Two days after beginning the summer term, Luis Fermin was in the surprising position of handling his first mediation. Last Friday, Luis attended a mediation in a foreclosure case on behalf of his clients. Luis and his partner Jeffery Walker spent the entire day before the mediation preparing for it. It is safe to say that they were not expecting to be so hands on their second day in the clinic. But the best way to learn how to do something is to jump in with both feet. Our clinic cases do not fit neatly into the semester schedule, so clinic students often have to take their cases and their deadlines as they come. Often that means that they do not have as much time as they would like to prepare for something. But that it often the case with the practice of law. Luis and Jeffrey had an incredible experience at the mediation and learned a great deal about how to conduct a mediation.
The Duval County courthouse is still not open. Not only the clinics but all of the laywers in Jacksonville are struggling to cope with a courthouse and clerk’s office that has been closed for almost three weeks. And there still is no definite opening date in sight. We are now hearing that the court may move back to its old courthouse temporarily in an attempt to conduct some business. The problems with the new courthouse are definitely throwing a wrench in the hearing schedules for the clinics this summer!
Consumer Law Clinic student Zena-Melissa Sabell had a true taste of what it feels like to practice law last week. She had three hearings in one week: one in circuit court, one in county court, and one in small claims court.
In circuit court, she thought she was going in to argue a complicated motion to compel. But when we arrived at the hearing, we learned that the client had hired a new attorney and that he was planning to argue the motion to compel. We then had to address the procedural issue of what to do when two attorneys are counsel of record and they do not agree on what discovery is relevant.
In county court, Zena argued what should have been straightforward motion to dismiss in a debt collection case. However, the clinic students learned about judicial discretion and that despite was the rules may say, the judge has the final say on what is sufficient to state a cause of action.
And finally, in small claims court, Zena appeared at a pretrial conference to argue another motion to dismiss in a debt collection case. Most of the other clinic students were able to attend these hearings as well and share in the experience of litigating in state court!
Students in the Naturalization Skills Lab and in the Immigration Clinic recently participated in a community outreach information session for Jacksonville residents who are interested in applying for United States citizenship. The outreach was held at a local Burmese church and the students provided the attendees with information on what the skills lab and clinic are doing to help applicants with the naturalization process. The students are in the process of pre-screening applicants for Citizenship Day, which will be held at Florida Coastal on April 14, 2012. On Citizenship Day, the students will help approximately 200 residents with the paperwork needed to apply to become naturalized United States citizens. Pictures of the outreach session appear below. Any student who would like to volunteer to help on Citizenship Day and earn pro bono hours should contact Professor Ericka Curran or Professor Kara Roberts or Professor Karen Millard for more information.
The Consumer Law Clinic accepted two new cases last week where we will be helping an active duty and a retired servicemember. One new client was sold a car that had been completely wrecked. The client did not know this and took out a loan and paid a substantial sum of money for a car that now has a negative value. When he attempted to trade in the car, he learned that the car had been in a wreck and declared a total loss. The Clinic is now investigating who rebuilt the car and attempted to pass it off as a usable car. We will also sue the dealer who sold him the car and attempt to get his money back so that he can satisfy the loan.
The other new case is for a client who was sued for a debt while he was deployed. There is a federal law governing the rights of deployed servicemembers, and this law says that a creditor cannot get a judgment against a servicemember while he is deployed. The debt collector in this action filed an affidavit with the court tesitfying that the client was not in the military and was not currently deployed when in fact he was. The client did not find out about the debt collector’s judgment until it started garnishing his wages a few months ago to collect on the judgment. We will be asking the court to set aside the judgment and allow us to litigate the merits of the case and perhaps file a counterclaim against the debt collector for filing a false affidavit.
Even though everyone has been on break for the past few weeks, things have not slowed down in the Clinic. The Consumer Law Clinic was able to finish up several cases at the end of the Fall Semester, so the spring students will have the opportunity to work on a new set of garnishment, debt collection defense, and foreclosure defenses cases.
In addition, we will continue to work on an increasingly more complicated equity skimming case. Our client was tricked into signing over a portion of her property in exchange for having her property taxes paid for her. We are now discovering that not only the buyer has been accused of fraud in the past, but that the closing agent who conducted the closing with multiple suspicous closing charges is now being tried in federal court for mortgage fraud.
We are continuing to explore claims and defenses that our client has against the seller as well as against multiple other parties who may have participated in the scheme. The facts of the case read like a law school final exam, but the risk to this low income client of losing her home is very real.
This spring will be the inaugural semester of the Criminal Defense Clinic. Under the supervision of Prof. Lois Ragsdale, a former Assistant Public Defender, 8 students will be representing clients in county court on misdemeanors. All of the Clinic’s cases will come from the Jacksonville Office of the Public Defender. Clinic students will be handling all aspects of the representation from initial client interviews, to researching possible defenses, filing evidentiary objections, and conducting hearings and trials. Stay tuned for updates on Coastal’s first criminal clinic and the exciting work the students will be doing this spring!
“If you are looking for practical legal experience then the Consumer Law Clinic is the way to go no matter what area of law you want to practice. There is nothing more valuable than the opportunity to handle real cases and hearings before graduating from law school.”
- Doug Shanteau, Consumer Law Clinic, Fall 2011
“Being a certified legal intern in the consumer law clinic gave me the invaluable experience of learning how to translate theory into practice.”
- Alison Thomas, Consumer Law Clinic, Fall 2011
“The experience I gained in the consumer law clinic has been the most beneficial aspect of my law school career.”
- Brian Corlew, Consumer Law Clinic, Fall 2011
Things have not slowed down for the Consumer Law Clinic even though finals are quickly approaching. On Monday, November 28, Brian Corlew will be heading to court to argue a Motion to Dismiss in a foreclosure case. On Tuesday, November 29, 2011, Alison Thomas will be arguing a claim of exemption from garnishment for her client. Her client’s wages are currently being garnished to satisfy a judgment, but her client is exempt from garnishment under Florida law. So Alison will ensure that her client’s income is protected form garnishment so that he can continue to provide for himself and his family. And on Thursday, December 1, Doug Shanteau will be handling a small claims court pretrial conference. Doug and his partner Kevin Temaul filed a Florida Consumer Collections Practices Act claim against a payday lender who engaged in illegal debt collection. Thursday’s pretrial will be his first opportunity to go to court for this case and see how the defendant plans to defend this case. Stay tuned to the blog for updates on more Consumer Law Clinic happenings and updates on the other clinics as well!