Melanie Stratton Lopez, third year law student and recipient of the CLEA Outstanding Student Award for 2014,
with Prof. Beth Posner of the Immigration Clinic.
On Monday, April 14, 2014, UNC Clinical Programs held its Second Annual End-of-Year Awards Luncheon, during which the sixty third-year law students who participated in the clinic during the 2013-14 academic year were recognized as they enjoyed a catered lunch from the Indian restaurant, Mint.
Prof. Tamar Birckhead, Director of Clinical Programs, thanked the group for its commitment and tenacity on behalf of their clients, and she spoke of the dedication of her students in the Juvenile Justice Clinic, including Galo Centenera, Ryan Eletto, Alyssa Kisby, Catherine McCormick, Kati Ruark, and Samantha Thompson, all of whom represented children under the age of 16 in the juvenile delinquency courts of Wake, Orange, and Durham counties. Among her students' accomplishments were the reduction or dismissal of criminal charges pending against their young clients as well as successfully assisting juveniles in finding alternative educational options, counseling resources, and creatively meeting their other needs. The parent of one of the Clinic's clients wrote a note of thanks to the law student who represented her son, expressing the following:
and I were very impressed with and appreciate so much all your hard work and
excellent results in defending him. I'll always remember the
two of you standing in front of the judge. Even though you'd taken the
time to prepare Mark very well, whenever he wasn't entirely sure how to
respond to a question, he'd look up at you and you'd nod at him. It
was a perfect attorney-and-young-client moment."
Prof. Barbara Fedders, who also teaches in the Juvenile Justice Clinic, echoed this sentiment and expressed particular gratitude for the wonderful advocacy work her students did in school discipline cases in Wake County, which is a new area of focus for the Juvenile Justice Clinic. One
student successfully appealed a long-term suspension
that would otherwise have imperiled his client's college scholarship. Another student used discovery gained in a school discipline hearing in the
successful defense of a delinquency case. Prof. Fedders supervised Laura Ackerman, Kindra Bradley, Erin Briley, Becka Fortune, Quinn Godwin, Ben Kleinman, Eli Sevcik-Timberg, and Luke Woollard in the spring, and Fran Hodgson, Donald Huggins, Ken Jennings, John Miller, Satie Munn, Maura O'Keefe, Kati Ruark, and Charlotte Stewart in the fall. Prof. Lindsey Spain, a recent graduate of the Law School, also assisted with supervision in the fall.
Prof. Kathryn Sabbeth highlighted the work of her students in the Civil Legal Assistance Clinic, including Valyce Davis, Devlin Horton, Vanessa Peña, Bridget Warren, Morgan Wittman, and Aggie Zmuda. She provided the following examples of what they accomplished this
Seeking recovery of security deposit on behalf of young tenant new to the Section 8 subsidy program.
Representing a domestic violence victim facing eviction, and through the deposition of the landlord's agent, unearthing widespread violations of the Violence Against Women Act and Fair Housing Act.
Researching prisoners' claims brought to our attention by the Center for Death Penalty Litigation and Prisoners Legal Services, and putting together an open records request to learn what’s really happening at the prisons.
Challenging severe mold inside the home of a family with small children, and successfully defending the family when the landlord brought a retaliatory eviction case.
Advising a national Latino organization on how best to assist members of the public facing employment discrimination and whether and how the organization can bring claims on behalf of these workers.
Zealously tracking down and pursuing employers engaged in theft of wages: getting an employer to come to the bargaining table with a good faith attempt to settle after the Department of Labor told the employer to pay but DOL was unable to convince the employer to pay a cent.
Appealing the denial of unemployment benefits, in which the student’s work earned such high praise from the legal aid referring organization that our contact suggested we should be nominated for an annual award from the NC Bar Association.
Prof. Erika Wilson, who also supervises in the Civil Legal Assistance Clinic, shared highlights of her students' work in the areas of education law and housing law:
Assisted a high school student in having a long
term suspension and recommendation for expulsion removed by demonstrating that
the conduct that led to the long term suspension and recommendation for
expulsion was a manifestation of the student’s disability. The students also assisted the client in
having an appropriate Behavioral Intervention Plan put in place which has
helped the student to avoid further behavioral problems.
Filed a petition with the NC Office for
Administrative Hearings on behalf of a 6th grade student with a
disability who was suspended for forty-five days on the grounds that she used a
dangerous weapon (a pocket pencil sharpener) and inflicted a serious bodily
harm on another student (a 6cm scratch that did not require medical
treatment). The students were successful
in getting the suspension reduced and assisting the student in having an
appropriate Behavioral Intervention Plan put in place which has helped the
student to avoid further behavioral problems.
Negotiated a favorable settlement agreement
during a court required mediation on behalf of a client who lived in
substandard housing conditions, which included severe bedbugs and cockroach
infestation. The students were able to
negotiate for a $2,500.00 rent abatement for the client for the time period he
was forced to live in substandard housing conditions.
