In This Issue
Making a Difference
One Case at a Time
Building a case can be a long, intricate process, and many times, interns finish helping one client and quickly move on to the next. But success can be measured, one resolved case, and one grateful client at a time.
Here are recent success stories from USD Legal Clinic files.
"Never to reject, for any consideration personal to himself or herself, the cause of the defenseless or the oppressed."
–California Business & Professions Code section 6068(h)
USD Legal Clinics
Criminal Justice Experience
Clinics Fast Facts
- Number of years in operation: 39 years
- Average number of cases open at any given time:
- Average number of student interns trained each academic year:
- Average number of clients assisted each academic year: 600
- Number of student interns trained since 1998:
- Number of hours logged by student interns in 2009:16,692 hours of free legal assistance
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From the Director
Welcome to the Fall 2009 edition of Let the Record Reflect, which gives us a chance to update you on all of the activities of our clinics, interns, supervising attorneys and staff. It's been an exceptionally busy time for all, as the continuing economic downturn brings more and more clients in search of assistance to our offices. The majority of the people we serve—who are low-income or who may struggle with the English language—have learned about the clinics through many of our outreach programs throughout San Diego. You'll learn more about that effort in this newsletter, and read about some of our most successful cases as well.
We are happy to announce that we have added another clinic to our roster; the newly-created Appellate Clinic offers an opportunity to upper division law students to brief and argue Ninth Circuit Appeals for indigent clients.
We were honored to accept the Witkin Award for Excellence in the Teaching of Law from the Law Library Justice Foundation this past spring. The foundation acknowledged the contributions of the USD Legal Clinics to the legal profession, and to the greater San Diego community as well.
We also completed the triennial site visit conducted by the Department of Treasury (Internal Revenue Service), which reviewed our Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, better known as the Federal Tax Clinic. The program analyst found that we have "an excellent program operating well within the (specified) guidelines." I would like to recognize the contributions of Supervising Attorney Richard Carpenter and Outreach Coordinator Patty O'Deane, as well as the interns and staff who all contribute to make this program so successful.
Our office renovation is complete, and we are now all located on the third floor of Barcelona in Alcalá West. This not only saves time but allows us to interact more easily and frequently with everyone involved in a specific case. Some additions to our layout include a second, smaller conference room that does double duty as a classroom; a compact but very popular lounge for students and staff; and added on-site storage space, which has helped us to reduce expenses by reducing our need for expensive off-site storage.
This has been a time of change and growth for the clinics. As we look to 2010, we commit to honor our mission by serving our clients and training the next generation of attorneys who give of their time and talents to improve their community.
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Brett Wiseman: Legal Clinics Pave Way for Outstanding Intern
The attorney was confident and more than a little assertive. This case was going to be a slam dunk. After all, what was he up against—an intern? Sure, the young man seemed well prepared and clearly wasn't intimidated by the complicated process.
But an intern?
"It was a case involving a broker in a real estate transaction," explained Brett Wiseman, who was the USD Civil Clinic intern representing the seller.
"The broker had described to the buyer and seller that each would be covering some expenses and actually charged them to the seller. There was a deposition and a ton of paper. I drafted an amended complaint and we drafted at least one motion and a response to a motion. We spent a lot of time on it and had a lot of client contact."
The opposing attorney, though, kept hammering away. "Everything was objected to, he really didn't have a lot of respect for the other side, especially the students, but as things went on, we had a decent position," recalls Wiseman. "After a while, it became clear that there was no reason not to settle this. The case settled right as I left; I had been working on it for two semesters and it had been going on for a couple of years. We got 50 percent of what she (the seller) was asking for."
So much for the slam dunk.
It was the kind of challenge that Wiseman, Class of '09, had come to relish during his time in the Legal Clinics, and one of the reasons that he was honored with both the Outstanding Civil Clinic Intern Award as well as the Trial Advocacy Award at his spring graduation. Wiseman interned once at the Small Claims Clinic and twice at the Civil Clinic, experiences he called invaluable for every law student.
