Clinical and Pro Bono Programs

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HLS Clinic Launches Mattapan Initiative to Avert Foreclosures

L-R: Julia Devanthery, Roger Bertling, Maureen McDonagh, Charlie Carrier and Brandon German

HLS News, recently profiled the efforts of the Mattapan Initiative, a program dedicated to combating foreclosures in Mattapan:

With a $415,000 grant from the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office—and the help of a groundbreaking new law that offers homeowners strong pre-foreclosure protections—the HLS WilmerHale Legal Services Center (LSC) has launched a new program to help fight foreclosures in Mattapan, one of Boston’s most challenged neighborhoods.

The Mattapan Initiative, which will have a special focus on pre-foreclosure efforts as well as expanding post-foreclosure work, is under the direction of Roger Bertling, a Senior Clinical Instructor and Director of the LSC’s Predatory Lending and Consumer Protection Unit. The grant has provided for the hiring of two full-time attorneys with expertise in fighting foreclosures as well as a community outreach coordinator to inform Mattapan residents of the initiative and their rights under the new law.

“We feel very fortunate that the money came in at the same time the law came into place,” says Bertling, who has been supervising HLS students in anti-foreclosure work at LSC since the foreclosure crisis first emerged over six years ago. “It places us in the forefront of people doing [anti-foreclosure] work, and in keeping with the tradition of LSC being at the edge of where legal work meets community need.”

In February 2012, 49 state attorneys general and the federal government announced an historic $25 billion settlement with the country’s five largest mortgage servicers over fraudulent mortgage practices. In addition to direct payments to some former homeowners, the settlement also provided funds to the states; Massachusetts, which received $44.5 million, has used some of the money to establish the AG’s HomeCorps program and for anti-foreclosure grants.

“These grants are designed to help Massachusetts homeowners impacted by the foreclosure crisis with direct financial and legal assistance,” says Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, “and Harvard Law School—through the Mattapan Initiative—is doing just that. We are pleased to see this funding being used for critical foreclosure prevention efforts and mitigation services as we work to stabilize communities across the Commonwealth.”

Meanwhile, the new state law—unlike any other in the country, Bertling says—offers homeowners who’ve been victimized by predatory loans strong new protections including requiring lenders to offer loan modifications before they can proceed with foreclosure, in many circumstances. In the past, homeowners usually had to wait until foreclosure began to have any success in fighting back. The Act Preventing Unnecessary and Unlawful Foreclosures was passed by the Massachusetts legislature last August, and the Mattapan Initiative will be at the leading edge of making sure banks comply with it, Bertling says.

“It puts another tool in the legal services attorney’s tool box for getting the homeowner some leverage so they can stay in their home at an affordable payment, which is our goal,” adds Charlie Carriere, who was hired as a clinical fellow in the Predatory Lending Practice through the grant to focus on pre-foreclosure cases. Carriere joined the Mattapan Initiative in March after serving as a clinical fellow at the California Monitor Program, where his work focused on enforcement of the National Mortgage Settlement.

Since launching in March, the Mattapan Initiative has interviewed scores of Mattapan residents, although full representation of most of them has been on hold until recently, when the precise parameters of the law became clear. Brandon German, a marketing expert with community organizing experience hired with the grant funds to head community outreach for the Initiative, has been going door-to-door in Mattapan to inform residents of the new law and the work of the LSC, as well as attending community events and holding information sessions. “Our whole goal is to find people before they are displaced,” he says. “We want to prevent displacement and homelessness, and protect neighborhoods.” His message has been enthusiastically received, he says, although the biggest hurdle is convincing homeowners that LSC doesn’t charge them for its legal services.

Now that regulations related to the act were finally promulgated, in June, Bertling expects pre-foreclosure legal activity to ratchet up in the next weeks as lenders and attorneys react to the new requirements—just in time for the clinical students in the new academic year. Starting in the fall, students in two LSC units—the predatory lending/consumer unit and the post-foreclosure housing unit—will participate in the Mattapan Initiative, presenting them with exceptional education opportunities, Bertling says.

