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Clinical Program Faculty Updates for Fall '21

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Advocacy for LGBT Communities Practicum

Mallory Livingston, Adjunct Professor of Law

The LGBT Communities Practicum conducted its largest online law clinic ever in partnership with the Gender Wellness Center in Cooperstown, NY, serving 27 clients over two days resulting in 24 new cases.

In addition to the Gender Wellness Center, students have worked in partnership with the Upstate Inclusive Care Clinic, the Albany Damian Center, LAWNY, ACR Health and Planned Parenthood of the Finger Lakes to provide legal services to their LGBT patients. Students have worked on a total of 68 cases involving name and gender marker changes for transgender persons and LGBT discrimination.

 


Asylum & Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic

Estelle McKee, Clinical Professor of Law
Stephen Yale-Loehr, Professor of Immigration Practice
Ian M. Kysel, Visiting Assistant Clinical Professor of Law
Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer, Associate Clinical Professor of Law (Lawyering)

Headshot of Estelle McKee

Estelle McKee

Headshot of Stephen Yale-Loehr

Stephen Yale-Loehr

Headshot of Ian M. Kysel

Ian M. Kysel

headshot of Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer

Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer

In the spring of 2021, the Asylum & Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic represented clients in appeals before the Board of Immigration Appeals (“BIA”), and petitions for review in the Second and Fifth Circuits.  The clinic obtained a remand for a Salvadoran client, Mrs. G-C-, in the Second Circuit.  Mrs. G-C- was challenging a BIA decision finding that she had not suffered past persecution despite gang members beating her husband for refusing recruitment efforts, holding a gun to her infant’s head while she was having a seizure, and repeatedly threatening to kill Mrs. G-C-. On remand, the BIA was instructed to reconsider several findings, including its finding that Mrs. G-C-’s nuclear family was not a central reason for her persecution. The clinic also won a stay of removal in the Fifth Circuit for a client from Cameroon who was found not credible. That case remains pending.

Also in the spring, the Clinic represented on remand Ms. C-S.  Ms. C-S, a transgender woman from a Central American country, was represented by the clinic at the BIA and won. On remand, students helped Ms. C-S secure a final grant of asylum.

In May, clinic student Kayleigh A. Yerdon served as co-lead author of a Perspective essay, Detained, in the New England Journal of Medicine with clinic client Dr. Merlys Rodriguez-Hernandez and Tara Pilato of Weill Cornell Medicine (Ian and Steve and several colleagues at Weill Cornell Medicine also co-authored the piece).

The clinic also obtained a remand in a Second Circuit challenge to Matter of Castro-Tum, a decision by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions. For that petition, the clinic coordinated with New York Legal Aid, which joined as counsel, as well as DLA Piper, Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, LLP and Lutheran Social Services of New York, which submitted amicus briefs. The undocumented client, who was the victim of a violent crime and assisted in its prosecution, recently obtained deferred action, and can now remain in the United States while pursuing a U Visa.

Ian and Estelle, along with professors Jaclyn Kelley-Widmer and Beth Lyon, obtained a $30,000 curriculum-development grant from the Cornell University Migrations Initiative for a new course, Critical Perspectives: Racism, Xenophobia, and Immigration (originally inspired by a unit on critical perspectives taught in the Asylum Clinic).  And Estelle was recently awarded the Global Public Voices Faculty Fellowship from the Einaudi Center.

This fall, the clinic received a 2021 Pro Bono Appreciation Award, the Adult Program Special Partnership Award, from the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project, including for our work on behalf of Ms. C-S and Dr. Rodriguez-Hernandez. You can watch videos of several students sharing their perspectives on their clinic experience here.

Also this fall, Professors Kelley-Widmer and McKee co-taught an Advanced Asylum and Convention Against Torture Appellate Clinic. This innovative clinic combined work on asylum cases at both the trial level immigration court and at the appellate level before federal Circuit Courts. Students focused on specific cases at one or more of these stages and collaborated on their classmates’ additional cases through peer review and seminar discussion. One team of students litigated an asylum hearing for a Mexican woman fleeing gender-based violence with her young children, filing relevant motions and briefs as well as handling all speaking during the trial, such as opening statements and direct examination of witnesses. Another team of students worked on two circuit court appeals: the Fifth Circuit appeal described above, and a Second Circuit petition on behalf of a Salvadoran woman subjected to “curative” rape because of her homosexuality. Through these cases, students engaged in intensive discussions about appellate strategy, including choice of argument, narrative decisions, framing, and advanced persuasive brief-writing techniques. Overall, students and faculty alike engaged in rich discussion across cases at varied stages of the immigration process, enhancing their overall understanding of the immigration legal landscape.

