On April 22, 2013, Ruth Faust (’13), Jessica Nellis (’14), Amanda Ramnaraign (’14), Erica Rickards (’14), Elizabeth Stapleton (’14), and Tianying Tang (’14) had the opportunity to observe the proceedings of the United States Tax Court at the James T. Foley United States Courthouse in downtown Albany. The Tax Court is physically located in Washington D.C., but presiding Judges travel nationwide throughout the year to conduct trials in various cities.
Ariele Sussman’s (’12) Offer in Compromise to reduce a tax liability from $15,200 to $780 was recently accepted by the IRS. Ariele successfully argued that client has insufficient assets and income to pay the full amount and that any enforcement by levy would produce an economic hardship.
Ruth Faust (’13) appeared for a Collection Due Process Hearing before the Appeals Division of the IRS. Ruth’s client was denied dependent classification for his two children that he supports and that live in Mexico. Ruth argued that due to multiple exemptions and child tax credits that the client is entitled to; his liability should be reduced so much that the IRS would actually owe client a refund. We all anxiously await the decision from the Appeals Officer.
As the FVLC students wrap up their semester it is hard to believe just how much they have accomplished! At the beginning of the semester they were scheduled for multiple court appearances, 2 pre-trial conferences, 4 trials (with all of the discovery work that they entail) and a U Nonimmigrant Visa application.
All of the FVLC students engaged in either discovery or negotiations (or both) with opposing counsel this semester. Dana Stanton (’13) and Stephen Valiquette (’13) successfully negotiated an agreement in their custody and family offense case, granting custody and an order of protection to their client. Gracja Nowak (’13) and Nicholas Tuttle (’13) were also able to convince the opposing party to agree to a settlement, granting their client sole custody and an extended order of protection.
After settling their Family Court cases, Dana, Stephen, Gracja and Nicholas have also been hard at work for their immigration clients. In the last several weeks they have begun gathering the evidence and information necessary for their clients’ U-Visa application – including drafting multiple letters and researching several complicated areas of Immigration Law.
Kayla Molinaro (’14) and Taalib Horton (’14) effectively conducted the start of their client’s custody and order of protection trial – successfully objecting to the only piece of evidence that opposing counsel has attempted to enter thus far. The conclusion of that trial is scheduled for June.
Heath Hardman (’14) and Andrea Gellen (’13) have spent a lot of time this semester skillfully navigating an extremely lengthy discovery demand. Thus far they have responded to nearly 300 demands and interrogatories. In addition, during pre-trial conference last week, the team successfully argued for an in camera interview of the children in their case.
The last couple of weeks of this semester in the Health Law Clinic were marked by a theme of collaboration. Health Law Interns Caroline Lang (’13) and Kaivan Mangouri (’14) collaborated with Tax Clinic Staff Attorney Brett M. Blair, Esq. (’09) to assist one of their clients. Caroline and Kaivan were preparing a post disability hearing strategy concerning amending their client’s disputed earnings records.
Health Law Interns also collaborated with Professor Tara Pleat’s Financial Planning for the Elderly Class, Albany Law School’s Pro Bono Law Society, NYSBA, several local volunteer elder law attorneys, Community Hospice, and the Center for Donation and Transplant to host a Community Healthcare Decision Making event at the law school. Many in the audience left with a new sense of empowerment, with either completed health care proxies and living wills or the knowledge and confidence to continue this important discussion with their families.
Finally, last week, members of Professor Laurie Shanks’s Client Interviewing class joined Health Law students to discuss ways to manage career stress and balance professional and personal goals.
The ITLC has ended the semester with two significant victories. Christopher Wagner (’14) represented a client who was fired from his job after he was arrested during an incident that occurred outside of the workplace. During the representation, an important ethical issue arose regarding the client’s potential testimony at the administrative hearing. The arrest was central to the firing and, therefore, questions could be asked about it at the hearing. It was possible that any statements made at the hearing could be used against the client in his criminal case. Christopher had to speak to the client’s criminal defense attorney to find out the parameters of what the client could say during the hearing about the pending criminal action. This consultation with the defense lawyer was essential to protecting the rights of the client. Ultimately, the testimony was limited to what the criminal defense attorney advised and the rest of the facts of the case were in the client’s favor. Another win!
