Ventura Dennis

The Project

As an Employment Opportunity Legal Corps Fellow, Ventura provided legal assistance to individuals with legal barriers to employment, such as expunging eligible criminal records and reinstating driving licenses.

What’s Next?

After her Fellowship, Ventura became a staff attorney at her host organization, Greater Boston Legal Services, where she provides critical legal advice and representation to low-income individuals.

Media

Ventura Dennis (’13) receives Outstanding Young Lawyers Award

The Project

Bernadette E. Valdellon was an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow at National Veterans Legal Services Program (NVLSP), where she assisted veterans in obtaining disability benefits related to their military service through NVLSP’s Lawyers Serving Warriors program.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Bernadette:

  • Analyzed military and personnel records of veterans requesting assistance with discharge upgrades, wrongful personality disorder discharges, and disability benefits for diseases related to Agent Orange exposure.
  • Drafted legal memoranda and supervised pro bono attorneys assisting with the discharge review process.

What’s Next?

After her Fellowship, Bernadette became a staff attorney at NVLSP for two years. In this position, she managed a national pro bono program providing representation to almost 100 veterans seeking disability benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs for mental conditions related to sexual trauma experienced in service. Now, she is an associate at Victor M. Glasberg & Associates.

The Project

The Veterans Advocacy Project at CLSMF serves low income and homeless veterans by providing direct legal advice and representation, advocacy and outreach, and community education. The project focuses primarily on issues affecting veterans’ abilities to transition to civilian life, from VA benefits claims and appeals to family and housing issues.

The Veterans Advocacy Project offers legal advice, counsel, referral, education, and representation to low-income veterans, free of charge, ensuring that the lives of those who have served our country are enriched as a result of legal assistance.

The Project

Despite being otherwise eligible, more than five million Americans in forty-eight states are unable to vote due to felon disenfranchisement laws. African Americans, in particular, face the brunt of these policies—in Kentucky, Virginia, and Florida, roughly one in five eligible African American voters are disenfranchised. Although every state with a felon disenfranchisement law offers some path to “restore” one’s voting rights, this path is often illusory due to widespread confusion and misunderstanding of restoration policies among officials. As a result, many eligible voters with criminal convictions face de facto disenfranchisement, frequently through the spread of misinformation about voter qualifications, or the removal of eligible voters from voter rolls. Kwame’s project aimed to address the insufficient resources devoted to serving eligible voters impacted by de facto disenfranchisement.

Kwame previously worked at nationally recognized voting rights organizations—including the American Civil Liberties Union and Project Vote—expanding voter registration opportunities to clients and applicants of public assistance programs, and as an advocate and researcher litigating voter ID laws during the 2014 elections. While working at the New York City Mayor’s Office of Operations, Kwame developed a unique understanding of the challenges faced by public officials who seek to implement election laws.

Fellowship Highlights

During his Fellowship, Kwame pushed for voting rights restoration legislation in nine states, and helped achieve passage in four state legislatures, including Maryland where 40,000 people had their voting rights restored. He wrote a report on New Jersey’s criminal disenfranchisement law that was quoted during a New Jersey gubernatorial debate, and submitted an analysis to the Nebraska state legislature that was read from the floor of the legislature, and helped get a voting rights restoration bill passed in that body. Additionally, he recruited national probation and parole associations to join with the Brennan Center to advocate for voting rights restoration as an important part of the re-entry process.

What’s Next

Following his Fellowship, Kwame has joined the New York City Corporation Counsel as an Honors Fellow, where he advises the Mayor and other city government officials on matters of law and policy including voting rights and election administration.

Media

Fighting for the Right to Vote in Louisiana

Keep Politics Out of Virginia Voting Rights Restoration

Restore ex-felons’ voting rights — it’s the right thing

Understanding the history of voter suppression and gerrymandering

Monsignor Murray Prize Awarded to Voting Rights Advocate

Instead of throwing away resources to keep citizens from voting, evidence suggests restoring rights actually boosts public safety and helps these individuals re-enter society.

