Access to Agency Records Helps Veterans Get Benefits
Burt Braverman, Ronald London and Adam Shoemaker of the Washington, D.C., office represented post-Vietnam War veterans in Freedom of Information Act litigation that sought access to agency records relevant to pursuit of benefits for injuries and illnesses arising from exposure to aircraft used for spraying Agent Orange during the war. The attorneys settled both cases and received attorney’s fees from both agencies. The favorable settlement aided in the successful effort to change the Department of Veterans Affairs’ stance on presumptive exposure to Agent Orange, resulting in increased access to medical benefits for veterans.
Working to Prevent Homelessness
Anchorage partner Liz Hodes has been working with the Alaska Housing Court Justice Project since January 2016, taking three—to four-hour shifts at the courthouse on a monthly basis—and sometimes more frequently—to provide free legal assistance to defendants appearing at eviction hearings.
Liz’s assistance ranges from providing eviction notice/lease review and legal advice, to helping draft answers and counterclaims, to negotiating agreements with opposing counsel and landlords to avoid eviction, to appearing at the eviction hearing on the defendants’ behalf. Some individuals are recipients of public housing vouchers, which means an eviction can lead to loss of a voucher and a five-year bar from the voucher program.
Liz has assisted individuals who, along with children and other family members, are 48 hours from becoming homeless. In one case, it appeared the landlord was unlawfully retaliating against the defendant for reporting a health and safety issue, and the landlord’s attorney was entirely in the dark. Needless to say, we enlightened him, and after they had a lengthy closed-door discussion, we reached an amicable resolution.
Cromwell Achieves Personal Goal by Winning Asylum for a Young Man
David Cromwell, an associate in DWT’s Seattle office, recently got a great result for his young asylum client, Sergio. When David met him, Sergio was 17 years old and had made his way to the U.S. after surviving a terrible incident—a Guatemalan soldier almost killed him, trampling him with a horse. Sergio was carried miles to a hospital and remained in a coma for a week. Sergio’s father took the unprecedented action of suing the soldier (i.e., not pursuing vigilante justice, often the only way people challenge army authority in that area) in an attempt to recoup medical bills. Unfortunately, the judge believed the soldier, who said he had already paid the father, which was not true. After the lawsuit, the soldier and his friends sought revenge and began systematically targeting Sergio and his father.
At the asylum hearing, David, with the assistance of his mentors at Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), carefully crafted the argument to define the soldier’s actions as violence against Sergio’s entire family, based on the family’s act of bringing suit against the soldier. Also during the asylum proceedings, Sergio was transferred to the detention center in Tacoma and away from his foster family, although David fought the transfer. He also fought a transfer to a new judge who was known for being tougher on asylum claims and lost.
However, with coaching, Sergio did well in the asylum interview, and the case officer awarded an initial asylum approval. Then his work permit was authorized, and they have recently received final asylum approval.
Upon being freed, Sergio initially went to stay with a “cousin” in Louisiana, but David got him a bus ticket back to Seattle. Sergio is now staying with Friends of Youth, working on adapting to a new life.
David’s motivation for taking the case relates to having, some years ago, seen the documentary “La Bestia” (The Beast), which depicts the hardship and horror that people from Central America go through to get to the U.S. David acknowledges that immigration is a divisive topic, but often lost in the discussion is the extremely human side of this issue—kids like Sergio. He encourages others to similarly engage. David says it was a goal for him to help an asylum client in an area far out of his comfort zone. “As a lawyer there are instances where you can really help people,” David said.
David had resources from KIND, the referring organization, where the staff was helpful in responding to his questions. Partner Chris Helm was his DWT mentor. Another satisfying result was that David knew that his assistance was helpful to Sergio despite the fact that he had not handled an asylum case previously. On visits to the detention center, David saw other children who were unrepresented. Sergio was incredibly appreciative throughout the process. David says, “How many times do you have a client who really appreciates you like that?”