Represented a tenant who was facing eviction for
an alleged breach of lease and failure to pay rent. The students were able to negotiate a
favorable agreement with the landlord which resulted in the landlord dropping
the eviction suit and allowed the client to remain in the apartment for a
longer period until she found a new place to live.
Represented a tenant who was unlawfully evicted
and in which the landlord forced him to leave the apartment before he was able
to collect most of his and his children’s personal belongings. The student assisted the client in getting
the landlord to return his personal belongings, after which he received this letter of thanks:
“It is reassuring to
know that the [UNC Civil Legal Assistance] clinic is available for people who find themselves in vulnerable
situations and few options available, which is exactly where I was when I was referred
to you. I've come to realize that it's not uncommon for the disenfranchised to
be taken advantage of by the more powerful in our society. But a good attorney
can make all the difference. On behalf of everyone in that boat, I really do
appreciate the clinic and its commitment to the "little guy." It has been a huge relief to finally have all
of my family's belongings in one place; some things I needed (winter clothes
and pots and pans, etc.) and some things my heart needed (Christmas ornaments
my daughter made in her glass blowing class we got back in time to put on the
tree, a family bible that belonged to my great-grandmother, my other daughter's
favorite Narwhal t-shirt, a coat that belonged to my father that my mother gave
me after he died and before she did)... a lot of things that one can't really
attach a value to. I also appreciate the professional, respectful and
non-judgmental manner in which Mr. Herr treated me throughout the
process. It was the team's thoroughness, persistence, attention to detail
and competence which eventually shifted the balance to our
side. Hopefully, Matt and your other aspiring attorneys learned some
things that will helpful to the down the road, as well. If I run into anyone
needing expertise on 1920's inn-keeper laws, I'll send them [the clinic student's] way."
Prof. Wilson's students include Sarah Chang, Ryan Fairchild, Matthew Herr, Samuel Hightower, Logan Liles, Munashe Magarira, Rachel Nicholas, and Erica Romain.
Prof. Laura Collins Britton then spoke of the work done by her students in the Consumer Financial Transactions Clinic, including Catherine Bruce, Zach Ferguson, Sidney Fowler, Jared Knight, Seth Lawrence, Uka Onuoha, Asia Prince, and Kristofer Readling. She explained that during this
academic year, CFT Clinic students worked on behalf of vulnerable consumers on
matters pertaining to credit and homeownership. Without exception, their
work was outstanding. Several students were able to stop and significantly
delay multiple mortgage foreclosure cases against senior citizens and
struggling families; some advanced lawsuits against creditors who committed
fraud and unfair debt collection. One student assisted an elderly woman
in attempting to recoup $15,000 she was wrongfully forced to pay in property
taxes on her home. Others prepared an amicus brief in a mortgage
fraud case before the North Carolina Supreme Court. In conjunction with
the Center for Responsible Lending, students compiled data about debt
collection efforts in North Carolina which was then presented to the Consumer
Financial Protection Bureau in a report about the need for increased regulation
of debt buyers nationwide. They built relationships with federal, state
and local advocacy groups and the office of the North Carolina Commissioner of
Banks. Through it all, they displayed the highest standards of
professionalism and integrity. Their work truly made a meaningful
difference in the lives of consumers across North Carolina.
Although Prof. Tom Kelley of the Community Development Law Clinic was not present for the event, his students have also excelled during the year; they include Jordan Cobb, Lauren Demanovich, Lauren Harkey, Laura Krcmaric, Leah Mason, Amy McCrea, Stephanie Mellini, and Kaitlin Powers. A few of their representative cases are the following:
Client : A
grassroots community financial institution that helps homeless people save
money to meet specific personal and professional goals.
Task : Performed
legal research and drafted legal memoranda advising the client on how to avoid
losing deposited money through the application of North Carolina escheat and
garnishment laws. Then re-drafted certain
contracts in light of that advice.
Client : A
large provider of services to individuals suffering mental health problems and
Task : Advised
them through the process of merging with two similar nonprofit organizations.
Client : A
former UNC student organization that runs a community garden and distributes
produce to food insecure individuals.
Task : Advised
on risk reduction, including the drafting of letter agreements and volunteer
waivers. Also advised the client
regarding the proper structure for independent contractor arrangements with its
interns. Helped them prepare an
application for federal tax exemption.
Client : A
former UNC student organization that focuses on “promoting healthy bodies,
healthy minds, and healthy relationships for girls.”
Task : Advised
the client regarding risk reduction, including drafting corporate policies and
procedures and liability waivers. Also
provided advice regarding NCAA regulations that may apply when the organization
includes UNC intercollegiate athletes in its youth programs.
