PAC Students Present at UN Forum on Poverty & Human Rights

On Wednesday, December 6, members of Berkeley Law’s Policy Advocacy Clinic presented their research relating to the criminalization of homelessness at a community forum with the UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights. Hosted by the Western Regional Advocacy Project, Coalition on Homelessness San Francisco, St. Anthony Foundation, and St. Mary’s Center, the purpose of the forum was to aid the Special Rapporteur in developing a report on extreme poverty and human rights in the United States by discussing how poverty in the Bay Area affects poor and homeless people’s ability to enjoy civil, political, and human rights protections.

The student team, Rawan Elhalaby (MPP), Shelby Nacino (JD ’18), Zachariah Oquenda (JD ’19), and Daisy Quan (MPP), spoke to the assembly about the findings of PAC reports on the enactment and enforcement of anti-homeless laws, the role of Business Improvement Districts in policy advocacy and policing practices that criminalize homelessness, and criminal fines and fees imposed on homeless people.

“The students’ presentation to the UN Special Rapporteur highlighted ongoing human rights violations in the heart of one of the most progressive cities and states in this country,” said Professor Jeff Selbin, faculty director of the Policy Advocacy Clinic. “At a time when the federal government is poised to redistribute wealth from the poor to the rich — and use the subsequent budget deficits to justify further shredding of the social safety net — I am proud of our students’ rigorous and principled work focused on the dignity and needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our community.”

Observed 3L Nacino, “sharing our research at the forum alongside community members demonstrated to me how we as law students and lawyers can support the critical work that communities are doing to fight for themselves everyday.”

Joel Sati

Ph.D. student in the Jurisprudence and Social Policy program at Berkeley Law
Hometown: Nairobi, Kenya by way of Rockville, MD
Undergrad: CCNY 2016
Affiliations: Founder and Executive Director, Undocumental

After Trump got elected last November, it became pretty clear the narrative against all immigrants would be making a turn for the worse. My goal for Undocumental is for it to become a forum where illegalized immigrants use political analysis to take control of the political discourse on immigration where they are being talked about, but not talked to. I reached out to a few people and the concept quickly gained a lot of support. With that support I was able to recruit an editorial staff with various disciplinary backgrounds from different parts of the country. I also had a lot of support from the Human Rights Center at Berkeley Law who helped me build capacity as well as helped us put together our formal launch this past November.

The mission is to offer incisive analysis of noncitizenship — not only looking at policy and trying to change people’s views, but also analyzing the debate itself around illegalized persons.

The intent of the phrase “illegalized” is to shift the focus onto institutions that make people illegal. The way undocumented immigrants are talked about — especially when the phrase “illegal immigrants” is used — is as if illegality is part of who they are, there’s something about them as a person that is intrinsically illegal. Focusing on illegalization also gives us a new framework from which to analyze certain policies. For example, though a policy may look to legalize a certain group of people on paper, it is imperative to as whether or not it illegalizes other people in turn.

Editor’s note: This concept was at the heart of an op-ed Joel published in the Washington Post following President Trump’s announcement that he would end the DACA program, excerpted here:

How DACA pits ‘good immigrants’ against millions of others,” Washington Post, September 7, 2017

See also, “Noncitizenship and the case for illegalized persons,” UC Berkeley Blog, January 24, 2017

Deborah Oh ’20

Hometown: Chicago, IL
Education: USC 2013
Affiliations: BHSA, Berkeley Technology Law Journal, Asian American Law Journal

English wasn’t my first language. I was raised by my grandparents who spoke Korean. So I joined debate in high school to try to be more confident and it helped me become empowered to speak in class. That’s one of the reasons I decided to go to law school. The idea of helping people who are struggling with language confidence… I wanted to give that voice to others who didn’t have the training and good education that I had to overcome that obstacle.

I decided to run for 1L BHSA rep because I saw the position as a student support role. There are 300 of us in the first year class, and no matter how hard the staff and administration tries, there is no way for them to know every student’s needs and interests. As the 1L rep, by virtue of going through the same experience as my classmates, I can see what students need and what they are feeling. So I thought I could make a difference in this role by making people feel like they had the chance to be heard. Ideally every student will feel like Berkeley Law is their home and they can grow and thrive here. Helping them do that is why I was really passionate about the position.