Hernandez and Jimenez Help Teen Stay in the U.S. and Start a New Life
On Sept. 1, Seattle associates José Jimenez and José Hernandez successfully argued in court to have their client’s deportation case vacated. Their client, Arturo, had been granted Special Advocate Juvenile Status in August. In April 2015, Arturo was arrested by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers while crossing the United States-Mexico Border. He was 15 years old. Prior to this apprehension, Arturo had been apprehended three times and released back into Mexico.
Arturo grew up in Tamaulipas, Mexico, which is largely controlled by the Gulf Cartel, a criminal organization known for its violence and control of various police and government officials. Since he was nine years old, Arturo worked at various roadside vending stands and mini-marts to help bring in money for his family. During this time, the cartel came to wherever he was working and, under threat of force and violence, extorted money directly from him and the shop owner. It was against this backdrop that the cartel, which is well-known for its deadly response to those who refuse their requests, “asked” Arturo to help people enter into the United States. He did not refuse. Arturo became a “coyote,” which is how he came to be arrested and detained by U.S. Customs and Border Protection. He currently lives in a foster home.
Earlier this year, Jimenez and Hernandez took on representation of Arturo through Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), an organization that helps find volunteer attorneys for immigrant and refugee children to represent them in their deportation proceedings. Now Arturo is excited to not have to worry about being deported and can continue to focus on school, where he has excelled earning As and Bs. He has settled into his community, making friends and playing club soccer, and he plans on joining his school’s ROTC program.
World War II Tokens Returned to Families
During World War II, Japanese soldiers took with them into battle a token known as a “yosegaki hinomaru,” which is known as a Good Luck Flag. Private good will and “stay safe” wishes from family, friends and teachers were written on these flags, which were kept in soldiers’ tunics much as American soldiers kept pictures of their families. It became popular for American soldiers to take the flags from deceased Japanese soldiers as souvenirs, not knowing the immense and personal significance of them to the Japanese.
A nonprofit called Obon Society has been locating such flags held by the families of American World War II soldiers and, with help from some contacts in Japan, has been finding the families of the lost Japanese soldiers and returning the flags to them. It’s a difficult and time-consuming effort and is immensely emotional to both the Japanese families and the Americans who wish to return these personal symbols of the decedent’s spirit.
Portland counsel Ron Ragen has been providing Obon Society with legal advice for several years and is proud to help his good friends who have given their lives for this cause of peace and reconciliation.
Helping Trafficking Victims with Visa Adjustments
DWT lawyers have taken 12 cases from San Francisco-based Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach (APILO) in the past nearly two years, assisting more than 25 clients with the T-visa adjustments. Eight partners, counsels and associates from three different offices have spent more than 200 hours assisting with these cases thus far. So far we have been successful for about eight of those clients and have been able to physically hand them their green cards. The remaining clients have pending applications.
These cases all involve victims of human trafficking in the United States and include a number of victims who were sex trafficked, so these clients are particularly excited to know that they no longer have any further visa-related restrictions hanging over them. As a result of our work, many of these APILO-referred clients can finally travel abroad to visit family members they haven’t seen in more than 10 years, and all of them look forward to becoming U.S. citizens.
Vulin and Bingold Achieve Great Settlement Result for Their Client in Contentious Negotiations
Associates Ashley Vulin and Elizabeth Bingold settled a case in August for a pro bono client in the U.S. District Court of Oregon’s pro bono/pro se program with the state agreeing to pay their client $132,000. That is a great result for their client, who lost five months of his life after a wrongfully revoked probation.
The state is notorious in these cases for low-balling settlements, and the client was not in a position to show a lot of lost income, given his prior earning history.
It is a testament to Ashley and Elizabeth’s advocacy—mustering proof of the state’s missteps and Kafkaesque decision-making—that they got the state so high. Importantly, they also convinced their settlement judge, Judge John V. Acosta. It was his “mediator’s proposal” the parties accepted. The state came back to Judge Acosta and requested the mediator’s proposal after Ashley and Elizabeth politely pulled the plug during mediation because the state was too recalcitrant.
