Community Engagement

    Pacific McGeorge Legal Clinics Are Riding High

    Students in the Pacific McGeorge Federal Defender ClinicSteve Yeater

    Federal Defender Clinic participants, front row from left: Scott Radcliffe and Jamie Walker; back row, David Snapp, Timothy Kelly, Etan Zaitsu, Matt Fleming, Gina Le, Tatiana Filippova, Professor Cary Bricker, and adjunct professor John Balazs.

    By Mike CurranOct 12, 2011
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    In 1972, Pacific McGeorge became one of the first American law schools to establish an on-campus legal aid office where students help indigent clients with legal matters under the direction of supervising attorneys.

    Forty years later, Pacific McGeorge continues that tradition of public service with an array of cutting-edge clinical programs that have generated excitement among students and won awards for innovation and excellence. Under the leadership of Clinical Director Dorothy Landsberg, '87, who left one of Sacramento's largest law firms to return to campus, the Pacific McGeorge legal clinics have expanded their role to include close interaction with both the state and federal justice systems.

    Its Mediation Clinic figured prominently in a recent U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals award to Sujean Park, the director of the alternative dispute resolution and pro bono programs for the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California. The award cited the clinic, which she helps to coordinate, with making a positive impact in the reduction of federal court caseloads through mediation of prisoners' rights cases.

    Two years ago, Dean Elizabeth Rindskopf Parker attended a judicial conference presentation regarding the large number of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 prisoner civil rights cases in the Eastern District. Landsberg and Park created the Mediation Clinic to allow Pacific McGeorge students to conduct mediations involving prisoners proceeding pro se in Section 1983 lawsuits. Four students, Jaime Williams, '11, Alexander Zeesman, '11, and Sunny Stevenson and Amanda Brown, both of whom will graduate in December, enrolled in the first clinic. Under the direction of Professor Michael Colatrella and Landsberg, they trained for their roles as co-mediators.

    The students interviewed the inmates, prepared pre-conference memoranda and participated as co-mediators. "The students handled nine mediations, three of which resulted in successful outcomes," Landsberg said. "So those were three cases that did not have to go to trial, which amounts to a savings in court time and money - and a robust educational program for our students."

    "Working in the clinic was not only rewarding, but it opened my eyes to the future of alternative dispute resolution," said Stevenson. "I know it's going to be a big area in the years ahead, and one in which I want to be involved."

    Law students in the quad area of the Pacific McGeorge campus in Sacramento

    Learn more about the Pacific McGeorge School of Law

    Pacific McGeorge School of Law offers a unique experience in law schools. It's a quintessential West Coast campus that acts as a living legal laboratory, with California’s Capitol in your backyard. There's recreation, entertainment, and access to one of the best international law programs in the worldmore

    Another Pacific McGeorge clinic has won praise from the Sacramento legal community. In July, the Elder and Health Law Clinic won an impressive victory when an administrative law judge ruled that their client was entitled to an expensive medical procedure previously denied him under his coverage. Three students, Katherine Roe,'12, Jason Truong,'11, and Ian Scharg,'11, developed a cutting-edge legal theory and worked with medical expert witnesses to convince the judge that the medical procedure should not be considered experimental and should be covered by Medicare and the client's health plan.

    "This is the third Medicare Part C coverage that our students have handled and we are 3-for-3," said Professor Melissa Brown, the supervising attorney for the clinic. "Moreover, they have likely signaled a path to other lawyers and claimants for getting this type of procedure covered."

    As a result of its good work, that clinic was selected to receive $121,000 in a cy pres distribution of funds from a settlement of senior deferred annuity sales fraud class action suit. In addition to being one of only six recipients, the clinic was nominated for the 31st Annual Mental Health and Aging Conference Award.

    In its third year of operation, Pacific McGeorge's Federal Defender Clinic has also made great strides, representing clients in hundreds of cases in U.S. District Court since its inception.

    "We modeled the program after one of the only other Federal Defender clinics in the country, at New York University," said Professor Bricker, a former senior staff attorney with the Federal Defender Division of the New York Legal Aid Society, Criminal Division, who oversees the clinic.

    Students working in the clinic often face prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office in misdemeanor cases in the federal courthouse. The vast majority of cases result in plea bargains or dismissals, but some go to trial in front of United States magistrate judges. Although decided underdogs in most cases, clients represented by vigorous student advocates won acquittals in several cases over the last two and a half years.

    "The clinics have always held a special place at Pacific McGeorge," said Professor Jerry Caplan, a former acting director of the Legal Services Corporation in Washington, D.C., who went on to serve as dean of the law school from 1992-2001. "The clinics have been revitalized under Dean Parker and Dorothy Landsberg. They have created enhanced opportunities for our students to practice their skills while providing useful services."

    Pacific McGeorge boasts nine separate legal clinics. In each of the legal clinics, students strengthen the connection between legal theory and practice, learn professional lawyering skills, and begin to develop their professional identity. For more information, (click to clinic page)

    about the author

    Mike Curran   Mike Curran, a long-time journalist, has been at Pacific McGeorge for 20 years, keeping tabs on students, alumni, faculty and other activities at the law school.

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