If I wasn’t a BHSA rep I probably would have stuck with my core group of friends and been much more solitary in my studies. Because of this position I have to interact with students I barely know, and constantly think about how to better the 1L class and better the school. I hope every student has the chance to have a role that gives them a sense of investment in the school, whether it’s through a journal or student government or whatever, it has enriched my experience a lot.

Aseem Mulji ’19

Hometown: Orange County, CA
Education: Middlebury College 2012
Affiliations: The Post-Conviction Advocacy Project, ElectionLaw@Boalt, California Law Review, Legal Research & Writing tutor

The Post-Conviction Advocacy Project (P-CAP, one of Berkeley Law’s many student-initiated legal service projects) allows students to get deep exposure to the criminal justice system and build deep relationships with clients. The program assigns two or three students to work with a prisoner who is eligible for parole for six to 18 months, and potentially even longer, to help them prepare for an upcoming parole board hearing. P-CAP students are currently working with clients at San Quentin, Mule Creek, and the women’s prison in Chowchilla, which is where my client is serving a life sentence.

We travel to the prison to work with clients about once a month. We work with a client up until their parole board hearing. Our job is to help them develop their own narrative and communicate to the Board of Parole why they should be paroled. Sometimes that means exploring their childhood or their crime or what they’ve done in prison. The other piece is helping them practice presentation skills, so we do mock hearings and ask them questions as the board might and help them practice giving answers. Finally, we represent the client at their parole hearing under the supervision of an attorney at a local non-profit called UnCommon Law.

The clients do a huge amount of work to prepare for their hearings. The sad thing is that this process is so weighted against them. The board has a ton of discretion. Their standard of evidence is “some evidence,” so they can point to anything—before and during the prison term—to deny the grant. What the board wants to see is that the prisoner has internalized the justification for their incarceration, even when their incarceration was wholly unjustified.

Fortunately, my client was granted parole, but the work opened my eyes to everything that is wrong with the criminal justice system. The parole process in California needs reform.

Mallory Morales ’18

Hometown: New Jersey
Education: Boston University 2013
Affiliations: Editor-in-Chief of California Law Review

Editor’s note: In legal academia, most scholarship is published not in peer review journals, but by students in law review journals. California Law Review (CLR) is the flagship law review at Berkeley.

Legal scholarship that is published in a law review, particularly at a top law school, can have a huge influence. It can show up on the desks of judges and professors and policymakers. Professors who submit articles for publication in law reviews are at the forefront of their specialty and research in that area. Because of this, law review articles are often looked to for legal reform.

CLR has a huge amount of potential to influence the law, and it’s amazing that law students get to be the gatekeepers of the types of ideas that get disseminated into the world. We don’t want to create an echochamber of scholarship that only legal scholars are reading. We look for articles that are going to have an impact and will affect a lot of people and everyday issues outside of academia.

We have 131 members and publish six times a year, each issue has about seven pieces in it. So we’re basically running a full-time publishing house. I ran for Editor-in-Chief because I was excited by the opportunity to manage a big team that can have a real influence on the legal world. I’m also just inspired by the people I work with. My peers are some of the smartest people I’ve ever met and they have these big ideas about the direction of the law and legal profession and I really enjoy being in a position to help them achieve their goals. Learning how to run a large organization that is accountable to the legal community at a high level is a huge responsibility. It has been an honor and privilege to lead it.

Shelby Nacino ’18

Hometown: Honolulu, HI
Education: UC Berkeley 2014
Affiliations: East Bay Community Law Center (Tenants’ Rights Workshop, Health & Welfare Unit, Community Economic Justice Clinic, co-founder of the Name and Gender Change Workshop), Policy Advocacy Clinic

My first summer I worked in EBCLC’s health and welfare unit. During that time we wanted to get the word out about services we had available for the transgender community. So that’s how the Name and Gender Change Workshop came about.

