Law Center Attorney Receives Prestigious Award from the FBI
On October 22, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the Bay Area awarded the prestigious FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award to Immigration Attorney and Associate Clinical Professor Lynette Parker for her extensive and tireless work on behalf of survivors of human trafficking. Professor Parker will be recognized at a press conference on the Santa Clara University campus on January 30, 2015, and will travel later to Washington D.C., where she will be recognized by FBI Director James B. Comey.
Every year, each of the FBI’s 56 field offices selects one individual or organization for this special award, formally created in 1990 to honor the winners’ efforts in combating crime, terrorism, drugs, and violence in America. While the award recipients may come from different backgrounds, diverse professional fields and many parts of the country, they all share the same motivation—a desire and commitment to assist those in need and make their communities safer.
During her 14-year tenure at the Alexander Community Law Center, Professor Parker has provided legal advice and representation to hundreds of low-income residents of Santa Clara and neighboring counties, while mentoring countless students in the practice of immigration law. She is recognized nationally as an expert in cases of political asylum, protection from domestic violence under VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act) and human trafficking. In particular, her work with survivors of human trafficking has led to her collaboration with many local organizations to provide comprehensive and coordinated relief to her clients, including counseling, housing, and legal support, among other services.
Through her work with many partnering organizations, she was instrumental in helping to establish the South Bay Coalition to End Human Trafficking (SBCEHT) in 2005. In 2009 and 2011, under Parker’s leadership, the Alexander Community Law Center and its SBCEHT partnering organizations obtained $300,000, two-year grants from the U.S. Department of Justice to better serve survivors of human trafficking. More recently, SBCEHT selected Professor Parker to serve as one of its two representatives on the newly-formed Santa Clara County Human Trafficking Commission, chaired by Supervisor Cindy Chavez, District Attorney Jeff Rosen and Sheriff Laurie Smith.
Conservative estimates place the illicit profit of human trafficking at $32 billion worldwide per year. And the FBI has identified the Bay Area, given its affluence, its openness, and its dynamic economy, as a magnet for such exploitation. “While more and more people seem to be aware of this issue, it’s important to keep talking about it because it’s still a big problem locally and nationally,” said Professor Parker. In 2014 alone, among her numerous other clients, she assisted 15 individuals in obtaining T-Visas, reserved for survivors of human trafficking. Based on the number of hours logged by Professor Parker, her legal assistant, and her students working on these 15 cases, the estimated market cost of the services would be about $250,000. Her clients, however, received these services free of charge.
Message From the Executive Director
I am so glad to be back as Executive Director!
Much has changed in the ten years since I left the Executive Director position, but the core of the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center has remained the same. The attorneys, paralegals and most of the staff did not need to introduce themselves to me, as we had worked together from 2001-2004. The dedication of everyone at the Law Center motivates and challenges our students and inspires them to become lawyers of conscience, competence and compassion. I am grateful for the opportunity to be part of this environment.
Experiential learning has been going on here for the last 20 years, long before the ABA and the State Bar became seriously interested in the subject. Graduates who participated as students in the Law Center frequently describe it as the best experience of their law school career. Watching our students in action energizes and motivates me. This inspires me to do what I can to make this an exceptional place, a place where individuals without the means to remedy grave injustices obtain free representation and advice. In turn, our students learn how to represent clients under the close supervision of our nationally-recognized clinical professors.
When students see that their knowledge and ability have given someone hope, they gain confidence – confidence in themselves, in their choice to go to law school and in their ability to effectuate change in someone’s life. In return, the clients who have so little overflow with appreciation and gratitude. Everyone benefits.
At the Law Center, students accept their clients as they are. They gain a deeper understanding of the diversity in our society, of the economic struggles so many face, and of the need for tolerance and compassion. They learn how to apply the law to concrete situations and gain a realization that there is frequently not an “answer” that is directly applicable to the problem. They find they must use their creativity and analytical ability to fashion a solution. Where else but in a clinical setting, helping clients with actual legal problems, do students get this opportunity?
