secure and private,” says Nate Wessler, staff attorney with the ACLU Project on Speech, Privacy, and Technology. “A long-term record over time can give away information about which doctors you visit, which people you spend time with, people’s love lives, and more.”

This data might be valuable to a number of parties: data brokers and marketers, which may gain access to it through corporate data-sharing partnerships; law enforcement agencies, which often (but not always) need to obtain a search warrant to access it; and hackers, who find ways to access it through unsecured cloud storage or data leaks.

“Individual location data is incredibly valuable to companies who are trying to serve up ads and do marketing analysis,” Wessler says. “People should not have their location data leaked in that way without express consent and full knowledge of what’s happening. Location data is part of a huge gray market of data brokers who are packaging it and reselling it to end users.”

Before purchasing a GPS tracker, Wessler advises gathering some data yourself. Read the company’s privacy policy for information on whether it resells or shares user data with third parties, how long it retains data, and what measures of security and privacy it has in place.

Another important consideration, he says, is the legality of installing such devices. According to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures, it’s legal for individuals to install GPS tracking devices on vehicles they own, either as a private citizen or as an employer.

It’s generally illegal to install GPS-tracking devices on vehicles you don’t own, though you may be able to legally install one on the car of someone (like a child or an incapacitated adult) for whom you are a legal guardian.

The privacy and security concerns of these devices are not unlike those associated with mobile devices and vehicles’ built-in GPS capabilities, Wessler notes.

“Unless you turn these settings off, the phone you carry with you in the car is already tracking your location,” he says. “Modern cars have GPS-enabled systems with mapping functions. Think twice before purchasing other devices that do the same thing—but know that there are things you can do to help ensure that you data is safe.”

If you’re in the market for a car tracker, you might feel a sense of relief hearing that some of today’s best-selling devices (listed below) have a privacy policy that indicates safe data practices, including detailing security tools and disclosing how they use customer data. That said, the policies often prioritize corporate flexibility over technical specificity, says Kendra Albert, clinical instructional fellow at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic.

“Companies that have reasonably good practices for notifying consumers of privacy policy or terms of service changes tend not to make them incredibly specific,” Albert says. “Vagueness can provide companies flexibility to do legitimate things with data that consumers don’t need details on, such as switching from [Amazon Web Services] to another provider.”

Continue reading.

Ex-EPA Leaders: 1st Circ. Should Revive ‘Purge’ Suit

Via Law360 

By: Andrew Kragie

Source: Pexels

Five former senior U.S. Environmental Protection Agency officials have backed a First Circuit appeal by scientists aiming to revive litigation against the EPA over what they call its 2017 “purge” of current EPA grant recipients from the agency’s advisory committees.

The former officials, who include an Obama-era acting administrator and a Reagan-era assistant administrator, argued in an amicus brief filed Thursday that the ban is preventing the agency from making decisions based on the best science available, as required by law.

The EPA under the Trump administration said when it announced the policy that it was needed to prevent conflicts of interest and ensure independence. But the agency veterans said in their brief that the true effect is to undermine a carefully calibrated diversity of viewpoints and give unrestrained influence to industry.

The order “tries to solve a problem that does not exist,” the former officials said, and “prevents some of the most qualified scientists from serving on EPA science advisory committees.” These boards do not award or control the grants, and their members are not compensated beyond travel expenses.

The ex-policymakers, joined by a former head of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, argued that researchers who receive EPA grants are not biased by the support. Rather, they said the recipients may well be the best candidates.

The agency’s highly competitive grants often go to leading researchers at the cutting edge of environmental science and its real-world applications, the former officials said. EPA-funded projects often yield publications that are cited widely in their fields, suggesting their originality and widespread impact.

The governmental veterans also asked why the agency could ban recipients of EPA grants while welcoming and promoting researchers who get their funding from industry groups, regulated companies or other sources that could theoretically pose conflicts of interest.

“The practical effect of the directive has been to make the science advisory committees less independent by increasing the representation of industry scientists,” they said in their amicus brief.

The six former officials are Bob Perciasepe, an acting administrator and deputy administrator from 2009 through 2014; Bernard Goldstein, an assistant EPA administrator under President Reagan; Lynn R. Goldman, an assistant EPA administrator from 1993 through 1998; Terry Yosie, the director of the EPA’s Science Advisory Board from 1981 through 1988; and David Michaels, who led OSHA from 2009 to 2017.

