Create Change – Winter 2021

Executive Director's message

Be the change you wish to see in the world . . . – Gandhi

Anna Wang - Photo by Christine Baker-Parrish

The beginning of a new year is not typically this dramatic. 2021 has already had a few major events, sparking a range of extreme emotions given the surge in COVID-19 infections, the election of the Rev. Raphael Warnock as the first Black senator from Georgia, the violence in the Capitol, and the unexpected passing of a beloved faculty member, Professor Deborah L. Rhode. From the moment I joined Stanford Law in 2004, Deborah was a key supporter and friend. I deeply appreciated her leadership and guidance and am still shocked by this sudden loss. A brief tribute to her follows below.

Many of us are processing all these emotions while isolated from our social support networks due to continued pandemic-related restrictions. Our resilience is being thoroughly tested. Yet I remain cautiously optimistic that we will finally emerge from a world that has felt battered by a constant thrum of anxiety and despair.

Classes and events are still being held virtually, which certainly hampers our ability to strengthen our public interest community and properly integrate our newest members. Despite these challenges, we continue to try to create opportunities to connect with one another. Our annual Fall Public Service Awards shifted to a remote platform this year and students had the opportunity to hear from two incredible public interest attorneys, Amanda Alexander and Katrina Eiland, JD ’10. Read more about those programs below.

This issue also includes a profile on Geoffrey King, JD ’09, an alumnus who has sought a new way to leverage his legal and investigation skills to shine a powerful light on police misconduct and hold government officials accountable; an update on our Public Interest Associates program, which was first launched three years ago; and information about the next application cycle for our Stanford Law School Postgraduate Public Interest Fellowships.

As always, please do not hesitate to reach out if you have content ideas for our newsletter or are interested in connecting with our public interest students. Stay safe and take care of yourselves.


Alum Leverages Legal Expertise, Investigation Skills to Launch Public Interest Newsroom

Geoffrey King, JD ’09, grew up in Vallejo, California, a mid-size suburban city northeast of San Francisco. One of the most diverse cities in America, Vallejo formed around the first naval shipyard on the Pacific Ocean (the Navy built ships there for nearly 150 years before Mare Island was decommissioned in 1996). The city has been a source of extraordinary artists, including musicians H.E.R., Mac Dre, E-40, Nef the Pharoah, and Sly and the Family Stone; writers like Ernest J. Gaines; sports figures Jeff Gordon and Natalie Coughlin; even Perry Mason himself, Raymond Burr, lived there.

Yet over the past year, Vallejo has been in the news due to King’s successful efforts to investigate the city government and the police department — including uncovering a macabre ritual in which police bend their badges to mark each person they kill, which in turn sparked internal and likely criminal investigations.

King is the president, chief executive officer, and founder of the Informed California Foundation and the editor of its first project Open Vallejo: an independent, nonpartisan public interest newsroom, which he launched in February 2019 and incorporated a year later. Prior to launching this initiative, King was a more traditional public interest attorney who litigated First Amendment cases, taught privacy law at Berkeley for a decade, and traveled the world while working for a major press freedom NGO. Despite those incredible accomplishments earlier in his career, he states, “What I am doing now is, by far, the most meaningful work I have ever done.”

He notes that in addition to uncovering the badge bending ritual, “Open Vallejo has caused the early departures of Vallejo’s police chief and city attorney; uncovered a city councilmember’s horrifying history of felony domestic violence, which upended the 2020 mayor’s race; and more. This work is only possible so long as we are transparent and accountable to the community. It is unlike anything I have ever done, while at the same time, it is the culmination of everything I have learned in my career thus far. It is exhilarating and humbling all at once.”

After his studies at Diablo Valley College and UC Berkeley, King was drawn to law school because “it was, and remains, the best path I could see for making a difference. I had always been interested in civil rights and civil liberties, even as a kid, but growing up I had little direct exposure to law or policymaking. That all changed when I got to Cal (via community college), where I became active in the campus ACLU and took several undergraduate constitutional law courses. From there, law school went from improbable to inevitable really quickly: it was a way to turn my enthusiasm into useful work.”

