Civil Justice Clinic

In the Civil Justice Clinic, students work under the supervision of two full-time faculty members representing low-income individuals who cannot afford counsel, and work on public policy projects to benefit disadvantaged communities.

Within a single semester, students have the opportunity to do both case and policy work and can gain a diverse range of experience by working in multiple Project areas. Clinic students are currently litigating cases in Connecticut Superior Court, probate court, and federal court, and before state and municipal agencies. They are also working on several major policy projects on sentencing law and family law issues. 

In 2012, the Civil Justice Clinic received the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) Award for Excellence in a Public Interest Project  for its work in support of abolishing Connecticut's death penalty. In 2013, the clinic co-authored a report, "Youth Matters: A Second Look for Connecticut Children Serving Long Prison Sentences," with the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School on juvenile sentencing reform.

Clinic faculty and staff

The Civil Justice Clinic is co-directed by professors Kevin Barry and Sarah Russell

Professors Barry and Russell are joined by legal secretaries Sue Ann Ney and Maria Long, and by student fellow Lindsay Keeler. Keeler is the recipient of the 2013-2014 AT&T Excellence in Pro Bono Legal Service Award and Fellowship, which is funded through a generous grant from AT&T and awarded to a student with a demonstrated interest in public interest work.  

Clinic Goals

The goals of the Civil Justice Clinic are two-fold:
  1. Quality education for clinic students: We give students the opportunity to explore justice by practicing it, and equip students with the skills necessary for them to become effective lawyers. Civil Justice Clinic students represent clients in various civil matters in courts or at administrative hearings, and may also work on public policy projects.
  2. Quality work product for clinic clients: We undertake cases that advance the public interest by representing those who seek access to justice.
In the Civil Justice Clinic, students have primary responsibility for representing their clients. Carefully monitored caseloads allow students to offer high-quality representation to their clients while developing professional and legal skills that will last them a lifetime. 

Clinic Seminar

The Civil Justice Clinic includes twice-weekly seminars in which clinic faculty use student casework as a vehicle for examining how poverty impacts access to justice and how lawyers can help.  Topics include legal ethics; research, writing, oral advocacy, and case development skills; relevant substantive law; court and administrative procedure; and client representation issues.

Clinic Projects

Students have the opportunity to work in multiple clinic project areas during the course of the semester. The Civil Justice clinic consists of the following projects:

Employment Law Project
Securing Unpaid Wages for Day Laborers and Benefits for the Unemployed
The clinic helps workers (many of them new immigrants) collect unpaid wages that they are owed by negotiating with employers and bringing claims against them in court.  The clinic also represents individuals seeking unemployment benefits in proceedings before the Department of Labor.  

Medical-Legal Partnership/Health Law Project
Remedying Substandard Housing Conditions
As part of a Medical-Legal Partnership with St. Raphael's Hospital, medical residents refer cases to the clinic involving substandard housing conditions (mold, lead, pest infestation), and visit the clinic on a monthly basis to strategize about cases. The clinic helps remedy substandard housing conditions by negotiating with landlords and representing clients before public housing agencies and in court.

Family Law Project
Enforcing and Modifying Child Support Orders
The Clinic represents parents seeking to enforce child support orders against parents who owe child support, and also represents parents who owe child support (many of them veterans) who seek to modify their child support orders downward.

Immigration Law Project
Working with Undocumented Children
The clinic represents individuals seeking relief under the new "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals" program, which provides temporary work authorization for undocumented people who arrived in the United States as children and meet various criteria. 

Prisoner Reentry Project
Seeking Access to Housing, Licenses, and Employment for Individuals Who Have Been Incarcerated
The clinic helps people to successfully reintegrate into communities after being incarcerated. The clinic assists individuals with challenging denials of public housing and occupational licenses based on prior criminal convictions, and with seeking pardons of their convictions before the Connecticut Board of Pardons and Paroles. 

Education Law Project 
Assisting Children in Special Education Matters and School Expulsion Hearings 
The clinic helps children in securing special education services in schools through advocacy at meetings with school officials and in proceedings before Connecticut's Department of Education. The clinic also represents students in school expulsion hearings.

