Fall Quarter Highlights from the Community Law Clinic

Community Law Clinic students have earned some important victories for their clients this quarter as highlighted below. Congratulations to all involved!

Ravi Doshi (’13) and Melissa Hughes (’13) conducted a bench trial in November where they represented a woman in an unpaid wage claim. Their client had been hired to care for an elderly woman, and perform housekeeping chores in the family home.  When a significant dispute arose over the amount of pay agreed upon, the client left the job. When she returned for her wages, she didn’t receive them.  The client had represented herself at an administrative hearing and prevailed, but the employer took the opportunity for a trial de novo in Superior Court.  Ravi and Melissa did two direct examinations, cross examined the defendant employer, and delivered opening statement and closing argument.  They responded to the judge’s many questions and concerns, and out-performed the opposing counsel by miles!  The client was awarded everything demanded in the complaint—wages and applicable penalties.  Ravi and Melissa are presently working on post-trial issue of attorney fees. Clinical teaching fellow Nisha Vyas supervised this case.

Sarah Cunningham (’13) and Jessica Greenlick Snyder (’13) represented a woman who had worked in a floral shop and who had significant unpaid wages. The client had filed her own wage claim, and Sarah and Jessie represented her at the administrative hearing. The case presented many challenges, including an unrepresented defendant whose presentation at the hearing was erratic and internally inconsistent. The students answered the hearing examiner’s many questions about their calculations of wages owing, addressed his concerns about the liability of a potential co-defendant, took their client through direct examination, and cross-examined the defendant, including a textbook impeachment by prior inconsistent statement (a verified complaint in a different civil matter that the students investigation had uncovered).  The client was awarded all of her wages and applicable penalties. Collection in this case will be a challenge, given the numerous outstanding liabilities of the defendant, but Jessie and Sarah are in it for the long haul! Clinic director Juliet Brodie supervised this case.

In another wage case, Sarah Cunningham (’13) and Jessica Greenlick Snyder (’13) represented a woman who had worked at a gas station and, like Melissa and Ravi’s client, had prevailed on her own at the administrative level and was now facing the employer’s de novo case in Superior Court.  The students served a notice of deposition on the defendant corporation, and, having done the research, proceeded to explain to the individual director that he could not represent the corporation in court and that the corporation was required to have counsel.  The case settled on very favorable terms for the client; Sarah and Jessie have just delivered the sizable check to their client. Juliet Brodie also supervised this case.

Jessica Snyder (’13) represented a woman in an unlawful detainer (eviction) case. The client’s apartment manager served her with a notice to pay rent or quit within three days. She provided the management with a money order for the amount due, but the staff returned it to her, saying they couldn’t accept it due to noise complaints. The management filed an eviction suit against her. Jessica assisted the client with completing an answer and served discovery requests. This resulted in a quick negotiation with the landlord’s attorney, who voluntarily dismissed the case.

Students have also represented clients in Social Security Disability administrative hearings this quarter, under the supervision of clinical supervisor Lisa Douglass.

Lauren Navarro (’13) represented a San Jose man who lives in subsidized mental health supportive housing due to his bipolar disorder and anxiety disorder.  Lauren’s client was denied benefits at a prior hearing in 2011, where he was very ably represented by Kristin Wickler (’13), who also worked to develop the evidentiary record.  The Social Security Appeals Council vacated that decision on appeal and remanded for a new hearing before the same judge.  Lauren presented lengthy testimony of her client about his symptoms and mental health history, cross examined an expert witness and presented argument to the judge.  She also submitted newly detailed declarations she had prepared from physicians and other witnesses, and submitted a thorough trial brief outlining the basis for disability.  We are currently awaiting a decision.

Jessica Snyder represented an East Palo Alto woman who has been disabled since she fell down a flight of stairs at work a few years ago.  She suffers from chronic pain and depression.  At the administrative hearing the judge adopted the argument Jessica put forth in her brief, and awarded the client ongoing disability benefits including almost two years of retroactive benefits, based on statements Jessica had secured from the treating physicians.

We also received good news on some of our Social Security Disability hearings from Spring Quarter.  Elizabeth Dooley (’13) secured benefits for her 57 year old client who suffers from an anxiety disorder, depression and cognitive limitations after overcoming a long history of opiate addiction and suffering a head injury.  The client had been homeless for several years when we began representing him and recently moved into subsidized housing that was conditional on applying for and receiving disability benefits.  Elizabeth interviewed witnesses, secured an independent neuropsychological evaluation for the client, and engaged in a lengthy colloquy with the judge at the hearing, answering detailed questions about the medical evidence.  She also submitted declarations, a trial brief and post-hearing reports in response to the judge’s questions.  In the end, the judge granted ongoing disability benefits including several months of retroactive benefits.  The client will be able to maintain stable housing as a result of this decision.

Jonathon Margolick (’13) secured benefits for a local man who has been living in non-profit subsidized housing after years of homelessness due to his mental health symptoms.  Jon conducted interviews with the client about sensitive issues, including a traumatic childhood, history of alcohol abuse, and mental health symptoms.  He also prepared declarations from the client’s former psychiatrist and his case manager and submitted a hearing brief.  At the hearing, Jon presented the compelling testimony of the client.  The judge’s decision included over two years of back benefits and Medi-Cal coverage which will enable him to access comprehensive treatment of his mental health and medical conditions as well as prescription medications.

Amanda Broulliette (’13) represented a single mother at an administrative hearing appealing the cessation of her Social Security Disability benefits.  The client was cut off benefits last year because Social Security determined she was no longer disabled by her mental illness.  She went to a hearing, where the judge also determined that she was no longer disabled.  She appealed that decision and the Social Security Appeals Council remanded for a new hearing because the recording from the first hearing had been destroyed.  The clinic took on representation of the client for this new hearing before the same judge that had denied her the first time.  Amanda secured additional statements from the client’s treating mental health providers, worked with the client to prepare her testimony, and submitted a terrific trial brief.  At the hearing, Amanda also cross examined two expert witnesses and presented argument. This time, the judge issued a written decision finding that there was no medical improvement and disability benefits should be continued.