They wrote to support an appeal by the Union of Concerned Scientists and Elizabeth Anne Sheppard, a University of Washington scientist who left a project partly funded by the EPA to keep her seat on the agency’s Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee. The plaintiffs were backed at the trial court by 10 state attorneys general.

The appeal comes after the lawsuit was dismissed in March by a Massachusetts federal judge who found that the EPA adequately explained the directive. U.S. District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV also decided that the ban was not governed by other federal regulations on conflicts of interest.

The scientists argued in their appeal earlier this month that the ban failed “the most basic requirement” of the Administrative Procedure Act and that the lower court incorrectly decided the EPA’s directive was not reviewable.

Two similar lawsuits were dismissed in New York and Washington, D.C., federal courts.

The policy was first announced on Halloween 2017 by then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.

Pruitt resigned his post in July 2018 after a series of scandals and more than a dozen investigations into his actions. He was succeeded by his deputy, former coal-industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler.

Wheeler met with leaders of the Union for Concerned Scientists but kept Pruitt’s directive in place, according to Genna Reed, the nonprofit’s lead science and policy analyst.

Reed told Law360 that the former officials “understand both the value of the best available science (as well as how having) real, qualified experts serving on these advisory committees serves as a check and a vital accountability mechanism for our science agencies.”

The Harvard Law School attorney representing the ex-policymakers, Shaun Goho, emphasized that there’s a bipartisan outcry over science at the EPA, and across the Trump administration. Academic scientists have gotten more involved in the policy realm during the current administration, he said.

“They are speaking up for science and fact-based decision making,” Goho said. “I would hope that that is not a partisan issue.”

Counsel for the EPA declined to comment Monday.

The former officials are represented by Shaun A. Goho and Lynne I. Dzubow of Harvard Law School’s Emmett Environmental Law & Policy Clinic.

The scientists are represented by Justin Florence, Benjamin L. Berwick and Jamila G. Benkato of The Protect Democracy Project Inc., and Lindsay C. Harrison, Samuel C. Birnbaum, Zachary C. Schauf and Julian Ginos of Jenner & Block LLP.

The EPA is represented by Jeffrey E. Sandberg of U.S. Department of Justice‘s Civil Division.

The appeal is Union of Concerned Scientists et al. v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency et al., case number 19-1383 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

–Additional reporting by Juan Carlos Rodriguez, Craig Clough and RJ Vogt. Editing by Peter Rozovsky.

Correction: An earlier story mischaracterized a response from counsel for the former officials. The error has been corrected. 

Update: This story has been updated with comment from an attorney for the former officials.

Clinical Students Set a New Record of Over 1900 Hours of Legal Research and Writing for Massachusetts Trial Judges

By: Honorable John Cratsley (Ret.), Director of the Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic and Class

Students in the Spring 2019 Judicial Process in Trial Court Clinic Credit: Jean Lee JD ’19

Over the 2019 Spring semester, 20 students in the Judicial Process in Trial Courts Clinic contributed over 1900 hours of legal research and writing to the Massachusetts state and federal judges, a record high for the clinic.  The students’ contribution to our local judiciary is particularly significant in our state courts where budgets are tight and full-time law clerks limited.  Student placements included nine with judges in U.S. District Court, eight with judges in the Massachusetts Superior Court, one with a judge in the Boston Municipal Court, one with a judge in the Newton District Court, and one with a judge in the Boston Juvenile Court.

Student legal research and writing for their judges included the full range of civil and criminal matters, such as motions for summary judgment, motions to dismiss, and motions to suppress, as well as habeas petitions, judicial review of agency decisions, evidence issues, and jury instructions.  Students also had the opportunity to observe all the stages of jury trials – from empanelment to witness examinations to closings and verdict. Several students even had the opportunity to join their judge for a conversation with the members of the jury following the verdict. Lunches and personal conversations with their judges increased the opportunity to gain insight into judicial decision making.

The weekly class accompanying the clinic examines elements of the judicial process that students observe first-hand with their judges, including sentencing, judicial ethics, plea bargaining, mediation, the jury, and access to justice. During the semester, students met four international judges – three from Japan and one from Korea – and visited MCI Concord followed by dinner at Judge Cratsley’s home. The judges from overseas added valuable cross-cultural perspectives on judging and made presentations about their personal experiences with the recent inclusion of citizen jurors in criminal trials. One student who visited MCI was most intrigued by the National Education for Assistance Dog Services (NEADS) dog training program run by the inmates.