Kwame Akosah /
Miami Herald

The Project

Melissa provided direct representation and community education to low-income New Yorkers with arrest and conviction records to reduce barriers to employment and facilitate successful reentry.

Almost one-third of U.S. adults — approximately 70 million people — have arrest or conviction records.  These individuals confront enormous barriers to obtaining employment, especially if they are poor.  In New York City, a criminal record reduces the likelihood of getting a callback or job offer for low-wage work by nearly 50 percent.  New York provides strong anti-discrimination protections to people with criminal records; however, there has been only limited enforcement of these protections to date.  This project will break down barriers to employment by enforcing New York’s strong anti-discrimination laws and empowering New Yorkers with criminal records to defend their rights and obtain stable employment.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Melissa has:

  • Recovered $117,500 for clients who suffered wage loss and emotional distress when they were unlawfully denied employment because of their criminal record
  • Provided legal services on 765 criminal records discrimination matters, thereby reducing hundreds of barriers to employment
  • Obtained or retained 26 occupational licenses, work clearances, or jobs through full representation of clients
  • Helped 61 people prepare personal statements and rehabilitation evidence to present to employers and agencies considering denying them employment or licenses on the basis of their criminal record
  • Persuaded 3 government agencies to change policies that adversely affected low-income New Yorkers with arrest and conviction records
  •  Provided 21 trainings to low-income New Yorkers with criminal records or their advocates

What’s Next

Now that the Fellowship is complete, Melissa plans to:

  • Continue empowering clients to enforce New York’s criminal records discrimination laws
  • Continue providing legal services to individuals confronting barriers to employment because of their arrest and conviction records
  • Continue helping clients with criminal records obtain or retain occupational licenses and jobs
  •  Continue working with government agencies to change policies that negatively impact New Yorkers with arrest and conviction records
  • Continue providing trainings to low-income New Yorkers with criminal records and their advocates

The Project

Adina will expand holistic deportation defense representation for detained immigrants with criminal convictions who have significant family and community ties throughout the Washington, DC metropolitan area.

There is no right to a public defender in immigration court and therefore, the vast majority of detained immigrants lack access to counsel, including those with criminal convictions. The growing nexus of criminal and immigration law, or “crimmigration,” has enmeshed convictions and deportation: in FY2013, 59% of deported immigrants had been convicted of a crime, primarily for minor offenses such as traffic violations or simple drug possession. Many immigrants facing crime-based deportation have significant family and community ties, are legal green card holders, and serve as family breadwinners. Moreover, an estimated 4.5 million U.S. citizen children have an undocumented parent at risk of deportation. Minor violations and mistakes – that many Americans make – can mean the double, disproportionate punishment of banishment from society and permanent separation from family. Yet the impact of access to immigration counsel is clear. In New York alone, 74% of non citizens who are represented secure relief from deportation, compared to 13% who lack counsel. Although detained non citizens with crimes have the most complex arguments to make against deportation, and may be eligible for relief if such arguments are made, they are often the least likely to be placed with pro bono counsel.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Adina:

  • Built a network of pro bono attorneys dedicated to representing detained immigrants with convictions facing deportation through advocacy, recruitment, and trainings
  • Provided test case representation to clients based on priority categories of non citizens most disproportionately affected by crime-based deportation
  • Initiated process for DC, MD, and VA criminal public defenders to refer detained clients who meet test case priority categories
  • Drafted crim-imm pro se materials and advisories

The Project

Adrianna will increase economic stability and reduce the collateral consequences of predatory debt collection for low-income people in rural New York by reducing default judgments in debt collection cases through financial empowerment, consumer protection education, and direct litigation.

