Happy Holidays! As we enter our 20th Anniversary year, we celebrate many of our past accomplishments and highlight some of the great work of the staff, students, and volunteers at the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center.
The Center has come a long way since its beginnings in the early1990s, when it started as a student-initiated project to provide much-needed legal services to day laborers in East San Jose. The Center has enlarged its staff, expanded its space and physical facilities, and developed innovative and effective strategies for serving the community. Today, the Center is a leading clinical program at Santa Clara University’s School of Law, and each year it serves hundreds of low-income clients needing legal assistance in consumer protection, immigration, and workers’ rights.
Our newsletter highlights many of the Center’s landmark developments, as well as some of the most recent accomplishments of our law students, staff, and volunteers. Our current work in cases involving human trafficking and wage theft, as well as our cooperative work with the Law School’s Low Income Taxpayer clinic, has evolved to meet emerging needs, but also remains fundamentally rooted in community service and legal education.
As we approach the end of 2013 and look ahead to the coming year, we are also striving to meet the financial challenges of the Center. Most of the our funding comes from non-University sources, and reductions in our traditional base of government dollars and cy pres funds have led us to look to new sources of funding, particularly individual donor support. Our end-of-year appeal – featuring the generous support of up to $15,000 of matching dollars from an anonymous donor – is just one example of our efforts. (You can support this appeal at law.scu.edu/MatchIt.)
Looking back on the past two decades of success in training law students and in serving clients from throughout Northern California, we also recognize the extraordinary support that we have received from our students, volunteers, alumni, and funders who have worked closely with the Community Law Center over the years. Our work would have been impossible without their support, and we owe all of these individuals and organizations our gratitude.
We look forward to continuing our important work and serving as a vibrant resource for Santa Clara University and the local community.
Angelo Ancheta, Executive Director
Learning Law Beyond the Classroom: Twenty Years of Service in the Jesuit Tradition of Educational Excellence and Service to the Community
Nearly twenty years ago, when Santa Clara law students decided to use their legal skills to help their community, they could not anticipate the tremendous success of their efforts. Today, their vision, represented by the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center, known then as the East San José Community Law Center, touches the lives of thousands of clients in the Valley who could not otherwise obtain legal representation. At the same time, the Law Center continues to be a practical training ground for the law students who serve the Center’s clients under the supervision of expert attorneys. As a way to acknowledge this twenty-year milestone, to be reached in 2014, it seems fitting to celebrate the efforts of some of the many individuals who participated and continue to participate in the success of the Alexander Community Law Center.
The foundation for the Community Law Center was established in 1993, when a number of SCU’s La Raza law students decided to add practice to theory for the benefit of their community and their own education. Ruben Pizarro ’95, a second-year law student at the time, recalls sitting right next to Professor Jim Hammer during a La Raza event. Having expressed his dismay at the theoretical nature of his curriculum, Ruben found a good ally in Professor Hammer, then a Jesuit with a very practical commitment to the community.
“We had a passion to serve and our legal training gave us the tools to help those in need,” recalls Ruben. Sandra Pizarro ’94, Ruben’s sister and also a law student at the time, agreed: “We wanted law school to have more meaning for us. We wanted to help real people with real problems.”
They did not have to look hard or far to realize that East San José, with its concentration of day workers, could use their evolving legal expertise. After some initial planning, Jim Hammer, the Pizarros and other students ventured to the former Home Base do-it-yourself store on Story and King, to speak to the workers in the store’s parking lot. “It took a while for them to feel comfortable with us, but eventually they opened up and started sharing their problems,” remembers Sandra.
The case of workers José O., Ricardo V., and Nehemias S. was a typical one. For weeks they laid tile, poured cement, built kitchen cabinets, but they were never compensated for their work. Under the supervision of SCU Law Professor Eric Wright, the students were able to recover their unpaid salaries in the amount of $1,110.00 each.