The workshop is a student-initiated legal services project, students run it under the supervision of one of the health attorneys at EBCLC. We host 2-3 workshops each semester where clients can come in and work with students to walk through the forms to obtain a court-order for a name and gender change.

EBCLC’s client population is low income folks and people who may not have stable housing. Someone who doesn’t have a place to live also probably doesn’t have reliable access to a computer or wi-fi. So they can’t necessarily do the research needed to complete the process. Another issue is that a lot of folks from marginalized communities have a valid fear around the law and legal processes in general, and this is true for a lot of transgender folks—especially those whose experiences with the justice system may have involved criminalization.

The whole point is to increase access to the legal system for people within a community that might not otherwise have access. The legal process for a name and gender change isn’t that complex, but for folks that experience discrimination at every turn, it really helps to have an advocate walk them through the process.

I’m applying for funding that would allow me to build on the Name and Gender Change Workshop and increase outreach and services we can provide to transgender folks—particularly low-income transgender people of color.

Consumer Advocacy and Protection Society

Lecturer Ted Mermin reports that six members of the Consumer Advocacy and Protection Society (CAPS) have recently drafted and filed amicus briefs in important consumer protection cases in the United States Supreme Court, the California Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit, and the D.C. Circuit. Pictured left to right:

Brady Williams ’19
Brady has drafted an amicus brief on behalf of leading consumer protection organizations in the California Supreme Court, arguing that loans for $2,600 made to low-income consumers at interest rates above 100% can indeed be unconscionable, even in the absence of a rate cap for loans of that size.

Daniel Contreras ’19
Daniel drafted an amicus brief on behalf of the Public Good Law Center in the D.C. Circuit in Soundboard Ass’n v. FTC, arguing that the use of advanced digital technology to deceive consumers into believing they are talking to a human being is a prohibited form of “robocalling,” and that the First Amendment does not protect such manufactured speech.

Miriam Wayne ’18
In just two weeks, MJ drafted, revised, and filed an amicus brief in the Northern District of California on behalf of the Public Good Law Center and several other consumer protection organizations in support of the Federal Trade Commission’s case against DIRECTV for allegedly misleading customers by hiding the increased cost of the second half of a two-year contract and the actual cost of “free” premium service.

Sophia TonNu ’19
In all of three weeks, Sophia drafted an amicus brief on behalf of the American Heart Association and a dozen other public health and medical organizations in the Ninth Circuit in American Beverage Association v. San Francisco, arguing that the First Amendment does not preclude governments from requiring scientifically accurate disclosures and warnings on advertisements for potentially harmful products.

Cristina Mathews ’19
Cristina is writing an amicus brief in the California Supreme Court in Black Sky Capital v. Cobb, on behalf of Housing and Economic Rights Advocates,seeking to protect home equity loan borrowers from being sued (or hounded by debt collectors) after foreclosure for a “deficiency” if the home is sold for less than the amount of the mortgages.

Robin Wetherill ’18
Robin filed an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court in Henson v. Santander, on behalf of the East Bay Community Law Center and law clinics at Notre Dame and Yale, arguing that the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act covers banks that are acting as debt buyers. She is also writing an amicus brief in the California Supreme Court, on behalf of EBCLC and a raft of other legal services providers around California, arguing that California law requires debt collectors to make their witnesses available for trial rather than having them appear only through affidavits. Both cases involve crucial tools used by legal services clinics on behalf of low-income consumers to hold abusive debt collectors accountable.

The consumers of California, and of the nation — that is, all of us — have a lot to thank them for.

James Liu ’19

Hometown: Davis, CA
Education: UCLA 2015
Affiliations: Publishing Editor, Berkeley Sports & Entertainment Journal; Asian Pacific American Law Students Association

I’m a big videogamer. I was part of the e-sports competitive video gaming club at UCLA. During OCI (on-campus interviews) I spoke a lot about how many aspects of competitive video gaming are applicable to litigation. As a litigator you have a limited amount of time and you have to pick and choose your strategy and the arguments you decide to present very carefully. People think of video gaming as a leisurely thing, but in the competitive world it’s actually a huge time crunch. The minute the game starts, every single second counts and you have to make your marks in a tight time frame. So that’s one of the reasons I’m attracted to litigation.

