Sturm College of Law Announces Grants to Launch Immigration Justice Project
Catalyzed by a $414,000 grant from The Gateway Fund II of The Denver Foundation, and a subsequent $25,000 grant from The Denver Foundation’s Immigrant Legal Services Fund, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law has launched a new Immigration Justice Project designed to expand the provision of legal services to individuals facing immigration-related legal challenges, heighten awareness of issues at the intersection of immigration and criminal law, and jumpstart careers in the public interest focused on immigration law.
The Immigration Justice Project consists of three components: (1) an Immigration Law & Policy Clinic, led by Professors Christopher Lasch and Robin Walker Sterling, in which students represent clients in immigration-related matters as part of the law school’s nationally recognized Student Law Office; (2) a Crimmigration Law and Policy Event Series, led by Professor César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, which hosts public lectures, workshops, and seminars designed to explore issues at the intersection of criminal law and immigration law; and (3) a postgraduate public interest fellowship at the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network (RMIAN), which will allow recent graduates of the Sturm College of Law to work at one of the region’s preeminent public interest organizations serving the legal needs of immigrant clients.
“As the founder of the American clinical legal education movement, the Sturm College of Law has been dedicated to advancing access to justice in the communities we serve for more than a century,” said Dean Bruce Smith. “Thanks to the generous commitment of both funds of The Denver Foundation, our faculty and students are in an unparalleled position to impact immigration law and policy in a significant and beneficial way.”
According to Professor Lasch, who has taught at the University of Denver since 2010, faculty and students “have wanted to develop an immigration clinic for some time.” The inaugural cohort of 14 students in the Immigration Law and Policy Clinic (ILPC), who started in August 2018, have met with clients at a federal detention center in Aurora, argued on multiple occasions in court, and succeeded in all of its cases to date.
“We are in a community that has distinguished advocates and a powerful nonprofit presence in the immigration area, but there is still much work that can be done,” said Professor Lasch. “The clinic has managed to get every client out of custody on bond for whom we have sought bond. Three students even filed a federal habeas corpus action in order to obtain the release of their clients.”
The clinic focuses on both litigation and policymaking. The cases present very complex issues at the intersection of immigration and criminal law enforcement, while the policy focus has allowed students to testify and support legislation important to immigration law.
“I’ve learned quite a bit about the practical skills lawyers need—developing a theory of the case, gathering evidence, writing briefs, and going before an immigration judge. I’ve also learned about how to tell a story in a way that honors your client and about how powerful that can be,” said student-attorney Allison Crennen-Dunlap, 3L.
Learn more about the Immigration Justice Project at https://www.law.du.edu/student-law-office/clinical-programs/immigration-law-and-policy-clinic.
(l-r): Sturm College of Law Dean Bruce Smith, Professor Christopher Lasch, Ronald V. Yegge Clinical Director and Associate Professor Robin Walker-Sterling, Benjamin Martinez, Immigrant Legal Services Fund of The Denver Foundation, Cathy Lund, The Gateway Fund II of The Denver Foundation, and Associate Professor César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández.
Alumni Turn Experience into Expertise at Low Income Tax Clinics Across the Nation
Former student-attorneys sit at the helm of university-based tax clinics in North Carolina and South Dakota.
The University of Denver Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (DU LITC) is an all-star when it comes to helping people in dire need of help with the IRS. Putting in over 1,000 service hours and saving clients over $1.5 million a year, the student-staffed clinic takes on everything post-filing and does life-changing work for those buried in tax debt.
It’s also an all-star at preparing students for impactful careers in tax law and tax controversy.
Alumni Matthew James, JD’16, LLM’16, and Nikki McCain, LLM’13, are just two of the many shining examples of former clinic student-attorneys who are now paying that experience forward. Both are helping prepare more students for the legal tax space and have parlayed their education into successful careers: James serves as director of the North Carolina Central University (NCCU) School of Law LITC and McCain serves as director of the University of South Dakota’s (USD) Federal Tax Clinic.
According to DU LITC Director and Associate Professor of the Practice of Tax Law Erin Stearns, there is no doubt in her mind that these two alumni are doing exactly what they were meant to do.