Juvenile Justice Project
Advocating for Fair Sentencing for Youth
The clinic advocates for reform in Connecticut to respond to recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions and provide a "second look" at long adult prison sentences imposed on children.  

Death Penalty Abolition Project
Nationwide Advocacy to Eliminate Capital Punishment
The clinic conducts research into the legal and pragmatic questions being raised by lawmakers, advocates, and governors' offices regarding abolition of the death penalty for future crimes. 

Constitutional Law Project
Improving Prison Conditions and Seeking Collateral Review of Convictions and Sentences
The clinic occasionally assists prisoners challenging the conditions of their confinement (i.e., access to medical care) or seeking review of their convictions or sentences through post-conviction proceedings.

Policy Advocacy Project
Advocating for Systemic Change
The clinic advocates for policy reforms that benefit low-income and underrepresented groups. In connection with policy projects, students have testified before the Connecticut General Assembly's Judiciary Committee and the Connecticut Sentencing Commission on a variety of issues, including transgender civil rights, provisional pardons for formerly incarcerated individuals, protections for people with disabilities who are victims of sexual assault, and procedures governing unemployment compensation hearings.  

Community Lawyering Project
Rebellious Lawyering on Behalf of Low-Income Communities
The clinic furthers the agenda of particular low-income communities in Connecticut through education, coalition-building, negotiation, media, and legal action.

Recent Accomplishments

Recently, Civil Justice Clinic students have accomplished the following:
  • Obtained favorable decision against State for erroneously garnishing nearly ten thousand dollars from veteran's social security disability payments.
  • Delivered testimony before the Connecticut General Assembly's Judiciary Committee in support of a bill abolishing Connecticut's death penalty for future crimes, and received a national award from the Clinical Legal Education Association (CLEA) for its death penalty abolition work.
  • Obtained work authorization for a client from Mexico, who came to the U.S. when she was eight years old, under Obama Administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
  • Represented day laborers in Superior Court and obtained favorable decisions for thousands of dollars in unpaid wages.
  • Authored administrative appellate briefs resulting in reversal of denials of unemployment compensation benefits, and successfully represented those seeking benefits at hearings.
  • Obtained a full pardon from the Board of Pardons and Paroles for an elderly client who had not committed a crime in more than 37 years and had demonstrated extraordinary change and rehabilitation.
  • Obtained a settlement in a federal case for a prisoner who was assaulted at a supermax prison in violation of his Eighth Amendment rights.
  • Testified before the Connecticut Sentencing Commission and the Connecticut General Assembly's Judiciary Committee in support of a legislative proposal that would provide a "second look" at long adult prison sentences imposed on children.
  • Co-authored a report, "Youth Matters: A Second Look for Connecticut Children Serving Long Prison Sentences," with the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School on juvenile sentencing reform.
  • Obtained reversal of a public housing authority's decision to deny a woman housing based on her prior criminal record (convictions were the result of an addiction that the client had overcome and housing was necessary for her to be reunited with her young children).
  • Negotiated agreements between landlords and tenants to keep elderly public housing residents from being evicted from their homes and to obtain return of security deposits and remediation of housing code violations.
  • Obtained special education services for children not previously eligible; modified individualized education plans for students with autism, ADHD, and other impairments to provide them with a free and appropriate education guaranteed by law.
  • Successfully demonstrated a client's rehabilitation and good character and obtained reversal of the Department of Motor Vehicle's decision to deny him a livery license based on his prior criminal record.
  • Obtained a birth certificate for a woman abandoned without documentation by her mother more than twenty years ago.
  • Modified child support orders of obligors who could not afford to pay as the result of disability or other barrier.
  • Succeeded in helping a client, who was wrongfully accused of stealing store merchandise, to remove his name from a national retail theft database that prevented him from obtaining employment in the retail sector.
  • Successfully argued motions for contempt on behalf of obligees for failure to pay child support.
  • Filed a complaint with the Connecticut Department of Labor on behalf of a day laborer, resulting in award of several thousand dollars in overtime wages.

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