Economic Justice Institute

EJI Ink Spring 2017 Newsletter 

Director's Welcome

Director Marsha MansfieldBy Marsha Mansfield, Clinical Professor of Law; Director, Economic Justice Institute

“100 for 100”-our rallying cry for our 2017 EJI fundraising effort. We want 100 of our EJI alums and supporters to commit to a $100.00 donation this year. Last summer, each member of the EJI Board made a $100 donation and reached out to others to match. Thanks to EJI Board Members: Kelly Noyes, Beth Bucaida, Matt Gillhouse, David Zoeller, Rachel Mielke, Art Kurtz, Melissa Williams, and Professor Gwen Leachman. The EJI Board supports EJI’s work and is committed to helping us grow financially. We are also grateful to every one of you who answered the call and made a donation in the past six months and to those who gave at the recent EJI event in Milwaukee. Special thanks to Ed Sarkas for hosting the event at his firm, Michael Best & Friedrich. 

Why are we asking for your support? For many reasons. Educators, particularly legal educators, should be making more concerted efforts to ensure that students are ready to meet the needs of the 21st century. Research shows that educators need to develop more interactive and experiential learning opportunities in order to improve students’ listening, fact-finding, critical thinking, and collaborating skills. Our EJI clinics are specifically designed develop and enhance skills.

Milwaukee Area Alumni

Nationwide, the federal and state dollars that support education are diminishing. Your financial support makes a statement about the value of clinical education, and in particular, the EJI clinics. I am so proud of the work that our clinics do, not only in educating our students, but also by filling critical legal gaps in our community. I am also proud when I see the successes of our graduates – many of whom remain in public interest work and most of whom devote themselves to pro bono in addition to managing the responsibilities of their legal careers. In this issue of EJI, Ink., read about one of our FCC graduates, Megan Phillips, who tells how her clinical experience made a difference in her career choice and practice.

Please consider making a $100 donation to EJI. It is very easy. Just follow this link. However, any amount makes a difference. So whether it is $10, $25, $100, or $1000, we are EJI are so appreciative of your recognition that our efforts have made a difference in your life and in the lives of students to come. Enjoy this issue of EJI Ink. 

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Faculty Updates and News

In February, Ben was a speaker at the Public Forum on Legality of Trump’s Executive Order on Immigration, presented by the Global Legal Studies Center and UW-Madison Human Rights Program.

In March, Ben spoke on a panel that addressed the topic of “Human Rights and the Trump Presidency,” presented by the UW-Madison Human Rights Program.

Ben was a supplement author for the second edition of “Immigration Consequences of Wisconsin Criminal Offenses,” published by the State Bar of Wisconsin.

In February, Marsha was honored by the Wisconsin law community as one of 24 Leaders in the Law recognized at the 15th annual Wisconsin Law Journal event at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee.

In March, Marsha received the Distinguished Prefix Title. This title is bestowed upon academic staff who perform at the level of proficiency typically requiring extensive experience as well as advanced knowledge and skills. The University's Distinguished Prefix Review Committee determined that Marsha met the criteria for the Distinguished prefix and Dean Raymond enthusiastically supported Marsha’s application.

Marsha made two ethics presentations during the later half of 2016: Surviving Ethical Challenges in Family Law, at the State Bar of Wisconsin; and, Limited Scope Representation: Ethics & Practice, to the Dane County Legal Association of Women. 

Marsha co-authored a revision to Ch. 1, "Civil Procedure Before Trial, Accepting a Litigation Client" (WI State Bar CLE Books).

Mitch will be published in the forthcoming NYU Journal of Legislation and Public Policy. His article, Tipping the Scales of Justice: The Role of the Nonprofit Sliding Scale Law Firm in the Delivery of Legal Services has particular relevance in addressing access to civil justice issues.

In March, Mitch traveled to Fort Worth to give an opening plenary presentation and moderate a panel discussion at the Access to Justice Conference.

In April, Mitch gave a free training at CUNA Mutual to educate lawyers who will be volunteering at the Small Claims Assistance Program.

In May, Mitch is traveling to the AALS Clinical Conference in Denver to present a work-in-progress on making eviction laws more balanced, and to co-lead the working group sessions for law school clinicians with rental housing programs.