“What’s so cool about this job is that there is so much impact, and Matt and Nikki got it immediately. They really just embraced it. They were here all the time, they wanted more cases, they were constantly asking questions about how it all works and they were putting the pieces together as they were going,” Stearns said.
Each has taken different paths to get to where they are, but both are taking what they learned and translating it into student success and serving the public good.
“I see the impact that doing this kind of work has on the people who do it and the people we do it for, and it is so amazing to have students who embrace that. They are ethical, they are smart, they are passionate and they are bringing a lot of positivity to this work” said Stearns.
Matthew James, Director, NCCU LITC
Tax was not an area of law that James had considered when he started his JD schooling at Denver Law. When he found out about the Graduate Tax Program, he had a short time to decide if he wanted to pursue an LLM.
“I was going to take a class and see if I liked it, but I had to make a quick decision on adding an LLM. I just jumped into it, and I loved it,” he said.
Working in the DU LITC gave him not only a chance to dive deeper into tax controversy issues but provided hands-on experience, as well.
“I wanted clinical experience, and I got a varied range of exposure, from conducting the client intake and interviews to negotiating with the IRS and the potential for litigating in tax court,” James said.
That experience has carried him far, taking what he learned and applying it to NCCU’s clinic where he has served as Director since September 2018 (he served as interim director prior).
“I overhauled most of the procedures of the clinic. I’m not sure that there is any aspect that is the same from when I became the interim director. I actually brought forms I created and procedures I learned from DU’s LITC with me and now use them here.”
Today, the NCCU clinic has about 100 open cases at any given time and is filling a large gap in both tax legal aid and education in the state. James hopes to increase the number of cases to help more clients.
“There’s a heavily underserved population in North Carolina, and we try reach as many people as possible,” he said, adding “We’ve had a pretty successful spring season so far. We are starting to see the fruits of our labors.”
In addition to the work the clinic does, James credits the incredible network of LITCs across the nation with providing strong support. He often reaches out to his alma-mater clinic and Stearns and Assistant Director and Associate Professor of the Practice of Tax Law Samantha Galvin for mentorship and to share good news.
“They’ve been an incredible support system. When I get excited about a case that we settle, I’ll text them to let them know,” he said.
Matthew James, JD’16, LLM’16, (second from right) recently joined DU LITC Director and Associate Professor of the Practice of Tax Law Erin Stearns (right) to meet with potential Denver Law Graduate Tax Program students.
Nikki McCain, Director, USD Federal Tax Clinic
McCain credits the LITC at Denver Law with giving her a solid foundation to grow her career.
“I started my own firm pretty much directly out of the LLM program. Without the clinic, I do not believe I could have started this firm. I credit everything I am doing currently to DU’s tax clinic,” she said.
She initially participated in the clinic to gain practical, real-world experience and work with a network of peers to represent clients. And gain experience she did.
“The first case I was handed was an audit reconsideration case requiring the substantiation of business expenses. I will never forget this case, as I was handed two large boxes full of receipts to account for all expenses claimed. Let’s just say that case took up much of my time,” she added.
Putting in the time and work must have made an impression, as McCain said that while working her own firm, she was also actively looking for LITC directorship positions across the nation. In 2016, she found her home as director of USD’s Federal Tax Clinic.
“Our Federal Tax Clinic focuses on the states of South Dakota and North Dakota, as North Dakota does not yet have a clinic. We assist those in rural areas and on Native American reservations,” she said.
In addition, her dedication to tax controversy has also led to co-authoring a chapter of Effectively Representing Your Client Before the IRS, a book she used during her time at DU LITC and now at USD’s Federal Tax Clinic.
McCain does not hesitate to encourage students to participate in LITC clinics when they have the chance.
“Do it! It is the best experience you will ever be provided. There is a difference between shuffling papers at a large law firm or accounting firm and actually working on cases from beginning to end at the tax clinic. You are putting in the time speaking with IRS representatives, drafting documentation to send to the IRS, and managing the client work along with your studies. You will never forget the cases that you represent or the people that you help.”
Law Students Spend Spring Break Providing Aid to the Borderlands Region
Thirteen University of Denver Sturm College of Law students chose to step up their spring break and take their legal skills on the road. Thanks to the Alternative Spring Break (ASB) program, they travelled to El Paso, Texas, and Las Cruces, New Mexico to provide legal support and advocacy to immigrants.