Student evaluations of their judicial placements describe the variety of gains from their clinical experience. One student emphasized her judge’s candid observations, “My judge shared her insights with us about the cases after the hearing, on whether the lawyers have done a good job and whether the merits of the case are strong.” Two other students wrote about the help they received with legal research and writing skills, “I went through five drafts on one occasion, and the judge made constructive comments about each draft. She was tremendously helpful in improving my legal writing.”  “This clinical placement has led to a huge improvement in my legal writing skill. For every writing assignment, I received direct feedback from the judge and the clerks.”

Overall, students confirmed the unique value of the opportunity to work inside the judicial system directly with a judge; “The chambers were so much more collegial than I anticipated! I was thrilled at how welcoming everyone was.” “The placement exceeded my expectations. The judge and his clerks were absolutely wonderful to work with, and I learned so much from this clinical experience.  The clinic has been the highlight of my law school experience.”

For me, as a clinical teacher, this is all about the value found in so many clinical experiences – the classroom and the law books come alive, become a discernible reality, in the courtroom and in chambers thanks to a remarkable group of sharing judges.

FLPC Clinic Director Emily Broad Leib to be Featured in New Food Waste Documentary

Via Forbes

Food Law and Policy Clinic Director and Assistant Clinical Professor of Law Emily Broad Leib is one of six experts in food law that will be featured in a new documentary titled, “Robin Hoods of the Waste Stream.” The film will look into scalable solutions to the problem of food waste through interviews with a large cast of leading crusaders including Tristram Stuart, “the godfather of the food waste movement”, food waste warrior Dana Gunders, and Ben Simon of Imperfect Produce.

Read more about the documentary here.

The unpredictable legal implications of Trump’s Twitter-blocking defeat

Via The Verge

By: Adi Robertson

Source: Twitter

Earlier this week, a federal appeals court ruled that President Donald Trump couldn’t block his critics on Twitter. More specifically, the court determined that Trump’s Twitter account is a “public forum” where citizens have a right to engage with his comments, the same way they’d be able to attend a town hall. This ruling could shape how all government officials use social media — from the US president to local garbage collectors.

The Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University sued Trump in 2017, arguing that Trump had violated the First Amendment rights of seven Twitter users — all of whom had been blocked after tweeting criticism at the @realDonaldTrump account. The Knight Institute argued that Trump was preventing these users from participating in a public discussion since these discussions were taking place in replies to Trump tweets.

A lower court ruled in favor of the Knight Institute last year. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals agreed on Tuesday, saying it was unlawful for “a public official who utilizes a social media account for all manner of official purposes to exclude persons from an otherwise‐open online dialogue because they expressed views with which the official disagrees.”

As Cornell Law School professor James Grimmelmann puts it, “Of course Trump can say whatever he wants” on Twitter. And he can choose to boost specific posts by retweeting them. But he can’t make it harder for certain people to participate in the conversation around those tweets, which is exactly what blocking somebody on Twitter does.

Grimmelmann says the facts in this case were “particularly stark” since Trump clearly uses Twitter as an official White House communication tool. But it raises questions for other politicians and governmental agencies. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was recently sued for blocking Republican primary candidate Joseph Saladino, and courts will have to decide whether she’s created the same kind of public forum with her social media presence. “[Trump] made this a very easy case. It’s a harder question if a politician is using it to interact with the public but is not claiming to use it for official business,” he says.

Overall, “what this case pushes toward is a pretty strong separation of official and personal capacities,” says Grimmelmann. If you’re a politician maintaining a mostly campaign-focused or personal account, the ruling might not matter. Otherwise, “it pretty much tells you that your social media presence kind of has to be one-way: you can respond to interact with people, but you’re not going to be able to use anything stronger than muting on inbound content.”

