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 an exciting remote-only live-client opportunity to engage in critical legal services, litigation, and policy advocacy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Within a social justice and movement lawerying lens, our focus this semester is both the criminal enforcement system (e.g. policing and record clearing of criminal offenses) and the particular exacerbating harms of COVID-19 on our clients (e.g. housing insecurity, disability and health access). The docket will be driven by legal issues clients and community partners have brought to the clinic since the pandemic began. 


Students enrolled in the clinic this semester will serve as legal advocates for individual and organizational clients. The re-opening and operation of Los Angeles county courts is uncertain, however, individual client representation will primarily focus on citation defense and expungements for unhoused or housing insecure veterans. To supplement individual client work, clinic students have the opportunity to engage in policy and litigation projects partnering with grassroots and advocacy organizations focused on policing and the criminal justice system, housing justice, racial justice, or disability rights.

Students will gain transferable skills for lawyering in multiple contexts, such as factual investigation, development of case and project theory, legal research, motion writing, oral advocacy, hearing preparation, advanced interviewing and counseling (often using trauma-informed techniques), and navigating lawyer-client power dynamics with individual and organizational clients. Projects offer supplemental skills development such as policy-driven research and writing, advocacy strategy, and navigating ethics and lawyering identity when working with social change organizations. The clinic seminar will engage in questions of ableism, race and inequality, vulnerabilities faced by low-income veterans, as well as the role of lawyers in social change. No knowledge of the military or the military experience is needed for this clinic.

Students selected for this clinic should expect significant out of class time for cases and projects (10-12 hours a week). Client meetings and supervision meetings outside of class time will be conducted through Zoom, what’s app, FaceTime, or telephone. *To allow students prompt opportunities to work with clients, an additional mandatory virtual 2-hour orientation will be held the afternoon of Friday, August 28

Policy advocacy and client representation is often unpredictable and, given the uncertainty of COVID19 and rapidly changing policy landscape, we note that project-work sometimes changes mid-semester. Feel free to reach out to Professors Sunita Patel or Jeanne Nishimoto with any questions.

UCLA Law adheres to ABA Standards in determining the number of credit hours for coursework. Each unit of credit reasonably approximates one hour of classroom or direct faculty instruction and a minimum of two hours of out-of-class student preparation per week, for the length of the semester. Students are therefore expected to prepare a minimum of two hours outside of class for each hour of class time. Notwithstanding the above general standard, experiential field work units are calculated as follows by the ABA: 1 unit of credit = a minimum of 52 hours per semester (4-5 hours per week of out of class clinic work).


Examples of Student Cases and Projects

  • Students wrote advisory for Congressional oversight on VA police department practices in collaboration with National Association of Minority Veterans.
  • Student wrote and submitted briefs to court arguing client’s traffic citations should be dismissed and fines and fees waived. After students’ 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 advocated for improved prison conditions on behalf of partially blind veteran with mental health diagnosis.
  • Students prepared and filed disability benefits appeal briefs and expert opinion letters in support of veteran with diagnosis of PTSD and AIDS who was subjected to racial harassment and military sexual trauma. Students also assisted veteran with motions to clear fines and fees associated with quality of life citations and traffic offenses.
  • Students drafted testimony for city council and board of supervisors highlighting needs of homeless veterans during COVID19 in partnership with advocates for unhoused community.
  • 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 and purchasing a home.
  • Students collaborated with affordable housing and homelessness advocates to include the experiences of homeless veterans in story-telling and public policy initiatives. 
  • Students engaged in driver’s license and record clearing advocacy for numerous veterans.

 

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 meet with the clients, write the briefs, and perform the oral advocacy in court, organizational client meetings, or before administrative agencies.
  • 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 and project 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 additional 1 or 2 credits. *You must email Professors Patel and Nishimoto at the time you apply or register for the clinic to obtain approval of the additional credits.)

Grading Basis:  Letter Grade

Early Drop Deadline: August 17 (*To ensure we are able to meet our professional responsibilities to clients and offer the opportunity to another student, anyone enrolling in the clinic must obtain permission from the Associate Director of Clinical Education and the directors of the clinic to drop the course after August 17.)

Pre-Requisites: None. *Student taking evidence will be certified for court appearances. 


Course Learning Outcomes:

  • experience in legal and/or policy research, writing, strategizing and advocacy responsive to issues that arise in the course of their cases
  • ability to identify the role of privilege, power, and structural inequality in shaping injustices faced by our clients, their communities and former service members more generally
  • familiarity with ethical and practical issues (including decisions about strategy and tactics) 
  • develop litigation and advocacy skills including factual investigation (similar to discovery and document review)
  • gain oral advocacy and motion practice experience
  • develop initial understanding of personal role as an advocate and lawyer

Course Information:
​Faculty Term Course Section ​Schedule ​Units Requisite Satisfies SAW
Sunita Patel / Jeanne Nishimoto 20F 730 LEC 1 WF 10:30 AM - 12:00 PM 6.0 No No
  Experiential course erollment through separate process; deadline July 27, noon. See ENROLL.LAW.UCLA.EDU. Early drop deadline: 5:00 pm on 8/17/2020.