Denver Law’s ASB program gives law students the opportunity to participate in meaningful legal service, spending their spring break working in public interest-based settings.
This year, the program provided student support to four partner organizations:
- Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, hosting Juliet Jung (1L), Kiley Oblisk (1L), Scott Singer (1L) and Mary Snover (1L);
- Catholic Charities of Southern New Mexico, hosting Ashley Cordero (1L), Carly Hamilton (1L), Lauren Jones (1L) and Kimberly Langona (2L);
- Hope Border Institute, hosting Humberto Prospero (1L) and Viry Valdez (1L); and
- El Calvario United Methodist Church, hosting Jesi Davis (1L), Alex Lubin (3L) and Susannah Rogers (1L).
“I am so proud of our students’ dedication to devote their breaks to serving immigrant individuals and families, as well as communities that are incredibly marginalized and attacked in our society today. The four partner organizations needed support ranging from immigration court observation to legal research to translation and more, and our students rolled up their sleeves and did everything that was asked of them,” said faculty advisor, Associate Professor Alexi Freeman.
Students who worked with each organization worked on the immigration issue from all angles. Their efforts ranged from providing food, clothing and medical care to 60-plus refugees who were recently released from ICE and CBP custody to doing legal research and writing for a nonprofit that provided direct representation to immigrants.
The experience also provided opportunities to observe U.S. Immigration Court and collect data about the hearings, as well as meet directly with detained migrants in detention centers who were pleading for asylum or other forms of relief.
“I received a rapid-fire lesson on the current state of affairs in asylum law and policy in our country and how we are treating asylum seekers at our border. The need for assistance outstrips the legal and humanitarian resources available,” said Oblisk, team leader, who was provided clearance to interview several immigrants in two Texas detention centers. During her work, she interviewed a young father whose child was removed from his custody, whereabouts still unknown, as well as new detainees and women who were seeking asylum from dangerous situations in their home countries.
Importantly, the students’ work gave them a chance to understand all aspects of the immigration issue. Beyond legal issues, the trip presented the opportunity to grasp the human side of the situation first-hand.
“Although I have spent time on the El Paso-Ciudad Juárez border before, this trip gave me a much more holistic view of the immigration issue,” said Langona, team leader. “Unfortunately, most people view immigration through the lens of their politics rather than the realities of what is actually happening. What we saw and experienced is that of a human rights issue, not a political issue.”
The Alternative Spring Break trip came to fruition due to the hard work of the student committee of Allison Crennen-Dunlap (3L), Grace Lundergan (2L), Langona, Oblisk, Jenny Regier (2L), Allison Sheets (3L), and faculty advisor, Professor Freeman. Professor Freeman, along with Professors Lindsey Webb and César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández, also provided trainings prior the trip on cross-cultural communication and immigration law, preparing students for what was a fulfilling experience for all.
“I feel most proud that 13 overworked, sleep-deprived law students were willing to spend their spring break without a break—providing support to vulnerable populations and their advocates and learning about an overwhelmingly important, but often confusing, area of the law,” said Langona.
National Trial Team Wins National Ethics Trial Advocacy Tournament
In a complete sweep, University of Denver Sturm College of Law students went undefeated to win the National Ethics Trial Advocacy Tournament, held March 14-16 at the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law.
The National Trial Team of 3Ls Sean Cuff, Lauren Knapp, Leah Perczak and Allison Takacs, coached by alumni Madalia Maaliki (JD‘15) and Garrik Storgaard (JD‘11), defeated six law-school teams to take home the top honors.
This marks the second national invitational tournament the team has won in the last 14 months.
The National Ethics Trial Competition was established in 2006 to promote ethical and civility awareness through the mock trial competition format. It is the only law school-sponsored competition that features both an ethical component in the issues to be tried and scoring based on the participants' observation of ethical and civility principles.
Students Serve the Hispanic Legal Community
Innovative University of Denver Sturm College of Law students, Zachary Al-Tabbaa, 3L, and Desiree Palomares, 2L, are taking their education and legal responsibility to the next level. Appointed as co-presidents of the Hispanic National Bar Association – Law Student Division’s Region XIII (Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska and Wyoming) in October 2018, they are on a mission to create opportunities for students to thrive in law school and become successful members of the legal profession.
