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Clinical Program Faculty Updates for Spring '23

1L Immigration Law & Advocacy Clinic

Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer, Associate Clinical Professor of Law
Alisa Whitfield, Adjunct Clinical Professor of Law

headshot of Jakki Kelley-Widmer

Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer

In spring 2023, the 1L Immigration Law and Advocacy Clinic welcomed Alisa Whitfield, adjunct clinical professor of law, to the teaching team. Whitfield brings more than a decade of experience working with immigrants and refugees around the world, including particularly vulnerable communities such as the detained and those with mental capacity differences. She also currently serves as a staff attorney supporting the International Programs team at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). See more about Whitfield below. In addition, our teaching assistant, Don Izekor ’23, brings boundless enthusiasm and helpful experience from his own time in the 1L clinic and beyond.

This semester, we have eight first-year clinic students working in pairs to represent a family of four siblings living in upstate New York. Each client is seeking asylum for similar reasons, but each must file an independent case. 1L clinic students are conducting fact investigation, including through client interviews, and working on the legal briefing in collaboration with advanced students from the Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate and the Afghan Assistance clinics. Additionally, we are looking forward to our spring break service trip, which has returned for the first time since the pandemic. Clinic students, their supervisors, and several advanced students and interpreters will travel to rural Louisiana to assist detained immigrants through a partnership with the Southeast Immigrant Freedom Initiative of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Students will work in three different facilities, delivering legal orientation programming to immigrant detainees and providing individual legal consults. Further, students are also representing members of the broader Cornell community in applications for DACA renewal and advance parole travel permission. Students are also engaged in advocacy projects including presenting on current legal issues for the Ithaca Sanctuary Alliance and DACA and undocumented students on campus. Finally, the spring and summer 2022 clinic teams saw success on four advance parole cases for Cornell DACA students. Our clients traveled to Mexico, India, and Italy through the travel permission we obtained for them. One client expressed that she was “relieved and thankful” to return to visit her relatives and home country for the first time since she was a small child. We look forward to continuing work on these meaningful projects.

Alisa Whitfield’s Biography

Alisa Whitfield is a staff attorney who supports the International Programs team at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). Alisa has been working with immigrants and refugees since 2011, including internships with Asylum Access in Quito, Ecuador, and with the University of Cape Town’s Refugee Rights Project in Cape Town, South Africa. In the United States, Whitfield worked in removal defense in California for over five years, both as a deportation defense fellow at Van Der Hout LLP, and in the nonprofit sector. Her removal defense work focused on appellate litigation, asylum cases, and working with youth and people with disabilities. From 2017 to 2019, Whitfield was an immigration defense attorney at the Alameda County Public Defender, where she focused on minimizing the immigration consequences of criminal convictions. From 2019 to 2021, she was a clinical teaching fellow at the Immigration Justice Clinic at Cardozo School of Law where she taught immigration law and supervised law students. She received a B.A. in international relations from Stanford University, and a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in Ann Arbor.

Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic

Estelle McKee, Clinical Professor of Law (Lawyering)
Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, Professor of Immigration Law Practice

portrait of Estelle McKee

Estelle McKee

portrait of Steve Yale-Loehr

Steve Yale-Loehr

In spring ’22, the Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic represented a client in a Ninth Circuit petition for review raising a crimmigration issue, withholding of removal, and asylum. Upon submission of the students’ brief, the government moved to hold the case in abeyance to enable the clinic to seek prosecutorial discretion, which advanced student Emily Rivera ’23 is working on this semester.

Students also assisted with a Second Circuit habeas appeal challenging the constitutionality of a statute that mandates detention (with no chance of bond) for aggravated felons during their removal proceedings. That case went to oral argument on January 6, 2023, and a decision is expected in the coming months.

The clinic filed an amicus brief to the Fifth Circuit addressing implicit bias and cross-cultural communication as part of a national strategy to support Black immigrants challenging adverse credibility decisions. The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) subsequently agreed to review its adverse credibility decision and reopened the immigrant’s case.

This spring, the clinic welcomed Neethu Putta, Class of 2019, as an adjunct professor. Neethu, who was a student in the clinic for two semesters, led a team of students briefing a case in the Fifth Circuit on ineffective assistance of counsel and credibility, and an appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”) raising issues related to asylum, withholding, and the Convention Against Torture. Steve and Estelle also supervised four teams challenging removal orders in the BIA and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and a post-remand BIA appeal. Some of these clients were participating in a hunger strike to challenge detention conditions, so students coordinated their representation of these clients with the Asian Law Caucus, the ACLU, and Pangea, who have launched a class action raising retaliation claims on behalf of their clients. To support this litigation, students filed requests for release on behalf of clients and tracked their reports of retaliatory action.