After two appearances before an ALJ for a client who quit her job after experiencing retaliation related to a harassment complaint, Ronnie Lindberg (’14) and Mark Houston (’14) persuaded the ALJ with a public policy argument to expand the scope of the hearing and allow the client to testify fully about her circumstances. Ronnie and Mark did extensive research in order to find the strongest legal argument and, in the process, created great precedent. This case was the final win of an exciting semester!
Sean Cambridge (’14) has been in the Saratoga County Court, Saratoga Springs City DV Court, Malta Town Court, and Mechanicsville Town Court assisting specialized SVU prosecutors on plea negotiations, announcement of indictments, arraignment and bail hearings , Sexual Offender Registration Act (SORA) hearings, and other court calendar events. He has also conducted quick and necessary research on a litany of subjects including Aggravated Harassment, Criminal Contempt, Flight as Consciousness of Guilt, Prompt Outcry Exceptions, and the requirements for Serious Physical Injury.
John P. Coghlan (’14) second-chaired an attempted murder trial in which he wrote a motion in limine to admit four hearsay statements. The judge agreed to admit 3 of the 4 statements. Marshall Milligan (’13) turned his attention to researching the proof needed to modify an order of protection and advised his supervising prosecutor how to oppose such a request that would likely result in continued domestic violence.
Sherri Eckles (’13) conducted her first criminal trial in which she examined witnesses, introduced evidence, objected to improper cross examination, and had to navigate the difficulties in appearing before a judge who was unsympathetic to her case and to her victims.
John Griese (’14) has been handling the hectic pace of arraignment calendar at Albany City DV Court while appearing before Judge William Carter. Although initially nervous about speaking in court, John used this experience and his mentorship by ADA Jennifer Harvey-McCanney (’09) to good advantage in his final clinical simulation in which all students studiously prepared for and then conducted a victim update interview, a plea negotiation, and a preliminary hearing within 50 minutes.
Jessica Nellis (‘14) is currently finalizing a settlement reached with the Office of the Chief Counsel of the Internal Revenue Service for a case docketed in United States Tax Court. Jessica successfully argued an Innocent Spouse claim on behalf of client that granted equitable relief from a $19,300 liability. The liability arose from joint tax returns that were signed by client under the threat of violence from client’s spouse. Jessica proved that client was the victim of abuse prior to the time the returns were signed, and that, as a result of the prior abuse, client did not challenge the treatment of any items on the returns for fear of the spouse’s retaliation. In arguing the client’s case, Jessica had to prepare a witness to be questioned by IRS Chief Counsel. Jessica did such an amazing job preparing her witness that within ten minutes of the completion of witness questioning, she received a phone call from IRS Chief Counsel with the settlement offer.
After Alex Hill (’13) argued before the IRS that collection of his client’s $36,500 tax liability would produce an economic hardship to his client, the IRS accepted Mr. Hill’s offer to reduce the debt to $240. This is the second time in the past month that an Offer In Compromise submitted by Alex Hill has been accepted. Great job Alex!
This week the Tax Clinic students: Ruth Faust (’13), Jessica Nellis (’14), Amanda Ramnaraign (’14), Erica Rickards (’14), Elizabeth Stapleton (’14), and Tianying Tang (’14), assisted in filing 28 Federal and State Income Tax Returns for the clients!