In May, Sarah will attend and present at the first biannual Consumer Law Clinic conference at UC-Berkley Law School. She will lead a workshop about clinic “rounds,” connect with consumer clinic directors from across the country, and soak up some sunshine.

Sarah will begin learning from her tenth group of students in May and Marsha will be learning from her fifteenth group of students.

My, how time flies.   

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EJI Alumni Spotlight: Megan A. Phillips

By Mai Chao Chang, (2L)

The University of Wisconsin Law School provides students with an array of opportunities to design the legal education that best fits their professional and personal goals. In her own law school experience, Megan A. Phillips knew the importance of gaining firsthand legal experiences through engaging in clinical work. To Megan, the most special and appealing aspect about UW Law School were the clinics offered to students. As a 2L, Megan accepted an offer in the Family Court Clinic (FCC), formerly known as the Family Court Assistance Project. Megan characterized her clinical work as more than gaining hands-on knowledge and lawyering skills. Participating in the FCC gave Megan the opportunity to build valuable, lifelong relationships with her fellow FCC colleagues, nurture a lasting mentorship with her supervising clinical professor, and develop strategies to find balance through engaging in meaningful volunteer work.

EJI Alum, Megan PhillipsMegan included a clinical experience in her legal education because she was interested in civil litigation. She expresses, “I can’t imagine what law school would have been like if all I had were lectures.” The Consumer Law Clinic and Family Court Clinics emerged as two premier clinics in training students to handle civil disputes. Megan was accepted into both the criminal-based Family Law Project and the FCC, but ultimately chose the latter because of the wide variety of skillsets she would gain working with pro se litigants from underprivileged backgrounds. To Megan, family law was not only a marketable skillset, but also a rewarding opportunity to make an impact in her clients’ lives.

Early on, Megan learned the importance of setting client expectations and was able to further enhance this skill through her work in the clinic. Megan gained insights into how other clinical students handled representing clients such as conducting intake meetings and client communication. The clinic was also the perfect opportunity to bond with a faculty member and develop a strong mentorship relationship. Megan’s supervising attorney and EJI Director, Marsha M. Mansfield, became an influential mentor to Megan. Marsha led by example and encouraged Megan to continue engaging in volunteer work as a way to stay balanced amidst juggling the demands of law school.

In describing how her clinical experience was helpful to her professional career, Megan shared,
“Rather than presenting to potential clients as a brand new lawyer, I think I came across as a person who was much more experienced than I actually was due to my clinical work.” As a first year associate, she successfully handled several family law cases on her own.

Since graduating from UW Law School in 2010, Megan has become a partner and co-owner of Richter & Phillips, LLC in downtown Madison. She practices family law, civil litigation, and professional licensing defense. Megan also teaches a popular Negotiation and Mediation class at the Law School. There, she incorporates simulated exercises to encourage students to develop the hands-on, experience-based skills and confidence that she feels so many new graduates lack. She also encourages current clinical students to maintain relationships with their fellow clinic colleagues and professors, so the experience can continue to stretch well into their lives as practitioners. 

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Consumer Law Clinic Has a Busy Spring

By AJ Fabianczyk, (2L)

CLC StudentsThe Consumer Law Clinic continues to focus on representing individual clients while confronting attacks on consumer protections at the federal and state levels. Along the way, clinic students are becoming more skilled legal advocates with in depth knowledge of the consumer laws and the ways in which consumers can be harmed by their misuse.

In representing our clients, we’ve encountered a range of consumer protection issues stemming from credit transactions, including repossession and debt collection. We’ve also tackled home improvement problems. Together with my case partner, Joia Sanders, I’ve had the pleasure of working on both of our home improvement cases. We became knowledgeable about Wisconsin’s Home Improvement Practices Code, one of the most detailed statutory schemes related to home improvement in the entire country. But, more importantly, we learned that knowing the statutes isn’t enough. To successfully tell our clients’ stories, we had to learn about window and floor installation, caulking and drywall. We also learned about the difficulties of working on fact-intensive cases that present difficult problems of proof. Finally, we witnessed the troubling effects of broken promises and shoddy work on our clients’ sense of “home.”

