On Wednesday, November 12th, Professor Ann Goldweber and Professor Gina Calabrese participated in a nationwide conference call with the Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Board, Richard Cordray. Eleven students from the professors’ clinical course, Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic, also participated in the call. During the call, thirty law school clinics from around the country discussed problems their clients encountered in mortgage servicing and debt collection. Professors Goldweber and 2L Samantha Ruppenthal engaged in dialogue with Director Cordray and CFPB attorneys regarding a mortgage servicer that is violating a Consent Order reached with the CFPB. Professor Calabrese discussed New York’s new rules for default applications in consumer debt cases. The call is part of a CFPB initiative to establish regular exchanges of information with consumer advocates. The CFPB has encouraged law school clinics in particular to share information and ideas about illegal, unfair and deceptive practices encountered in their cases.
Goldweber and Calabrese Participate in Nationwide Conference Call with Consumer Financial Protection Board Director Cordray
Professor Gina Calabrese, with law students of the Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic recently celebrated two important victories in CJELC cases. In one case, the Clinic obtained a judgment cancelling fraudulent deeds that robbed an elderly man with Alzheimer’s disease of title to his home. In the other case, the Clinic obtained a preliminary injunction on behalf of a 95-year-old woman who transferred her house to her nieces with the condition that they not sell it until after she died and that they use the proceeds to pay for her funeral. The nieces sold the house, violating the terms of the constructive trust, and retained the proceeds for themselves. The new owner attempted to evict the elderly woman; the preliminary injunction preserves her right to remain in the home while the lawsuit is pending. The Clinic also defeated four cross-motions to dismiss the action. The court’s decision cites much of the legal authority that appeared in the Clinic’s briefs.
Professor Ann Goldweber secured a grant to operate a full-time pro bono program to provide legal services to unrepresented debtors in Civil Court, Queens County and unrepresented plaintiffs in uncontested divorce cases. St. John’s and three other New York-area law schools received grants. This is the first time the New York State Office of Court Administration has awarded grants to law schools.
The Access to Justice Grant grant compliments an earlier award for an existing part-time clinical program and gives St. John’s law students and alumni the opportunity to help a greater number of people. The Consumer Debt Volunteer Lawyer for the Day Program , which is supervised by St. John’s alumna Helen Wrobel, provides limited representation to pro se defendants in consumer debt cases at pre-trial conferences in Queens Civil Court. Under attorney supervision, students work to negotiate settlements with opposing counsel, conference with court attorneys, argue before judges and advise clients on trial strategies. In the past six months, in the part-time program, 130 people received representation. In the Uncontested Divorce Program, also under attorney supervision, students prepare uncontested divorce papers and walk clients through the divorce process. One hundred and twenty-five people have been assisted in this part-time program in the past six months. By expanding these programs, the numbers can be doubled, reaching more low-income people in need of legal representation. This new grant gives St. John’s law students the opportunity to learn valuable lawyering skills while helping to meet the needs of the low-income community in Queens.
Professor Gina Calabrese recently co-authored an amicus brief for the New York Court of Appeals, on behalf of the Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic and ten other advocacy groups. The brief addressed questions certified by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in two related appeals, Cruz v. TD Bank, and Martinez v. Capital One Bank. The cases center on the banks’ implementation of New York’s Exempt Income Protection Act (“EIPA”). EIPA prevents garnishment of bank accounts that contain income exempt from judgment enforcement, particularly when directly deposited from identifiable sources such as Social Security. The amicus brief argues that an accountholder has a private right of action against a bank for violating EIPA and can obtain damages and injunctive relief. The Clinic and many of the advocacy groups that appeared as amici, were involved in the effort to win passage of EIP. As amicus counsel, Professor Calabrese was joined by lawyers from AARP’s national office and New York City’s New Economy Project.
Professor Jennifer Baum, Assistant Professor of Clinical Legal Education and Director of the Child Advocacy Clinic, together with co-counsel Greg Jacob, Karen Koniuszy, and Courtney Wen, of O’Melveny & Myers, all working pro bono, defeated a Hague Convention petition for repatriation of a fifteen year-old girl from Hungary. The Honorable Paul A. Engelmayer (S.D.N.Y.) ruled Friday, July 26, 2013, that the child, D.T.J., had succeeded in proving all three affirmative defenses: (1) that she is now settled in the United States, (2) that she is sufficiently mature to object to repatriation, and (3) that repatriation would place her in grave risk of harm. The grave risk defense rested chiefly on a history of domestic violence, together with eighteen months’ worth of recent abusive and anti-Semitic Facebook posts which taunted the girl and threatened her mother’s life, prompting the Court to observe that the child is now “fragile,” and that “compel[ing] return to Hungary, and to proximity with her abusive and volatile father, would be deeply traumatic” for her. The decision is available here: Jakubik Decision 072613 (2). Learn more about the development of this case and the compelling work of the Child Advocacy Clinic here and here. Congratulations Jen and team!