Kendra Albert, an instructor at Harvard Law School’s Cyberlaw Clinic, believes the Second Circuit’s decision is unnecessarily ambiguous. The Trump administration has argued that its account is government speech, or speech that the government is performing on its own behalf, which isn’t regulated by the First Amendment. Albert argues that the original ruling clearly separated the account’s “government speech” content from the interactive forum in the replies. “The lower court decision actually does a really good job of explaining why it matters that people are blocked, even if they can just log out of Twitter and see the president’s tweets otherwise,” Albert said, “and it’s because there’s sort of this discursive space going on underneath the tweet.”

The new ruling refers to Trump’s whole account as a public forum, then draws finer lines between tweets that are government speech and independent tweets by other users. “I think it’s still a case that can be cited by plaintiffs in order to show that government officials can’t sort of just be willy-nilly blocking people from their official Facebook or Twitter pages,” Albert says. “But it’s certainly less clear than the district court opinion and it means they have to spend more time explaining why things aren’t government speech.”

Government accounts will need to block some users if they want to keep their digital spaces usable. The ruling doesn’t prevent this, but administrators will have to avoid doing it in a way that’s politically biased, which could lead to some difficult decisions. What if, Grimmelmann says, a municipal waste authority accepts comments on a Facebook page about trash collection? “Does this case now mean that they can’t remove comments screaming at them that recycling is a communist plot?” he asks.

The same difficult decisions could come up with harassment. “It may be difficult to ban or block someone for harassing you kind of generally, unless you have a sustained pattern of harassment,” says Albert. The best solution, they suggest, would be for officials to establish clear moderation rules that could be enforced across the board, the way a town hall could expel people who genuinely disrupt a meeting, even if they’re engaging in political speech.

There’s tension between First Amendment protections and social media moderation rules. White supremacist rhetoric is protected under American law, for instance, but it’s banned as hate speech on Facebook. Grimmelmann says that this speech could still be removed as long it’s based clearly on Facebook’s moderation guidelines, not the government’s.

Crucially, this case doesn’t discuss whether Twitter itself is a public forum or determine how Twitter can moderate users. It just rules on the actions that individual government-related accounts can take.

It’s also not the final say on government social media accounts. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in January that county officials couldn’t bar critics from their Facebook pages. But a different court has maintained that Kentucky’s governor can block constituents on Facebook and Twitter. “I think that as different circuits coalesce around a kind of collective test — or at least a way of handling things like Twitter and Facebook and maybe Instagram,” says Albert, “it’ll sort of become more consistent over time.”

Despite fears of raids, community advocates say now is the time for immigrants to step into Massachusetts courts

Via MassLive

By: Steph Solis

Despite mounting fears of raids, community organizers are urging Massachusetts immigrants to take advantage of a federal judge’s order that blocks immigration agents from arresting people at local courthouses, a move aimed to increase cooperation between witnesses or victims of crimes and local law enforcement.

It’s been a month since a federal judge authorized a preliminary injunction blocking Immigration and Customs Enforcement from arresting people at Massachusetts courthouses — one of few such restrictions on ICE arrests in the country.

But Yessenia Alfaro, deputy director of the Chelsea Collaborative, said she gets calls from local immigrants saying they’re afraid to go to court alone.

“Even though the order has taken effect, we still need to inform more of our community,” said Alfaro, who still gets calls from locals saying they’re afraid to go to court.

Alfaro still accompanies people to local courthouses despite the protections offered by the preliminary injunction.

The announcements about raids in recent weeks only confused immigrant communities more, prompting families to avoid appointments and church services.

Alfaro and other volunteers at the Chelsea Collaborative knocked on doors Monday night to pass out copies of the judge’s order and explain what it means to residents.

“We are organizing and mobilizing to go knock on doors and go door-to-door to give out information about their rights and about this order, so they’re not afraid to call the police, file wage theft complaints or tenant complaints,” she said in a Spanish-language interview.

John Willshire Carrera, co-managing director of the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services, passed out copies of the preliminary injunction during a “Know Your Rights” workshop last week at the Chelsea Collaborative.

“I think it’s important for people to know what their rights are, especially at this moment when people are so under attack, whether it’s for real or whether it’s rhetoric,” Carrera said.

Continue reading.

Student-loan borrowers demand justice from Betsy DeVos — ‘I don’t feel like I should pay for an education I never received’

Via MarketWatch 

By: Jillian Berman

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images
Source: Flickr

After years working in “dead-end” jobs, Morgan Marler decided to pursue a degree that would help her start a career working with computers.

