June 20, 2019

Civil Rights Clinic Scores Win on Behalf of Incarcerated Individuals


When Tiffany McCoy approached the University of Denver Sturm College of Law Civil Rights Clinic (CRC) she had one simple, but incredibly meaningful, request: to receive original greeting cards while incarcerated. Through collaborative work with Ms. McCoy and the Colorado Department of Corrections (CDOC), CRC student attorneys Alexandra Parrott, JD’19, and Justin Yanowicz, 3L, successfully restored her rights, and those of incarcerated individuals all over the state, to hold and experience items that were personally touched and written by loved ones.

“We’re happy Ms. McCoy’s advocacy achieved this great result,” said Alexandra Parrott, one of Ms. McCoy’s student attorneys. “Hopefully, this also signifies the beginning of a cooperative relationship between the CRC and CDOC.”

Last year, in an effort to reduce drugs entering CDOC prisons through the mail, the agency banned original greeting cards and similar items and, instead, provided individuals with black-and-white photocopies of these items.

Ms. McCoy, who is currently incarcerated at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility, felt the copies were a poor substitute for an essential and unique form of communication; to her, never experiencing the cards’ colors or holding an item her loved ones touched stripped the copies of much of their value.  

She sought help with this concern through her student attorneys at the CRC, who reached out to the CDOC to address the concerns. During the discussions that followed, CRC student attorneys expressed Ms. McCoy’s concerns about the policy’s impact on prisoners’ morale, as well as her right to free speech. For Ms. McCoy, the policy was a major barrier to maintaining her ties to her family, who she relies on for support in prison and will rely on for help when she is released. CDOC conveyed its concerns about the illegal introduction of drugs into facilities and expressed a desire to work toward a mutually agreeable solution wherein introduction of drugs was reduced, and incarcerated individuals were able to enjoy the unique experience of a painting from a child or loved one.

In May, that solution was reached, and the CDOC is once again permitting incarcerated individuals to receive original greeting cards, postcards, and drawings.

“This gives me hope that things can change for the better.” Ms. McCoy said, “I used to think we, as prisoners, didn’t have a voice, but now I feel like we do.”

June 14, 2019

Five 2019 Graduates Named Colorado Civil Justice Corps Fellows


Earlier this year, the Office for Victims Program (OVP), a unit of the Division of Criminal Justice within the Colorado Department of Public Safety, announced a $2 million grant to create the Colorado Civil Justice Corps (CCJC) Fellowship. The program helps Colorado nonprofits access legal resources while also launching the careers of five University of Denver Sturm College of Law class of 2019 graduates focused on public interest law. 

Congratulations to the inaugural cohort of fellows:

  • Camille Agnello, JD’19, will work with the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center to support and expand its new Title IX work.
  • Xochitl Gutierrez, JD’19, will work with Colorado Legal Services in its Survivors Unit, helping crime victims apply for humanitarian visas and serving survivors of human trafficking in other civil legal matters.
  • Lauren Haefliger, JD’19, will work with Alpine Legal Services and will provide multi-issue support to Alpine, which is the only provider of free civil legal services for crime victims, children, seniors and low-income residents from Aspen to Parachute, Colo.
  • Fionna Mejia Gatica, JD’19, will work at the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network to support children and families who are crime victims in their immigration matters.
  • Maggie Wojtulewicz, JD’19, will work at Project Safeguard to represent victims in civil protection orders resulting from domestic violence.

“Each of the five fellows have already devoted considerable time and expertise to working on behalf of the public good during their tenure at Denver Law, and we can’t wait to hear about their work over the next two years,” said Alexi Freeman, associate professor of the practice and director of Externships and Public Interest Initiatives. “Our host nonprofits have a rich history of representing clients and new lawyers, and we know they will provide ample training and support to the fellows as they grow their advocacy skills and develop relationships with clients.”

The innovative CCJC Fellowship address 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.

“I'm hoping to do outreach to the community to improve outcomes for victims on a variety of issues,” said fellowship recipient, Lauren Haefliger. “I'd also love to meet with the community to understand their needs and help implement any related programs.”

 In addition to filling the great need for legal aid representation, this fellowship program creates a gateway to nonprofit lawyering, a sector that is often difficult for new lawyers to break into in Colorado.

“I think this fellowship is a great place for me to start my career as a public interest attorney. I am fortunate enough to be a part of a community of attorneys that have a wealth of knowledge and experience in public interest and work every day to help members of our communities. I cannot imagine a better place for me to continue learning and start my career as an attorney,” said fellowship recipient, Xochitl Gutierrez. 

Earlier this year, the Office for Victims Program (OVP), a unit of the Division of Criminal Justice within the Colorado Department of Public Safety, announced a $2 million grant to create the Colorado Civil Justice Corps (CCJC) Fellowship. The program helps Colorado nonprofits access legal resources while also launching the careers of five University of Denver Sturm College of Law class of 2019 graduates focused on public interest law. 