Capital Punishment Clinic

John Blume, Samuel F. Leibowitz Professor of Trial Techniques and Director, Cornell Death Penalty Project
Susan Knight, Adjunct Professor of Law (not pictured)
Sheri Johnson, James and Mark Flanagan Professor of Law
Keir Weyble, Clinical Professor of Law

portrait of John Blume

John Blume

portrait of Sheri Johnson

Sheri Johnson

headshot of Keir Weyble

Keir Weyble

Capital Punishment Clinic students recently assisted in the preparation of a parole packet and presentation to the parole board on behalf of Raymond Patterson. Prior clinic students had assisted in Patterson’s appeals, which ultimately lead to his death sentence being overturned. He was resentenced to life with parole. The South Carolina Parole Board voted to grant Raymond parole, and he was released after serving 37 years in the Department of Corrections. Patterson is happy to be out and is adjusting very well to a significantly changed world. On January 5, John Blume, director of the Capital Punishment Clinic, argued a state constitutional challenge to execution by firing squad and electrocution in the South Carolina Supreme Court. Several weeks later the court remanded the case back to the trial court for additional discovery regarding the Department of Corrections’ efforts to obtain lethal injection drugs.

Estate Planning Practicum

Kate Madigan, Adjunct Professor of Law

Kathryn Grant Madigan on gray background

Kate Madigan

The Estate Planning Practicum has Kate Madigan working with them this semester as an adjunct professor.

Kathryn Grant (Kate) Madigan is Of Counsel and Founder of the Elder Law & Special Needs Group at Levene Gouldin & Thompson in Vestal and Ithaca, New York, and concentrates her law practice in trusts and estates and elder law. Kate graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Colorado at Boulder and received her J.D. from Albany Law School of Union University.

Kate is past president of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) and the youngest and first woman president of the Broome County Bar Association. She serves on the Executive Committees of the NYSBA Trusts & Estates Law Section and Elder Law & Special Needs Section as former chair.

A noted lecturer in estate planning and elder law, leadership and professionalism and work/life balance, Kate is a fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel, fellow of the New York and American Bar Foundations and member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

Kate is chair of the Binghamton University Council, member of the Binghamton Bearcats Athletic Association Board, former keynote and chair of the Annual Celebrating Women’s Athletics Scholarship Event. Trustee of the IOLA Fund of New York and member of the Third Department Judicial Screening Committee, Kate is a life member of the Girl Scouts of America and Varsity “C” Club at CU Boulder. Her son, Jeb Madigan, is a 2009 graduate of Cornell Law School.

First Amendment Clinic

G.S. Hans, Associate Clinical Professor of Law
Mark Jackson, Adjunct Professor of Law
Heather Murray, Managing Attorney of the Local Journalism Project
Christina Neitzey, Stanton Fellow (not pictured)

Gautam Hans on light background

Gautam Hans

headshot of Mark Jackson

Mark Jackson

headshot of Heather Murray

Heather Murray

Last semester, the clinic represented two members of the Geneva, New York, Police Budget Advisory Board who were removed from the board in June of 2022 because of critical statements each of them made with respect to the police department. Clinic students Patrick George ’24, James Pezzullo ’23, and Yifei Yang ’23 wrote portions of an extensive demand letter to the Geneva City Council objecting to the removal of the two members on both due process and First Amendment grounds. After much negotiation with the City Council’s attorney, the Geneva City Council voted at a special meeting to reinstate the two Board members and grant them a full additional year on the board.

In another matter based in Geneva, the clinic and cocounsel Greenberg Traurig LLP finalized a settlement agreement in December 2022 resolving a longstanding libel lawsuit by Massa Construction against citizen journalist James Meaney and his media outlet The Geneva Believer centered around Meaney’s reporting on Massa Construction’s relationship with the City of Geneva. Last year, a trial court granted the clinic’s Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) motion dismissing the lawsuit and awarding our client attorney’s fees. While the matter had been fully briefed in connection with Massa’s appeal to the Appellate Division, the parties agreed to a settlement prior to oral argument. Details of the settlement are confidential, but our client retained his ability to refer to the Supreme Court’s opinion and to fully stand behind his reporting. This matter is now fully resolved. Clinic students who worked on this case included Corby Burger ’20, Michael Mapp ’21, Rob Ward ’21, Kasper Dworzanczyk ’22, and James Pezzullo ’23.

