Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My EJF Court Internship in Florida

I spent part of my summer at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse, interning with Judge Gill Freeman in state court—in Florida’s 11th Circuit. Judge Freeman is a former Florida Supreme Court nominee and the sole full-time jurist in Miami's Complex Business Litigation (CBL) Division; most of Judge Freeman’s caseload is filled with cases from the CBL Division. In a nutshell, the CBL Division only hears civil cases where the matter in controversy exceeds $150,000; also, all motions, like in federal court, must be in writing to the court.

My main task as a judicial intern was to resolve parties' motions to dismiss. I also attended oral arguments at every stage in the litigation process: motion calendar, trials, summary judgment proceedings, and other matters before the court. Indeed, most of my work dealt with assisting Judge Freeman in several high dollar controversies. I witnessed very impressive counsel from all over the country, litigating complex civil disputes, and at times the arguments were as sophisticated as those given before appeals courts.

At the same time, Judge Freeman maintained a foreclosure calendar, which allowed me to see a different side of the civil litigation process. The recent housing market decline hit Miami very hard, and each judge at the county courthouse had to take on a docket, loaded with several hundred cases. Twice a week, the judge heard oral arguments on her foreclosure calendar. Given the number of cases, we sometimes had to move to a larger courtroom to fit the litigants. Several parties represented themselves. Some attorney’s represented, on the same day, as many as ten different plaintiffs. I heard arguments from landlords trying to evict to tenants crying with their families, begging the judge for a 30 day stay on a bank’s eviction notice. Some attorneys, barely dressed in business casual wearing sunglasses on their head, perpetually frustrated Judge Freeman. Foreclosed tenants hired attorneys to submit any argument, boarding on the frivolous. The disparity in representation was glaring. Over the course of several days, I would hear arguments and analyze motions from some of the best and worst attorney’s in Florida; from the large law firm to the motions submitted by pro se litigants. The experience provided me an opportunity to compare and contrast legal writing and presentation skills spanning the spectrum of lawyers.

The practical skills I learned in the several weeks at the Miami-Dade Courthouse allowed me to get a first hand experience on the workings in an overcrowded state court, apply my legal skills in a real world environment, establish contacts, and network with potential employers. Such an experience would not have been possible without EJF funding and support.


--Johnathan Ayers

Thursday, March 8, 2012

What EJF funding means for me - Whitman-Walker Health

Corey James Prachniak

This summer I am excited to be returning to Whitman-Walker Health (WWH), a community health center, here in Washington, DC. I have built a relationship with WWH, having interned there during the fall, summer, and spring of 2011. WWH is a community health center serving greater Washington’s diverse urban community, including individuals who face barriers to accessing care, and with a special expertise in LGBT and HIV care. WWH offers support services beyond just medical care, including a robust legal services department that handles a wide variety of civil legal issues.

I have been a part of DC’s LGBT community for the past several years, but Whitman-Walker beat me to it by decades. It was originally founded as a clinic for gay men and over the decades has come to be a leader in LGBT and HIV/AIDS care. WWH is the medical home to over 15,000 patients from DC, Maryland, and Virginia in need of culturally competent, high quality health services. My interest in LGBT rights law, as well as in other issues like access to health care and workplace rights issues that Whitman-Walker takes on, is what led me to them over a year ago and what continues to drive my interest and passion today.

My biggest project this past summer was to research how the passage of marriage equality in DC would impact access to public benefits for our clients. Because many government programs are funded in part at the federal level, my work included a great deal of analysis as to the effect of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). As DOMA orders all federally-funded programs to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and not treat same-sex couples as “married” under the law, the legal situation for these couples who are married in DC can be quite complicated. I spent several months putting together a guide outlining the legal issues involved and suggesting the best course of action for impacted couples. I was also able to work directly with clients, doctors, government agencies, and, of course, the fabulous Whitman-Walker attorneys on a diverse set of cases and issues.

I’m thrilled to be returning to Whitman-Walker soon to continue working on behalf of DC’s LGBT community, those with HIV/AIDS, and the many other clients who come through our doors seeking help and access to the highest quality services. I’m deeply grateful that the Equal Justice Foundation here at Georgetown is supporting this work by guaranteeing funding for myself and my peers so that we might pursue work in the public interest.

Equal Justice Foundation

EJF's Live Auction took place January 29, 2015 in Hart Auditorium and was a HUGE SUCCESS. Check the Facebook page for updates about other ways to help fund public interest activities for Summer 2015