The last few weeks have been exciting in the FVLC. Dana Stanton (’14), Stephen Valiquette (’14), Gracja Nowak (’13), & Nicholas Tuttle (’13) have been working on a complicated immigration case. They are representing the undocumented parents of a U.S. citizen daughter who was victimized here in the United States. The students have been gathering the necessary information for a U-Visa application which allows victims, or indirect victims, of crimes to obtain status in the United States. One of the largest hurdles to such an application is finding someone with both the willingness and authority to sign a Supplement B form which certifies that the applicants have been helpful in the investigation or prosecution of a crime - and must be signed by authorized personal in a government agency. Often it can take months to get this form signed. The students were able to enlist the help of the investigating detective who even hand-delivered the final certifications within two hours of meeting the students. The student team’s efforts have put the clients one step closer to their goal!
Kayla Molinaro (’14) and Taalib Horton (’14), will try a case next week in Schenectady County Family Court. They have made a huge effort in the last week to settle the case but are also drafting examinations and subpoenaing witnesses in case an agreement cannot be reached. Andrea Gellen (’13) and Heath Hardman (’14), are preparing for a pre-trial conference in one case and trial in another. They will face off against an Albany Law School alumna in a highly contested custody case. Good luck to both teams who are hard at work preparing!
Attention to detail is the mark of a good lawyer. This was demonstrated at a critical juncture in a case handled by Law Intern, Brielle Danko (’14). Her client was fired after his employer alleged that he placed an order for supplies without permission. He was denied unemployment insurance benefits and at the first hearing appearance, the employer produced a sheet purporting to be the supply order in question. The employer testified that the sheet was proof that our client placed the order. Brielle was not expecting this piece of evidence; however, she took the time to scrutinize it and objected to its inclusion in the record because the date in question did not correspond with the employer’s testimony. After her objection the employer admitted that it must have been a different order for a different day.
This case illustrates an important lesson in handling any legal matter. Taking the time to deduce the relevance of any information you are given is a key to success. Brielle did so during the hearing and served the client well. Another win!
Interns Sean Glendening (’14), Cody Himelrick (’14), Caroline Lang (’13), Kaivan Mangouri (’14), Stefanie Rokosz (’13), and Carly Walas (’13), have continued to make an impact in our community. Our teams have secured two favorable on the record decisions in disability cases, represented another client at a disability hearing, and are preparing prehearing memoranda for two additional disability cases. Interns have also assisted several clients complete Powers of Attorneys, Health Care Proxies, and Last Wills. In collaboration with the Health Law Society and Pro Bono Society, Health Law Interns will hold community outreach training on Health Care Proxies and Living Wills on April 18, 2013.
Many of the clients of the Civil Rights and Disabilities Law Clinic are forced to live a segregated life in an institution rather than in the community. Despite a federal law that requires that states provide Medicaid services in the most integrated setting appropriate for the individual and the fact that it is often cheaper to serve someone in the community, New York serves large numbers of people in these segregated settings. The clinic is celebrating the freedom of two of our clients. One gentleman who lived in the institution since ’96 and the other since ’04 were finally given the opportunity to move into the community last week. This was made possible in large part by Jamie VanDenburgh (’14) and Taalib Horton (’14) the two students who represented these clients last semester.
Student Elizabeth Stapleton successfully negotiated a case docketed in United States Tax Court. Due to the efforts of Elizabeth, a decision was entered on March 22 reducing the client’s liability from $66,530.40 to $3,020.30. The liability arose from a 2008 joint tax return where the IRS denied business expense deductions and mortgage interest deductions. Elizabeth advocated for the client and was able to gather sufficient evidence to prove the validity of the client’s deductions.
In November of 2012, student Alex Hill submitted an offer for client that was just recently accepted by the New York State Department of Tax and Finance. The offer reduced what was originally a $1500 liability to a $100 liability paid over a 10 month period. Alex had to present the client’s case to the State of New York and prove that enforcement of the entire liability would produce an economic hardship on the client.
Also in November of 2012, student Ankesh Sharma submitted an offer for a client that was recently accepted by the Internal Revenue Service. The offer reduced a $11,437.02 liability to 5 monthly payments of $50. Similar to the NY case, Ankesh had to prove that enforcement of the entire liability would produce an economic hardship on the client.