The students’ first break came that same year, when Sister Mary McCusker of Most Holy Trinity Parish helped to set up a Day Workers’ Job Center in a former bakery in the historic Tropicana Center, on Story and King. Suddenly, the students had a place where they could offer their valuable knowledge and service. Their initial success, however, soon revealed a need for an operational budget and a more structured relationship with SCU’s School of Law, their source of legal supervision.
Professor Hammer and the students approached Professors Eric and Nancy Wright. The Wrights immediately saw the potential for the students and the community in a viable Law Center. On the academic front, they started offering credit to those students involved in the Center. On the financial side, the Wrights approached two major sources of funding. “We had never put together a grant proposal, but selling the idea was easy because the concept was so good,” recalls Professor Eric Wright.
The Wrights’ work paid off when the California Department of Education and the Legal Services Corporation approved grants of over $200,000 for the Law Center. “We could not believe it. We actually got both grants; we were ecstatic!” remembers Professor Nancy Wright.
The money was put to use immediately to pay the rent of badly needed office space, and to hire two attorneys, Laura Ramirez and Margaret Stevenson, a law fellow, and an office manager. So, in 1994, the East San José Community Law Center was officially born. Its first home was on 1765 Alum Rock Avenue, still in the heart of East San José. Kristin D. Nevarez ’96, then a second-year law student, recalls the transition: “The place was in horrible condition, but we decided that it was not going to interfere with our work.” Sandra agreed: “It was hard work, but it was so exciting. We all became painters, found some donated furniture, and fixed up the place.”
For years, portable fans and heaters mitigated the extreme summer and winter temperatures inside the offices, where activity never ceased. “It was a place where I could find solace during my law school years. That’s where things made sense to me; it became my second home,” confided Nevarez, who signed up for a semester during her second year and worked there as a volunteer her entire third year of law school.
It was this location that saw the addition of Immigration, Consumer Law, Workers’ Compensation and Small Business advice to the Center’s roster of services. With additional funding from the School of Law and other private and public grants, the Center also added support staff to its payroll. By 2002, under the leadership of Law Professor and Center Director, Cynthia Mertens, the Law Center was assisting over 1,100 clients per year (with varying levels of advice and representation) and employed five attorneys and a seven-person staff , including a multilingual interpreter.
In 2002, the Law Center received notice that the sale of its building was pending. Faced with a lack of affordable and suitable office space in East San José at the time, Professor Mertens turned to the University for assistance. In May 2002, Santa Clara University closed escrow on the Center’s new location on 1030 The Alameda, away from East San José. Many, including some of the founding students, had reservations about moving the Law Center out of its intended focus of operation. “Being in the community added to the comfort level of the clients, and now the Center was moving – yes, I was worried,” confessed Ruben. Fortunately, those concerns were soon put to rest when the clientele attended the new Center in its usual numbers. Said Professor Mertens, “We faced some constraints with our relocation, but I think that we made the best of it. Thanks to our new building, we achieved greater confidentiality for our clients, obtained suitable work areas for students, and managed greater comfort for all. But really, we could not have done it without Dean Mack Player and the University behind us.”
In 2004, George Alexander, professor and former dean of the School of Law, and his wife, Katharine, made a generous donation to the East San José Community Law Center’s endowment. In recognition of their gesture, the ESJCLC was officially renamed the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center.
Today, the Law Center is a thriving institution that maintains its original commitment to the community and its students. Under the leadership of its Executive Director, Angelo Ancheta, it currently focuses on consumer law, immigration law, employment law and personal tax matters, and serves over 1,000 clients on-site per year. It also reaches out to more than 1,200 individuals through its community workshops on Consumer Rights, Workers’ Rights and Tenant-Landlord Rights. Each year, students log over 10,000 hours of direct services to their clients. This year alone, the work of the Law Center and the LITC students, if billed, would amount to more than 2 million dollars. Their work this year also resulted in over $915,000 in favor of their clients as paid damages, resolved contract disputes, recovered wages, employer-related penalties, released tax returns and waived, tax-related penalties (see Our Work, by the Numbers).