In 2013, Marler enrolled at ITT Technical Institutes feeling convinced they’d help her land a job once she graduated. “They told me about the fact that they do career placement assistance for life,” she said.

After a few years of studying through pregnancy, the arrival of her daughter and the beginning of her daughter’s life, Marler graduated from the school in 2016 with an associate’s degree in information technology. But just a few months later, ITT shut down amid claims the school misled students about job placement and graduation rates.

Marler, 29, says she could feel that stigma on the job hunt. “I could tell that they held [ITT] against me and I never heard anything back from interviews,” she said. So even with her degree, she continued working as a manager at FedEx.

Finally, after struggling to manage the debt and doing some “soul searching,” Marler and her husband decided the best way for them to get on a path to financial stability would be for him to join the army.

“We couldn’t afford day care on top of the loans,” which stand at about $24,000 even after a couple of years of payments, Marler said. “Since I can’t really get a job doing what I wanted to do, I’m just kind of here raising my kid.”

Now Marler dreams of one day becoming a nurse, but she says she’s unlikely to pursue that path with the debt from her ITT degree still hanging over her head.

In November 2017, she filed a claim asking the government to wipe away her debt under a law that allows borrowers to have their loans cancelled if they’ve been defrauded by their school.

Nearly two years later, still waiting for an answer.

“I can’t even go back to school because I’m not even sure what the Department of Education is going to do with this loan,” she said.

Nearly 900 former for-profit college students filed testimony detailing their student-loan struggles

Marler is one of the nearly 900 student-loan borrowers who say they were scammed by their schools and are awaiting an answer from the Department of Education as to whether they’ll have their federal student-loan debt wiped away. These borrowers have been waiting an average of 958 days for a response.

In the meantime, more than two-thirds of these borrowers say they’ve struggled to get financing for a car or a home. More than 60% have delayed plans to return to school. In addition, more than 47% say they’ve put off a major life decision, like getting married or having children.

Perhaps most “alarming,” according to Eileen Connor, the director of litigation at the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School, which is representing the borrowers: 96% of these borrowers say they’re lives are worse off now than before they attended a for-profit college.

“It’s a wake up call for everyone about how we are managing the federal student-loan program,” Connor said. “It’s not what we like to think and what we tell people about how higher education will make your life better.”

The troubling picture comes as part of documents filed Tuesday in a lawsuit alleging that the Department and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos are illegally stalling on debt-cancellation claims. The suit, which was originally filed last month, is part of a broader years-long battle over a law known as borrower defense, which allows borrowers who have been scammed by their schools to have their federal debts forgiven.

The law, which has been on the books since the 1990s, was rarely used until 2015 when borrowers who attended the now-defunct, for-profit school, Corinthian Colleges, began clamoring for relief. In response to pressure from those debtors and a group of activists who organized them, the Obama administration created a process borrowers could use to file claims under the law.

The Department of Education under Betsy DeVos has tried unsuccessfully to rewrite the borrower-defense rules. In the meantime, a backlog of claims from borrowers has accumulated; government data indicate that the number of pending claims grew to more than 158,000 as of Dec. 31, 2018.

In the past, Department officials have blamed ongoing legal battles over the Trump administration’s approach to the borrower-defense rule for the delay in processing claims. After a for-profit college association sued the government over the rule, the Department under DeVos, delayed implementing the Obama-era regulation.

Last fall, a judge ruled the delays were illegal and that the 2016 law should take effect. The lawsuit filed by the for-profit college association is still pending, but the association has dropped all of its claims related to the debt-relief process.

“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,” Liz Hill, a Department spokeswoman, wrote in a June statement in response to the lawsuit.

Hill added that the Obama administration had “no real process” for reviewing the claims, which has contributed to the agency’s delay in reviewing the claims. “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,” Hill wrote at the time.

‘Overwhelmed by the response’

When they filed the lawsuit, lawyers from the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard Law School and Housing and Economic Rights Advocates, who are representing the borrowers, provided an online form for those affected to submit testimony. In the roughly one month since, they’ve received 892 affidavits.

“I am personally overwhelmed by the response,” Connor said. “For people to take the time to submit this testimony really speaks to how important it is to them that people understand their situation.”

The documents paint a picture of a group of borrowers who took on loans to attend college in hopes of a better future only to wind up with debt and little benefit to show for it. Many of the affidavits mention how the debt has prevented them from making a major purchase, like a home or car, delayed life events, like marriage or children and made it more difficult or nearly impossible for them to return to school.