More than 100,000 debt collection cases are filed in New York each year, and nearly 98% of debtors in these cases are unrepresented. As a result, more than half of these cases end in default judgments in favor of debt collectors, often despite actual proof that a debt was ever owed in the first place. Abusive debt collection practices are directly linked to broader economic discrimination, financial instability, and wealth inequality, and the impact is especially harmful to low-income people in rural communities. Without additional legal resources, the predatory structure of debt collection practices will continue to go unchallenged, leaving low-income, minority, disabled, and other disadvantaged individuals and families financially vulnerable.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Adrianna:

  • Lay a foundation for the project and gain substantive legal skills training through Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc.
  • Establish partnerships with legal and nonlegal service providers and monitor debt collection cases, default judgments, and other consumer issues in local courts
  • Provide legal information and advice through the Legal Assistance of Western New York, Inc. consumer hotline and Consumer Education Clinics to identify cases for litigation and empower pro se consumers
  • Identify ways to improve pro se resources for consumers

The Project

Nishan developed the New York City Anti-Violence Project’s (AVP’s) first focused outreach program, pro bono counsel program, and hate violence docket to provide holistic legal services to underserved LGBTQ Asian survivors of intersectional violence in New York City.

Nearly one in eight New Yorkers identify as Asian, making New York City home to the largest Asian population in the US. Studies show that up to 41‐61% of Asian Americans report experiencing domestic violence during their lifetime. Furthermore, national surveys indicate that LGBTQ Asians face higher rates of violence than their straight or non-ethnic counterparts. Nonetheless, out of thousands of people served each year at AVP, LGBTQ Asians have comprised as low as 0-3% of its clientele. Moreover, although hate violence is one of the largest client issues at AVP, victims of LGBTQ hate violence only make up a small percentage of legal clients. This gap in services to LGBTQ Asians exists across legal service organizations in New York City. This project will conduct focused outreach to Asian communities, further develop a hate crimes docket, and establish a pro bono counsel program to bridge this gap and better serve the needs of all LGBTQ survivors of violence in New York City.

Fellowship Highlights

During Nishan’s Fellowship, he:

  • Established formal relationships with social, cultural, and advocacy organizations
  • Conducted know your rights trainings
  • Created a comprehensive survey to establish local needs
  • Began organizational processes to establish a hate violence docket
  • Developed procedures and training materials for the creation of a pro bono counsel program
  • Provided holistic legal services to targeted communities

Media

2020 Best LGBTQ+ Lawyers Under 40 Awards

The Project

Anne will employ fair housing litigation, administrative complaints, and advocacy to protect Bay Area low-income communities of color from displacement by large “bad actor” landlords and local jurisdictions.

Low-income communities of color in the Bay Area are facing a crisis of displacement from their neighborhoods due to rising housing costs, harassment by landlords, conversion of their homes to high-end housing, and public investments targeted to attracting wealthy residents to formerly underserved neighborhoods. Families who have lived in these communities for decades are forced to leave their friends, families, churches, schools, and jobs. The influx of highly paid professionals into the Bay Area can provide an opportunity for shared prosperity, but if cities do not take care, gentrification will simply recreate patterns of segregation and instability that exacerbate health, education, and economic disparities.

The Project

Valerie will use innovative litigation and advocacy strategies to improve animal health and welfare and environmental protection at the nation’s factory farms.

Billions of animals across the United States live their entire lives in factory farms—large industrial operations that confine animals in dismal settings. In recent decades, three changes in the industry have enabled this system to thrive at the expense of animal health, welfare, and the environment: (1) the rise of large meat corporations, that use contracts to control the supply chain; (2) the overuse of antibiotics to compensate for overcrowding and filthy conditions; and (3) the often disproportionate marketing and serving of meat and poultry rather than plant-based foods by many large food service institutions. Valerie’s project will address these three linchpins of the factory farm system to improve animal welfare.

Fellowship Highlights

During her Fellowship, Valerie:

  • Worked with legal experts inside and outside the Natural Resources Defense Council to develop innovative litigation theories to increase animal health, welfare, and environmental protection
  • Initiated dialogue with food service industry or institutional food providers to move towards menus with more plant-based options
  • Developed materials and identify partners for public education campaigns