The Clinic also strives to advocate for consumers more broadly, especially now that the progress achieved over the past five years is at risk. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), the federal agency entrusted with protecting consumers in the financial sector is under attack. Legislation has been introduced that would fundamentally alter the structure of the CFPB and reduce its independence. These changes could drastically reduce the CFPB’s ability to protect Wisconsinites from unfair, predatory, and abusive practices. Meanwhile, the state’s biennial budget process is ramping up. The Clinic will explore how Governor Scott Walker’s proposed budget might affect Wisconsin’s consumers over the next two years and we will speak out about the impact of those proposals on Wisconsin’s consumers.

Finally, in April clinic students participated in a community event designed to aid student loan borrowers in the Milwaukee area. Student loans will be a major consumer protection issue for years to come, especially in the for-profit college industry, and the Clinic is actively seeking ways to get involved and raise awareness.

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Representing Clients with a Language Barrier

By Hannah Wilson, (2L)

Representing clients with language barriers always presents challenges in our clinical work. The clients I worked with largely spoke Spanish as a first language. This was difficult for several reasons, the foremost being that I do not speak Spanish. Some other problems included finding an interpreter to communicate with the client, getting letters for the client translated, and getting court documents explained and translated for the client.
For the first few weeks I was focused on how difficult this was for me, but then I slowly started to switch my perspective. Instead, I began to think about how difficult it must be for my clients, and especially litigants who are going through the family court process pro se. 

One example was when Family Court Services completed a custody study and made a recommendation for custody and placement. The recommendation was sent to my client in English, and she could not read it. Our Clinic uses volunteer interpreters, and we did the best we could to explain the recommendation to the client, but it was not as effective as having the document translated. Therefore, we asked for extra time at a status conference so that the certified court interpreter could read the recommendation to the client. If the recommendations had been written in her native language, the client could have spent time reading the document and formulating questions and responses to its contents. If this client was pro se, she may have never fully understood the contents of the recommendation. 

The hurdles for pro se litigants with a language barrier were much more obvious during the time I spent at the courthouse helping them navigate the family court process as I assisted them to complete standardized forms. There are very few forms provided in a language other than English. Unless someone who speaks another language can find an interpreter, it is impossible to fill out the forms without assistance. We have volunteer interpreters help at the courthouse during our appointments, but there are many more litigants who need help than what the Family Court Clinic can provide for. 

I am not sure about a solution to this problem, but perhaps a better practice would involve expanding the interpreters’ presence at court proceedings to include translating documents sent to litigants by the court. Without a complete understanding, the litigant cannot fairly and accurately advocate for their interests in a family court proceeding. This may be true in other proceedings as well. Increasing access to justice will make all proceedings more fair and equitable for all participants.

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IJC's Pro Bono Trip to Karnes Family Detention Center in Texas

By Michelle Brandemuehl, (2L)

IJC StudentsIn 2014, the federal government opened two facilities in Texas for detaining women and children who are apprehended crossing the U.S. border. One of these facilities, the Karnes Family Detention Center, can house up to 226 families at a time. Most, if not all, of the women and children in Karnes are seeking asylum in the United States. 

Unfortunately, asylum law can be very complicated, and detainees are required to complete all necessary forms in English, even though almost none speak the language. Legal volunteers are essential in helping these women understand the asylum process. After hearing about Karnes, the students in the Immigrant Justice Clinic knew we needed to volunteer. With the help of a Law School grant, and a generous donation from the Wisconsin chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, we were able to spend a week volunteering at Karnes over the Law School’s winter break.  

We had an idea of what we would encounter, based on our experience in IJC and the training provided by a local immigrant rights organization. However, nothing could have fully prepared us for the stories of tragedy, loss, and horror we encountered at Karnes. We heard of gangs who terrorize people and control the streets. We heard of loved ones being murdered. We heard of women having to pay monthly “rents” so the gangs would not kill them or their children. We heard of people who witnessed gang violence, only to then be targeted by the gangs themselves. We heard of citizens who cannot report crimes to their local police forces, as many police officers are bought off by the gangs. So, they escape to the only place where they believe they can keep themselves and their children alive: the United States of America.Michelle Brandemuehl and Ben Harville

Unfortunately, their suffering does not end in the United States. After grueling trips to the border, the women and children are placed in holding cells nicknamed hieleras, or “iceboxes.” It is cold, and they sleep on the floor. Following several days in the hieleras, they are sent to a family detention center like Karnes to await an asylum interview. 