He adds, “Even when I was applying to law school, I knew that I wanted to do First Amendment work. One thing I have always admired is people’s ability to speak truth — their truth — to power. It cuts across so many other critical issues: civil rights, environmental justice, gender equality. And because truth-telling is such a clear antecedent to change, the antipathy toward it can be intense, even brutal. Law school was a way I could stand in solidarity with my neighbors.”

After graduating from Stanford Law School in 2009, King has spent his legal career focused on free speech and press freedom. Yet shifting from serving as counsel to journalists to gathering and publishing news himself has not meant leaving his legal experience behind. He explains, “Everything I have done tends to inform the rest of my work. The diversity of my professional experiences has afforded me a lot of flexibility in responding to the sometimes-unpredictable nature of my current work. For example, when I was at First Amendment Project, a small nonprofit in Oakland, I represented an independent photojournalist who was unlawfully targeted by police while covering a protest. He was arrested and his photographs were illegally seized — and, later, they were used against protesters. In litigating that case through a successful motion to quash, I learned just how robust California’s protections for journalists are, and why that’s so important. Open Vallejo and Informed California are structured to fully leverage these protections; our work wouldn’t be possible without them.”

He adds, “In addition, shortly after I launched Open Vallejo, the same city councilmember with the felony domestic violence convictions said at a town hall that he watched a body camera video of a fatal police shooting that has since become public. I knew from my previous work that this meant the city had waived all exemptions to disclosure pursuant to the California Public Records Act, per a case called Black Panther Party v. Kehoe. The city had repeatedly refused to release the footage. But this time, it worked.”

“Although making that footage public was necessary,” King added, “like so much of our work, the end result is deeply unsettling. That shooting shocks the conscience. The footage is extremely difficult to watch. But change is dependent on people knowing the truth.”

King also notes, “When I worked at the Committee to Protect Journalists, which advocates on behalf of journalists outside the United States, my work was focused on technological and other non-legal approaches to protecting reporters and their sources. I also learned how to better communicate around press freedom, especially in listening to individuals’ needs, outside a legal context. This has proved invaluable in Vallejo, where local authorities are not used to accountability, and the response is at times extrajudicial.”

The transition from being legal counsel to start-up nonprofit founder has been interesting. King states, “All of my work has been for small nonprofits, or running specialized programming in large ones, so I feel relatively well-prepared for the scope and intensity of the workload. The main difference is that other people are counting on me not just in terms of the work, but also to keep the lights on. That is new, scary — and highly motivating. This is typical of any startup, I think, but compounding the challenge is the fact that the entire news industry is collapsing. Our work focuses on investigative and explanatory journalism. How does one create a sustainable model for the delivery of what is usually very bad news? At the same time, there is such need — not only because Vallejo is a news desert, but because the industry’s collapse means many large publications seem shy about making good and necessary trouble.”

In addition to launching Open Vallejo in February 2020, King also created the Informed California Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to support that work, learn from it, and open source the model to other cities across the state. He explains, “Informed California is unique in that it seeks to foster and support others’ efforts — even competitors’ — while producing the best, boldest public interest journalism we possibly can.”

King concludes, “Because I am an advocate by training, founding a journalism nonprofit was not the obvious choice, but it was the right one. My law degree means I see problems differently, while working within the bounds of a new discipline. My experience and my inexperience both play a role: for example, my legal background gives me an edge with open government request strategy and libel law; my relative newness to journalism means I have to really think through situations before acting. I am constantly learning new things. In the end I hope this work can lead to a more robust information environment for everyone, especially with regard to local news, while stopping those who use their power to harm others one retirement, resignation, or indictment at a time.”

SLS Stunned by the Loss of Professor Deborah L. Rhode

Faculty Publications 39

Faculty, staff, and students were stunned by the news that Professor Deborah L. Rhode passed away at her home on January 8, 2021. Rhode, the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law and the Director of the Center on the Legal Profession, was a beloved member of the SLS community for many decades. Moreover, she was an enthusiastic champion of pro bono service and all the public interest programs that eventually became housed at the Levin Center.

