New beginnings are this newsletter’s theme. We are proud of Capital Punishment Clinic alumna Keisha Hudson and wish her well as she steps into the role of Philadelphia’s Chief Public Defender. In times that continue to be volatile, we welcomed good news as advocacy by the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide and the International Human Rights Clinic helped lay the groundwork for a recent Malawi Supreme Court ruling abolishing capital punishment there. Many clients had new opportunities, including Asylum and Convention Against Torture Clinic client Dr. Merlys Rodriguez Hernandez, a medical doctor from Cuba who won release from immigration detention after advocating to prevent the spread of COVID in the facility. Successful First Amendment Clinic advocacy energized research and journalism by uncovering previously withheld information. Through an intensive, cross-clinic effort, faculty and students filed 75 humanitarian parole petitions for people fleeing Afghanistan, forming the basis of a new spring clinic.
Fall 2021 was also a new beginning in the Clinical Program, as nearly everyone returned to the campus in person, sparking the next wave of “pandemic pedagogy” and innovation in work with clients, communities, and adjudicators. As classes and teams met outside under the large tent that has taken up long term residence in the courtyard, the positive energy was palpable. Students and faculty who had worked together for many months met in person for the first time. At an in-person court hearing in August, a judge asked a student how it felt to be in the courtroom for her first time. She responded, “everyone is taller than they seemed on Zoom.” As the new semester unfolded, we also felt the absence of colleagues and classmates who cannot safely join us in person. Discussions centered on both the inequitable impact of the pandemic and the joy many had experienced reconnecting with loved ones over the summer.
Throughout the sunshine-drenched fall, case teams found ways to preserve client confidentiality while meeting outdoors. With trial and error, we developed etiquette for indoor classes and meetings – One mask, or two? OK to have food and drink? Windows open or closed? Students delicately broached the subject of vaccines and COVID tests with clients and witnesses as they worked to comply with university mandates, bumping some virtual hearings offsite into community spaces in Ithaca. All these adjustments, made possible by vigilant COVID monitoring and seemingly boundless patience by all concerned, has re-filled the clinic with the sounds of a busy law office: meetings, phone calls, printers, and best of all, laughter.
You will read about these and many other developments in this issue of our clinical newsletter. And, as always, please stop in and see us if you find yourself here “high above Cayuga’s waters.”
Beth Lyon, Clinical Professor of Law, Associate Dean for Experiential Education, Clinical Program Director, and Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic faculty member