“They will be looking at an entirely new law with new regulations that no one has interpreted before,” says Bertling. “There is no case law. So it’s a whole new version of learning the law, with no precedent to rely on. They’ll have to figure out what the law means and how it will be implemented. That’s a rare opportunity.”

HLS is a national leader in fighting the foreclosure crisis. Both LSC and the Harvard Legal Aid Bureau have been working for years to assist tenants and homeowners fight wrongful evictions, especially since the foreclosure crisis of 2008, including through the nationally renowned Project No One Leaves, launched by two former bureau students.

The Mattapan Initiative is an expansion of those efforts, with a unique slant: focusing on particular section of Boston. Bertling says they chose to focus on Mattapan for a number of reasons, including that it is a traditionally underserved area, has an overwhelming minority population—primarily African-American and Haitian-American—that have difficulty accessing legal help, and has an unusually high percentage of single-family homes for Boston.

“Folks are still struggling and bearing the brunt of these incredibly predatory loans made some time ago that only now are rearing their ugly heads and making it so families can’t make their mortgage payments, which sets off the foreclosure process,” says Julia Devanthéry, who was hired with the grant money as a staff attorney for the Initiative, and will focus on post-foreclosure work in Mattapan.  “The roots of this crisis are in the bad loans that were made in a totally deregulated environment and were predatory to begin with, and were never meant to succeed.”

“It’s a really exciting opportunity for all of us,” says Bertling. “We have a longstanding, great relationship with the [state] Attorney General’s office, and this is another way they’re showing how highly they think of our work.”

Read more: Hope for homeowners facing foreclosure in Mattapan from the July 30, 2013 Boston Globe.

By Elaine McCardle

The Mattapan Initiative was also profiled on August 1, 2013 in the Dorchester Reporter.

Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic co-hosts EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy

By Molly Gibson, OCP Summer Intern 2013

Gina McCarthy, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency

Gina McCarthy, newly confirmed Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, spoke at HLS Tuesday about the many successes the EPA has achieved in its forty-three year history, as well as the challenges she envisions for its future.

Following remarks from Dean Martha Minow, McCarthy was introduced by her daughter, Maggie McCarey, a program coordinator for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection. For McCarthy, a Boston area native, the event was an opportunity to return to her roots. She spoke about the EPA’s interventions in local industrial communities like Lowell, where textile factory runoff used to turn the river yellow, red, or blue—depending on what dyes were being used.

During the address—McCarthy’s first as Administrator—she reflected on the importance of striving toward sustainability for future generations. McCarthy stressed the need to consider climate change solutions as a fundamental part of the country’s “economic agenda,” rather than a detriment to economic progress. She pointed to both the Clean Air Act and the Brownfields program as examples of how environmental regulations can spark job growth.

Slashing carbon pollution will be McCarthy’s biggest test while at the helm of the EPA, yet she was confident about the organization’s ability to rise to the challenge. “Climate change will not be resolved overnight. But it will be engaged over the next three years. That I can promise you.”

Michael Gregory Discusses Education Law/Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative with HLS Summer Interns

By Molly Gibson, OCP Summer Intern 2013

Michael Gregory, Assistant Clinical Professor of Law

The Office of Clinical and Pro Bono Programs’ Summer Speaker Series gives undergraduate and law school interns a chance to learn about the exciting work done by members of the HLS community.

In the sixth installment of the series, Mike Gregory spoke to interns about his work in the Education Law Clinic of the Trauma Learning and Policy Initiative (TLPI). Prof. Gregory discussed the many intersections of trauma and special education, the types of cases the clinic takes on, as well as the clinic’s broader administrative and legislative advocacy efforts.

The series wraps up next Tuesday at noon in WCC 3038 with a talk from ACLU staff attorney (and HLS alum) Jessie Rossman.