 


Estate Planning Practicum

Jill Miller, Adjunct Professor of Law
Michael O’Connor, Adjunct Professor of Law
Kim Rothman, Adjunct Professor of Law

Headshot of Jill Miller

Jill Miller

Headshot of Michael O'Connor

Michael O’Connor

Headshot of Kimberly Rothman

Kim Rothman

Spring 2022 will be the Estate Planning Practicum’s 7th year. To date, we have provided free basic estate plans to approximately 80 clients in the Ithaca area who are underserved. Our students have also produced approximately 20 in-person seminars and most recently, webinars, to the Ithaca community and beyond.  Our 2L, 3L and occasionally LLM students have written, spoken, produced, and marketed these valuable programs that serve the public. Attendees have the opportunity to receive a free Living Will and Health Care Proxy further providing needed pro bono legal services. Despite COVID, last year was a fantastic year for the Estate Planning Practicum due to the change in format for our student-led estate planning programs.  The programs were expanded from an in-person only structure to a fully open Zoom webinar where we were able to reach approximately 300 people both within and without the Ithaca area.

In addition, we are excited to announce that for this upcoming year’s programming, we will be able to bring back Law Day.   For Law Day, students travel to New York City to visit the Surrogate’s Court where they are able to deepen their understanding of our probate system and meet people within the trusts and estates community. Students begin the day by viewing the Court’s calendar call, and thereafter enjoy a tour of the court and meet court personnel, including the Surrogate Judges. In the past, they have also met with the counsel to the New York County Public Administrator, learned about their operations and how they provide an important public service.  To end the day, students enjoy a networking dinner where they have the opportunity to meet experienced attorneys who are leaders in their respective practice areas and hear firsthand about what they do and why they love the practice of law in their specialty.  At our last Law Day, two of our attorney leaders were Supreme Court judges; one of which, the Honorable Melissa Crane, is a Cornell Law alumna.


Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic

Briana Beltran, Lecturer
Justin Lin, Law Fellow and Comparative Farmworker Law Project Supervisor
Beth Lyon, Clinical Professor of Law, Associate Dean for Experiential Education, and Clinical Program Director

headshot of Briana Beltran

Briana Beltran

headshot of Beth Lyon

Beth Lyon

Headshot of Justin Lin

Justin Lin

Over the summer and fall of 2021, a young farmworker in the Farmworker Clinic Pro Se/Pro Bono Project obtained Cayuga County court orders qualifying him for a visa. Gender Justice Clinic and Farmworker Clinic students collaborated to help two young clients in Oneida County obtain predicate orders. After helping a longtime client relocate from the southern United States to upstate New York, the clinic represented him in state court and successfully secured a similar order. Many clinic clients also benefited from the Department of Justice’s new policy of dismissing removal proceedings against certain unaccompanied minors. One of our earliest clients obtained permanent residence and made a long-awaited visit to his home country. We accepted our first cases in Montgomery County, NY, continuing to build ties with new community partners. In a brief advice and referral event organized by Just Cause, we provided immigration advice to four farmworkers.

 


Gender Justice Clinic

Liz Brundige, Clinical Professor of Law
Lorelei Lee, Justice Catalyst Fellow

headshot of Liz Brundige

Liz Brundige

The Gender Justice Clinic continues to engage in a variety of initiatives that seek to advance gender justice locally, nationally, and globally. With the Farmworker Legal Assistance Clinic, the Clinic obtained Surrogate Court orders of guardianship and special findings of fact on behalf of a mother and two children who had fled from their home country to escape from domestic violence. The court’s orders enable the children to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which is a pathway to lawful permanent residency for certain children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by a parent.

The Clinic continued its work on the Bella Project, a multi-faceted project in collaboration with and in support of people working in the sex trades. Among other activities, Clinic students are working with partners to develop a report on financial discrimination against people in the sex trades. The Clinic is also contributing to outreach and advocacy addressing anti-Asian racism as it relates to stigma and discrimination against migrant workers in the sex trades and to an amicus brief that argues that an affirmative defense available under state law to survivors of sex trafficking should be available to a trafficking survivor accused of killing her trafficker.