Congratulations to the inaugural cohort of fellows:

  • Camille Agnello, JD’19, will work with the Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center to support and expand its new Title IX work.
  • Xochitl Gutierrez, JD’19, will work with Colorado Legal Services in its Survivors Unit, helping crime victims apply for humanitarian visas and serving survivors of human trafficking in other civil legal matters.
  • Lauren Haefliger, JD’19, will work with Alpine Legal Services and will provide multi-issue support to Alpine, which is the only provider of free civil legal services for crime victims, children, seniors and low-income residents from Aspen to Parachute, Colo.
  • Fionna Mejia Gatica, JD’19, will work at the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network to support children and families who are crime victims in their immigration matters.
  • Maggie Wojtulewicz, JD’19, will work at Project Safeguard to represent victims in civil protection orders resulting from domestic violence.

“Each of the five fellows have already devoted considerable time and expertise to working on behalf of the public good during their tenure at Denver Law, and we can’t wait to hear about their work over the next two years,” said Alexi Freeman, associate professor of the practice and director of Externships and Public Interest Initiatives. “Our host nonprofits have a rich history of representing clients and new lawyers, and we know they will provide ample training and support to the fellows as they grow their advocacy skills and develop relationships with clients.”

The innovative CCJC Fellowship address 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.

“I'm hoping to do outreach to the community to improve outcomes for victims on a variety of issues,” said fellowship recipient, Lauren Haefliger. “I'd also love to meet with the community to understand their needs and help implement any related programs.”

 In addition to filling the great need for legal aid representation, this fellowship program creates a gateway to nonprofit lawyering, a sector that is often difficult for new lawyers to break into in Colorado.

“I think this fellowship is a great place for me to start my career as a public interest attorney. I am fortunate enough to be a part of a community of attorneys that have a wealth of knowledge and experience in public interest and work every day to help members of our communities. I cannot imagine a better place for me to continue learning and start my career as an attorney,” said fellowship recipient, Xochitl Gutierrez.

June 4, 2019

ACS Student Chapter Receives National Honors


The University of Denver Sturm College of Law’s American Constitution Society (ACS) Student Chapter was recently recognized by the national ACS organization for its up and coming work and compelling programs.

In April, the chapter was selected as the “Rising Chapter of the Year Award.” The annual award is given to a new or recently revived chapter that has done the most to advance progressive causes.  After a period of time where the chapter was in a lull, student leaders, including Chapter President Naomi Martin, 3L, stepped up to reinvigorate Denver Law’s chapter with distinguished results.

“As a newly revived chapter, you burst onto the ACS Student Chapters scene with an impressive program of events on progressive issues and ACS priorities, including the Kavanaugh Nomination, the role state attorneys general play in our system of government, national security and privacy, immigration, criminal justice, first amendment, income inequality, and the rights of indigenous communities,” said Peggy Li, ACS Associate Director of Chapters.

The chapter was also awarded a coveted “Programming Award” from the national organization. The awards were announced in May and were given to the strongest chapters that conducted at least 20 substantive and compelling events during the school year. Denver Law’s ACS Student Chapter was selected because its programming facilitated strong connections between the student members, the lawyer members, the faculty and the greater Colorado legal community.

“Your chapter has done a phenomenal job and is a model for not only new or recently revived chapters but also all of our chapters. Thank you for creating a constructive dialogue for change at DU and strengthening our progressive network. We are honored to work with the Denver Law ACS Student Chapter and are grateful for your contributions to ACS’s mission,” said Li.

Learn more about our ACS Student Chapter on the Denver Law website.

May 28, 2019

EU-US Comparative Climate Change and Energy Transition Law


In the spring 2019 semester, 15 University of Denver Sturm College of Law (SCOL) students finished the first ever law school course co-taught live by professors in Denmark, Norway, and the United States.  The course, “EU-US Comparative Climate Change and Energy Transition Law,” included 15 students each from the universities of Copenhagen, Denver, and Oslo.  Fifteen different countries were represented in the 45-student total.

The course consisted of 10 two-hour sessions videocast live to classrooms in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Oslo, and a final one-week gathering of all students and professors in Denmark.

The groundbreaking new course was made possible by a €300,000 grant from the European Commission.  Among other things, the grant provided funding for all students to travel to Copenhagen. 

The course objective was to “bring together” American and European students in one “virtual” classroom to learn about comparative strategies in the forms of law and policy to address climate change and the transition from fossil fuel to renewable energy.  Colorado, Denmark, and Norway are key leaders in this effort in the EU and US respectively. 

From August 2018 through January of this year, course materials (some from Europe and some from the US) were identified and the syllabus was jointly developed.  Attention had to be paid to the respective administrative requirements of each university during this stage of course development.

In addition, during this period, the course video conferencing procedures and a customized webpage were developed by Jessica Hogan, director of the SCOL Educational Technology Department, and her staff.  In January multiple “test runs” of the video conferencing software were made with the three universities.

The first live session took place on February 4.  Subsequently through April 1 students would assemble in their classrooms in Copenhagen, Denver, and Oslo.  Class began in Denver at 8.15 am and in the European classrooms at 4.15 pm, the eight-hour difference reflecting the two world time zones where students were gathering.