Client : An innovative charity that wishes to receive donations of
used medical equipment, sell the equipment at market prices in the U.S., and
use the proceeds to purchase medical equipment for under-resourced hospitals in
Task : Performed
extensive legal research and ultimately advised the client that it was unlikely
to be granted federal tax exempt status because its business plan is too
Prof. Beth Posner acknowledged the accomplishments of her students in the Immigration Clinic, including Yallana Boston-McGee, Sarah Colwell, Eva Gullick, Elaine Hartman, Emily Rojas, Jordan Wolfe, and Chrisy Yun.
Prof. Posner then presented the 2014 Clinical Legal Education Association's Outstanding Student Award, which is given annually to a UNC Clinic student who has achieved excellence in the field work component of the clinical course as determined by the student's thoughtfulness and self-reflection in exploring the legal, ethical, strategic, and other pertinent issues raised in the particular clinic, with consideration of the nature and extent of the student's contribution to the clinical community at the Law School. In presenting the award, Prof. Posner shared the following:
"I am very proud of all my clinic students this year. This, as you all know, was my first year teaching in this
Clinic, and they all jumped in and took it on faith that we would go on to do
great things. And we have.
Our clinic this year has completed, or nearly completed
U-Visa applications for 8 primary clients and 3 family members living out of
the country. Students are also just
about finished with Green Card applications for 9 new clients. By the time the students complete their work,
they will have assisted 20 new clients applying for immigration status.
Additionally, two of our students conducted a very well-received community education program for the Orange
County Domestic Violence Task Force. The
law enforcement officers, advocates, social workers, and medical professionals
there were extremely impressed with the depth of their knowledge, the skill
with which they presented, and the manner in which they were really able to
make all the different community members feel like we are playing for the same
team—helping our clients get lawful status.
As many of you know, this year I changed the focus of the
clinic such that all of our clients were victims and are survivors of domestic
or sexual violence. This required that each of my students not only develop the
legal skills necessary to do the required immigration work, abut also the
professional and ethical skills necessary to work with a very vulnerable
I asked you all to be consciously client-centered, empathetic,
and creative in your work. We had to
talk about boundaries and self-care, and I asked you to think about the
political implications of your work and your feelings about your work. You did it, and your clients are in better
places because of your compassionate lawyering.
As if it’s possible, one of you, however, had a tougher road
than the rest. A harder case, a client who brought so many additional
challenges, and that student is Melanie Stratton Lopez. I think we all learned from the graceful and passionate advocacy
Melanie brought to her client’s needs, and because of that, she is this year’s
recipient of the CLEA Outstanding Student Award.
For those of you outside the Clinic, Melanie represented a homeless,
schizophrenic, rape victim who neither the police nor the nurse who examined
her in the emergency room believed. We knew this would be a hard case, but Melanie jumped in. From the beginning, she displayed that she was thinking
critically about the practical and ethical issues that her client presented. And she wanted to learn from them. She had to be and was creative about when and where she
would meet her client and how she would keep up communications. She had to juggle numerous service providers
and guard against becoming a social worker herself. She had to think about what her client’s hunger, and
homelessness, and mental health meant during each meeting and throughout all
the decisions they made together. She had to think about what her client’s challenges meant to
her as a person and as a lawyer. And all the time, she engaged me, as her supervisor, and her
peers, in that process. She allowed us all to learn from her work, from her thought
processes, and, ultimately, from her failure.
Melanie did not prevail on behalf of her client, but the law
enforcement agency she worked with felt sufficiently educated by her that they
want to work with us more. She did not prevail on behalf of her client, but the
advocacy agency that referred her client wants to do more work with us because
of her professionalism and zealous advocacy. Melanie didn’t win her case, but her client knows that there
is a lawyer who took her story seriously, that there is a professional who met
her – where she was—quite literally—and cared enough about her to press her
case forward. Even though Melanie is the only Immigration Clinic student
whose U-Visa failed, I think it’s fair to say that through her work with that
client, and her contributions to the seminars, group meetings, team meetings,
and meetings with me in my office, the rest of us learned from her how
important it is to be aware of the larger social and political issues at play
in our hearts and in our work.
For those reasons, I
am so pleased to give Melanie this award."
Prof. Birckhead closed by thanking the Clinical Programs staff for their hard work and dedication, which makes it possible for the program to run smoothly and meet the needs of the students and their clients: Melissa Cobb, Rushdee Omar, and Perla Ramos.
Congratulations and many thanks to ALL of the third year students in UNC Clinical Programs during 2013-14. We have assisted hundreds of clients this year on a myriad of cases, and we are proud and grateful to the law students who committed themselves to this vitally important work.
Posted by Tamar R. Birckhead on Tue. April 22, 2014 1:28 PM
Civil Legal Assistance Clinic, Clinical Programs Events, Community Development Law Clinic, Consumer Financial Transactions Clinic, Immigration Clinic, Youth Justice Clinic