COVID Relief Legal Services

The Boston College Law School COVID Relief Legal Services Clinic (CRLS) is a Summer 2020 legal services project that responds to the growing demand for legal support by individuals and organizations facing mounting challenges following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Forty five students and over 10 supervisors are working on projects that include facilitating access to unemployment benefits, supporting petitions for individuals’ release from detention, debt education and legal support, prison discipline representation, and legal research for public interest organizations that work on environmental, criminal defense, juvenile rights, torture prevention, and legal services.  CRLS activates the knowledge and skills of Boston College Law students to respond to the array of challenges created by the pandemic. The project also serves as an idea incubator to develop best practices for lawyering in a remote work environment. Through its work, CRLS strives to further the mission of Boston College Law School as an institution that roots its students in a spirit of service to others and advancement of the common good, especially in moments of crisis and extraordinary need.

Case and Project Descriptions

Immigration
CRLS student interns assist in providing legal work to secure release and representation of immigrants who are detained by ICE, with a focus on preparing habeas petitions in district court, bond motions in immigration court, or requests for humanitarian parole with ICE. Sixteen CRLS students work under the supervision of Elena Noureddine, Irene Freidel, and Heather Perez, Esqs. in partnership with Political Asylum/Immigration Representation (PAIR) on cases in the New England Area. Two students are working with Prof. Kari Hong, in partnership with lawyers at the Florence Project in Arizona, federal defenders' office in Los Angeles, and immigration rights' organizations in California, Oregon, and Washington state. 

Unemployment
Eight CRLS interns are providing individual assistance with the unemployment claims process. The process to obtain a variety of new, Covid-19 unemployment benefits can be foreboding, especially for people without good tech access/skills and for people without proficiency in English. This project assists individuals referred by GBLS to navigate the process. The project is supervised by Prof. Alan Minuskin and Prof. Ana Rivera.

Prison Discipline
Four CRLS students are representing prisoners in disciplinary hearings. Because prisons are currently closed to visitors, the legal advocacy is taking place via phone hearings, including opening and closing statements and cross examination of witnesses. The project is supervised by Prof. Kari Tannenbaum.

Debt Education & Assistance
Five CRLS interns work on the Debt Education & Assistance project, which has two components. The team is canvasing community education and related resources to understand what is available to assist individuals confronting debt, and then identifying ways to improve the information and support for individuals. The community education portion of the project is supervised by attorney Elizabeth Miller. Direct legal assistance will be provided in coordination with the Volunteer Lawyers Project. VLP is also working to identify individuals who received a default judgment during the first two weeks of March. If sufficient individuals seek help, students on the Debt Assistance team will prepare and submit motions to set aside the default judgment. If the work is available, they will provide other case assistance. Direct client work will be supervised primarily by Colin Harnsgate, VLP, with some assistance by Elizabeth Miller.

Environmental Projects

FLOW: Equitable solutions for financing water infrastructure
Seven CRLS students are working with FLOW (For Love of Water) on environmental issues.. With state finances stressed by the Covid crisis, funding for water safety is at risk. Student interns provide legal analysis of various options for funding and financing water infrastructure, including rates paid by water users, federal and state loans and grants, statewide bonds, revenue bonds, environmental impact bonds, public-private partnerships, and royalties and other fees or surcharges on water as well as FLOW’s innovative Public Water, Public Justice model legislation. In addition to a general analysis of funding and financing options under federal and state law, this work focuses on ensuring that funding and financing solutions for Michigan’s water infrastructure funding gap are comprehensive, just, equitable, and ensure the long-term stewardship of Michigan’s waters, consistent with public trust principles. Attention to these equity and public trust principles is particularly pertinent in light of the spotlight the COVID crisis has cast on the essential connection between universal access to safe water and public health. The CRLS students work with FLOW’s Interim Legal Director, Janet Meissner Pritchard, and Senior Legal Advisor, Jim Olson, to research clearly defined legal questions relating to water infrastructure funding and financing tools.

Midwest Environmental Advocates (MEA)
Two CRLS student interns are assisting MEA in addressing water quality in Wisconsin, including issues related to agriculture and energy infrastructure. Interns are conducting legal research and writing to: (a) support ongoing litigation; (b) monitor ongoing environmental issues around the state to help develop future work; and (c) develop and update guides that will allow individuals and groups around Wisconsin to advocate for themselves on environmental issues.

The interns are supervised by Staff Attorney Andrea Gelatt. The interns will also have the opportunity to work with the other members of the MEA legal team, including Staff Attorneys Rob Lee and Adam Voskuil and our Equal Justice Works Fellow, Rob Lundberg.

Bankruptcy Claimants
One CRLS student intern is assisting families and individuals in navigating the Purdue Pharma bankruptcy claims process. Purdue Pharma began marketing OxyContin in 1996 and in the ensuing 20 years aggressively marketed the highly addictive pill. In 2019, Purdue Pharma declared bankruptcy. Many states, including Massachusetts, have sued and are preserving their claims in the bankruptcy court. Individuals and families who have claims must file by June 30th (unless an extension is granted). The project is supervised by attorney Christopher Mirick, Esq., who has extensive experience in corporate restructuring and bankruptcy matters. Note: Most student participants were trained in March through a separate project. One CRLS intern is currently assigned to this project.  CRLS will provide backup if the volume of work exceeds current capacity. 

Best Practices in Virtual Legal Services
Six students are developing a series of white papers to identify best practices in virtual legal services. It will include modules that focus on online hearings, trials and arbitrations, in-house training, technology issues, and working with low income clients who may have limited technology resources, internet or language barriers. Project supervisor: Prof. Judy McMorrow. 

Training Manual on Torture Prevention in Sri Lanka
Two CRLS interns are helping prepare a training manual on torture prevention for the Sri Lankan Judges. The manual is used as a training tool for all judges, including their Supreme Court. The training will address a serious torture problem involving the police (civilian and military), and in the detention/prison facilities. The problem of torture is exacerbated by the judges and attorneys doing little to prevent the violence.  This portion of the project will cover the role and responsibilities of prosecutors, defense attorneys, doctors and detention facility staff. This project is supervised by Phil Weiner, Esq., who has extensive experience in international criminal tribunals that address war crimes. 

International Legal Foundation (ILF) Project Assistance
Five CRLS students are working with the International Legal Foundation (ILF), which provides support for legal aid reform throughout the world. The ILF has spearheaded efforts to strengthen international support for the right to quality legal representation for poor and vulnerable persons accused of crimes. Students interns are supporting ILF offices as they work to release children and adults in custody, assist in identify international norms of juvenile defense for the Measuring Juvenile Justice project, and support an international legal aid conference, and. The work is coordinated by Jennifer Smith, Esq. and Holly Hobart, Esq. Students needed TBD

Citizens For Juvenile Justice
Two CRLS interns are working with the Citizens for Juvenile Justice Child Welfare Covid-19 Coalition assist its members on their coalition work on system reform. Kate Lowenstein from the Citizens for Juvenile Justice coordinates the projects. 

DeNovo Legal Services Management Project
One CRLS intern is working with DeNovo, a community-based agency providing free legal services and affordable psychological counseling for low-income people. The intern is working closely with both attorneys and management on two major organizational projects: development of a Legal Protocol Manual and assistance to implement a cloud based document management system.