Shareholder Rights Project Openings

Are you planning on working in corporate law? Interested in getting clinical experience working on corporate law and corporate governance matters? The Shareholder Rights Project is seeking participants for its 2013-2014 clinical program. The Shareholder Rights program, taught by Professor Lucian Bebchuk and Scott Hirst, provides students with the opportunity to obtain hands-on experience with shareholder rights work. The SRP works on behalf of public pension funds and charitable organizations seeking to improve corporate governance at publicly traded companies in which they are shareowners, as well as on research and policy projects related to corporate governance. Enrollment requires an application process and is open to Harvard Law School 2L, 3L and LLM students who have taken Corporations or are taking Corporations in the Fall term. LLM students with prior corporate experience may speak with the instructor about waiving this requirement.

To apply, students must submit a statement of interest (maximum 200 words), a resume, an academic transcript (unofficial or official) and can elect to submit a writing sample of no more than 15 pages (one sample only). Applications should be addressed to the instructors and submitted to Emily Lewis at  emlewis at law.harvard.edu. Applications will be considered on a rolling basis, and interested students are encouraged to apply as early as possible.

For questions, please contact Emily Lewis, the Administrative Director of the Shareholder Rights Program at  emlewis at law.harvard.edu.

Course Description: http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/cur…
Clinic description: http://www.law.harvard.edu/academics/cur…
Program Website: http://srp.law.harvard.edu/

Oh the Difference Representation Can Make

By Garrett Bych (Student Legal Advocate, Administrative/Disability Clinic, WilmerHale Legal Services Center)

Garrett Bych, Summer Legal Advocate 2013

Let’s assume that you have a serious physical disability that prevents you from working. You have two daughters dependent upon your care and you want to go back to work so that you can support them, but you simply can’t. Physical labor is too intensive, and you can’t stay seated long enough to complete sedentary work.  So what do you do? You end up heading down to your local Social Security office one afternoon and you apply for disability benefits. You work a few odd jobs in the meantime just to put food on the table, but after 3-4 months, your disability claim is denied. You quickly file for reconsideration, but when that doesn’t pan out; you wonder if you have any options left.

Social Security tells you that you can file for a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge, but that it usually takes more than 6 months just to be scheduled. You follow their advice, and you decide to contact a public service organization to help you with your disability claim.

It is important to establish at this point just what such a public service organization can do. When claimants are first accepted as clients by the Legal Services Center, they often have very strong cases but simply no one to represent them. They are some of the most kind-hearted people you will ever meet, and they are in desperate need of financial help due to unfortunate circumstances and in many cases, a lack of opportunity.   They are not familiar with how Social Security Disability Claims work, and thus their applications may sit unprocessed in the system for weeks, months or even years. As previously stated, these individuals cannot afford to wait weeks, months or years for decisions. They are out of work and in dire need of monetary support. Some clients go back to work part-time even though it makes their respective conditions worse because by doing so, they can at least put some food on the table and pay a little bit of rent.

Unfortunately, their troubles are not magically whisked away by being put on retainer with a public service organization. However, the Legal Services Center can be extremely helpful when it comes to understanding how the Social Security Administration works, and when they may need a good shove in the right direction. The Administrative/Disability Clinic at the Legal Services Center specializes in helping clients at the hearing stage of their claim, which means that we at the Center use medical evidence to build the case of our client and then argue that case at a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge.

Let’s return now to the previously described case. Our client came to us after being denied reconsideration, and we built his case and prepared for his hearing. Unfortunately, he received an unfavorable decision from the judge. We quickly appealed the decision. A couple of years later (no that is not a typo) our client was finally approved for disability benefits- with a catch. When an individual is approved for benefits, these benefits often come in two forms: a monthly check for benefits and a gross retroactive check, or back-payment, that covers the entire period since the individual claimed he or she was disabled. For instance, if you applied for benefits and said you had been disabled since 2006, if you get approved in 2011, you will get one check covering all of the monthly benefits you have missed since 2006 when you became disabled. For our specific case, Social Security decided that they would withhold $500 every month from our client’s monthly check in order to pay out child support. This would have made perfect sense, if the back payment our client received hadn’t already covered the child support. After two more years of fighting with Social Security, our client received a letter this past week approving his family for just under $100,000 in retroactive benefits from his disability claim. These benefits can not only solve the child support case, but actually help put his kids through college down the line. For families that may be struggling to put food on the table on a week by week basis, it can not be overstated how important these benefits are.