I realize that the Law Center could not continue without the law firms, attorneys and other individuals who provide financial assistance. Support from within the University and from external constituents such as foundations, the State Bar, the county and cities is essential. I am confident that together we can meet the financial challenges ahead.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks to our clients, students, clinical professors, the staff and all our supporters, financial and otherwise. May you have a joyful holiday and may the coming year be productive, happy and balanced.
Cynthia A. Mertens
Celebrating 20 Years of Education, Service and Success
On October 25th, The Alexander Community Law Center held its 20th Anniversary Celebration event to honor this milestone and some of the many individuals who played a key role in its founding. Professors Eric and Nancy Wright received the Founders’ Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of their pivotal role in launching what was known then as the East San José Community Law Center.
Jim Hammer, former Santa Clara Law professor and Law Center co-founder shared lively anecdotes of the early days in 1994. At the time, a number of SCU La Raza law students led by Ruben Pizarro decided to do something about the abuses suffered by day workers in East San José. Keynote speaker Luis Rodriguez, President Emeritus of the State Bar of California, spoke about the crucial role played by public interest organizations such as the Alexander Community Law Center in insuring access to justice, especially by those who cannot afford legal services. Representatives of the SCU College of Arts and Sciences, the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, and the Ignatian Center for Jesuit Education were in attendance and lent their financial support, as did Michael E. Engh, S.J., President of Santa Clara University.
Visit law.scu.edu/kgaclc/celebration to see photos and other event-related media.
A Message From Michael E. Engh, S.J.
President, Santa Clara University
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center. I congratulate the Law Center on this milestone and express my gratitude to its director, attorneys and staff who continue to serve our community with selflessness and commitment.
The Law Center truly embodies the values of SCU. It serves the community of which we are a part and gives students the opportunity to understand and improve the lives of those with the least education, power, and wealth.
The Law Center’s distinction rests in the fact that it provides direct legal services to the poorest in our community while training law students to be lawyers of conscience, competence and compassion.
Thanks to the hands-on, experiential learning offered to our law students by the Law Center’s attorneys and staff, their collective impact on our community is truly transformative. In line with the University’s values of engagement and solidarity, the Law Center is an integral part of our efforts to build a more humane, just, faith-filled, and sustainable world. May the Katharine & George Alexander Community Law Center continue to serve our community for many more years to come.
Michael E. Engh, S.J.
After Years of Wage Garnishment, Client Finds Relief Thanks to Law Student
Ms. Y sought the assistance of the Alexander Community Law Center in April of 2013, hoping that the Center could help reduce a wage garnishment that was consuming a quarter of her paycheck every month. The money was being garnished by a debt collector for an alleged debt that had been incurred ten years before. “My whole life and my family were being affected. I could not apply for credit of my own, nor could I try to change apartments because no one would even consider my application. I was at the end of my rope,” said Ms. Y, a shipping manager and the sole provider for a family of five at the time.
A debt collector had sued Ms. Y in 2006, but never delivered the summons and complaint to her. The Law Center learned that the debt collector had filed documents with the court indicating it had ‘“served” Ms. Y by leaving papers with an adult at her “residence.” In fact, the address was a former residence that she had left years before. When Ms. Y learned of the judgment about two years later, she was shocked. She believed this debt had been settled much earlier. So Ms. Y tried on her own to set the judgment aside in 2008 but was unsuccessful. At that point, she believed there was nothing she could do to attack the judgment. After dealing with this issue for five years, she sought advice at the Law Center.
Roxana Cremene ’15 worked on this case under the supervision of Clinical Professor Scott Maurer. Roxana drafted a complaint to have the judgment set aside on the grounds of improper service.
Initially, opposing counsel was adamant that Ms. Y had waited too long to set aside the judgment, and that she was not entitled to any relief. But Roxana’s thorough factual and legal research allowed her to counter every argument set forth by opposing counsel. In the end, the debt collector agreed not only to wipe out the $8,500 judgment, but to return most of the money that had been garnished and to clear Ms. Y’s credit report.
“This case was challenging because it involved negotiation, a skill I hadn’t practiced much in the past. At the beginning it was a bit intimidating to be across the table from an experienced attorney. But with all the preparation and encouragement from Professor Maurer, I gained the necessary confidence. I did win a good settlement for my client. When she hugged me in the end, I had an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment. I was also very happy to see my client get out of this terrible problem,” said Roxana.