Greene and Watterson Help Draft Guide about Mental Health Concerns for College Graduates
Partner Adam Greene and former DWT associate Anna Watterson helped prepare a guide about mental illness for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) for departing college students and their families. The guide includes information on how to navigate certain privacy laws.
The guide is called Starting the Conversation: College and Your Mental Health.
Fighting Sex Trafficking
When Run 2 Rescue reached out to DWT late last year for legal help to assist their clients, who are victims of sex trafficking, Los Angeles partner Jennifer Brockett stepped right up.
In the months since establishing a relationship with the organization, she and Chrissy Roussell, Brett Leitner and Betsy Carroll have helped with several agreements, including a volunteer agreement that protects the confidentiality of their client info, and appeared for one of their clients at a criminal, post-conviction proceeding so that she did not have to appear and risk retaliation from her former trafficker.
Jenni Diamond, our contact at Run 2 Rescue, says, “You guys are truly AMAZING. We appreciate all the work you have done and are doing for us. We all feel truly blessed that you and your colleagues are willing to help us with all these legal issues we would be lost and frustrated without your assistance.”
DWT’s San Francisco office has also volunteered to help a Run 2 Rescue client obtain a confidential name change.
U-Visa Permits an Immigrant to Stay in the U.S. in Safety
Bellevue counsel Boris Gaviria happily reports that one of his pro bono clients received her formal approval from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services granting her a U-Visa. The U-Visa will allow her to stay in the U.S. legally, work legally, and ultimately permit her to obtain a green card and citizenship. The U-Visa program allows 10,000 visas per year for victims of domestic violence and other serious crimes.
Boris’ client emigrated from India with her ex-husband in 2008 to study for her MBA. Following the birth of their daughter, her ex-husband began a pattern of domestic abuse and mistreatment of her, including numerous threats and violent episodes in front of their child. After they separated, she lived in homeless shelters and eventually testified at trial against her ex-husband in 2014.
Boris met her in a pro bono immigration clinic in 2012 when she was living in a homeless shelter with her daughter. She was worried about being deported as her student visa had expired, and she did not have permission to work here legally. She could not afford a lawyer and was in fear of being undocumented and potentially becoming permanently separated from her daughter. After she contacted other immigration attorneys and agencies that could not help her, Boris agreed to assist her.
After obtaining necessary supporting documents from law enforcement and preparing multiple applications and fee waivers, she applied for the U-Visa in August 2013. She was given permission to legally work in 2014, but the U-Visa limits were reached for that year. Finally, two and a half years after her initial application, her U-Visa was approved in December.
Robinson and Keith Garner Another Pro Bono Win for a VLA Client Whose Mural Was Destroyed in Violation of the Visual Artists Rights Act
Lawyers in New York successfully assisted another artist in a claim over the destruction of a work of art. The Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA) grants an artist of a work that is integrated into a building the right to receive notice of any changes that will lead to the destruction of the work and the right to remove and preserve his work if it is technically possible.
In 1998, Luke Gray was commissioned to paint a mural on the ceiling of a lobby in an office building in midtown Manhattan. (See photo, next page.) In 2015, Gray discovered that the lobby of the building was in the process of being renovated and that his mural had apparently been removed. Gray turned to New York Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, a legal aid program for low-income artists and nonprofit arts organizations, which in turn asked DWT attorneys Chris Robinson and Lisa Keith to assist.
After an investigation by the building owners, the parties agreed to a settlement without admission of fault. This settlement follows a similar successful VARA claim last year by DWT’s art law practice against the City of New York for the destruction of artist Rachel Wells’ murals at the Woodhull Medical Center in Brooklyn.