Without representation, over 70% of applicants for disability benefits will be denied. Even with representation, getting approved by the Social Security Administration is no easy task, as highlighted by the case above which is still open 5 years after our client’s initial application. Even though this case initially began in 2008 and was not fully resolved until 2013, on weeks like this one, you must celebrate any victory, and this is no small victory for a worthy individual and his representatives. Social Security got this one right, and all it took was a good shove in the right direction.

Supervisor’s note:  Some of the HLS students who contributed significantly to the success of this case are Haben Girma ’13, Alex Smith ’13, Jhoshua Friedman ’12, Stephanie Neely ’12 and Rajan Sonik ‘12

 

Six day guardianship trial a success for Bureau client

By Brad Jenkins (JD ’13)

Brad Jenkins (JD ’13)

In 2008, our client gave birth to her son. She was 19 years old.  That same year, our client was arrested for a crime for which she was later acquitted.  She was also in an abusive relationship with the father of her child, who was convicted of assault and battery against her.  After her charge was resolved, DCF became involved because of allegations of neglect.  Our client did not have stable housing, was moving from place to place, and did not have a high school diploma.  Due to her difficult circumstances, she voluntarily assented to a guardianship for her son with the paternal grandmother acting as a guardian.

For the next several years, our client embarked on an extensive process to achieve the stability necessary to serve as her son’s primary custodian.  By agreement, a progressive parenting plan was established by which she gained successively more parenting time with her son.  For the 10 months prior to trial, she had custody of her son for three full days per week.  She also obtained stable housing, got her GED and a medical assistant certificate, and successfully extricated herself from the relationships and behaviors that had given DCF concerns.  However, despite her remarkable progress, the guardian refused to continue with the progressive transition of custody and objected to the termination of the guardianship.
 
Over the course of a six day trial, we presented evidence of our client’s progress as well as the now central role that she played in her son’s life.  The guardian tried to emphasize our client’s past, attacked the character of our client’s current partner, and argued that she was a preferable custodian for the child. However, the judge credited the substantial positive role that our client and her partner play in the child’s life, and ultimately found that the guardianship should be dissolved because our client was fit to resume her parental responsibilities.
 
 

Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic & Harvard Food Law Society Publish Updated 2013 Food Law and Policy Career Guide

Via the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic:

The Food Law and Policy Clinic at Harvard Law School is pleased to announce the release of the second edition of the Food Law and Policy Career Guide. The area of food law is growing rapidly, with more employment opportunities for lawyers being created each year. The second edition of the Food Law and Policy Career Guide includes new information on opportunities at universities, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and law firms, as well as a list of food listservs that educate, promote discussion, and provide information on job opportunities. The 2013 edition also includes a new section about consulting firms.


Standing Room Only at PLAP Solitary Confinement Panel

PLAP Panel AudienceBy Jacob Alderdice, J.D. ’14

Watch a video of the event

Solitary confinement in prison, a practice under scrutiny for hundreds of years, continues to be widespread here in Massachusetts and across the United States.  On Monday, February 25th, the Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Project (PLAP), along with several co-sponsors, hosted a panel on solitary confinement.  HLS students and PLAP Policy Coordinators Jeanne Segil ’14 and Sia Henry ’14 put the event together, assembling a panel of experts that encompassed several sides of the opposition to this practice.

Austin West was standing room only as over one hundred students, activists, and outside community members came to see the panel moderated by Matthew Segal, the Legal Director of the ACLU Foundation of Massachusetts.  The panel included Professor Jules Lobel, the President of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Mikail Deveaux, the Director of Citizens Against Recidivism, Dr. Stuart Grassian, an expert in the psychological effects of solitary confinement, and Bobby Dellelo, an advocate who has spent five years in solitary confinement in Massachusetts prison.

