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.
Students and Professionals Come Together to Talk Law and Life
January is National Mentoring Month and there is no better example of mentoring at its finest than the Professional Mentoring Program (PMP) at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
Since 2005, the PMP has been a national leader in offering guidance on legal skills, career opportunities and much more to law students. But, its strength lies not only in the practical skills provided but also the lifelong, personal connections it fosters and the dedicated mentors who donate their time.
The PMP is the brainchild of Director Mike Massey. While teaching in the Lawyering Process (LP) program he witnessed a great need for student guidance.
“I discovered that most of my first-year students had little first-hand knowledge of what lawyers did. Most of them had never met a lawyer and few of them had lawyers in the family,” Massey relates.
With the help of lawyer friends from his network, he launched the PMP to connect law students with lawyers. The program started modestly, including only students in Massey’s LP class, but it soon started to bloom as more students learned the value of professional connections.
Massey, along with then director of the LP program, Professor K.K. DuVivier, decided to expand the PMP, and by the 2007–08 academic year, the program offered a mentor to each first-year student at Denver Law, and has expanded to offer services to all J.D. and graduate students. Today, under the guidance of Massey and Andrew Frohardt, senior Professional Mentoring Program coordinator, nearly 1,100 people participate, including more than 600 students and 400 mentors.
Investing in the Future of the Profession
Doug Brown, retired chief attorney for the Colorado state legislature and member of the Mentor Advisory Board, has been volunteering his time to the PMP since the beginning.
“I always felt like having someone who had experience and had been in the law business, giving a young person a chance to have a relationship, exchange thoughts and just get to know each other, would be a tremendous benefit,” said Brown.
The program is designed to match students with mentors in their legal field of interest who can guide them through school and get them started in the profession.
“It’s just really practical help for the law students who in most cases don’t know what they are getting into,” said Brown, who adds that he runs the gamut of giving first-year students advice on how to handle the anxiety of law school to providing connections and networking opportunities for graduating mentees.
Mentors also really focus on another critical aspect of the profession: professional responsibility. Mentees are taught the foundation of what professional responsibility, legal ethics and proper behavior in the practice of law are all about. These reasons are also why many mentors donate their time.
“The whole business of professional responsibility is critical to any lawyers practice. It provides them grounding to help them grow in the profession. I really believe in the program, and in the professional responsibility of helping mentees out,” said Brown.
Bridging the Gap
Alumna and mentor, Mary Jo Gross (JD’79), knows first-hand how difficult it can be to be a law student without professional guidance. As a night student, she didn’t have a strong support system to help her along her legal journey.
“When I was in law school in the 70s in night school, I didn’t really have anyone who took much interest in what I was doing. I didn’t really have a support mechanism,” she related, adding “I enjoy mentoring the part-time students because I can relate to that experience.”
Gross is always looking for mentees, meeting them through the program, through recommendations, and through events. She opens her heart to her mentees and often opens her home to them, as well, inviting past and current mentees and others to join her for Thanksgiving. She also ensures that students she works with, past and present, have a place at her table at the annual DU Law Stars event.
Gross’ mentoring philosophy is simple.
“I just want them to know that I am here. If they need help with a project, or if they need me to listen to something. And I like to make sure that they are well fed.”
While the PMP is designed to take eight hours of a mentor-mentee pair’s time each academic year, those hours are just a drop in the bucket of what is actually offered. That’s because mentoring is not only about ushering in a new generation of lawyers into the profession; It’s also about developing connections and creating lifelong bonds.
Han DePorter, 1L, said that mentor, attorney and adjunct professor, Joe Goldhammer, has provided valuable guidance through his experience in education and labor law. But, importantly, their work together has yielded much more.
“Joe and I spent more time together than the mentorship program required, so in doing so, we got to know each fairly well,” related DePorter. “We talked about our shared love for hiking, so he invited me for a day of hiking and elk sightseeing in Rocky Mountain National Park. I don’t think we talked about anything law related that entire trip. Although this is a professional mentorship program, there are so many things that make up an individual’s identity besides being a lawyer, so I think it is important to see that as well.”
