Law 730 - Veterans Justice Clinic: Poverty, Homelessness & Criminalization

Sunita Patel

Sunita Patel

Assistant Professor of Law
Faculty Director, UCLA Veterans Legal Clinic
J.D. American University Washington College of Law
B.A. Tulane University
UCLA Faculty Since 2017
Course Description:

The Poverty, Homelessness, and Criminalization Clinic provides critical legal services as part of a broad approach to addressing the homelessness crisis in Los Angeles. In a law office setting only 10 minutes from the UCLA School of Law, the live-client clinic provides direct representation and engages in legal advocacy to assist homeless/housing insecure and other vulnerable veterans. A significant number of individuals seeking our services are formerly incarcerated veterans or have on-going involvement in the criminal justice system. Through direct client representation and course seminar, students develop litigation and advocacy skills including factual investigation (similar to discovery and document review), legal research, motion and appellate brief writing, oral advocacy, hearing preparation, work with experts, and advanced interviewing and counseling (often using trauma-informed techniques). Students serve as legal advocates in administrative agency appeals, or other civil rights litigation, and seek to clear criminal fines and fees accumulated from low level quality of life offenses. Through these legal services, students will assist veterans in obtaining housing and economic security and preventing re-incarceration. Students will also gain an understanding of the long-term consequences of interactions with the criminal justice system for their clients. Students enrolled in the clinic course may also assist veterans on landlord-tenant, immigration, police misconduct, and employment law matters.

Examples of Student Cases:
• Students assisted a former prisoner, previously homeless for 20 years, avoid garnishment of service-connected disability benefits due to thousands of dollars in alleged overpayments while in state prison.  These efforts contributed to the veteran successfully receiving approximately $70,000 in improperly withheld benefits.
• A student wrote and submitted briefs to court arguing a veteran’s traffic citations should be dismissed. After the student’s successful oral advocacy at arraignment, the court ruled in favor of our client, waived approximately $5,000 in fines and fees, recalled a warrant and placed him on a path toward restoration of his driving privileges.
• Students prepared and filed appeal briefs in support of a Korean War veteran’s claim for VA disability benefits related to his hearing loss, depression and Parkinson’s Disease, all of which developed because of his maintenance of aircraft and exposure to toxic substances in the line of duty.

Examples of Student Projects for Additional Credits:
• Students are collaborating with affordable housing and homelessness advocates to include the experiences of homeless veterans in story-telling and public policy initiatives.
• Students are preparing public education materials on veterans and mental illness for jail reform advocates.
• Students created training materials for veterans legal service providers on the VA police departments practices and history.
• Next semester, students may participate in disability rights or other civil rights affirmative litigation.

General Information on Structure and Case Work:
• You will be “in the driver’s seat” of your cases with careful guidance from seasoned practitioners. This means you will write the briefs and perform oral advocacy in court or before administrative agencies.
• You will participate in intake and experience condensed fast-paced forms of legal assistance under the guidance of clinic supervisors.
• The seminar focuses on skills and the particular vulnerabilities of the homeless and veteran community (e.g. race, disability, trauma). You will gain lawyering skills transferable to any area of legal practice. and will be equipped with the ability to learn a new area of law. A complete set of learning objectives is available upon request.
• Students are grouped in teams of at least two for case work. Each team will be assigned a primary faculty supervisor with whom you will meet weekly for at least an hour outside of seminar. Your instructors will assist you to learn from your experiences through reflection and self-assessment.
• The clinic will be offered on a 4, 5, or 6 unit basis. Students enrolling in 4 credits should expect to spend 10-12 hours on their field work (cases and/or projects).

Units:  4 (With permission prior to the start of the semester clinic faculty will consider offering an addition 1 or 2 credits)
Grading Basis:  Letter Grade

Course Information:
​Faculty Term Course Section ​Schedule ​Units Requisite Satisfies SAW
Sunita Patel / Claudia Peña 19F 730 LEC 1 WF 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM 6.0 No No
  Experiential course enrollment through separate pro cess; deadline June 14, noon. See: ENROLL.LAW.UCLA.EDU. Early drop deadline: 8/19/2019.
Sunita Patel 20S 730 LEC 1 WF 10:00 AM - 12:00 PM 6.0 No No
  Experiential course enrollment through separate process; deadline: Noon on 10/18/2019. See ENROLL.LAW.UCLA.EDU. Early drop deadline: 5:00pm on 1/13/2020.