“I work constantly now in a job I hate that has nothing to do with the education I was trying to get and it leaves me no time to pursue the career I spent over $100,000 on an education that is now worthless,” wrote Brian Tracey, who attended the now-defunct Art Institutes. “I’m still trying to catch up to where I was financially just after leaving active duty military and before losing so much to this predatory school.”

“I work 13- to 14-hour days just to make sure I don’t end up homeless,” wrote Karli Cannon, who took on $80,000 in federal student loans to attend ITT. “I was told that an education would bring me a brighter future, instead it has ruined me.”

Other borrowers expressed a lack of faith in their government for allowing them to borrow funds to attend a predatory college and failing to make them whole after they say they were scammed. Nearly 85% of borrowers who filed testimony said they’d lost faith that the government will protect students.

“They claim I’m looking to dodge my responsibilities,” wrote Ashley Goodman, who took on more than $55,000 in federal student loans to attend the Art Institutes. “I don’t feel like I should pay for an education I never received. It would be like me driving a van, then the van was recalled and taken away by the company that provided it. But they still want me to pay for it, even though they took it away.”

For Marler, who was one of the nearly 900 borrowers to file an affidavit, submitting the document was one of the few avenues she had left to draw attention to the challenges she and other borrowers are facing, she said.

“There’s a lot of people that are in limbo like me that want to go on with their lives and do something with themselves,” she said. “But when you already have debt for something you can’t even use, it’s disheartening.”

Harvard Law School clinicians testify on legislation supporting tenants in eviction cases

Via Harvard Law Today 

By: Alexis Farmer

Credit: Lorin Granger
Boston Mayor Marty Walsh speaks in front of the Joint Committee on the Judiciary.

Four Harvard Law School clinicians—Esme Caramello, Patricia Whiting and Nicole Summers from the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau (HLAB) and Shelley Barron from the Tenant Advocacy Project (TAP)—presented testimony before the Massachusetts Joint Committee on the Judiciary on a series of housing bills aimed at tenants facing eviction.

On July 16, the clinicians provided remarks in support of bills requiring tenants facing eviction to have a right to counsel and sealing eviction records. HLAB testified against four rent escrow bills. Nearly 100 people, including community organizers, legal aid lawyers, legislators, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh attended the hearing.

Right to Counsel

In 2018, more than 92% of tenants who faced eviction were unrepresented according to the Massachusetts Right to Counsel Coalition. Unable to afford an attorney, most tenants represent themselves, even though they are often unfamiliar with the legalese and processes of the court. Legal services organizations like HLAB, TAP and the Housing Law Clinic at the Legal Services Center (LSC) fill in the gap by providing pro bono representation to tenants, but they say their limited capacity constrains them from taking on the number of clients that request their services.

Credit: Lorin Granger
Clinical Instructor Shelley Barron testifies in front of the Joint Committee of the Judiciary. Seated to her right is Annette Duke, Staff Attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

Rep. David M. Rogers (D-Middlesex), Rep. Chynah Tyler (D-Suffolk),and Sen. Sal DiDomenico (D-Everett) are sponsoring bills that would ensure the right to counsel in eviction proceedings. If a tenant cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for them, similar to defendants in criminal cases. Studies in Massachusetts and other stateshave shown that tenants with representation have a better chance of reaching agreements with landlords to stay in their homes and avoid having an eviction on their record.

Also in favor of the resolution was TAP Clinical Instructor Shelley Barron. She told the committee, “low-income tenants should have a fair and meaningful chance at preserving their affordable housing. The right to a legal advocate will go a long way to ensuring access to justice for low-income tenants in the Commonwealth.” She also stated lawyers can help tenants before problems escalate to the point of court intervention.

Credit: Lorin Granger
Nicole Summers (right) testifying in front of the Joint Committee of the Judiciary. Seated to the left is Andrea Nickerson, a tenant in Boston public housing.

Challengers questioned whether the state should be funding legal representation for one side of the case. Supporters argued that the bill includes provisions for low-income landlords to have a right to counsel. Barron says, “A right to counsel is not the only policy option to help keep families housed, but studies have indicated it is a concrete way to reduce homelessness. It’s also a matter of dignity, of ensuring that vulnerable tenants have a voice in an overwhelming and imbalanced system.”