Prisoner Is Awarded Compensation for Mistreatment
Portland associate Christie Totten handled the case of an inmate in the custody of the Oregon Department of Corrections. Representing himself, he brought an action for damages against the state. The prisoner alleged that when he was suicidal, prison guards, rather than taking him to prison medical facilities, put him into a disciplinary cell and encouraged him to carry out the suicide. Other guards eventually intervened, but only after the prisoner injured his wrist in a suicide attempt.
The federal judge (a former U.S. attorney for Oregon) to whom the prisoner’s case was assigned searched for pro bono counsel for him. Three attorneys turned down the judge’s request before Christie took the case.
To be able to prosecute the case, Christie first defeated the state’s motion for summary judgment. She then conducted discovery and completed all trial preparation tasks, including the pretrial order and witness statements.
Wells and Zankel Obtain Dismissal of Client’s Criminal Conviction
Colin Wells and Zeb Zankel, associates in the San Francisco office, achieved victory in San Luis Obispo Superior Court, securing the court’s grant of a motion to dismiss a 25-year-old DUI felony for a homeless veteran.
Their client had gained certifications and licensing in an effort to secure long-term employment as a truck driver, but until he received Colin and Zeb’s help, his criminal record was an impediment toward achieving his goal. They met through Second Chance Legal Clinic, where lawyers volunteer to assist clients who are working to overcome barriers to employment and housing due to past arrest and conviction records.
Giving Veterans a Second Chance
As a volunteer for the Veterans Legal Services Project in Los Angeles, Brett Leitner helps veterans reduce or expunge tickets and prior criminal convictions. Brett meets with veterans in need of assistance on a monthly basis and then drafts motions for specific veterans to be filed pro se. Many veterans are unable to secure or maintain employment because of outstanding tickets or prior convictions. Brett helps draft persuasive arguments to the court, explaining why the veterans’ extenuating circumstances call for a reduction or expungement of their tickets or prior convictions.
Pop-Up Fashion Clinic a Great Success
On Friday, Sept. 23, DWT’s New York Office hosted the Fordham Fashion Law Institute’s Pop-Up Clinic. The Fashion Law Institute is the world’s first center dedicated to law and the business of fashion, offering training, legal services and general information on issues facing the fashion industry.
A key part of the Fashion Law Institute’s mission is providing pro bono legal assistance to designers and fashion-industry professionals, primarily in the form of free legal consultations. The clients who attended the clinic presented a host of interesting legal issues, including trademark and brand protection, patent law, corporate formation, and employment law. The DWT attorneys in attendance were each paired with a Fordham law student, who was able to gain invaluable experience watching legal consultations in action.
The clinic was organized and hosted by New York associate Lisa Keith, who paired each client and DWT attorney and also was on hand throughout the clinic to assist the Fashion Law Institute staff. The clinic was a huge success thanks to DWT volunteers Roxanne Elings, Kevin Saer, Heather Colburn (who assisted via Skype from Seattle), Michael Goettig, Lisa Keith, Christina Kim, and Will Holtzman. New York partner Nancy Felsten presented on advertising issues to the Fordham University School of Law students.
This is DWT’s second time hosting the clinic, having last hosted in 2014. We will certainly host again, as the Fashion Law Institute head said this was one of the best clinics to date!
Seattle associates Sean Baird, Conner Peretti and Caitlin Forsyth have been responding to legal questions clients post on the website. Questions focus mostly on family law, landlord tenant law and bankruptcy law. Volunteer lawyers can review the questions and choose which they want to answer. Sean says he’s a “big fan” of Washington Web Lawyer.
The project was developed in response to the 2014 Civil Legal Needs Study that indicated 1.25 million Washington state residents are low-income—an increase of 41 percent since 2000. Seven out of 10 low-income households will face more than one civil legal crisis this year and will be unable to afford to hire an attorney.
The Washington Web Lawyer project makes it possible for more low-income people with Washington legal issues to receive help from volunteer attorneys, while providing a convenient, effective alternative for volunteer lawyers living anywhere in Washington state to provide pro bono legal assistance.