Robert assisted Tribal nations in Wisconsin to bolster Tribal environmental sovereignty and protect natural resources/relatives, in particular clean water.
Long-running failures by Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources to properly administer the Clean Water Act have left critical waters insufficiently protected. Public health, cultural practices, and Tribal sovereignty are all impacted by state and federal failures to fully understand and respect Tribal relations to water. This is why Tribes must have a direct hand in environmental decision-making, through setting their own environmental standards and having more equitable involvement in federal and state processes.
Robert was interested in and inspired by Midwest Environmental Advocates’ community-centered approach to environmental lawyering since volunteering with them before he attended law school. Further, he sees sustainable relations to water, air, and land as inextricably linked to proper recognition of Indigenous sovereignty and the complicated histories of colonization that continue to reverberate today.
During the two-year Fellowship, Robert:
- Engaged Tribal and State officials on various paths to improve consultation based on extensive research of best practices across the U.S.
- Developed numerous public guides on issues at the intersection of environmental protection and Tribal rights
- Supported coalitions of Tribal and non-profit staff and local residents concerned about impacts of extractive industries such as metallic mining and oil pipelines
- Represented non-profits and Tribal nations before multiple administrative agencies and courts
After the fellowship, Robert will join Earthjustice’s Tribal Partnerships Program as a Legal Fellow where they will continue working on issues related to Tribal environmental sovereignty. Earthjustice is a premier national nonprofit environmental law organization.
Pauline focused on homelessness prevention, landlord and tenant issues, affordable housing advocacy, and community development in Orange County, CA. The direct legal services component provides eviction defense, habitability, subsidized housing benefits, home ownership, foreclosures, and discrimination. Also, Pauline advocated on behalf of low-income residents for fair and affordable housing through litigation and education.
Katy Ramsey focused on family homelessness prevention by providing direct legal assistance to families in areas related to housing and provided legal services in the areas of government benefits and health care, which often go hand-in-hand with threats to stable housing. Additionally, Katy developedcommunity education materials and conduct outreach throughout the community, focusing on East Harlem.
Molly implemented a holistic outreach and representation model to pursue zealous and creative immigration legal representation for transgender immigrant survivors of violence and trafficking with complex cases.
In New York City, transgender immigrant women experience pervasive and widespread discrimination and marginalization. Because of this intolerance, the community is disproportionately vulnerable to violence and human trafficking. The intersecting oppressions of a lack of immigration status and the criminalization of many forms of survival prevent many from accessing vital legal advocacy. This project worked to overcome such barriers by engaging in community outreach to educate and pursue direct legal representation for transgender survivors of violence and trafficking.
Despite an increasingly challenging immigration legal environment, Molly won asylum status and T visas for five transgender immigrant survivor clients, and has immigration applications pending for numerous others. Molly worked with out-of-state counsel to help clear trafficking and transphobia-related criminal records for several clients, assisted in international family reunification, and obtained employment authorization for numerous individuals.
Molly also provided advice, conducted brief service, and gave referrals to 50 individuals, and conducted Know Your Rights workshops and presentations to community groups throughout the city. She also educated legislators in Albany and New York about proposed legislation that would impact her clients.
Molly will remain at her host organization as an immigration staff attorney, where she will continue to zealously represent transgender immigrant survivors with complex cases and conduct community-based outreach.
Hannah established a Head Start MLP demonstration project to improve family stability, child well-being, and kindergarten readiness by embedding legal aid into a preschool site serving at-risk children.
Research shows that high-quality early care and education programs have lasting effects on IQ, boost academic and economic achievement, and help prevent chronic disease and obesity in adulthood. Children who enter kindergarten ready for school have an 80% chance of mastering basic skills by age 11, versus 45% for those who are not. In Chicago, almost half of 3-year-olds and more than one-third of 4-year-olds are chronically absent from preschool. The causes of chronic absenteeism are related to social issues such as poverty and access to quality healthcare and public benefits. By embedding legal aid at a Head Start site, we can model how programs would benefit from the assistance of legal advocates who have expertise and experience in issue spotting, policy advocacy, multiple benefits areas, and navigating complicated benefit programs and educational systems.
In collaboration with special education advocates, Hannah advocated for changes to the Chicago Public School District’s preschool transportation policy in accordance with federal law. Thanks to the group’s efforts, the CPS transportation policy was changed to provide transportation for eligible preschool students with disabilities to, from, and in-between home, daycare, and CPS schools. Hannah also represented Head Start children and families in special education cases and succeeded in obtaining appropriate special education and related services through representation in evaluations, eligibility meetings, IEP meetings, and mediation.
Over the course of her Fellowship, Hannah was engaged in numerous coalitions advocating for high-quality early childhood education programs and collaborated on comments to proposed legislation and administrative rules affecting such programs. Through her work, she connected with public interest organizations and conducted trainings and presentations for various stakeholder groups.
Hannah is continuing her work in public interest as a Staff Attorney at Legal Aid Chicago.
Emma challenged modern-day debtors’ prisons in Wisconsin by urging courts to pursue more rational and equitable approaches to criminal justice debt. The project aimed to implement constitutional court procedures and legal advocacy through 1) coalition-building 2) attorney training and pro-bono opportunities 3) community outreach and education 4) impact litigation and 5) data collection and evaluation.
In Milwaukee County, between 20-50 individuals were sitting in custody solely because they failed to pay a fine, fee, forfeiture, or other monetary payment required as a result of a municipal ordinance violation or traffic violation. State and local courts throughout Wisconsin have attempted to increase funding by using aggressive tactics to collect unpaid fines and fees for low-level municipal violations. Courts have gone so far as to order the arrest and jailing of people who fall behind on their payments, without affording hearings to determine an individual’s ability to pay or offering alternatives to payment. As with many areas of the justice system, those who are impacted the most by these unconstitutional practices are under-resourced people of color.
During her Fellowship, Emma filed indigency petitions for people at the house of corrections who were there solely due to the inability to pay municipal tickets. Through individual representation, she was able to greatly reduce the cost and consequences of traffic tickets in two jurisdictions on behalf of a minor. She along with the ACLU of Wisconsin and more than 35 attorneys and legal organizations successfully advocated for the dismissal of 182 out of 191 curfew tickets issued in the city of Milwaukee, removing approximately $126,000 of legal financial obligations. She successfully advocated for the repeal of the truancy ordinance in Appleton, Wisconsin, and gave over 20 presentations and trainings to community members and legal professionals. Finally, Emma developed know-your-rights materials, pro bono materials, and helped recruit and train pro bono attorneys representing individuals with protest-related tickets in municipal court.
Emma remains at the ACLU of Wisconsin, where she is now a staff attorney. She continues to expand her work on issues related to the criminalization of poverty, criminal justice, and racial justice.
I have a personal commitment to practice law in areas that benefit communities of color and focus on racial justice, specifically within the areas of civil rights and criminal justice reform.
Emma Shakeshaft /
2018 Equal Justice Works Fellow