Goldhammer, who is not only involved in the program but also has an open door to former mentees, as well as students who have taken his courses at Denver Law, really takes on a holistic philosophy of mentoring the whole person.
“The personal relationships that you nurture and cultivate are part of our education. I wanted to make sure that Han felt at home not only with me but also with my family and knows to call on us whenever needed. Han’s very bright, a very good student and will make a fabulous lawyer,” Goldhammer said.
Brown has similar philosophy and often takes his mentees to Rockies games or Broncos games to create a connection outside of law. He said more guidance is often given over coffee or in a bleacher seat than any conference table.
“Telling your personal story allows mentees to relate to you as a person, not necessarily just a lawyer or as a resource. The connection outside of law, going to baseball games and football games, really creates a relationship. It’s those incidental things that you say that often turn out to be the most value to students,” he relates.
Han DePorter (l) and mentor Joe Goldhammer (r), adjunct professor at Denver Law.
The PMP doesn’t just benefit the students; it’s a positive experience for the mentors, as well.
“Mentoring, particularly at Denver Law, has been one of the most rewarding experiences of retirement. It gives you connection with young people, and it’s a growth experience,” Brown said.
Goldhammer takes pride in knowing that volunteering his time has spurred his mentees to do the same. In fact, around 50 percent of PMP mentors are Denver Law alumni.
“There is a culture of helping younger people. It’s part of what being a lawyer is.”
Denver Law’s PMP is always accepting new mentors to help shape the future of the legal professional. To learn more about the program, visit www.law.du.edu/professional-mentoring-program.
DU Teams Take Top Honors at the ABA Law Student Tax Challenge
(l-r): Kasia Parecki (JD/LLM), Christine Kuglin (JD/LLM), Associate Professor Erin Stearns, Dave Wilson (LLM) and Gretchen Bundy-Ladowicz (LLM).
Two University of Denver Sturm College of Law teams won first and second place at the national ABA Law Student Tax Challenge–LLM division in New Orleans last weekend. The team of Christine Kuglin (JD/LLM) and Kasia Parecki (JD/LLM) earned top honors and the team of Gretchen Bundy-Ladowicz (LLM) and Dave Wilson (LLM), both online students, took second place honors in the competition.
To qualify for the challenge finals, law student teams were asked to solve a cutting-edge and complex business problem that might arise in everyday tax practice. Teams were initially evaluated on two criteria: a memorandum to a senior partner and a letter to a client explaining the result.
The teams from Denver Law were among only four teams selected to attend the finals, held at the ABA Section of Taxation 2019 Midyear Meeting, January 17–19, in New Orleans. Each team defended its submission before a panel of judges representing the nation’s top tax practitioners and government officials, including U.S. Tax Court judges.
“Both teams gave extraordinary oral presentations and also submitted excellent written papers. I could not be more proud to have been in New Orleans to support them and share in their success,” said Erin Stearns, associate professor and competition coach. “I'm also grateful for the assistance from Professors John Wilson and Samantha Galvin, who did so much to prepare the team and support them, as well as for the assistance from the Graduate Tax Program faculty and staff.”
Congratulations to both teams, as well as their coaches, for this outstanding achievement.
John Wilson Receives CBA’s James E. Bye Lifetime Achievement Award
John Wilson, director of the University of Denver Graduate Tax Program, was recently honored as the recipient of the 2017-2018 James E. Bye Lifetime Achievement Award by the Tax Section of the Colorado Bar Association. Wilson is also partner at Holland & Hart in Denver. This annual award is presented to a Colorado tax attorney who has adhered to the highest principles and traditions of the legal profession in the practice of tax law, and who has distinguished himself or herself in areas such as the practice of tax law in the State of Colorado, the improvement of the quality of the tax law, legal education, service to the Tax Bar, and community involvement.