On December 20, the U.S. District Court in Washington, DC, dismissed a libel lawsuit brought by the Hindu American Foundation against a group of its critics, including our client Rutgers University Associate Professor and human rights activist Dr. Audrey Truschke. The decision reinforces the importance of upholding academic freedom and the ability to engage in political discourse in academic and social spaces. Former clinic students Kathryn Rider ’22 and Tim Birchfield ’22, as well as former clinic intern Taylor Kay, contributed to this matter. Davis Wright Tremaine LLP served as cocounsel.

Clinic student Connor Flannery ’23 appeared before Justice Shlomo Hagler of the New York County Supreme Court in December to argue an Article 78 petition the clinic filed on behalf of journalist Janon Fisher. Fisher seeks access to completed questionnaires that candidates for certain New York City court judgeships submit to the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary as part of the mayoral appointment process. The questionnaires reflect information about candidates’ qualifications and fitness to serve as judges. The mayor’s office denied the request in full on safety and privacy grounds. In a ruling from the bench, Justice Hagler granted the clinic’s petition (subject to certain redactions to which the clinic agreed) and ordered the city to release the records. The city appealed this decision, and the clinic will continue representing Fisher on appeal.

Clinic student Andrew Gelfand ’23 and ACLU of Vermont Staff Attorney Harrison Stark argued at the Vermont Supreme Court in January in a case with important implications for access to Vermont public records. In addition to the ACLU, Cornell Doan, PC, served as cocounsel. Clinic student Lauren Kazen ’23 along with Gelfand drafted portions of the briefs.

The clinic and cocounsel the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed a brief on March 2, 2023, challenging fees the Pennsylvania State Police improperly charged to journalist Carter Walker and LNP Media, Inc. to access hate crime data housed with a third-party contractor. Maria Kearns-Galeano ’23 and Matthew Hornung ’24 drafted portions of the brief.

The clinic secured access to wage theft data in late February on behalf of nonprofit news site Documented. The clinic previously filed a lawsuit against the New York Department of Labor to obtain related data and negotiated with the New York Department of Labor regarding several requests. Documented intends to use this data to create a searchable database of employers that the state or federal government has determined stole wages from employees.

Gender Justice Clinic

Elizabeth Brundige, Clinical Professor of Law
Lorelei Lee, Adjunct Professor of Law (not pictured)

headshot of Liz Brundige

Elizabeth Brundige

The Gender Justice Clinic continued its regional human rights advocacy before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on behalf of twenty-seven Veterans who were sexually assaulted while serving in the U.S. military. In November 2022, the Commission ruled that the cases were admissible, affirming that the United States has responsibility under the American Declaration of Human Rights to take reasonable action to prevent such violence; investigate, prosecute, and punish those responsible; and provide adequate compensation. The Clinic and pro bono co-counsel Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP are representing the petitioners in the merits stage of these proceedings, as the Commission determines whether the United States failed to full this responsibility in the petitioners’ cases.

The clinic is continuing to represent a gender justice activist and her family in their affirmative asylum cases, which the clinic first undertook last spring in collaboration with the Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic and the 1L Immigration Law and Advocacy Clinic. It is also representing a feminist youth activist in her affirmative asylum case. Students are coordinating evidence gathering, legal research, and writing in support of these cases.

The clinic is also engaged in a research and advocacy project, undertaken in coordination with the ACLU’s Women’s Rights Project, that seeks to investigate and address gaps and challenges in the Peace Corps’ efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence against its volunteers. This semester, students are drafting a report based on the data collected that aims to identify potential actions to strengthen policies and practices in support of future volunteers. In addition, the clinic is working with its partners at the Southern African Institute for Policy and Research (SAIPAR) to finalize a handbook on anti-gender-based violence law in Zambia for legal and judicial officers. The clinic and SAIPAR plan to launch this practice guide in the fall.

Through the clinic’s Bella Project for People in the Sex Trades, clinic students continue to work on a study of financial discrimination against people in and profiled as being in the sex trades. This sex-worker-led project is undertaken in partnership with Hacking//Hustling, the Colorado Entertainers Union, Lysistrata Mutual Care Collective, and the Max Planck Institute. Data collection in seven cities was led by street-based and drug-using sex workers trained in human subject research ethics, and clinic students are supporting the project with historical and legal research and analysis, with the aim of producing a report that will offer potential interventions codeveloped by clinic students and sex workers. Clinic students are also working with the Sex Laborers Alliance of Massachusetts on research and legislative advocacy in support of two bills seeking decriminalization of sex work in Massachusetts. This semester’s work also includes research on a bill to improve the foster care system for people in the sex trades in Massachusetts that the coalition hopes to file in the 2025 legislative session.