Scott Maurer, who now supervises the Consumer Project and was in the first class of students to come through the Law Center, says: “I am still inspired by the people who founded this place. The office was barely habitable but the students who got the place going had such energy and such a sense of ownership. We’ve helped a lot of folks in the last twenty years, and I think those of us who work here, as well as our clients, owe a debt of gratitude to the people who got this place started.”
Joseph Nave ’14 walks fast between his office and that of his supervising attorney, and from his computer to the printer and copier. He is a man on a mission. “I know exactly what I want to do after I graduate, and that helps me stay focused,” he says. But he also needs to complete some hours for his Skills II class at the Alexander Law Center before the semester is over, which he had to put on hold while he traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to meet with international organizations about human trafficking in the United States.
Joseph is simultaneously taking a course through the International Human Rights Clinic which, like the Alexander Community Law Center, works to combat human trafficking locally and nationally. He is a second year law student with a passion for travel, languages and making things right for his clients. At the Community Law Center, he has worked on various immigration matters, including T-visas and adjustment of status for victims of human trafficking. Because of his work here, he has a “better grasp of the plight of immigrants, who are oft en the most vulnerable members of society; the most exploited and the ones who hold the most dangerous, low-paying jobs.” Joseph plans to become an immigration attorney, so he has taken the Skills I and Skills II classes in this area. Already, his work has revealed that many immigration and human trafficking cases go hand in hand with work-related abuses, so he is also planning on enrolling in the Workers’ Rights clinic at the Center before he graduates.
Through his work at the International Human Rights Clinic, Joseph is also acquiring a global perspective that took him all the way to Geneva. Under the supervision of Francisco Rivera, Assistant Clinical Professor and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic, Joseph, two classmates and a clinical fellow researched, co-authored and submitted a shadow report to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (HRC) on human trafficking. Signatory nations to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) present their reports to the HRC annually. “Shadow” reports, as they are called, provide a venue for NGOs, non-profit and other civic organizations to engage with the HRC and shed light on information that their own governments may not acknowledge. The Santa Clara students were disappointed to find out that, because of the US government shutdown earlier this year, the American delegation postponed its hearing until March 2014. Nonetheless, they traveled to Geneva with a modified agenda that included three pared down goals: 1) meet informally with HRC members to advocate around their shadow report; 2) observe the review of other states to learn how the HRC operates; and 3) meet with other UN agencies to consult on broader international anti-trafficking efforts.
“Being there, seeing how consensus and laws are made internationally, really gave me a sense of how challenging that can be. Some HRC members had a long debate just on the word ‘arrest’ and how the word could vary in its precise meaning when translated into French or Spanish. But most importantly, this gave me a chance to understand global conditions and all the injustices happening everywhere else. If you understand that, then you understand why immigrants come here; and once here, they are again exploited with few or no protections. That’s where I’d like to come in to help.”
Upon graduation, Joseph will become a legal professional with a global view and a local perspective that characterizes a Santa Clara education. It was through Joseph’s participation in the school’s clinical programs that he discovered his professional path early on. “As a student, you have to find you own way by following your interests and trying different things. The clinics give you a good opportunity to get some good hands-on experience. And even if that’s not you, you’ll learn skills that you can apply to whatever other path you decide to take.”
This year, the Associated Student Government (ASG) at Santa Clara University and the Alexander Community Law Center partnered for the first time to deliver important legal information to the school’s undergraduates in regards to their rights and responsibilities as off-campus tenants. ASG students Austin Smith ’16, Kelley Cislo ’16 and Garrett Jensen ’14 saw the problem: While nine out of ten undergraduates choose to live on campus during their freshman year, many choose to live off-campus during subsequent years. Landing a house or an apartment near the school can be quite competitive, so students must initiate their search at the end of their very first quarter if they want to move off campus as sophomores. This, of course, leads to signing new leases – a new experience for the majority of them, who must also deal with this process amidst exams and their many school obligations. “Students have no idea of what they’re signing, and if any problems arise, they have no idea of how to resolve them. We are just happy that the Law Center is there to help,” said Smith.