This Thursday and Friday, Center of Law and Religion Director Mark Movsesian and Associate Director Marc DeGirolami will participate in the Fourth Annual Law and Religion Roundtable. This year’s roundtable will be hosted at Stanford Law School. Professor Movsesian will present an early-stage project on the Psychic Sophie case and the rise of the Nones on Thursday. Professor DeGirolami will participate in the meeting as a discussant. The ALRR forum is an invitation-only meeting “for scholars of religious freedom to share cutting-edge works and engage in discipline-shaping conversations.”
Yesterday Leiter’s Law School Reports posted the results of a survey of over 200 of its readers asking “which areas of law deserve more attention in the legal academy?” The top 10 subjects were:
- Consumer Law
- Energy Law/Natural Resources Law/Water Law
- Employment Law
- Alternative Dispute Resolution
- Immigration Law
- Family Law
- Insurance Law
- Comparative Law
- Elder Law
- Wills, Trusts & Estates
What was immediately apparent to me as I read through this list was how many of these areas are already strengths at St. John’s Law School.
My co-blogger, Jeff Sovern, is one of the leading consumer law scholars in the country. He has co-authored a casebook in the field, written numerous articles on a wide variety of consumer law topics, and founded the Consumer Law & Policy Blog.
St. John’s is also home to the Center for Labor and Employment Law. Founded and directed by David Gregory, the center is a forum where students, practitioners and scholars come together to explore the practice and theory of labor and employment law.
Paul Kirgis founded the Hugh L. Carey Center for Dispute Resolution, which he runs with Elayne Greenberg. The Carey Center is a leader in the growing field of alternative dispute resolution, offering courses, clinics, and experiential learning to students, hosting scholarly programs, and providing professional training and other forms of outreach to the community. Paul is one of the leading scholars in the field (you can find some of his publications here) and is a regular contributor to Indisputably, the ADR Prof Blog.
On the clinical front, we have the Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic. Under the direction of Ann Goldweber and Gina Calabrese, the clinic students represent low-income, elderly Queens residents in cases involving predatory lending, contractor fraud, debt collection, and other consumer matters.
Befitting our location in one of the most diverse communities in the country, St. John’s actually has three immigration clinics: the Bread & Life Immigration Clinic, the Immigrant Social Justice Clinic, and the Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation Clinic.
These areas may get short shrift elsewhere, but they have been a focal point at St. John’s for years.
This semester, the Center for Law and Religion (CLR) inaugurated an exciting new course, “Colloquium in Law: Law and Religion.” The seminar, taught jointly by CLR Director Mark L. Movsesian and Assistant Director Marc O. DeGirolami, gave selected St. John’s Law School students an opportunity to study cutting-edge issues in law and religion with some of the most prominent thinkers in the field, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.
The seminar was structured as a series of workshops in which speakers presented papers to the students and faculty from St. John’s and other universities. The papers addressed a variety of topics and perspectives. Michael W. McConnell (Stanford Law School) critiqued the Supreme Court’s free-exercise jurisprudence, demonstrating the tensions in the Court’s landmark decision in Employment Division v. Smith. Philip Hamburger (Columbia Law School) discussed the history of freedom of conscience, focusing on medieval thinkers like Aquinas and Bonaventure, and M. Cathleen Kaveny (University of Notre Dame Law School) critiqued a classic contracts case, Watts v. Watts, from the perspective of moral theology. Two papers were comparative. Joseph Weiler (NYU School of Law) addressed the recent European Court of Human Rights decision in the Italian crucifix case, Lautsi v. Italy, and Ayelet Shachar (University of Toronto Faculty of Law) discussed religious family-law arbitration in Canada and the UK.
You can find more information on the colloquium here.
On April 18th, the New York City Council honored St. John’s Refugee and Immigrant Rights Litigation Clinic. Coinciding with Immigrant Heritage Week, Council Member Daniel Dromm, Speaker Christine Quinn and the entire City Council presented the Clinic with a Proclamation stating, in part, that:
The Council of the City of New York is proud to honor the St. John’s School of Law Refugee and Immigrant Rights Clinic for its outstanding service to immigrants in New York City: and . . .
The St. John’s School of Law Refugee and Immigrant Rights Clinic represents some of the neediest and most challenging cases before the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration Courts; and . . .
The work of the Refugee and Immigrant Rights Clinic on these cases is often groundbreaking and precedential, impacting immigration cases not just in New York City but across the country: and . . .
The Refugee and Immigrant Rights Clinic provides experiential learning to law students, many of whom go on to serve as prominent immigration attorneys and leading advocates for immigration reform; . . .