UNLV Law Blog

UNLVLaw            Clinical Program | Our Clinics | Faculty | Externships | Kids' Court School | News

Thomas & Mack Legal Clinic

March 27, 2015

Preserve the Past to Educate the Future

Boasting authentic board sidewalks, old west saloons, quaint shops, 19th century homes, and historic cemeteries, a visit to Virginia City can take you back in time. In the midst of Virginia City’s Historical District lies St. Paul the Prospector Episcopal Church. Over 125 years old, St. Paul’s is known to Episcopalians as “the mother church of Nevada.”

St. Paul’s, built in 1876, features hand-hewn original pine beams and pews in the semi-Gothic style, and draws tourists interested in the history of Nevada.1 St. Paul’s played a central role in the early days of Virginia City, housing missionaries and even playing host to several talks by Mark Twain. To preserve this history, St. Paul’s congregation began operating a small museum to highlight historical artifacts and teach visitors more about the role missionaries played in the Old West.

While St. Paul’s is undeniably a historical gem and a highlight of any visit to Virginia City, its age is starting to show. The church is in dire need of repair, requiring structural work and an updated electrical system. Unfortunately, the church does not have the funds to address these problems and the Episcopal Diocese of Nevada, which oversees St. Paul’s, is unable to help.2 “Not that the diocese does not want to, but the diocese budget is smaller than the budgets of some of the congregations,” said Bishop Dan Edwards. “We have absolutely minimal resources to work with.”3

Seeking a solution, the Episcopal Diocese sought the help of the Small Business & Nonprofit Legal Clinic to provide legal assistance on the best way to raise funds. Professor Eric Franklin, who founded and directs the Clinic, worked with student attorney Amanda Stevens to explore possible solutions. With guidance from the Clinic, the Episcopal Diocese decided to form a separate 501c3 to manage and operate St Paul’s as a museum. Once 501c3 status is obtained, St. Paul’s will apply for grants to help fund the necessary repairs and expand its collection of artifacts from old missions and churches around the West. The museum will focus on preserving “artifacts from the history of Nevada’s early years, especially the work of missionaries to bring faith and civilization to the frontier,” says Bishop Edwards. “The Comstock was a rowdy place in those days. Introducing religion to a mining camp was a colorful project.”

Amanda helped the Episcopal Diocese form The Western Missionary Museum Corporation and file paperwork for tax-exempt status. Although she had a lot of experience working with small businesses before law school, Amanda had not worked with nonprofits. “Working with St. Paul’s was a great experience. I enjoyed identifying the goals of the museum and figuring out how I could help meet those goals.” Emphasizing that the work with St. Paul’s helped bring legal research to life, Amanda noted that, “doing research is a lot more interesting when you can relate it to an actual client.”

“The work undertaken by the Boyd law school legal clinic, and especially with the agile work of [Student Attorney] Amanda Stevens,” said Bishop Edwards, “is saving Nevada’s history and enhancing Virginia City as both a tourist attraction and a place to learn the history of the Old West.”

1 http://www.stpaultheprospector.com/
2 Saving St. Paul’s: Old Virginia City church struggles to preserve building, Reno-Gazette Journal, February 3, 2013, Susan Skorupa
3 Id. 

In the Community: Juvenile Justice Clinic Takes on Abolition of Juvenile Life Without Parole

Students in the Juvenile Justice Clinic are delving into legislative advocacy this spring as the Nevada Legislature holds its 2015 session. One of the clinic’s projects, the abolition of the sentence of juvenile life without parole, got a kick-start on January 22, when the clinic hosted a screening of the documentary, “15 to Life: Kenneth’s Story,” about a Florida man sentenced to life in prison for robberies he committed at age 14. A panel discussion followed the screening, with remarks by Assistant Federal Public Defender Megan Hoffman, criminal defense attorney Kristina Wildeveld and her recently pardoned client Marcus Dixon, and Boyd alumnus and former Assemblyman Jason Frierson. Dixon, now 31, had received two consecutive sentences of life without parole for a 1998 murder with use of a deadly weapon when he was just 14. But as is true of those so young, he is a different person now, one who understands how badly he “messed up” and is determined to lead a life that matters. Clinic students are working with a coalition of interested parties to abolish life without parole sentences and to establish presumptive parole eligibility dates for all those who were under 18 at the time of their crimes.

A Laboratory for Scholarship: Underlining Justice in Access to Justice

Professor Elizabeth MacDowell, director of the Family Justice Clinic, examines the ways in which civil courts function to regulate the poor in historical as well as contemporary contexts. She, along with two other Boyd clinician-scholars, received the Association of American Law Schools Bellows Award, which recognizes academics whose research promises to improve justice for underserved communities. Professor MacDowell's research focuses on intersectional issues of gender, race, and class, domestic violence, and access to justice. Within this work, she seeks to shift the focus of access to justice scholarship and practice toward substantive justice, while illuminating the role of the state in civil actions, including those between poor people.

Professor MacDowell’s most recent article, Reimagining Access to Justice in the Poor People's Courts, 22 Geo. J. Pov. L. & Pol'y (forthcoming 2015), presents an extensive intellectual review of the pathologies of "poor people’s courts," which include family, housing, small claims and other consumer courts that serve large numbers of low-income people. The article shows how many contemporary access to justice initiatives miss the mark or can even make matters worse: for example, efforts to provide counsel to poor people often fail to appreciate that advocates in poor people's courts are sometimes part of the problem; other well-intentioned initiatives can be implemented without regard to court cultures and practices that put litigants at risk of losing their substantive rights or experiencing dignitary harms. Calling for a transformation of systems through empowerment, mobilization, and democratization, Professor MacDowell proposes a profound reimagining of what is needed to address the needs of low-income litigants in poor people's courts.