International Human Rights Clinic

Sandra Babcock, Clinical Professor of Law

Professor Sandra Babcock

Sandra Babcock

It has been an eventful year for students and faculty in the International Human Rights Clinic. We have experienced highs and lows: while we prevented the execution of one client, another was sentenced to death after a retrial. Our losses teach us that the work we do isn’t always about winning big cases, but about standing with our clients during some of the most difficult moments in their lives.

The highlight of the year was winning a stay of execution for Melissa Lucio, a clinic client who had been sentenced to death in Texas for a crime she did not commit. The clinic obtained precautionary measures from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, helped prepare a clemency petition for Melissa, and organized letters of support from advocates working to protect victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Clinic students played a critical role in this effort. Their most significant contribution was obtaining statements from several jurors who believed that Lucio’s death sentence should be commuted. Clinic students, including Camilah Hamideh ’22, Arisa Herman ’23, Sophie Miller ’22, Siunik Moradian ’22, Nyamekye Nkansah ’22, and Thomas Silva ’23, knocked on doors in Texas, explained the new evidence of Lucio’s innocence, and helped jurors communicate their support for Lucio to Texas legislators and the clemency board. One of those jurors testified at a hearing in the Texas House and helped convince more than half of the Texas legislature to support Lucio’s case. On April 25, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals stayed Lucio’s execution two days before it was scheduled to take place.

In other good news, in August 2022 Malawi President Lazarus Chakwera commuted the death sentences of twenty-two prisoners in response to a petition for clemency drafted with the assistance of Cornell clinic students Aaron Smith ’18 and Charlotte Hopkinson ’18. In April 2017, Aaron Smith traveled to Malawi where he read aloud the clemency petition to the condemned prisoners, who periodically burst into applause as it was translated into Chichewa. It took years, but after sustained advocacy by our Malawian partners, the government agreed to commute the sentences of nearly all death row prisoners. The government has since commuted the remaining death sentences, as well—which emptied Malawi’s death row for the first time in history.

But progress is not linear, nor is it guaranteed. In Tanzania, one of the clinic’s most vulnerable clients was resentenced to death after a new trial. Our client, Lemi Limbu, lives with an intellectual disability, and was repeatedly raped as an adolescent. After surviving a violent marriage, she met a man who killed her young daughter. Limbu falsely confessed to the crime after the perpetrator ran away. The trial court refused to take into account Lemi’s intellectual disability and her repeated victimization in assessing the reliability of her confession. And because Tanzania has a mandatory death penalty, the judge could not take these factors into account as mitigation. The clinic will continue to represent her on appeal.

Meanwhile, the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide continues its leadership around issues of gender and the death penalty. Clinic alum Kathryn Adamson ’19 joined our team as a research fellow in September 2022 and will be spending a year with us before beginning a federal clerkship. In November 2022, Center staff participated in the World Congress Against the Death Penalty in Berlin. In May 2022, the International Human Rights Clinic and Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide received the Clinical Legal Education Association Award for Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project (awarded jointly to International Human Rights Clinic, Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide, Capital Punishment Clinic, and the Cornell Death Penalty Project).

Juvenile Justice Clinic

John Blume, Samuel F. Leibowitz Professor of Trial Techniques and Director, Cornell Death Penalty Project
Hannah Freedman, Adjunct Professor of Law (not pictured)
Susan Knight, Adjunct Professor of Law (not pictured)

portrait of John Blume

John Blume

In February, the South Carolina Court of Appeals reversed the murder and related convictions of Juvenile Justice Clinic client Kenneth Robinson based on the erroneous admission of unreliable and hearsay evidence that Robinson was a gang member and that the homicide was part of a “gang war.” The appellate briefs were prepared by students in the Juvenile Justice Clinic.

Rosalind Major ’21 is the new Yankwitt Fellow at Justice 360 in Columbia, SC. The Yankwitt Fellowship was created by the family of Craig Yankwitt ’02, a former clinic student whose life was tragically cut short. The Capital Punishment and Juvenile Justice clinics work closely with Justice 360, and both Rosalind and second year fellow Ali Franz ’21.

Labor Law Clinic

Angela Cornell, Clinical Professor of Law

headshot of Angela Cornell

Angela Cornell

The Labor Law Clinic, directed by Clinical Professor Angela Cornell, has continued to provide legal representation on worker organizing cases, unfair labor practices linked to those activities filed before the National Labor Relations Board, and arbitrations. Students successfully settled two arbitration cases that were headed to hearings in January and February. Both of those cases involved workplace health and safety issues resulting in serious injuries to the hands of two workers, and the discipline related to that. After filing an unfair labor practice charge, clinic students also negotiated an excellent settlement on behalf of a worker terminated because of his protected concerted activity after he and other workers raised issues of lost compensation with their boss.