"I maxed out on all the practical experience I could get," he said. "I think it's astonishing that you could get licensed and sworn in without ever seeing a complaint. I ended up doing a little bit of everything and I would suggest this to anyone. Some people will make great lawyers and some won't, but I think it would be much easier to decide if this is what you really want to do once you have the clinic experience. It's not a grueling death march, nor is it (as it is portrayed on the television show) "Boston Legal;" it's a lot of work and a lot of fun and you should know what you're committing to. The great part of the clinic is someone shows up with a problem and it's up to you to find out where you go from there; it's kind of like ‘Solo Practitioner 101.' "
It was often challenging to help clients who had little or no documentation to support their claims, he said. It was up to the interns to do the digging and find that crucial evidence.
Wiseman credited the professors who staff the clinics with giving interns the real world tools to help individuals who arrived at the clinic fearful that no one would be able to help them.
"I can't speak highly enough of the professors who give of their time," he said. "These are highly experienced attorneys who are there to back you up every step of the way. I've called them on their personal cell phones and on weekends and they are amazing. They guide you but then expect you to take it from there; they move you out of your comfort zone."
Wiseman praised Profs. Allen Snyder, Allen Gruber and Franco Simone for providing both a safety net and "enough rope to run with" in the two clinics he participated in—a combination he said gave interns the confidence they needed to tackle complicated cases, knowing that the clients' needs would always be served.
"I really think it's doing a disservice to yourself and your future if you don't take advantage of the clinic system," he said simply.
Wiseman recently passed the State Bar of California and is now working at Andrade & Associates, a construction law firm located in Mission Viejo.
"I learned so much in the clinics that I use every day," he said. "This is what I've always wanted to do, and I love doing it."
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Legal Clinics Serve the San Diego Community
When law clinic interns leave the classroom and begin to talk to potential clients for the first time, chances are they are benefiting from the work of Legal Clinics Outreach Coordinator Patty O'Deane. A 16-year member of the clinic staff, O'Deane has been heading up the clinics' extensive outreach program for the past five years. In that time, she has spread the word about the free legal help available to low-income San Diegans at countless events ranging from cultural street fairs to nonprofit organizations to libraries and community centers. O'Deane, who is bilingual, also acts as a Spanish language interpreter and translator for the clinics.
"This is really about making connections," she explained. "For instance, we just gave a presentation at The Chula Vista Community Collaborative (an umbrella organization for community-based programs serving the South Bay region). Three of our students attended and spoke about the Entrepreneurship Clinic, the Federal Tax Clinic and the Small Claims Clinic. There were probably 60 different representatives from various agencies who received that information and were able to take it back to their clients—that's a lot of people who will learn about our services, all from a single meeting."
After the presentation, O'Deane says she commonly gets a request from someone in the audience to present similar information to an organization unfamiliar with the services the clinics have to offer. O'Deane always carries printed information in English and Spanish so that those who are interested can find out what types of legal issues are handled and the clinics' hours of operation. The university is located on several bus routes, making the clinics accessible to clients who use public transportation. She also routinely distributes the flyers to senior centers, churches, synagogues, mosques and libraries.
In addition to the Chula Vista collaborative, O'Deane has formed partnerships with organizations that target ESL (English as a Second Language) clients and new immigrants who may qualify for receiving help from the clinic. In order to receive services, most clients must meet low-income guidelines. O'Deane has just forged a new partnership with the nonprofit organization Second Chance, which provides housing, job training and employment placement for homeless men and women in the central city area, the South Bay and in the east city area.
"Sometimes, agencies will also ask us to come and make presentations to staff," said O'Deane. "That way, staff can share the information with clients whenever a legal issue comes up."
Interns also accompany Outreach Coordinator Patty O'Deane to organizations to offer workshops specifically targeting the services offered at the Federal Tax Clinic. A recent workshop was designed to help veterans with their tax issues and was held at a local vet center.
Community fairs are another popular way to spread the word about the clinics. In those settings, interns listen to questions about taxes, contracts, landlord and tenant disputes, real estate questions, education and immigration issues, and explain how the clinic can help. If the questions involve areas of the law not addressed at the university's clinics, O'Deane is able to use her list of referrals to send potential clients to the right organization for services.