Over Spring Break the FVLC co-hosted a CLE with two of our community partners, The Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York and Empire Justice Center. The CLE, titled “What Every Family Lawyer Needs to Know About Immigration Relief & Consequences,” was filled to capacity (with a waiting list) and we have already had several inquiries about offering the program to attorneys in other areas of the state. A former FVLC student, Kristin Rogers (Fall 2012), gave a Power Point presentation on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and responded to questions from the audience. The Power Point was created under Professor Rogerson’s supervision as part of the outreach to potential DACA-eligible migrants through the Albany Law School Pro Bono Immigration Project and was very well-received by the attendees. We’d like to offer our thanks to everyone who helped make this event a success!
The students of the FVLC have also been hard at work on their cases. Dana Stanton and Stephen Valiquette successfully negotiated a settlement in their case, which featured multiple petitions for child custody and an Order of Protection. The end result will keep both mother and child safe while attempting to foster a relationship between a developmentally delayed daughter and a mentally ill father.
Just last week, Gracja Nowak and Nicholas Tuttle also successfully negotiated their case on the eve of trial. In addition to settling custody, they were able to persuade a Family Court Judge that our client was entitled to a 5-year Order of Protection on consent (a Court typically only grants them for 5 years when there has been a finding of ‘aggravating circumstances’). Their achievement maybe a first in New York!
Law Interns Ronnie Lindberg and Mark Houston have been working on a case where our client quit after being subjected to sexual harassment and “proxy” harassment after she made a complaint. In cases where someone has quit a job, “good cause” (a compelling reason) for quitting must be shown in order to qualify for unemployment insurance benefits*. They spent a lot of time, even over spring break, preparing the client for an administrative hearing by refining their legal argument and the direct and cross-examination questions.
The hearing did not go as planned. The judge limited the testimony of the client and stated he did not have jurisdiction to hear part of it. Ronnie had to zealously persuade the judge to entertain the allegations of retaliation that the client was trying to put forth in her testimony. The case has been adjourned for the production of a key witness and for legal support of the jurisdictional argument. Ronnie and Mark have been pouring over statutes and cases in preparation for the second appearance.
This case has highlighted the adage of “thinking quickly on your feet.” Even when preparing a case, the unexpected can happen. One of the marks of an effective, competent attorney is the ability to react in a way that keeps the client’s goals in mind while putting forth a sound legal position. Ronnie and Mark have demonstrated this ability in their very young legal career and it is something of which I am, and they should be, proud.
Kristin Keehan is seated as second chair this week in a trial in a Domestic Violence case in which the defendant is accused of Kidnapping in the 2nd degree, Strangulation in the 2nd degree (2 counts), Coercion in the 1st degree (2 counts), and Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle. Among other ways she assisted the prosecution team, she prepared evidentiary issues and jury selection (voir dire) examination questions. The prosecution team is proceeding against the accused abuser without the victim's testimony which makes the evidentiary and jury selection issues so important.
Lauren McCormack won her first trial! She examined a witness, introduced evidence and an exhibit, and successfully objected to inappropriate cross-examination questions. The hardest part for her was waiting through the four hour jury deliberations but when the verdict of guilty was announced, all the anxiety seemed well worth it.
On March 19th, Elizabeth Knorr, Shari Rolnick, Michael Gadomski, and Daniel VanWinkle were able to meet with Jennifer Monthie ‘03 for a rich exchange of ideas on the critical elements for a New York State Plan aimed at ending unnecessary segregation of individuals with disabilities. Ms. Monthie, a former student of the Civil Rights and Disability Law Clinic, is an attorney with Disability Advocates Inc., the not for profit organization that was just named as the new Protection and Advocacy agency for the state. This designation is an important step in strengthening advocacy for individuals with disabilities who are being abused or neglected in New York. Unnecessary segregation is one of the ways in which individuals with disabilities are neglected. Disability Advocates Inc. has been a leader in this work for some time and the students are hopeful that the work that they shared with Ms. Monthie will assist her organization in the new role.