Al-Tabbaa and Palomares are pioneers in myriad ways. They are both students who came from out of state to attend Denver Law, they are among the first to fill this HNBA-LSD regional president seat, and they both understand how crucial community and support is in diversifying law.
Al-Tabbaa’s path to the legal profession wasn’t a straight one. He began as a pre-med student at the University of Texas at El Paso, focusing on microbiology, but knew medical school wasn’t his calling.
What did grab his attention were patents, steering his career path toward a combination of science and the law. “The best way for me to put it is that my passion for science and desire to protect the hard work of those laboring to progress it led me to pursue a legal education with a focus on patent law,” he said.
Denver Law’s Intellectual Property Law Program was a natural fit for his goals. Al-Tabbaa was impressed with what the law school and Colorado had to offer when he chose Denver Law; however, he didn’t know anybody when he arrived. He quickly realized that finding a support system, and in turn, fostering similar relationships with other Hispanic students, was critical.
“Being a half-Hispanic, half-Arab in this country, especially in the current climate, has been a challenge. Finding a community that really took me in and is helping myself and others like me is extremely valuable,” he said.
He discovered the HNBA through his position as the DU Latino Law Student Association (LLSA) Colorado Hispanic Bar Association (CHBA) representative. He was among twenty-five students invited in the summer of 2018 to the HNBA/Microsoft Intellectual Property Law Institute in Washington, D.C., an experience that opened doors for his legal career future.
Al-Tabbaa believes in paying opportunities like this forward.
“I was inspired by the numerous practicing attorneys and students that were impassioned to help their communities and other students like me,” he said. In addition to his HNBA-LSD role, he is active in the CHBA as Co-Chair of the Young Lawyers Division Committee. He also mentors other law students through the Sturm College of Law Peer Mentorship Program and the Law School Yes We Can! Program.
During his term as co-president, Al-Tabbaa hopes to encourage more Hispanic students to pursue the legal profession through the many resources of the HNBA, CHBA and other organizations aimed at supporting underrepresented students. As part of that, Al-Tabbaa tells students to seriously consider attending Denver Law and take advantage of all the opportunities available.
“I definitely would encourage other Hispanic students and half-Hispanic students like myself to come to Denver Law and get involved. There are many of opportunities here that you just don’t find in other parts of the region.”
Palomares had law school in her sights about half way through obtaining her undergraduate English degree at the University of California Berkeley. An accomplished gymnast at Berkeley, she wanted to parlay her sports background and writing skills into a sports law career.
When she started law school, however, her focus changed.
“Once I moved here, I realized that it was very different from where I am from. It was a culture shock, and it changed my goals for law school, one of them being that I wanted to be involved in increasing diversity at law schools,” she said.
Part of achieving her goals was becoming a member of the HNBA and LLSA, as well as mentoring high school students through the Center for Legal Inclusiveness’ Journey to JD program and mentoring in the Law School Yes We Can! Program. When she saw an opening for the HNBA-LSD regional president, she saw her opportunity to further foster the conversation about diversity in the legal profession.
Palomares’ goals for her term as co-president are to strengthen the Hispanic community at Denver Law and other law schools, as well as involve more people in the community to help students feel like they are not alone. As part of that mission, she encourages minority students to join as many student organizations they can while they are in law school.
“When students first come to law school, they should come very open minded and join groups because it helps increase the dialog in law school. They should not be intimidated in doing so; they should feel like we are all in this together and to take advantage of the resources given.”
Those resources could make a valuable, lasting impact in legal career paths, as they have for Palomares. Instead of sports law, she now wants to focus on low-income legal services and has built a professional network and support system in Denver that can’t be beat.
“At first, I really wanted to go back to California [after graduation], but now I think that I can make a bigger difference here. I have made connections, and I have been really supported by the faculty and community here, and those are relationships that I don’t want to miss out on.”
The HNBA-LSD, in collaboration with Al-Tabbaa, Palomares and HNBA members, are planning to host future networking events and panel discussions that all students are encouraged to attend.
“In our events, we want to involve everyone. We don’t want a divide, but rather want to start a conversation so it feels like a team working together rather than an us versus them mentality,” said Palomares.