"The interns are very enthusiastic about signing up for these events," she said. "They'll come out for hours, talk to dozens, and sometimes hundreds, of people in a single afternoon. And it really serves two purposes. It tells people about the free legal help that's available, and it gives the interns a chance to work with the community. It gives them the real-world experience we want them to have. It's one of the most important aspects of being a well-rounded legal clinic intern.
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Legal, State Tax Clinics Honored
The Legal Clinics were honored with the 2009 Bernard E. Witkin Award for Excellence in the Teaching of the Law this spring. The prestigious award is presented each year by the Law Library Justice Foundation. It honors members of the San Diego legal community for leadership and excellence in the teaching, practice, enactment or adjudication of the law.
"I was so honored to accept this award on behalf of the faculty, staff and students of the Legal Clinics—all of whom play an important role in the work that we do for hundreds of individuals each year," said clinic director Margaret Dalton. But perhaps most important was the recognition that it is our teaching role that makes what we do even more valuable to the mission."
The honor was bestowed at the annual Witkin Awards Dinner, which celebrates outstanding members of the legal community. The dinner helps support The Witkin Fund, which is used to buy books and materials for the San Diego County Public Law Library. It is named after Bernard E. Witkin, Esq., who made it his life's work to create publications and programs of study for the continuing instruction of California's judges and attorneys.
The State Tax Clinic, a relatively new clinic that is just beginning its second year, was also recently honored for providing free legal assistance to qualifying California taxpayers by The Federation of Tax Administrators. The USD School of Law is the only San Diego-area law school to participate in this program. More than 30 qualified law students from five law schools around the state provided support to taxpayers through the program, which has assisted taxpayers with more than 380 appeals and successfully resolved more than 160 appeals without a formal Board of Equalization hearing.
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Making a Difference—One Case at a Time
"R" was a 60-year old widow who came to the Civil Clinic after she was left with substantial credit card debt created by her late husband. One of the creditors sued her for debt under the surviving spouse statutes. The Civil Clinic took her case and negotiated her debt down from $3,400 to $1,500. "R" was very happy with the outcome—as a way of saying thank-you, she brought homemade tamales to the interns and the supervising attorney.
For some children, recess is the best part of the school day. But for "G," a third grader at a local public school, it was anything but fun. "G" has cerebral palsy and is unable to protect herself when she falls. Recently, she had three serious falls and a concussion on the playground. Her mother came to the Special Education Clinic to request help in keeping her daughter safe. She had asked for a one-on-one playground assistant, but the school district refused. After denying a request for an independent assessment, the district filed for a due process hearing against "G's" mother. With the clinic's help, though, the case was resolved in mediation. "G" received training by a physical therapist, learning how to "properly" fall to avoid the risk of injury. She is not only safer on campus, she is now free to play with other children when that recess bell rings.
"J" sued her landlord to get her security deposit returned, but was countersued for $975 worth of damage to the home she was living in. After losing the counter claim for $975, "J" came to the Small Claims Clinic for help. Clinic interns built a solid case, and after a short trial, "J" was awarded $1,800 in damages and had the $975 stricken from the previous judgment. "I never saw my client smile until the day we walked out of her appeals hearing," said clinic intern Mahdi Ibrahim of the experience.
"TP" was a personal trainer who suffered a stroke two years ago and was unable to work. He was living on Social Security disability payments when he came to the Tax Clinic to discuss the back taxes he owed for previous years. When he came to the clinic, he was desperate; he was in the collection process, owing a total of $32,484 for back taxes, interest and penalties and the IRS was garnishing part of his disability payments. Clinic interns went to work and assisted TP in making an "offer in compromise" to the IRS for a lump sum payment of $1,000. The IRS accepted the offer and confirmed that the Federal Tax Lien would be released when the $1,000 was paid in full. Knowing that his tax bill was thousands of dollars less than he originally expected TP was able to focus all of his efforts on his rehabilitation.
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