Photo Credit: Tony Irving Photography

A powerful and moving conversation ensued among the five men.  Mr. Deveaux set the tone for the night by reminding the audience to think of incarcerated individuals as people, not just as prisoners.  He acknowledged that even advocates can have a “they’re not us” mentality about inmates, which can keep the public at large from seeing them as human beings.  Professor Lobel discussed his legal work in the area, including the CCR’s recent lawsuit against Pelican Bay State Prison in California, in which 500 inmates have been in solitary confinement for over ten years.  He lamented the lack of courts’ recognition of prisoners’ mental anguish and suffering, a feeling shared by Dr. Grassian.

Dr. Grassian pointed to the multitude of research on the severe and debilitating effects of confinement, spanning from colonial America to present day.  While Dr. Grassian spoke of the research into the “torture” of solitary confinement that is “far greater than physical pain,” Bobby Dellelo confirmed this for the audience by sharing his experiences.  Mr. Dellelo spoke about the five years that he spent in complete isolation in Massachusetts prison, describing how he felt himself going crazy leading to an inability to interact with other people.

At the end of their talk, when Professor Lobel and Dr. Grassian were talking about what needed to be done to achieve legal victories, Mr. DeVeaux jumped in with a challenge to everyone present.  He said that change would come “if the general public were more aware” of the issue, and exhorted everyone to get involved.  Matthew Segal answered the challenge by inviting advocates in the audience to speak about their work, and their links are below.

Prisoners’ Legal Services
Physicians for Human Rights
American Friends Service Committee
Between the Bars

Related Links:
New Yorker article on Bobby Dellelo (and Solitary Confinement Generally)
Huffington Post article on Pelican Bay Lawsuit

Read the full article in the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review.

HLS Grad Praises Clinical Experience

Recent HLS graduate Nick McDaniel reflects on the value of his experience at the Emmett Environmental Law and Policy Clinic. Watch for more recent grad reflections.

Hi Dean Minow,

My name is Nick McDaniel, and I’m a 2011 HLS graduate and a current Environmental Law Fellow at the Environmental Law and Policy Center.  I wanted to drop you a quick note to say hello, and also to sing the praises of the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic.  The clinic was an important part of my time in law school, and it provided me amazing experience.  Now that I’m practicing and litigating significant energy and environmental cases in my fellowship, I realize even more how important that experience was in preparing me for what I’m doing now.

I chose the ELPC fellowship after my clerkship in part because I knew that I would get extensive litigation experience right away, and that has proven to be the case – I’ve performed discovery, drafted and argued pretrial motions, and deposed and cross-examined utility expert witnesses in important renewable energy and energy efficiency cases.  I feel like I’ve been very prepared for this responsibility and autonomy because of my 3-4 semesters with the clinic (one semester was an externship with DOJ Environment and Natural Resources Division).  I spent most of my time on our representation of small renewable energy contractors challenging electrical licensure requirements for solar photovoltaic projects – interacting with clients, performing discovery, and drafting motions and briefs.  After graduation and before starting into the serious bar-studying, I had the amazing experience of drafting and arguing our opposition to the Massachusetts AG’s motion to dismiss in our declaratory judgment action in Superior Court.  (I’ve stayed up-to-date to know that we won both our opposition motion and ultimately summary judgment).  I can’t imagine that all clinic experiences include opportunities like these.

Wendy and Shaun do an amazing job, and both have continued to serve as mentors to me as I’m beginning my career.  They’ve been invaluable resources for me in giving advice and support in my various job searches and in my practice.  Anyway, I’m sorry for this being a longer note than I planned to write, but I thought you might appreciate hearing about one alumn’s great clinic experience.

Thanks,
Nick

PLAP Panel on Solitary Confinement

Today: Prison Legal Assistance Project Panel on Solitary Confinement

5:00-7:00 PM

Austin Hall, West Classroom, Harvard Law School.

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