Associate Professor Freeman Honored for Legal Inclusiveness
Alexi Freeman, associate professor of the practice and director of Externships and Public Interest Initiatives at University of Denver Sturm College of Law, was honored with the Individual Inclusiveness@Work Award during the Center for Legal Inclusiveness (CLI) Ball for All, held March 2, 2019.
The CLI Inclusiveness@Work Awards recognize those organizations and individuals who are advancing diversity and creating cultures of inclusion in our workplaces and community.
Freeman was one of three innovative individuals who were nominated in the individual category. She took top honors for her distinguished record working tirelessly alongside low-income communities and communities of color as a racial justice and legal advocate. At Denver Law, Freeman focuses her efforts inside and outside of the classroom on building a community of students dedicated to pursuing the public good, as well as training the next generation of social justice advocates.
“I am honored to receive this award from CLI, which works tirelessly to promote diversity in the legal profession. I am also grateful to all of my students who inspire me every day with their passion, their dedication and their intellect. Ultimately, all of us need to support the journeys of students from historically marginalized groups. I’ve been there, and I know it can be challenging to navigate. The CLI event inspired me to do more and be better,” Freeman said.
In addition, SuSaNi Harris, JD’84, was presented with The Lifetime Achievement Award. Harris, one of the founding members of the Center for Legal Inclusiveness, is a tireless champion for diversity and inclusiveness in the legal profession.
Hernandez & Associates, P.C., founded by alumni Arnulfo Hernandez (JD’05, LLM’07) and Christine Hernandez (JD’05), was presented with the Law Firm/Legal Department Inclusiveness@Work Award, beating out two national firms for the honor. Colorado Pledge to Diversity took the top Nonprofit Inclusiveness@Work honors for its summer clerkship program, which has provided valuable experience for many Denver Law legal students.
Congratulations to Associate Professor Freeman, SuSaNi Harris, Hernandez & Associates, P.C., and Colorado Pledge to Diversity for the well-deserved recognition.
$2 Million Grant Program Helps Crime Victims, Launches Careers of Graduates
The Office for Victims Program (OVP), a unit of the Division of Criminal Justice within the Colorado Department of Public Safety, recently announced a $2 million grant program, helping Colorado nonprofits access legal resources and launching careers of recent University of Denver Sturm College of Law graduates focused on public interest law. At least five Denver Law graduates will receive two-year Colorado Civil Justice Corps (CCJC) fellowships with selected nonprofit organizations to provide civil legal services to victims of crime.
The program addresses a critical legal need in Colorado. Only 47 legal aid lawyers are available statewide to help the 880,000 eligible clients in need, according to statistics maintained by Colorado Legal Services (CLS). CLS also reports that 80 percent of low-income people have trouble obtaining legal representation in court to protect their property, family and livelihood when dealing with evictions, foreclosures, unpaid wages, domestic violence and public benefits.
The CCJC is the result of months of hard work by both the OVP’s Civil Legal Services Victims Special Project and Denver Law. It is built around a fellowship program framework initially proposed by the law school. The goal of the project is two-fold: help nonprofits position themselves to provide needed services to crime victims and create an avenue for new lawyers to get a start in the public interest sector, and hopefully, keep them there.
“New graduates in our region typically do not have opportunities to enter into the nonprofit sector right upon graduation,” Alexi Freeman, associate professor of the practice and director of Externships and Public Interest Initiatives said. “We saw this opportunity as a way to cultivate public service lawyers. And, for nonprofits with lean budgets, it provides them with people who can offer legal services right then for victims.”
Through the groundbreaking CCJC program, at least five nonprofits who meet necessary criteria have the opportunity to host up to two fellows. The students who are selected to participate will be provided a salary, training and other resources to complete the two-year, guaranteed position. It’s an attractive program for all involved because CCJC grants fund the placements.
“It offers a good salary, good benefits and provides opportunities for professional development. It is a valuable situation for the fellows, as well as the nonprofits who are too often understaffed and under-resourced,” said Elise Logemann, assistant director of public service in the Office of Career Development and Opportunities.
Potential host nonprofits submitted their applications in February, and the final selection will be announced in March. Students will then apply and ultimately be chosen by the nonprofits later in the semester.
Learn more about the program at https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/dcj/projects-special.