Scores of cases are taken up every year by BC Law’s Center for Experiential Learning. The International Human Rights Practicum and the BC Defenders clinic are examples of the exemplary work that students—despite the disruptions of Covid-19—have been doing to confront abuses abroad and injustices at home.
Case in Point 1: The Human Rights Practicum, directed by Adjunct Professor Daniela Urosa, recently influenced two landmark decisions by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACHR).
Colombian investigative journalist Jineth Bedoya, while reporting outside a Bogotá prison in 2000, was kidnapped, then tortured and raped by paramilitaries. Her case against Colombia was significant because it was the first to give the IACHR an opportunity to develop a gender-sensitive, affirmative action standard requiring states to guarantee the safety of women journalists in situations of particular risk.
The court did so, thanks in part to the amicus written by then-law students Julia Novak ’21 and Liadan Nunain LLM ’20. Their work also demonstrated that an experiential-learning team with a global focus could uphold, on the international stage, a pillar of democracy: the right of freedom of expression, Urosa says.
The practicum’s other contribution was its amicus brief in Guachalá Chimbo et al. v. Ecuador. The case involved the disappearance of a mentally disabled Ecuadorian man. The students involved in this case were Marija Tesla ’22 and Nadia Bouquet LLM ’20. Their amicus argued two points—enforceability and scope of the right to health in mental disability cases and forced disappearance. On both issues, Urosa says of the court’s decision, “I can see the influence of our brief.”
Case in Point 2: For this year’s BC Defenders clinic, under the direction of Visiting Professor Kari Tannenbaum, a single jury trial would have been significant, but it turned out to have been but one among many achievements.
Almost exactly one year to the day after the courts closed in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, student attorneys Nat Carney ’21 and Kayla Zerfoss ’21 appeared in the Dorchester Division of the Boston Municipal Court for a jury trial.
The client was a young Black man charged with assault and battery on a police officer at the police station where he was being booked after a traffic stop for driving without a license. The entire incident was on video and showed the client cooperative to the point of looking bored, until he was grabbed first by one officer and then taken to the ground by seven or eight white officers. He was alleged to have kicked one of the officers while he was on the ground. Thanks to the advocacy of Carney and Zerfoss, the jury took only eighteen minutes to return their verdict of not guilty.
Six days after the jury trial, Zerfoss—this time accompanied by Sarah Nyaeme ’21—had a bench trial. The students represented a young woman initially charged with three counts of as-
sault and battery and three counts of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon (ABDW). For the bench trial, the Commonwealth moved forward with only one count of each of the charges. Once again, the BC Defenders’ advocacy led to a positive outcome. The felony charge of ABDW was directed out by the judge, and then, after closing arguments, the client was found not guilty of assault and battery. This had been the client’s first criminal arrest, so the verdict helped keep alive her hope of attending law school one day.
Meanwhile, Zerfoss also argued two different motions to dismiss in other cases. And as the semester was nearing its end, the BC Defenders team, which also included Kyle Amell, Shawn Petrini, Jesslin Wooliver, and Sarah Carlow, was handling an additional four jury trials and a motion-to-suppress evidentiary hearing.“This term’s BC Defenders have all mocked, edited, supported, and worked so hard together on all of these cases,” says an admiring Tannenbaum. “I couldn’t be prouder of all they have accomplished…for almost forty total clients this year.”