Other Clinic work includes research and international advocacy calling for action to address violence and discrimination against women and LGBTQIA+ people in several conflict-affected areas. Clinic students are also continuing to advocate for improvements in the ways that U.S. institutions prevent and respond to gender-based violence, through fact-finding and reporting, regional human rights litigation, and international and domestic advocacy.

Professors Brundige and Lee, together with five Gender Justice Clinic students and Kendra Albert of Harvard Law School, published FOSTA in Legal Context in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review. Professor Brundige’s book chapter, with clinic partner Tinenenji Banda, When Criminal Law is Not Enough: Toward a Holistic Approach to Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response, will be published in the Routledge Handbook of African Law (Muna Ndulo and Cosmas Emeziem eds.), forthcoming this semester.

Professor Lee published The Roots of Modern-Day Slavery: The Page Act and the Mann Act in the Columbia Human Rights Law Review. Professor Lee’s Dis-organizing Toolkit, co-authored with Rachel Kuo, draws in part from collective learning in the conference, Informal, Criminalized, Precarious: Sex Workers Organizing Against Barriers, which the Clinic co-hosted with sex worker organizers and others. Professor Lee was recently awarded a 2021 Whiting Nonfiction Grant for their book, Anything of Value, which looks at sex work through legal history, memoir, and cultural criticism and is forthcoming from Harper Books.

New Faculty Bio
Lorelei Lee (they/them) is a writer, sex worker activist, organizer, juris doctor, Justice Catalyst Fellow, co-founder of the Disabled Sex Workers Coalition, founding member of both the Upstate New York Sex Workers’ Coalition and Decrim MA, founding member of Survivors Against SESTA, and researcher with Hacking//Hustling. Their writing appears in n+1, The Establishment, $pread, Denver Quarterly, The Believer, Columbia Human Rights Law Review, Yale’s LPE Blog, The Feminist Porn Book, Coming Out Like a Porn Star, We Too: Essays on Sex Work and Survival, Hustling Verse, and elsewhere. Their book, ‘Anything of Value,’ looking at sex work through legal history, memoir, and cultural criticism, forthcoming from Harper Books, has been awarded a 2021 Whiting Nonfiction Grant. Lorelei has an M.F.A. from NYU and graduated from Cornell Law School magna cum laude in 2020. They are a member of the Order of the Coif, a recipient of The 2020 Stanley E. Gould Prize for Public Interest Law, and a recipient of the 2020 UVA Community Justice Award.


International Human Rights Clinic

Sandra Babcock, Clinical Professor of Law
Adrienne Larimer, Clinical Teaching Fellow

Headshot of Sandra Babcock

Sandra Babcock

The International Human Rights Clinic has taken on the cases of several women facing the death penalty in Malawi, Tanzania, and the United States. Their cases have taught us that women facing extreme sentences face unique forms of discrimination within the criminal legal system. Invariably, our clients were condemned to death for crimes that arose directly from their experiences as victims of gender-based violence. Yet legal systems around the world routinely ignore these experiences in sentencing them to death.

Melissa Lucio is one of our current clients. Melissa is a survivor of brutal, repeated child sexual abuse and intimate partner violence. She was condemned to death in Texas in 2008 after a trial in which a Texas judge barred expert testimony about her history of gender-based violence. Although a Fifth Circuit panel found that this violated her right to a complete defense, the en banc court overturned that decision. Our students are filing an appeal on her behalf to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and are working closely with her defense team to support her clemency campaign.

In August 2021, we welcomed Adrienne Larimer as our new Clinical Teaching Fellow. Professor Larimer was a capital litigator in Ohio before joining our team, and has vast experience working with clients as both a trial lawyer and a post-conviction lawyer. We have just begun to travel again, and are taking students to visit clients in Texas, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Ohio prisons this semester. We hope to resume international travel in early 2023.

On September 23, the American Bar Association’s Death Penalty Representation Project honored Sandra Babcock with the John Paul Stevens Guiding Hand of Counsel Award. In announcing the award, which is given to one full-time human rights defender every two years, the ABA stated that Professor Babcock has served “as a catalyst for systemic change across the globe.”

Meanwhile, the Cornell Center on the Death Penalty Worldwide continues its leadership around issues of gender and the death penalty. This year, at our urging, the thematic focus of World Day Against the Death Penalty (October 10) was “Women Sentenced to Death: An Invisible Reality.” On September 24, 2021, we hosted the second annual convening of the Alice Network, a national movement to combat the extreme sentencing of women. On October 6, we published a global report on women facing the death penalty for drug offenses. And on October 7, we published the first manual of best practices in defending women and transgender persons facing the death penalty.