Associate Dean Diane Chin states, “There would be no pro bono program at SLS had it not been for Deborah’s steadfast commitment and willingness to engage faculty to adopt our current policy. Since adoption of the policy, our program has grown in leaps and bounds due to her ongoing guidance and support. With Deborah’s vision animating our efforts, over 90% of our first-year students engage in pro bono volunteering every year, we have more than a dozen ongoing, established projects, and over 75% of our graduates earn pro bono distinction every year.”

Rhode was the nation’s most frequently cited scholar on legal ethics. She was the author of 30 books in the fields of professional responsibility, leadership, and gender, law and public policy. She received the American Bar Association’s Michael Franck award for contributions to the field of professional responsibility; the American Bar Foundation’s W. M. Keck Foundation Award for distinguished scholarship on legal ethics, the American Foundation’s Distinguished Scholar award, the American Bar Association’s Pro Bono Publico Award for her work on expanding public service opportunities in law schools, and the White House’s Champion of Change award for a lifetime’s work in increasing access to justice.

Rhode graduated Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude from Yale College and received her JD from Yale Law School. She clerked for United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall before joining the Stanford Law School faculty in 1979. More details about Rhode’s work and tributes to her from faculty, alumni, and students are included in the longer remembrance in the Stanford Lawyer.

Thanks to our Communications Team, you may share your expressions and memories on this remembrance webpage. In accordance with her family’s wishes and what we understand Professor Rhode would have wanted, we will be holding a law school memorial event and conference in honor of her, once the pandemic subsides and we can gather in person again.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Deborah L. Rhode Pro Bono Fund at Stanford Law School, which exists to support students providing pro bono services to communities in need, including student trips, activities, and workshops. Rhode created the Fund herself, during the pandemic, because the Fund’s creation “sends a good message to students to see someone who is not uber rich still using funds to support student pro bono.”

SLS Celebrates Virtual Fall Awards and Honors Inspiring Public Interest Attorneys

Stanford Law School Honors Amanda Alexander and Katrina Eiland With Public Service Awards 1
Amanda Alexander (left) and Katrina Eiland, JD ’10

Our Fall 2020 Public Service Awards were presented virtually this year to Amanda Alexander, the founding Executive Director of the Detroit Justice Center, and Katrina Eiland, JD ’10, the Managing Attorney of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project’s California Office. Eiland spent the week of October 12 in virtual meetings with students while Alexander joined us during the week of October 26.

Alexander received the Stanford Law School National Public Service Award, and Eiland received the Miles L. Rubin Public Interest Award.

The SLS National Public Service Award honors attorneys whose commitment to public service has had a national impact, and the Miles L. Rubin Public Interest Award recognizes an alumnus/a whose outstanding work has advanced justice and social change in the lives of vulnerable populations on a community, national or international level.

“Every year, the law school community takes an opportunity to reconnect after the summer, highlight public service, and introduce the newest members of our community to inspiring role models in public service,” said Jenny Martinez, the Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and dean of Stanford Law School. “While we were unable to hold our awards dinner in person this year, we still gathered virtually to celebrate public service and provide a platform for outstanding public interest attorneys like [Katrina and Amanda.] Our students were able to chat with Katrina and Amanda in various small group settings and have been inspired by their work and re-energized to pursue social change.”

Alexander and Eiland each gave keynote lectures, met with student groups, and chatted with individual students during office hours.

Both keynotes were recorded and are available online: Alexander’s keynote was titled, “Defense, Offense, and Dreaming: Movement Lawyering in the Black Lives Matter Era” and Eiland’s keynote was titled, “Resilience in Resistance: When Immigrants’ Rights Are Under Relentless Attack.”

Public Interest Associates Program Prepares Students for Return to Public Service

In early 2018, the Levin Center launched the Public Interest Associates (“PI Associates) program in order to be more inclusive in our programming for students and graduates.

