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Clinical Program – Latest Challenges & Successes

Last spring, as part of a series of events commemorating the Centennial, the law school held a regional conference that celebrated the success and influence of its 40-year-old clinical program and, to coincide with the conference, published a book on the clinics’ diverse activities.

Conference speakers discussed the goals of clinical education as advocated by Rutgers professor and civil rights advocate Arthur Kinoy and the role of clinics in promoting collaborations with law firm pro bono departments and public interest organizations. The luncheon posthumously honored Kinoy for his vision and leadership and also honored Professor Frank Askin for creating and implementing clinics during his 43 years at the law school. The book You Can Tell It to the Judge . . . and Other True Tales of Law School Lawyering describes how the Rutgers–Newark clinics have used live clients and current issues to train students to represent the public interest and reform the law while learning essential lawyering skills.

09 Fall Clinic News   
Articles on the conference and the book are included in the Fall 2009 issue of Clinic News, which recaps some of the program’s most recent activities. Commenting for the newsletter, Dean John J. Farmer, Jr. states, “Under the current leadership of Professor Jon Dubin, Director of the Clinical Program, Rutgers clinics remain at the cutting edge of clinical legal education. They have an impact locally by assisting indigent children and adults in public benefits, child welfare and education matters; nationally, by seeking to protect the vote and keeping clients’ records safe from public view; and globally, by working with the United Nations Human Rights Committee to ensure U.S. compliance with international human rights treaties. Rutgers’ clinical program continues to demonstrate that in a post 9/11 world, it is necessary to think and to act both globally and locally.”

More than 100 students enroll in the clinics each semester. Read Clinic News to learn about some of the issues and cases that clinical students and faculty have handled over the past year. Among the stories:

> In briefs filed with the Appellate Division, national higher education associations have joined the fight to protect the program’s case files from public disclosure under the state’s Open Public Records Act (OPRA). The appeal is from the dismissal of a lawsuit by a real estate developer seeking to compel the Environmental Law Clinic to disclose case files under OPRA. The amicus briefs stressed the deleterious impact and chilling effects on public law schools’ clinical legal education programs from a potential ruling that clinical case files are records available to the public under open records laws. A decision is forthcoming.

> The Urban Legal Clinic spearheaded a successful amicus curiae effort in a case heard by the New Jersey Supreme Court. State v. PMP raised the question of when the right to counsel attaches for children charged with delinquency. The clinic brief, co-authored by the National Juvenile Defender Center, argued that adolescent psychological and brain development research establishes that young people are particularly vulnerable to overreaching by police and other adults. In July, a 5-2 majority of the Court held that the right to counsel attaches as early as the filing of the delinquency complaint and issuance of an arrest warrant and cannot be waived except in the presence of and after consultation with a defense attorney.

> From January until May, the Constitutional Litigation Clinic was in Superior Court in Trenton challenging the constitutionality of New Jersey’s 11,000 paperless computerized voting machines. The suit, brought almost five years ago, argues that electronic voting machines are inherently insecure. The clinic’s case relied heavily on expert witnesses, including top computer science and security experts. Post-trial briefs were due throughout the summer. The clinic hopes that the court will decommission the machines and replace them with a more secure and auditable system that complies with state law.

> The Child Advocacy Clinic represents three children in a case that raises the question of whether children who have had their ties to their biological parents severed due to abuse and/or neglect, and who are adopted by new parents, have the right to continue their relationships with one another. If so, is that right in conflict with the right to permanency? How can these conflicting interests be balanced or reconciled? The judge in the case declined to order that sibling contact be maintained post-adoption, finding that he lacked the authority to do so under current law. Through an appeal, which is pending, the clinic hopes to change the legal landscape in favor of maintaining sibling relationships.

> Covenant House, one year after purchasing two houses as part of the organization’s transitional living program, learned that its use of the property violated Newark’s zoning ordinance because it constituted congregate living. Covenant House asked the Community Law Clinic for help in obtaining a variance. At the hearing, the clinic successfully demonstrated the community value and benefit of the transitional housing units and the compatibility of that value with the city’s master plan. Objectors withdrew their opposition and the zoning board voted unanimously in favor of granting the variance. Had the shelters closed, 14 at-risk youth would have become homeless.

> The Special Education Clinic obtained accommodations and educational services for an academically gifted 17-year-old unable to attend school most of her senior year due to a psychiatric disorder. Without accommodations, the girl received incompletes and an “F” as final grades. Since the student had sufficient credits to graduate, the school district sought to give her a diploma and contended she was no longer eligible for special education due to previous high academic performance and test scores. The clinic filed applications for emergent relief and due process. The administrative law judge prohibited the district from graduating the student and ordered a determination of her eligibility for supports and services. The district concluded the student was eligible for Section 504 services, planned to accommodate her disabilities, and agreed to change her transcript and provide transition services for at least one year after graduation.

> The Urban Legal Clinic received an Award of Merit from the New Jersey Chapter of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children for its work in reuniting a mother and her young son. The client’s son had not been returned to her following an out-of-state visit with his father. The client contacted the clinic after the father had moved without a forwarding address, making her unable to enforce a court order to return their son to her. Using a detective agency, the clinic located the father and child in Colorado and convinced a leading matrimonial firm in that state to represent the client pro bono. The Colorado court ordered the return of the child to the client, and the clinic arranged air transportation to reunite the mother with her son.

> The Constitutional Litigation Clinic is taking its case on the Iraq War to the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia following the district court’s dismissal of the complaint, now titled New Jersey Peace Action v. Barack Obama. The complaint’s allegations are based on Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which provides that only Congress can declare war. The clinic’s brief argued that the nation’s founders adamantly opposed a president’s launching of a preemptive war against a sovereign nation absent a Congressional Declaration. The complaint relies on the debates of the Constitutional Convention of June 1, 1787, which no federal court has ever reviewed.

Other articles include . . .
Associate Clinical Professor Charles Auffant’s recollections as a Puerto Rican growing up in the Bronx and attending grammar school with new U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

Profiles of Randle DeFalco ’09, Franchesca Rodriguez ’09, Wamaitha Kahagi ’09, and Christopher Greer ’09.