“I want to congratulate John for this well-deserved recognition,” said Laura Dinan, Holland & Hart’s Tax Practice Group Leader. “He is an outstanding leader and respected colleague in the legal community who provides the highest quality of service and mentoring to others.”
In his practice, Wilson provides strategic advice to clients on complex corporate and individual tax matters, mergers and acquisitions, international business transactions, and IRS audits and appeals. He is considered a leader in tax law and, as a faculty member at the Sturm College of Law, teaches courses such as international taxation, partnerships, consolidated returns, and individual tax problems. Wilson is nationally recognized by The Best Lawyers in America in Tax Law and Trusts and Estates and is also a Fellow of the American College of Tax Counsel, an elite group of America’s very best tax attorneys who have made an exceptional contribution in their profession.
University of Denver Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Saves Clients Over $1 Million Annually
Student-staffed clinic provides over 5,000 service hours a year to the taxpayer community.
You don’t have to look much further than the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) at Sturm College of Law to see how the University of Denver is fulfilling its mission of being a private university dedicated to the public good. Since 1982, the clinic has been helping the low-income population dig its way out from under mountains of IRS debt.
LITC’s mission is to provide the low-income population (those with an annual gross income of $30,000 or less) with free legal services for tax issues. It generally doesn’t file taxes for people but does handle any issues that arise after the fact.
In 1998, Congress passed a big IRS restructuring act in response to public perception of abusive practices by the IRS. There were a number of reforms put in place—including funding for low income taxpayer clinics—as a measure to reform the IRS and help those who were underserved. The LITC was one of the first clinics funded.
“We handle everything that happens post-filing of a tax return,” says Erin Stearns, LITC director. “The program was structured to help lower income taxpayers know what options they had that they were likely not aware of. We facilitate those options for those people.”
And handle things the clinic does. In 2017 alone, LITC represented 273 taxpayers, helped taxpayers receive $26,372 in refunds from the IRS and decreased the total amount of tax liabilities, penalties and interest of clients by $1.3 million.
Stearns and LITC Assistant Director Samantha Galvin, as well as around 20 student participants a year, make it all possible.
Unlike other student law clinics at Denver Law, the LITC has both master's, JD and LLM participants. It is open to anyone in the Graduate Tax Program, law students and students in the Daniel’s Master of Accountancy Program.
“It’s really a hybrid practice area,” says Stearns. “We feel that if we are going to offer it in the Graduate Tax Program, and at least half of our students are master's students, they should be able to participate.”
This hands-on experience gives students the chance to handle work papers, participate in research and make arguments for their clients. In addition, participation in the clinic creates a multidisciplinary network that lasts long after graduation. The master's students are often coming from a tax and accountancy background, so they can handle issues that law students may not be familiar with. And, the law students studying for their LLM can handle the law aspects and legal research that the master's students may not be familiar with.
It’s a winning combination that has resulted in numerous success stories for the clinic. LITC has helped a range of people from those who struggled with taxes after The Great Recession took its toll on businesses to those who hadn’t filed taxes in years and everything in between.
One such case saw the clinic reduce an IRS debt of $29,000 to only $10. The client had had a successful career prior to suffering debilitating health issues, which left her living on long-term disability and social security disability income. Like many in her position, she didn’t realize she owed taxes on that income and did not have enough withholding. The LITC team took up the fight, and through adjusting her tax withholding and proving her high medical costs, an Offer of Compromise of $10 to the IRS and an offer of $10 to the state was accepted.
While this seems like an extraordinarily rare outcome, it is actually fairly common for the clinic. According to 2017 statistics, the median offer amount for 34 clients with accepted Offers of Compromise was just $10.
“We are just really focused on resolving conflicts with the IRS,” Galvin says. And for those who are struggling with tax debt, that is a huge relief.
Learn more about the LITC at https://www.law.du.edu/low-income-taxpayer-clinic