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Equal Justice at Work: February 2011

Fellows on the Front

Fighting for the Rights of the Disabled

At the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, Equal Justice Works Fellow Meghan Carter, works to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities. Meghan, who is in the first year of her fellowship, recently helped a client who suffered from depression and was facing eviction from his subsidized housing. The client’s medication often caused him to become very tired. One day after taking his medication, the client fell asleep while cooking, causing a small fire that damaged the microwave in his apartment.  As a result of this incident, the client had his medication changed, paid the landlord an additional $10 per month out of his limited income to repair the damaged microwave, and offered to no longer cook on the stove if the landlord would agree to not evict him.  Unfortunately, the landlord denied the request without considering the life changes that the client had made and began eviction proceedings.

Meghan gathered testimony from the client’s psychiatrist, social worker and house case manager to demonstrate to the jury that her client was not a safety threat.  The client’s doctor testified as a factual witness, rather than an expert witness, adding further credibility to Meghan’s case when he was able to illustrate that the client was capable of living independently in his apartment.  The jury agreed and ruled in favor of the client.  Meghan’s diligent representation of her client stopped eviction proceedings, and the client was able to remain in his apartment.

Meghan expressed her enthusiasm for this victory saying, “This case was a phenomenal experience for me as a young attorney, and it truly exemplifies the vital work that I am able to do through my Equal Justice Works Fellowship.”

 

Financing the Future

Article Provides Road Map to Improved Law School Loan Repayment Assistance Programs
For many years, student debt has been a major obstacle for public interest–minded lawyers. Law school based loan repayment assistance programs (LRAPs) have helped make public service work a viable choice for attorneys.

 

Alumni News

Equal Justice Works Fellow and Alumni Team to up Win Ruling for Mentally Disabled Immigrant Detainees

Immigration proceedings allow that immigrants are entitled to a fair hearing on whether there is a basis for their deportation; however, they are not provided with counsel, leaving many to represent themselves.  But what about those who suffer from severe mental disabilities and cannot understand the proceedings against them? Do they have a constitutional right to legal representation?

Estimates indicate that as many as 700 immigrants facing deportation proceedings nationwide suffer from severe mental illness. In August 2010, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Los Angeles and San Diego, Public Counsel and Sullivan & Cromwell teamed up to file suit on behalf of six immigrants diagnosed with schizophrenia, depression and mental retardation being held in immigration detention centers around the country. Working on the case were Equal Justice Works Alumni Ahilan Arulanatham (class of 2000), Director of Immigrants’ Rights for the ACLU in Los Angeles; Talia Inlender (class of 2008), staff attorney with Public Counsel’s Immigrants’ Rights Project; and current Fellow Jennifer Stark, who is also working at the ACLU.

Suffering from mental health issues makes it complicated for detainees to understand the proceedings. “If someone cannot understand the proceedings against them, due process requires that they be given a lawyer to help them,” explained Ahilan Arulanantham. The suit asked the court to create a way to determine which immigrant detainees are incompetent to represent themselves and to appoint these detainees attorneys.

In December, in what is possibly the first ruling of its kind, a federal judge ordered the government to provide legal representation to two of the six mentally disabled clients facing deportation. The U.S. District Judge found that the government violated disability laws and the indigent clients' constitutional right to due process by failing to provide them with representation in their immigration proceedings.

We congratulate the ACLU, Public Counsel and Sullivan & Cromwell on this momentous victory. Ahilan Arulanatham and Jennifer Stark will be speaking at the Equal Justice Works in Los Angeles reception being held in Los Angeles on Thursday, February 17. For additional details on the event, please view our upcoming events page.

 

Executive Director's Corner

In 1986, a group of passionate law students from 14 different schools came together with a mission to expand legal services to underrepresented populations and provide more opportunities for law students and lawyers to work in public interest law.  And so, Equal Justice Works was born.  Now, 25 years later, we continue to embrace the vision that was set forth by those dedicated students.

As we kick off our year-long 25th Anniversary celebration, I am amazed by all that has been accomplished.  Equal Justice Works has helped launch the careers of more than 1,000 public interest law leaders who have worked on issues ranging from domestic violence, homelessness and community economic development, to immigration, civil rights, and access to health care. Our alumni have become leaders in the public service arena, founding nonprofit organizations, holding public office and even teaching the next generation of public interest lawyers.  And we’ve made strides in the area of student debt relief, with more loan repayment assistance and federal programs making it feasible for those wanting to pursue a public interest career to do so.

We could not be celebrating these achievements if it were not for the help of the hundreds of law schools, law firms, corporations and individuals who have supported us throughout the years.

On behalf of Equal Justice Works, I’d like to say thank you for your support and embracing our mission. I hope you will join us as we celebrate 25 years of working towards equal justice for all.

David Stern