I really enjoy fantasy and sci-fi because they incorporate story arcs that make real-world issues accessible to a larger and younger audience. Within the Star Wars Clone Wars story arc, they show the impact of the war on refugees and citizens’ whose planet got caught up in the war. If you present a really deep article about genocide and war to a child or teenager, that’s too intense for them to understand. But if you introduce these ideas through something they are familiar with—everyone loves Star Wars—it helps them understand these issues without being bombarded in an overwhelming way.

Editor’s note: Inspired by a conversation with fellow Star Wars universe fan Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar during his summer externship at the Supreme Court of California, James decided to apply his talent for legal analysis to his passion for the fantasy/sci-fi genre.

In his article, “Are Surviving Clone Troopers Guilty of War Crimes?,” The Legal Geeks, October 16, 2017, James applies IRAC analysis (and meticulous Bluebook citation) to determine whether clone troopers, who executed Jedi under programmed orders via “inhibitor chips” in the animated series Star Wars Rebels, could be found guilty of war crimes, excerpted here:

Amanda Allen ’19

Hometown: Louisville, KY
Education: University of Louisville 2016
Affiliations: Co-founder of Boalt on Break, Women of Color Collective, First Generation Professionals, Law Students of African Descent, Boalt Improv Group, Berkeley Journal of African American Law & Policy, Boalt Hall Women’s Association, Mock Trial Team, and Foster Education Project

Boalt on Break is an opportunity for Berkeley Law students to work on issues and with clients that we wouldn’t have access to in the Bay Area. For me, taking students from this elite law school out of our academic, urban bubble and into a high-needs area like Kentucky, where I’m from, was really exciting.

Over spring break, we’ll be doing direct legal services in rural Kentucky, in partnership with local organizations (including the Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center and the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund) to help with wills and divorce proceedings. We’ll also be working with coal miners to help them get their black lung benefits from the federal government.Particularly in the rural communities of Kentucky, there are not enough attorneys doing this kind of work. So we’ll be helping the legal aid organizations there provide assistance to an underserved population.

I want to go back to Kentucky eventually. It’s a place that I’m really excited to show my classmates all of the promise that it has and the beauty of the state itself.

Mia Akers ’18

Hometown: Chicago, IL
Education: University of Wisconsin, Madison 2015
Affiliations: EBCLC Education Advocacy Clinic, Foster Education Project, Law Students of African Descent, California Law Review, Board of Advocates Moot Court

I work in the Education Advocacy Clinic (EAC) at EBCLC. We represent students in Alameda County during the expulsion process and also advocate for students who have disabilities and special needs through their individualized education plan (IEP) process.

The work of EAC is so important because, unfortunately, the expulsion process mirrors many aspects of a criminal trial. If the family of the student doesn’t have a lawyer or an advocate to help them through the process—to review paperwork, cross examine witnesses, present evidence, and basically mount a case—the school districts have an unfair advantage. Many students are being wrongfully expelled and are unaware of the rights and procedural safeguards that they entitled to under the California Education Code.

For students with disabilities, if they don’t have an advocate who diligently reviews IEP paperwork and ensures that the district is complying with all the relevant timelines, the rights of the parents, and completing proper assessments—this can really hurt a child’s progress. This is especially troublesome for students who are low income and families of color who are already at the margins of society.

There’s not enough outreach about the legal services that are available to families and students facing expulsion—maybe because people think it’s just a school proceeding and it’s not that important. No, it’s not exactly a criminal conviction, but having a disciplinary expulsion on a student’s record can affect the rest of their lives.

One of the biggest cases I worked on this semester involved a school district pressuring a student and his family to sign a stipulated expulsion, in which the student admits to the wrongdoing and foregoes their right to a hearing. We appealed that case to the Alameda County Board of Education and were able to get his expulsion overturned. So to see the things I’ve learned in the classroom be applied and change the course of a young person’s life is truly powerful.