PI Associates are a cohort of 3Ls who are going into private sector jobs after graduation, but hoping to transition to public interest work at some later point in their careers. Over the course of their third year, PI Associates begin to plan their public interest career transitions; learn about budgeting and other financial issues related to leaving the private sector for public service; and research how to use pro bono and other experiences at a law firm to provide a springboard into public interest careers.

Levin Center staff members Titi Liu and Mike Winn co-founded the program and continue to design new programs and update existing content for participants. Liu states, “Because Mike and I both started in law firm practice, with a strong desire to eventually move into public service, it is particularly rewarding to be able to support the journey of these students.”

Students are paired up with one another to serve as peer coaches, providing support and accountability in the third year of law school and beyond. While the program is still quite new, over time we plan to provide programming that will keep cohorts of graduates together to continue providing mutual support and accountability throughout their careers.

The PI Associates program complements our long-standing Public Interest Fellows program, which targets graduating students who are seeking public interest employment immediately upon graduation. The PI Associates program is a direct response to feedback from third-year students who wanted to benefit from advice and support from Levin Center staff, and participate in the Stanford Law School public interest community, but could not commit to entering a public interest job immediately after law school. First-generation students of color in particular were frequently in the position of choosing to start careers in the private sector initially, but seeking to make an impact through public service careers in the long-term.

Because the hiring calendar of the Big Law timeline tends to be accelerated, those who are entering the private sector (including our PI Associates) tend to finalize their post graduation plans as they begin their third year of law school. This is in sharp contrast to 3Ls who are undergoing a public interest job search, as they usually spend most of the year on a job search. Thus, it makes sense to have separate programming for these two groups of 3Ls: those who are seeking public interest employment immediately upon graduation, who are in need of intensive fellowship and employment counseling; and those who are seeking a public service later in their careers, who are in need of programming that plans out the transition from private sector to public service.

Brock Huebner, JD ’21, a Public Interest Associate, states, “Especially in our remote law school environment, the Public Interest Associate program has been a great opportunity to maintain a sense of community with like-minded peers.”

SLS Postgraduate Public Interest Fellowships Deadline Approaching

Up to 13 Stanford Law School graduates will receive SLS funded fellowships to launch their public interest careers later this year. SLS funds all 13 fellowships but only selects 12 of the Fellows. The remaining Fellow is funded by SLS but chosen by the International Court of Justice for their University Traineeship Programme.

Students interested in the 10-month University Traineeship Programme with the International Court of Justice should note its February 5 deadline. SLS must nominate applicants so please contact Titi Liu if you are interested in applying.

The remaining 12 one-year postgraduate public interest fellowships have one joint application. Eligibility for the SLS Fellowships is limited to those alumni who graduated or will graduate between 2019-2021 and have not previously received a fellowship or government honors position. These fellowships enable our graduates to work full-time for a year in a law-related endeavor designed to further the public interest. They include both general postgraduate fellowships on any public interest issue and those targeting specific substantive areas (e.g., international, criminal defense, or criminal justice). There are slightly different eligibility requirements for each program, but there will be one joint application process for these 12 fellowships. Finalists will be invited to a virtual interview with the selection committee on Saturday, February 20, 2021.

The 2021-2022 application will be due Monday, January 25 by 12 pm PST. The Fellows will be selected by the end of March 2021. Additional details are available on-line.

About Create Change

2020 Levin Center Staff Photo
(L-to-R): Mike Winn, Anna Wang, Diane T. Chin, Titi Liu, Chelsea Jones, and Shafaq Khan. Photo by Joe Neto

Create Change is designed and produced quarterly by the staff of the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law. Unless specifically noted, all articles are written by staff:

Associate Dean for Public Service and Public Interest Law: Diane T. Chin
Executive Director: Anna Wang
Director, International Public Interest Initiatives: Titi Liu
Director, Pro Bono and Externship Programs: Mike Winn
Public Interest Counselor: Shafaq Khan
Program Manager: Chelsea Jones

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