Mayor Walsh urged the committee to look seriously into the legislation, stating that, “this is not about stacking the deck in favor of a tenant, it’s about ensuring equal justice under the law.” HLAB Clinical Instructor Nicole Summers suggested a plan of implementation to ensure courts and legal service providers have time to adjust.

Other bills that ensure a right to counsel include H. 1537 and S. 913.

The HOMES Act—An Act Promoting Housing Opportunity and Mobility Through Eviction Sealing

The HOMES Act (H.3566/S.824) sponsored by Rep. Michael J. Moran (D-Suffolk) and Sen. Joseph Boncore, (D-Suffolk and Middlesex) would seal eviction proceedings. In a study by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) at least 1 million eviction cases have been filed in Massachusetts since 1988. The records of those eviction cases remain online forever, regardless of the outcome.

Credit: Lorin Granger
Clinical Faculty Director and Clinical Professor of Law Esme Caramello testifies in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

Credit: Lorin Granger
Andrea Park, Staff Attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

The “Scarlet E,” as it’s known, is said to create barriers to housing, allowing prospective landlords to reject potential tenants. Records of an eviction can also impact tenants’ credit scores, their ability to secure loans, and employment opportunities. The HOMES Act would seal eviction cases once they are filed and would only be unsealed when a judge makes a ruling and finds fault, such as if a tenant has failed to pay rent or violated a condition of their lease. Eviction case records would be publicly available for three years then sealed. Sealed records could be released for governmental, journalistic, or research purposes. The bill would also make it illegal to name minors or others not responsible for rent as a defendant in an eviction case.

Mayor Walsh, Boston City Council Representative Lydia Edwards, the ACLU of Massachusetts, community organizations like the Chelsea Collaborative and even a few landlords supported the bill. Tenants and lawyers shared experiences about the damaging consequences an eviction record can have on finding new housing for veterans, domestic violence survivors, individuals with disabilities, college-bound students, and low-income women of color. Esme Caramello, Clinical Professor and Faculty Director of HLAB, pushed the urgency of the issue, calling it an “an invisible crisis.”

Opponents say that eviction records hold important information for landlords about the past behavior of potential tenants. Landlords in favor of the bill listed alternative ways of getting the same information to check the credibility of potential clients, such as a credit checks. Caramello says the act would protect tenants from being unfairly branded with an eviction record for the rest of their lives. “The idea is that even if we made a mistake or fall on hard times, we can move on with our lives at some point,” she told the committee.

Rent Escrow

Clinical Instructor Pattie Whiting spoke out against four rent escrow bills being considered by the committee, including one sponsored by Nicolas Boldyga (R-Hampden). Massachusetts law allows tenants to withhold rent when the landlord fails to make necessary repairs or address sanitary code violations. The statute that the mandatory rent escrow bills seek to amend, is a crucial tool for ensuring that residential rental properties are kept in habitable condition, Whiting said. As currently written, the statute provides both a mechanism for tenants to enforce the State Sanitary Code and a disincentive for landlords to let properties fall into disrepair.

Whiting argued that the proposed legislation imposes additional and unnecessary procedural prerequisites on tenants seeking to withhold rent and/or raise their poor living conditions as a defense to an eviction action. For example, requiring a board of health inspection report prior to withholding, requiring a second written notice to the landlord after the board of health inspection, and escrowing all of the rent claimed to be due by the landlord. “The vast majority of tenants would not be able to comply with these procedural requirements,” Whiting said, “particularly those who are disabled, illiterate or who do not speak English.” If a tenant failed to comply with the law as proposed, they would be denied the right to present their case in court, which advocates say undermines the statutory intent of ensuring that residential dwellings are maintained in habitable condition.

A Large Base of Support

Barron left the hearing hopeful. “Often for housing legislation, we’re playing defensively…but today we were pushing for exciting innovations and trying to improve access to justice for low-income tenants,” she said. Barron and Caramello were both encouraged by the large turnout of tenants, community groups, and government officials. Caramello noted, “The packed hearing highlighted the urgency of the work of building fairness into our lopsided eviction system.”

The committee will decide which bills will be reported out of the committee and advance to the floor for a vote. The last day for the formal session of the legislature is November 20.

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/…

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