Highlights from the Duke Law School clinics
Faculty and student-attorneys in Duke Law’s 12 clinics advance their clients’ interests in a variety of ways — often through advocacy in court or administrative processes but also by recognizing opportunities to help meet basic community needs. Read on for highlights of their work during the 2022–23 academic year.
Immigrant Rights Clinic secures return for veteran
Deported U.S. Army veteran Mark DeSouza was reunited with his family in January after the Immigrant Rights Clinic successfully petitioned the Department of Homeland Security to let him return to the United States. DeSouza was separated from his mother and children for nearly a decade. He has suffered two strokes and is experiencing diabetic complications and cognitive decline.
Shirley Garrett ’24 and Clinic Fellow Jenny Kim, who drafted the request for humanitarian parole and filed it on Veterans Day, traveled to JFK Airport with the veteran’s daughter, Imo-Jah DeSouza, to welcome him back and ensure a smooth process at inspection. DeSouza met his granddaughter for the first time later that day.
“Working to bring Mr. DeSouza back to the United States has been the most rewarding experience in my law school career thus far,” Garrett said.
“I am so grateful for how supportive and dependable his family has been through this process. We could not have done it without them. The moment I saw Imo-Jah run into her father’s arms, I felt like all of our hard work and long hours had finally paid off. Being able to reunite this beautiful family and advocate for the care and justice Mr. DeSouza deserves has truly been a gift.”
Added Kim: “Seeing the resilience of Mr. DeSouza and his family in action has been awe-inspiring. I am very thankful that we, working alongside his family and advocates for deported veterans, were able to bring him home. My heart is full in knowing that he is reunited with his family and accessing necessary medical care through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Every deported veteran, like Mr. DeSouza, deserves the attention and care that they dedicated to serving our country.”
DeSouza’s case is one of several cases that the Immigrant Rights Clinic has partnered with Black Deported Veterans of America, Public Counsel, and the ACLU of Southern California to resolve, Kate Evans, the clinic’s director, said. Director of Pro Bono D.J. Dore, an Army veteran, also provided technical assistance.
“We never thought we’d see the day where our dad, a deported veteran, would step foot back on American soil, but here we are, all thanks to this amazing team,” said Imo-Jah DeSouza.
“From the minute they heard about my dad’s story and his sickness they jumped into action. They even flew in to meet my dad at the airport, which was the icing on the cake. This was the best way to start the new year and we couldn’t have done so without the support of this team. Thank you so much on behalf of the DeSouza family!”
Civil Justice Clinic wins verdict against Durham landlord
Civil Justice Clinic students Adam Golden ’23 (pictured left) and Andrew Tisinger ’23 (above) successfully conducted a bench trial in Durham County District Court, pursuing affirmative claims on behalf of clients against their former landlord for multiple breaches of the statutory warranty of habitability, housing code violations, and unfair trade practices.
Golden and Tisinger made opening and closing statements, did direct examinations of two clients, and presented testimony from the local Durham housing code inspector. They also cross-examined the defendant’s mold expert witness as well as the defendant landlord. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge awarded a verdict of $15,250 for rent abatement and unfair trade practices and said she would award attorneys’ fees after submission of an affidavit from counsel.
“Both these students managed the case with great skill, and our clients were well-served,” said Charles Holton ’73, the clinic’s director.
Children’s Law and Immigrant Rights Clinics team up on driver licensing effort
Many new North Carolina residents are getting back on the road thanks to the efforts of Jordyn Kathmann, social work intern in the Duke Children’s Law Clinic. While conducting needs assessments among Spanish-speaking clients of the Immigrant Rights Clinic, Kathmann noted that many wished to get a driver’s license but had struggled to pass the state licensing exam.
Through the clinics’ combined efforts, clients received Spanish language study materials, driver manuals, instructions for creating test appointments, and follow-up support. As a result, many have since passed their tests and earned the license that is critical to conducting the business of daily life.
“It’s a great example of collaboration between clinics and lawyers working with social workers in an interdisciplinary setting,” Children’s Law Clinic Director Crystal Grant said.
Environmental Law and Policy Clinic submits comment on gill nets
Three students in the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic submitted a formal comment letter asking the National Marine Fisheries Service to deny North Carolina a permit to license the use of gill nets and ban the use of anchored gill nets in inshore waters by all commercial and recreational fisheries.
Mary Beth Barksdale ’23, Daphne Zhao ’23, and Hayden Dubniczki, a graduate student in the Nicholas School of the Environment, wrote on behalf of their client, the North Carolina Coastal Fisheries Reform Group, in response to an application by the state’s Division of Marine Fisheries for a 10-year incidental take permit allowing it to license the use of gill nets to harvest fish from estuaries.
The Coastal Fisheries Reform Group seeks to ban gill nets from inshore waters because of the dangers they pose to marine life: In addition to catching the intended fish, nets also entangle endangered species such as sea turtles and sturgeon, as well as sea birds, bottlenose dolphins, and other non-targeted fish.
The student team researched the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, read scientific literature on the status of multiple fish species, sea turtles, and sturgeon and the impacts of gill nets, and reviewed reams of fish management plans, endangered species recovery plans, government reports, and more than 1,000 pages of emails from the state. They also interviewed experts in the field and prepared a 34-page argument against use of the nets — all in about five weeks.
“I’m incredibly proud of them all. They were fearless, diving into issues and laws they knew little about two months prior, and each demonstrated a tremendous work ethic,” said Clinical Professor Michelle Benedict Nowlin JD/MA ’92, the clinic’s co-director.
“They worked really well as a team and collaborated brilliantly. It’s anyone’s guess how this will play out, but the students succeeded in developing an impressive body of evidence in the record, which can be used to challenge the agency’s decision in court if necessary.”
First Amendment Clinic brief backs successful appeal by N.C. Attorney General in libel case
First Amendment Clinic Director Sarah Ludington JD/MA ’92 and Supervising Attorney Amanda Martin filed an amicus brief in support of North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein’s successful Fourth Circuit appeal of Grimmett v. Freeman, a case that challenged the constitutionality of the state’s 1931 criminal libel law.
The case stemmed from an ad produced by Stein’s campaign during the 2020 election that accused Stein’s opponent, Forsyth County District Attorney Jim O’Neill, of leaving rape kits untested. After O’Neill supporters complained to the state Board of Elections, which declined to recommend charges, Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman launched an investigation into whether Stein violated the law, which criminalizes publishing “derogatory reports” about a candidate, “knowing such report to be false or in reckless disregard of its truth or falsity.”
A three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit ruled unanimously in February to vacate the district court’s verdict, concluding that application of the law would likely violate citizens’ First Amendment rights, and Freeman closed her investigation.