Alongside my supervising attorney, Ben Harville, I appeared in Immigration Court for the first time in Texas. I represented a mother and her teenage son in a Judicial Review of a Negative Credible Fear finding. Prior to court, I obtained declarations, conducted legal research, reviewed country conditions, and put together our argument. I presented our argument in court, and the judge ordered the Asylum Officer's findings vacated. The family did not obtain any legal status, but was allowed the opportunity to remain in the United States while seeking legal asylum. They were released from Karnes the next day.

Having the opportunity to provide pro bono legal services in Karnes was the experience of a lifetime. It shook me to my core, and broke my heart. Yet, it also inspired me. The brave women I met were fueled by love for their children. They left everything behind for the hope and dream of a better life. The IJC trip to Texas helped me see that we are not dealing with an immigration crisis; we are dealing with a humanitarian crisis. Instead of putting up walls and closing our doors, we should be opening our hearts to those in need.

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The Litigation Obstacle Course

By Jonathon Davies, (2L)

The Case: NLC met with a client, (“Mary”) who worked cleaning two office buildings. She worked for 14 hours per night, for a man (“Scott”) who ran his own cleaning company. The man never paid her for that work, instead electing to pretend never to have met her. He also ignored inquiries from state investigators, from community groups, and even from the humble author of this article. 

The First Obstacle, The Missing Man: Where does one go about looking for a con-man like Scott who 1) has been sued about 15 times; 2) has changed addresses at least 5 times in the last three years; and 3) was just evicted and removed from his last known address? 

NLC Students Working TogetherA lesser clinic would no doubt have been intimidated by this challenge, and the case terminated. Not here. By virtue of our grit, determination, our youthful joie de vivre (and also CCAP), we were able to identify Scott’s wife. And, by virtue of her CCAP record and multiple registered corporations, we were able to get a current address. Together with Mary’s fee waiver, we e-filed our summons and complaint, and the county effectuated service by mail. 

The Second Obstacle, Setback: But alas, the mail was returned undelivered! But do not grieve, Reader: some more research and investigation led to yet another business entity that Scott and his wife set up. Armed with yet another address, we successfully served him. 

The Third Obstacle, Trial: At a contested trial (conducted entirely by the law student--opening, direct, cross, and closing), we obtained a judgment against Scott’s company, pierced the corporate veil, obtained a judgment against Scott individually, and obtained fraud findings from the court that should prevent any attempt to have this judgment discharged in bankruptcy. We also asked Scott for his bank information in trial, which he gave us under oath. 

The Fourth Obstacle, Delay: Of course, Scott asked for a de novo hearing. But this brought only joy –here was a chance to get double the justice and courtroom experience. We drafted and filed a trial brief, refined our outlines for direct and cross-examination, and suited up for trial. The day of trial arrived, we arrived, our client arrived, the interpreter arrived, the judge arrived, my classmates arrived to observe. But Scott did not. The judgment was affirmed without argument. We won, but our client had lost more than a month without being able to collect on her judgment. 

The Fifth Obstacle, Technology: True story, the clerk of court left a voicemail for us explaining that the method for re-entering a prior joint and several judgment against an individual and a company after a de novo hearing was, “breaking CCAP.” Apparently, the newly-required e-filing system is still working out a few technical problems. After a couple of weeks in which the system generated five incorrect judgments, the clerk’s office got this one straightened out. 

The Sixth Obstacle, Deception: It turns out that Scott was not truthful when he testified about his personal bank accounts under oath. He has also emptied his business accounts. We know this because our non-earnings garnishments came back empty. 

The Seventh Obstacle, Gall: Scott’s wife, has incorporated yet another, new cleaning company. This company has a fancy website that claims Scott’s family-run business has been serving the Madison-area for decades. Which is true if by “serving” they mean defrauding building owners and cleaning workers. 

The Eighth Obstacle, Time: I have spent the last 30 minutes writing this article for the EJI newsletter, instead of bringing further actions against the New Cleaning Company (editor’s note: look into fraudulent transfer actions under chapter 242 and doctrine of successor liability). Meanwhile, our client Mary remains unpaid. I must get back to work. 

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