In a series of articles based on her empirical work, Professor MacDowell examines how access to justice initiatives address gender violence. Domestic Violence and the Politics of Self-Help reports on her research at domestic violence self-help clinics in two western states. Using the sociological concept of demeanor, the article shows how self-help staff members reward and punish protection order applicants in ways that tend to disfavor applicants’ efforts at self-advocacy, and that correspond with stereotypes about victims and perpetrators. Historically, protection orders were developed by advocates to empower low-income battered women, and redress the barriers low-income women of color face in accessing the courts. The article demonstrates the importance of connecting access to justice research to social movements, and expands on prior studies of how the law is implemented through everyday interactions as well as formal decision-making.

In another article, Professor MacDowell analyzes the impacts of organizational and system dynamics on self-help services, and to link access to justice discourse to theories about the state. She will be presenting these at, inter alia, the Annual Symposium for the Indiana Journal of Law and Social Equality at the University of Indiana Maurer College of Law, the Advancing Equal Access to Justice Conference at UC Hastings College of the Law, and at the AALS Workshop on Shifting Foundations in Family Law: Family Law’s Responses to Changing Families.

Alumni Spotlight: The Honorable Linda Marquis

Linda Marquis (Boyd ‘03) started down the path to a legal career as a teenager, doing clerical work and running errands for a law firm. Now she is the presiding judge in Department B at the Clark County Family Court.

Throughout law school and her career, Judge Marquis has been an engaged and active member of the legal community. As a student at Boyd, Judge Marquis taught the Family Law Community Service Class and witnessed first-hand how intimidating and confusing the legal process can be for individuals outside of the legal profession. She went on to work with Professor Mary Berkheiser as a student attorney in the Juvenile Justice Clinic.

After graduation, Judge Marquis’ focused her practice on criminal law and juvenile abuse and neglect cases. She worked closely with families in crisis and continued to assist children involved in the system. Outside her practice, Judge Marquis served as the President of the Boyd School of Law Alumni Association, spoke at law school graduations, participated in community events, and led continuing legal education classes. In 2006, the State Bar of Nevada awarded Judge Marquis with the Access to Justice Award for outstanding service.

Prior to being elected as a District Court Judge in Department B, Judge Marquis served as a Justice of the Peace Pro Tem in Las Vegas Justice Court and North Las Vegas Justice Court, an Alternate Judge for the Las Vegas Municipal Court, and the Clark County Commission appointed her as a Presiding Officer for the Police Fatality Fact Finding Review Board. Judge Marquis reflects on her time in the Juvenile Justice Clinic with fondness, stating, “Professor Berkheiser’s love of pro bono work and passion for juveniles in Clark County is contagious. Now, as a judge, it is wonderfully encouraging to see a new generation of Rebel Lawyers appear in front of me infected with passion.”

Mediation Clinic Students Mediate Over 60 Cases

The Fall 2014 Mediation Clinic enjoyed a flurry of activity as it continued to provide mediation services to its community partners, the Clark County Neighborhood Justice Center and the Clark County Family Court. Students mediated over 60 cases involving child custody matters, debt and asset distribution in divorce, as well as civil claims ranging from landlord tenant disputes, debt collection, and breach of contract. Students not only developed their skills as third-party neutral facilitators, but they also observed what effective client advocacy looks like at the mediation table. Joining the Mediation Clinic’s supervising faculty was Saltman Graduate Fellow Jeannette (Jae) Barrick (Boyd ’13), who shared with students her invaluable perspective as a practicing family law attorney.

Immigration Clinic Student Attorney Overturns 14-Year-Old Deportation Order

Immigration Clinic student attorney Jose Martin persuaded the Board of Immigration Appeals to reopen a 14-year-old deportation order against a father of three. The client had been ordered deported because of a 15-year-old criminal conviction that the immigration judge incorrectly believed to be an aggravated felony. More recent decisions have made clear that it is not. Reopening old deportation orders is not a right, and thus presented a difficult advocacy problem, especially without the support of the Department of Homeland Security. Though the client faces an uphill battle, Jose’s work may keep a family together by lifting the immediate threat of deportation.

One Clinic Alumna, and One Clinic Brief, Preserve Freedom for Many

When tens of thousands of mothers and children fled violence in Central America in 2014, the U.S. Government’s first reaction was to detain them at remote private facilities in New Mexico and Texas. When the families filed credible asylum claims, many immigration judges began to release them on bond. But the Department of Homeland Security appealed, claiming the women and children pose a national security threat.

Student attorneys Geordan Logan and Keely Perdue partnered with alumna Sarah Perez (Boyd ’12) to defend the release orders. Their brief, which has been adapted and used in some two-dozen cases in Texas, attacked the government’s claims that families with children who had already been found to have credible asylum claims could be called a national security risk. In every known case that was decided, the Board of Immigration Appeals affirmed the bond, letting the mothers and children remain free while they complete their asylum applications. In February, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., issued a preliminary injunction forbidding DHS from refusing bond for families with credible asylum claims.

Family Justice Clinic Alumna Receives a Unique “Thank You”

Before winter break, a prospective client contacted the clinic looking for assistance with a Guardianship petition. The client explained that she has a disability that made the process of completing legal forms more difficult. Although the call came at the end of the semester when students were unavailable, Graduate Fellow Jessica Perlick (Boyd ’13) took the case and worked on it during the winter break. Jessica successfully secured the client guardianship of her grandchildren. A few weeks later, to Jessica’s surprise and delight, she received a wonderful over-sized card from the client that was signed and decorated with smiley-face stickers by the grandchildren over whom the client now had legal guardianship.