Over the last year, Professor Babcock has spoken widely on issues of gender and extreme sentencing, and contributed to an in-depth analysis of women on death row in The Independent.


Labor Law Clinic

Angela Cornell, Clinical Professor of Law

Headshot of Angela Cornell

Angela Cornell

In the Labor Law Clinic students have been spending the semester on a combination of traditional labor law cases, workplace discrimination charges, and international human rights reports on freedom of association and assembly as part of the UN UPR process.  The traditional labor law cases have involved: 1) arbitration pursuant to a collective bargaining agreement’s final and binding dispute resolution process; 2) unfair labor practice charges before the National Labor Relations Board; and 3) legal advice on collective bargaining issues (Covid vaccination/testing and FLSA). The arbitrations have involved workers who had workplace accidents and were not reinstated.  We have an arbitration coming up on November 30 in a very compelling case.  The second arbitration case that arises out of a minor workplace accident involves medical marijuana, and we have a pending discrimination claim related to that with the Division of Human Rights as well.  We also have our first discrimination case on behalf of a trans worker who has a claim of discrimination based on their sexual identity.  With regard to the international labor law work, our UPR report on Haiti was submitted earlier this year, and we are now working on reports on freedom of association and assembly in India and Indonesia.

Students Kaitlyn Marasi, and Manuel Sanchez with the terminated worker, opposing counsel and the arbitrator in the case

Students Kaitlyn Marasi, and Manuel Sanchez with the terminated worker, opposing counsel and the arbitrator in the case.

We have good news to share on legal support we provided in a Board charge involving the termination of two workers employed at a non-profit, who were reinstated to their jobs and awarded back pay.  Law student Kaitlyn Marasi did an excellent job supporting these workers through the Board process. Unfortunately, it is not all good news, we failed to prevail in an unjust termination case before an arbitrator from May, but students did a fine job at the day and a half evidentiary hearing.     

Angela Cornell has been dividing her time between Cornell and Princeton, where she is a visiting scholar at the Institute for Advanced Studies this academic year.  She has used the time at Princeton to finish up the final stages of the volume she is coediting with Mark Barenberg, The Cambridge Handbook on Labor and Democracy, which is on the website now and forthcoming in 2022.  This is the culmination of a two- year process.  In addition to coediting the volume, she contributed the introduction and a chapter.

Related to this project, she moderated or presented at three national conferences on labor and democracy, including the American Political Science Association, the Labor and Employment Relations Association, and the National Lawyers Guild.  She also participated in a law school event on Issues Undermining Democracy sponsored by the American Constitutional Society and the National Lawyers Guild.

Along with the events tied to labor and democracy, Angela participated in the AALS Clinical Section Teaching Methodologies Webinar on tools to incorporate anti-racism into our clinical teaching. There were, additionally, a couple of media interviews, including quotes in Law360 in May on McDonald’s anti-harassment policy and in September by the AP on the vaccine mandate.

 


Non-Jury Trial Practicum

Robert Sarachan, Adjunct Professor of Law

Professor Robert Sarachan

Robert Sarachan

The fall 2021 semester was busy for the students of the Non-Jury Trial Practicum as each conducted multiple non-jury trials on their own.   Tickets prosecuted in the fall included traffic tickets such as cellphones, texting, speeding, seat-belts, and accidents, as well as Ithaca, NY city code tickets for noise and open containers.   And, this was the first semester where students traveled beyond Ithaca City Court as the clinic added two additional courts – Town of Lansing and Village of Cayuga Heights, so students were able to see different courts and how different judges presided over trials.   Even though the students had prepared for every trial, there are always unexpected twists and turns in every trial and this semester was no exception as students had to adjust instantly to unexpected testimony, evidentiary issues, and motions.  Lawyers don’t remember every trial, but almost all remember their first few trials, and this semester’s students now have their first trials to remember.