In addition to hearing lectures from Professors Catherine Banet (Oslo), Beatriz Martinez Romera (Copenhagen), and Don Smith (Denver), students were organized into cross-university groups to research and generate presentations and papers on key climate change and energy transition issues.  The group presentations – seven to be precise – were delivered before the entire gathering of students and professors as well as members of the Copenhagen law faculty in Copenhagen on April 22.

The following day students attended a conference of leading Danish energy experts for consideration of how Denmark has become a world leader in reducing carbon emissions while implementing a widely-praised transition to renewable energy.

The week in Denmark was completed with a field trip to the Samsø Island Energy Academy, which has a worldwide reputation for helping communities work towards renewable energy solutions.  Samsø Island is the world’s first completely renewable energy-powered island.

The highlight of the field trip was a bicycle tour of the Energy Academy’s projects on the island led by academy CEO Søren Hermansen. 

The importance of the collaboration between the three law schools and the University of Colorado Graduate School, which houses Felicia Martinez, director of the European Union Center of Excellence at CU, was not lost on the 45 students.  After returning to Denver in early May, one of the DU students described the course as “the greatest experience of my life thus far,” adding, “I have made connections that will undoubtedly last a lifetime.”

Don Smith, Associate Professor of the Practice of Law at the Sturm College of Law, said, “The four institutions – Copenhagen, Denver, Oslo, and the University of Colorado – that collaborated to make this course a reality along with the European Commission aimed to deliver a unique and ‘bridge building’ opportunity for students to learn about strategies for dealing with climate change and the transition to renewables.  But perhaps even more than that, the course was designed to help students establish personal and professional connections that will benefit them as they prepare for their own careers.”

In 2020, a new student group from each university will gather for the 10 video conferencing sessions and then travel to Denver the final week of April for a series of presentations, lectures, and a field trip.  In 2021, the final year of the three-year program, everyone will meet in Oslo for the final week of April.

May 14, 2019

Alison Heinen, 3L, Named 2019 Equal Justice Works Fellow


When you ask Alison Heinen, third-year law student at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law, her professional goals, working toward the public good is at the foundation of all her plans.

“I want to be using the knowledge and privilege that comes with being an attorney to help support community-led movements for social change.”

It’s that drive and dedication that earned her the distinguished honor of being named to this year’s cohort of Equal Justice Works (EJW) Fellows.

Equal Justice Works, the nation’s largest facilitator of opportunities in public interest law, announced its 2019 Class of EJW Fellows on Tuesday, May 13. Those selected for the honor are recent law school graduates who will launch public interest law careers through a project of their own design.

Heinen was selected as part of this distinguished cohort out of 450 applications. The 2019 Class of Equal Justice Works Fellows includes graduates from 39 law schools who will work at 73 legal services organizations in 18 states and the District of Columbia. Among this year’s sponsors are 26 leading law firms and 23 Fortune 500 corporations. Heinen is sponsored by Exelon Corporation and Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP.

“The Equal Justice Works Fellowship program offers aspiring public interest lawyers an opportunity to do so much more than provide legal representation—it’s an opportunity to become a force for change,” said David Stern, executive director at Equal Justice Works. “We are excited to welcome these new Fellows and look forward to seeing how they will help balance the scales of justice in our country.”

Heinen will be directing her energies toward working with community activist organizations, helping Chicago communities fight for justice and achieve lasting social change through Community Activism Law Alliance (CALA) in Chicago. She will specifically focus on immigration law.

“My project will launch a new model of representation to respond to the growing need for quality, affordable legal representation for individuals at risk of deportation or removaI,” said Heinen. “I will focus on empowering and educating detained immigrant mothers. These women need access to legal counsel that will help them navigate their immigration status and provide particularized attention to legal questions resulting from their status as mothers.”  

Receiving the fellowship allows Heinen to take the education and public interest experience she gained through Denver Law, including externships with Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network and National Immigrant Justice Center and continue the mission of serving the public good.

“My legal education at Denver Law has instilled in me the importance of being a community lawyer,” Heinen said. “Law school has given me the opportunity to work with and learn from lawyers, social workers, community activists, politicians, and clients. I know this ability to communicate with and learn from diverse groups of people will serve me well in my fellowship position.”

As Heinen worked at Chicago Coalition for the Homeless for several years prior to law school, the fellowship means returning to the city that inspired her to be a lawyer. And while her new career is taking her miles away, she is forever grateful to those at Denver Law who helped her achieve her goals.

“My supervisors, professors, and fellow students during the past three years have been nothing but supportive of my passion for pursuing public interest law. In particular, Professors Lexi Freeman, Margaret Kwoka and César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández have supported me constantly, and I am so grateful for their mentorship,” she said. “I am also very grateful to Equal Justice Works for making this fellowship possible.”

April 18, 2019

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.

-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 Fu

(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.

April 17, 2019

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.

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.”

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Sturm College of Law
University of Denver
2255 E. Evans Avenue
Denver, CO 80208