Marisol E. Durani, staff member at KGACLC, worked with the ASG students to schedule a workshop on campus, facilitated by Campbell Yore, first-year law student, and Diana E. Castillo, long-time volunteer attorney at the Alexander Law Center and Senior Attorney at the Fair Housing Law Project, a program of the Law Foundation of Silicon Valley. For Yore, this was a good opportunity to learn about tenants’ rights and to immediately apply this knowledge by explaining it to an eager audience. He was supervised by attorney Castillo, who was also there to answer specific questions from the students. “Informing the public of their legal rights is a fundamental civil service lawyers are privileged to provide. This forum presented a particularly rewarding opportunity to practice this skill because it allowed me to empower fellow members of the school community by increasing their awareness of such a practical area of law,” he said of this experience.
For Cislo, attendance to the 45-minute event in November validated the idea that there was indeed an unmet need among his colleagues. “We were expecting a good number of students there, but the 40-plus students who showed up really exceeded all expectations. Now that the word is out, we expect attendance to be even better next time.” Encouraged by the results, ASG hopes to continue its partnership with the Law Center to offer additional workshops next year. Castillo “was thrilled that ASG’s leadership collaborated with KGACLC to present important information to SCU students, which enables them to understand their responsibilities and empowers them to assert their rights in a very competitive housing market. We look forward to providing this workshop for years to come.”
For almost twenty years, the Alexander Community Law Center has been a meeting point for several constituencies which, to name a few, include the university’s law students, members of the local community, volunteer attorneys, alumni and Santa Clara undergraduates. Now, thanks to the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic, currently housed at the Law Center, the community benefits from additional legal services, and law students enjoy a wider selection of hands-on, legal experience. In the Santa Clara tradition of solidarity, these programs make it possible for hundreds of low-income individuals to receive legal advice and services that would otherwise be beyond their reach. At the same time, the hands-on experience obtained by the law students adds to their repertoire of skills just as they embark on their own careers. Below is a snapshot of the programs’ achievements during the indicated periods.
The Alexander Community Law Center
During the fiscal period of July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law provided brief services and advice to:
• 99 individuals during its Consumer Rights Clinics,
• 286 individuals during its Workers’ Rights Clinics and
• 206 individuals during its Immigration Clinics.
During the same period, the Community Law Center was able to:
• recover a total of $71,203 in damages for 11 clients in the Consumer Law area, while it was able to save them a total of $540,648 arising from contract disputes;
• recover $144,385 in unpaid wages and compensation for discrimination claims (for cumulative awards totaling $327,067 for its Workers’ Rights clients);
• open nine T-visa cases for victims of human trafficking; obtain 12 T-visas for existing clients that also resulted in 11 additional T-visas for their immediate relatives; and terminate removal proceedings for four Immigration clients.
• open 48 U-Visa cases (28 of which were requested for victims of domestic violence and 12 for victims of other crimes; the remaining 8 visas were for immediate family members of the victims). The Law Center also offered full legal representation to 39 additional clients seeking either U-visas or adjustment of status from U-visas. During the same period, the Immigration area closed 17 existing cases.
KGACLC students logged 11,872 hours of work to ameliorate the lives of their clients. If their hours were to be billed, the prevailing hourly rate of $150 would apply. Thus, this would represent a direct benefi t of $1,780,800 to the community.
Additionally, thanks to its workshops, given throughout the community, the Law Center reached 1,041 individuals in San Jose with information regarding their rights as consumers, employees, and tenants.
The Low Income Taxpayer Clinic
During the 2013 calendar year, LITC provided legal services and advice to 138 clients. For 16 of them, LITC’s direct representation resulted in the resolution of all controversies with the Internal Revenue Service.
LITC’s students logged 1,774 hours during the same period. If their hours were to be billed, the prevailing hourly rate of $150 would apply. Thus, the dollar value of their work would be $266,100.
The monetary benefit to their clients, expressed in terms of waived penalties and the release of disputed refunds, amounts to $159,593, but this only covers the period of January 1 to June 30, pending additional computations for the second half of the year.