 


Securities Law Clinic

William Jacobson, Clinical Professor of Law
Birgitta Siegel, Adjunct Professor of Law

Headshot of William Jacobson

William Jacobson

Headshot of Birgitta Siegel

Birgitta Siegel

The Securities Law Clinic (SLC) sent a team of three students to a “virtual” competition involving 20 law schools, covering mock negotiation, mediation, and arbitration. The competition is sponsored by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority and St. John’s University Law School. In the past the competition was in-person, but this year was held virtually for health reasons. The SLC also gave a presentation to the senior citizens group OASIS in Syracuse on How To Avoid Becoming A Victim of Investment Fraud.  Four SLC students gave presentations on the following topics: Risk Self-Assessment, How To Investigate Your Financial Advisor, Common Investment Scams, and Cryptocurrencies. Clinic students also prepared and the SLC submitted two regulatory comment letters on issues of importance to investors. In addition, the SLC conducted its own internal mock mediation and arbitration events using a case pattern and documents from an actual case the SLC previously took to hearing. This permitted the students to experience the life-cycle of a case.

 


Tenants Advocacy Practicum

William Neibel, Adjunct Professor of Law
Colton Kells, Tenants Advocacy Fellow

headshot of Bill Niebel

William Neibel

In its second year, the Tenants Advocacy Practicum has continued to grow as it seeks to bridge the housing justice gap in Ithaca and the surrounding area. This fall, the Practicum expanded to include another advanced course (Tenants Advocacy Practicum III) and five of the law students from the spring returned, to continue honing their advocacy skills while serving local community tenants in need. Four of these students have been able to provide full representation to tenants in Ithaca City Court. Additionally, twelve students are enrolled in the primary course this fall, bringing the total to 17 students currently enrolled—a new peak.

The inaugural Tenants Advocacy Fellow, Colton Kells, joined the Practicum in August and has already been very busy. In addition to representing local tenants himself, Mr. Kells has assisted with the development of a tenants’ rights guide, presented at continuing legal education and national webinar programs with Professor Niebel, and helped coordinate an eviction defense project with the Federal Indian Law Practicum (described below).

One especially interesting case from this fall involved a disabled tenant who was sued by his previous landlord. The landlord was seeking to recover allegedly past-due rent but he did not have a rental permit as required by the applicable code. The code provisions did not specifically state (as some do) that a landlord cannot collect rent without a rental permit, but this is implied. Two Practicum students provided full representation, prepared highly persuasive arguments based on New York caselaw, and appeared with the client to request dismissal of the case. The judge reserved decision and, as of the date of this report, the court has not issued its ruling in the case.

The Practicum has also been part of an exciting cross-clinic collaboration with the Federal Indian Law Practicum, which has been especially rewarding, considering that the law school is located on the traditional homeland of the Cayuga nation. The two Practicums are working closely with Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc., to defend nine Cayuga households. These families are facing homelessness due to retaliatory evictions brought by the current federally recognized representative. There have been many interesting arguments to prepare—based on New York housing law, the Cayuga Nation’s Real Property Actions & Proceedings Law (which is modeled after New York law), the Nation’s civil procedure rules, as well as the laws and traditions of the Cayuga. The students have really been enjoying their work on this project.

On September 30, 2021, the Practicum held a guest lecture about the civil right to counsel in eviction cases. It was presented by Maria Roumiantseva from the National Coalition for the Civil Right to Counsel. Two alderpersons from the Ithaca Common Council attended this lecture. Soon after that, it was exciting to see one of them present a resolution to the Council, seeking to establish a right to counsel in Ithaca eviction cases. The resolution was adopted by the Council on November 3, 2021, creating and funding this right for Ithaca tenants.

Additionally, Professor Niebel has written the article The Process Due When Rent is Due: Residential Nonpayment Evictions in New York after COVID-19, forthcoming in the
N.Y. Real Property Law Journal, Vol. 49, No. 2 (Fall 2021). It is a reference for practitioners, judges, as well as students in the Practicum.

As the applicable eviction moratoria expire, the work—and the experience gained by the students—will continue to accelerate into the spring of 2022.

New Faculty Bio

Colton Kells, Esq., as the Tenants Advocacy Fellow, provides information and advice to local tenants, defends tenants in eviction proceedings in Ithaca City Court, and assists in teaching the Practicum’s weekly seminar and supervising the student attorneys. Prior to joining the Practicum, Colton was a staff attorney in Legal Assistance of Western New York’s (LawNY) Geneva Office. During his time with LawNY, Colton practiced mainly in the office’s Housing Unit, where he defended tenants in eviction proceedings, defended homeowners in foreclosure actions, and advocated on behalf of subsidized housing recipients. Colton received his B.A. in English from the University at Buffalo in 2016 and his J.D. from the University at Buffalo School of Law in 2020. Colton also enjoys playing rugby when he can, as well as hiking, cooking, and playing tabletop games.

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