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Clinic Director's Note (Spring '21)
headshot of Beth Lyon

Beth Lyon, Clinical Professor of Law, Associate Dean for Experiential Education, Clinical Program Director, and Director of the Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic

As the COVID-19 vaccine slowly transforms lives and the last traces of the early April snowstorm melt, the Cornell Law School Clinical Program has renewed resources for supporting clients and community partners to address historic injustice and new challenges.

We had many causes for celebration over the winter, including the release of Juvenile Justice Clinic client Anthony Enriquez, granted parole by the South Carolina Parole Board after serving nearly twenty-seven years in prison for a homicide that took place when he was sixteen years old. An Asylum and Convention Against Torture Clinic client was released from immigration detention and prevailed on her appeal, leaving her safer and better equipped to pursue asylum from the persecution she faced as a trans woman in her home country. Through the hard work of the 1L Immigration & Advocacy Clinic, a Cornell alumnus was able to return to his home country and see his father for the first time in nine years, secure in the knowledge that he would be able to return to the United States.

We mourned when International Human Rights Clinic client Lisa Montgomery’s long quest for justice ended in an eleventh-hour execution a little more than a week before the change in presidential administration. Professor Sandra Babcock’s powerful piece in the newsletter describes the international campaign to prevent the execution and the continuing work to prevent future executions of domestic violence survivors. Countless students, staff and faculty threw  themselves into this important case.

Racial justice work continued and expanded over the winter, as the new Movement Lawyering Practicum provided legal support to racial justice campaigns across the country, and the Labor Law Clinic represented increasing numbers of workers who were terminated from their employment owing to race and national origin discrimination. Together with Professor Chantal Thomas and Dr. Shannon Gleeson, five immigration clinicians launched a new seminar on Critical Perspectives: Racism, Xenophobia and Im/migration.

The new Tenants Advocacy Practicum helped numerous Tompkins County tenants navigate the rapidly shifting landscape of pandemic rental laws, and the Entrepreneurship Law Clinic continued to provide critical support to for-profit businesses, social enterprises and non-profit organizations, many of which were formed in 2020 to address issues related to the global pandemic and social justice concerns in the U.S.

On March 13, we took stock of the tumultuous year since the day we shut the clinic doors and moved online. Every month has seen a shift in operations to accommodate changing public health conditions and clinic needs, and the program performed in every way. Clinical Program staff members April Denman, Elizabeth Gilbert, Susan Tosto and undergraduate assistants Connie Liu and Carina Suarez (Kara Gibson is on leave, deployed with the Air Force Reserves) have all returned to work in-person, maintaining a carefully monitored workspace, supporting ever-increasing casework, and administering our in-person visitor policy to facilitate client visits for video trials, mediations, and will signings. While all this was going on, the staff also worked with faculty and our communications team on a major facelift of the clinical program content for the new law school website.

It’s hard to exaggerate the importance of the weather to our operations in the pandemic. With the March thaw, we could enjoy outdoor in-person gatherings and expand opportunities for safely working with clients. As part of preparing their clients – a deeply traumatized mother and two children – for court, a Gender Justice and Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic team held a bonfire. The client counseling treatises do not tell us whether there is a causal connection between a teenager learning to make S’mores from their student attorneys, and then digging deep on redirect for difficult details to maintain the judge’s confidence. And yet, that was the sequence of events, and both teenagers are now on a path to secure immigration status.

You will read about many of these and other developments in this issue of our clinical newsletter. And, as always, please do stop in and see us if you find yourself here “high above Cayuga’s waters.”

Walk gently,

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