In addition to the domestic labor law case work and representation, students completed international labor law work, including a shadow report on freedom of association and assembly in Cambodia for the UN supervisory system. Students also played a significant role in the filing of a specific instance related to labor transgressions through the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development complaint mechanism.

Additionally, at the Labor and Employment Relations Association annual conference, Angela presented on the Labor Law Clinic and its work as part of a panel on Teaching Innovations.

Angela contributed a book review on Democratize Work: The Case for Reorganizing the Economy by Isabelle Ferreras, Julie Battilana, Dominique Méda for ILR Review. She also had some conference presentations on The Cambridge Handbook of Labor and Democracy published in 2022, including a book talk “Labor, Democracy, and the Common Good: Where Do We Stand and What Must be Done?” organized by the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and Bargaining for the Common Good at Georgetown University, the Law and Society Annual Conference, and the International Lawyers Assisting Workers Network (ILAW) Global Conference in Brussels, https://www.solidaritycenter.org/unions-across-the-globe-develop-defend-democracy/ as well as a national webinar organized by the National Lawyers Guild in November titled “Labor is Essential for Democracy.” Also related to the new volume, ILR Review had a symposium book review.

Securities Law Clinic

Robert Banks, Adjunct Professor of Law

Robert Banks has joined the Securities Law Clinic as an adjunct professor. Banks is a former president of the Public Investors Advocate Bar Association, a member of FINRA’s National Arbitration and Mediation Committee, and a recipient of the Investor Champion Award from the North American Securities Administrators Association. He had a national securities law practice representing investors for thirty-five years.

Tenants Advocacy Practicum

William Niebel, Tenants Advocacy Attorney and Adjunct Professor of Law
Yusong Jin LL.M. ’22, Tenants Advocacy Fellow (not pictured)

headshot of Bill Niebel

William Niebel

The Tenants Advocacy Practicum continues to grow, as it strives to bridge the housing justice gap in Ithaca and beyond. This spring, 13 advanced students—more than ever before—returned to the practicum to continue their work on behalf of local tenants. We are excited to report that at least two of these students have already accepted offers to become housing attorneys after graduation! They will be working for legal services providers in New York City. Additionally, nine law students and one undergraduate student are enrolled in the primary course this spring, bringing the total to 23 students currently enrolled—a new peak.

The practicum has made its presence known in local courthouses, in negotiations with local housing attorneys, and in correspondence with local landlords and property managers. Thus, the work—and the experience gained by the students—has continued to accelerate. In January, the Tenants Legal Hotline (where the practicum gets its cases) hit a milestone of 850 cases. In addition, over the past year, the practicum has recovered more than $100,000 for local tenants, mostly in cases involving rent abatement (i.e., reduction) for substandard living conditions, illegally collected rent advances, and improperly withheld security deposits.

“The $100,000 marker is an incomplete but tangible demonstration of the success that the practicum has achieved so far,” says William J. Niebel, who runs the practicum as the inaugural tenants advocacy attorney and adjunct professor of law. In October 2022, the practicum also obtained an important local precedent, published in Lexis+, which clearly confirmed the protections of the Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) for tenants facing eviction following an attempted termination of their lease (a so-called holdover eviction). In addition to providing payment for up to 15 months of rent arrears for tenants in need, the ERAP law also calls for an automatic stay—a hold on the eviction—while the tenant’s application for assistance is pending. The law includes only some very narrow exceptions to the automatic stay.

Despite the plain language of the law, a few lower court decisions in New York City had held that the ERAP stay should not apply to holdover eviction cases, arguing that ERAP was intended to prevent only nonpayment evictions. However, in Rosetree Properties, LLC v. Headlam (the practicum represented Ms. Headlam), the Ithaca City Court ruled that the ERAP stay protects tenants facing holdover eviction as well, discouraging Ithaca landlords from attempting to push an eviction forward while the tenant’s ERAP application is under review. This ruling has already benefited tenants in other upstate jurisdictions because it is the first of its kind to be published in this part of upstate New York. Thus, judges in other parts of New York can look to this decision and understand that the intention of the ERAP law was to protect all tenants from housing instability during the pandemic and its fallout. However, the ERAP application portal closed in late January 2023, so the number of active eviction cases is growing, and the practicum is handling more of these cases than ever before. This is providing the students with invaluable experience.

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