Victories! The SLO is on the move. As cases are ripening, we are currently in our own harvest season. The atmosphere in the office alternates between hot and cool—either exciting (because of preparing for court or de-briefing) or quiet (because everyone is in court). Here are some of the stories of the victories our students are winning day by day.
One municipal court judge denied our request to represent our client in his court. The judge claimed that because the prosecutor had stipulated there would be no jail sentence if there was a conviction, the client was not entitled to SLO representation. Our student attorney filed a Motion to Reconsider, citing the Student Practice Rule, which places no such restriction on the representation of poor people. The judge later reversed himself.
A woman who was denied an attorney from the Public Defender’s Office chose to represent herself pro se in a jury trial where she was charged with DUI. However, during the court’s initial advisement of her right to remain silent, the woman burst into tears, announcing her need for a lawyer but her inability to afford one. The court declared a mistrial, reset the jury trial for a later date, and referred the woman to the SLO where she was assigned a student attorney. Once on the case, the student attorney successfully argued a Motion to Suppress a Breath Test. The Motion was argued after the police department destroyed the client’s second breath sample, causing the defense to be deprived of potentially exculpatory evidence. The student attorney used the same tactic in a shoplifting case in which the police of another jurisdiction destroyed a videotape of an alleged crime scene. The shoplifting case was ultimately dismissed outright.
The clinic represented a young father who supported his family by painting houses at night. In addition to working through the night, he and his wife exercised their son, who had cerebral palsy, during the day. The young man made the unfortunate mistake of shoplifting a portable music player, which was to be a gift for his child’s birthday. With the help of a student attorney, the client received a favorable disposition – one that allowed him to continue his work and to help his son.
One local apartment manager has been the focus of several separate complaints by clients who use Section 8 Housing Vouchers to pay rent. One client is an elderly woman who was temporarily living with her adult daughter while she (the client) recovered from an extended illness. Because her lease prohibited leaving her unit vacant, she notified the manager where she was staying temporarily. She also made sure to continue paying rent. Nevertheless, the manager filed an eviction action. To date, three students have challenged the manger’s efforts to unjustifiably evict our clients; two of these actions have been successful, and one case is still pending.
On average, the Student Law Office litigates 125 cases a year. We accept approximately 60 student attorneys each semester for positions in the Civil Litigation, Civil Rights, and Community Economic Development, Criminal Defense, and Environmental Law Clinics.