Ms. Y had a similar feeling about her experience. “Roxana made me feel like I was her only client and gave me her entire attention every time. She did all her research with such fervor and dedication. I really want to applaud her confidence as my case moved forward. I realize how expensive legal services are in this area, but your organization is unique because it provides a choice for those of us who cannot afford these services. I am so grateful. I am also a big fan.”
“I realize how expensive legal services are in this area, but your organization is unique because it provides a choice for those of us who cannot afford these services. I am so grateful. I am also a big fan.”
— CONSUMER LAW CLIENT
Our Work, by the Numbers
Number of individuals served: 684
Total number of hours logged by our students: 8,581
Estimated dollar value of total hours logged: $1,287,150
We thank our law students, whose efforts go far beyond what is required by their courses at the Law Center, and our financial supporters. It is through your commitment and that we are able to offer top-quality, free legal services to the poorest in our community.
Here is a summary of our achievements during the last fiscal year ( July 1, 2013 – June 30, 2014).
Amount recovered for clients: $99,395
Savings to clients resulting from nullified fees, cancellation of disputed contracts, etc.: $568,146
Total benefits to clients: $667,541*
Amount awarded to clients: $641,515
Amount recovered to date: $230,347*
Estimated value of services received by clients: $406,437*
Total value of benefits to clients: $1,304,325*
Working at the Low Income Tax Clinic was an Enlightening Experience
By Rogelio Uy ’15
On my first day at the Low Income Tax Clinic (LITC), Caroline Chen, my Clinical Professor and LITC Director, handed me three files. The first two were thin. The third one, however, was very thick; in fact, it was the thickest, heaviest case file in the cabinet. It belonged to Mr. C’s. To say it was complicated would be an understatement. It had tax returns and issues all the way back to 2006 and 2007. It had amended tax returns, and amended tax returns amending the amended tax returns. It looked like a crime scene. So, like a detective, I began digging for facts to figure out exactly what had happened.
It quickly became clear to me that Mr. C was a victim of a fraudulent tax return preparer. Mr. C is a Mexican immigrant who speaks little English and works full-time at a local mortuary. When he first came to the LITC, the IRS was garnishing his wages. Mr. C had hired someone to file his 2006 and 2007 returns, just like millions of other taxpayers do every year. Then, for reasons that are still uncertain, the tax preparer filed amended returns claiming that Mr. C earned income in excess of $60,000 for each year, in addition to his salary at the mortuary. The end result was a tax liability of approximately $40,000.
The first thing I did was to call the IRS to put a hold on his wage garnishment due to the severe financial hardship. The collections agent agreed to a two-month hold. It was my first victory, but it was only the beginning.
I then contacted the IRS’s Taxpayer Advocate’s Service (TAS), a special unit that deals with highly difficult and complicated tax issues involving individual taxpayers who demonstrate a dire financial situation. My very detailed narrative convinced the TAS agent that Mr. C had been victimized. Then I prepared amended tax returns that accurately represented Mr. C’s income, and even submitted unfiled tax returns for other years, since Mr. C stopped filing after 2007. The IRS accepted my amended returns and, as a result, Mr. C’s tax liability was completely extinguished. He also received refunds for the non-filed years and a refund for all of his garnished wages. In the end, Mr. C received over $19,000 from the IRS.
“…Working at the Low Income Tax Clinic…helped me realize, in very concrete terms, that the practice of law really does help the people who need it the most.”
— ROGELIO UY ’15
Without a doubt, working at the Low Income Tax Clinic and serving Mr. C is something I would not trade for anything in the world. It was an exercise not only for the mind but also for the soul. It helped me realize, in very concrete terms, that the practice of law really does help the people who need it the most.
The Low Income Tax Clinic, by the Numbers
In 2014, LITC served 144 individuals, 35 of whom received full representation services. To accomplish this work, LITC law students logged 2,406 hours. At the prevailing student-hour rate of $150, this represents a value of $360,900 in direct services to clients. This work allowed our clients to be relieved of $171,000 in tax liabilities.
The LITC is housed at the Alexander Community Law Center, though it is a separate clinical program of the School of Law. Learn more at law.scu.edu/taxclinic.