PILA Alumni Newsletter: Fall 2011‎

PILA Alumni Newsletter: Fall 2011

PILA Alumni Newsletter
Fall 2011

The University of Virginia’s Public Interest Law Association (“PILA”) would like to present the Fall, 2011 edition of the PILA Alumni Newsletter. Inside you will find news on your fellow PILA alumni as well as the activities of current students involved with PILA. Through this newsletter we hope to keep you apprised of PILA’s current efforts, and to help develop a strong network of PILA alumni.

This issue of the PILA Alumni Newsletter contains four featured articles:
  1. PILA Alumni Spotlight: Virginia Delegate Jennifer L.  McClellan (‘87)
  2. PILA President Interview: Ashley Matthews (‘12)
  3. Current PILA Grantee Summer Stories
    • Nicole Frank (‘13): Legal Aid Justice Center
    • Kim Rolla (‘13): Legal Aid Justice Center
To contact PILA with comments or suggestions, please email us at: VirginiaPILA@gmail.com.

Thank you for your support of PILA, both past and present!

Jennifer L. McClellan ('97)

Alumni Spotlight: Jennifer L. McClellan ('97)

m Now Assistant General Counsel Mid-Atlantic South, Verizon Communications, and Member of Virginia House of Delegates, 71st District
-By Gillian McHale ('14)

Jennifer L. McClellan (‘97) was first drawn to public service as a child. A lover of history, Jennifer attributes her passion for political involvement to her parents’ stories of the civil rights movement. After earning her bachelor’s degree in English and Political Science from the University of Richmond, Jennifer came to the law school knowing that she “wanted to do something in the public interest.”

Before Jennifer had graduated from the law school, she had already immersed herself in the political scene, having been elected President of the Virginia Young Democrats as a law student. Jennifer notes that it was sometimes difficult to balance her commitment to campaigns with her classroom obligations. Nonetheless, Jennifer excelled both academically and in her extracurricular activities, working as the Notes Development Editor for the Virginia Law Review and as an Advisor to the Student Council President.

When asked about her law school experience, Jennifer notes that, “[w]hatever law you’re going to practice, you’re learning on the job, but law school does teach you how to think.” Jennifer explains the importance of Constitutional law in her practice. “The Constitution is really at the heart of everything you do in public service,” she says. However, Jennifer wishes she had learned more about economics, as numbers are an incredibly important part of both corporate and public service law.

Upon graduation, Jennifer says that “I had gone in thinking that I’d work in Congress.” However, due to the “Contract with America” Republican Congressional takeover, Jennifer turned to the private sector, joining Hunton & Williams in September 1997, with a focus on telecommunications regulatory issues. Jennifer says that her experience at Hunton & Williams influenced her future public service work. Having witnessed the importance interpretation plays in the law, Jennifer says that, as a member of the House of Delegates, “I tend to look a little more carefully at the language of the laws” proposed.

When asked why she chose to run for the House of Delegates in 2005, Jennifer answers simply that “a seat was open.” The 71st District, which includes parts of the City of Richmond and Henrico County, is “the most Democratic district in the region.” Jennifer notes that her desire to improve the lives of ordinary Virginians influenced her choice to run for office, as opposed to working as a legislative aide or as a lobbyist. “If I was in government,” Jennifer explains, “I wanted to be the one making the decisions.” Within the House of Delegates, Jennifer serves as the Minority Caucus First Vice Chair and on the Education, Commerce and Labor, and Courts of Justice committees.

In addition to her legislative duties, Jennifer is heavily involved with the Virginia Democratic Party and the Democratic National Committee. She was a superdelegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention and, before her time in the House of Delegates, founded the Metro Richmond Area Young Democrats. She also served in former Governor Mark Warner’s Virginia College Building Authority from 2002-2005.

Jennifer is also currently the Assistant General Counsel Mid-Atlantic South for Verizon Communications. When discussing both her legislative and corporate duties, Jennifer notes that “[g]overnment is the most important force for change.” However, “[c]orporate America is also a force for change.” She encourages young lawyers, regardless of their interest, to actively seek out opportunities to gain work experience in a variety of practice areas, even if it means working for free.

“It’s about proving yourself and paying your dues,” says Jennifer. “You need to be willing to work for free. People have their idea of the ideal job and say that’s what they should get.” Instead, Jennifer suggests to “be open to a wide variety of opportunities.” Jennifer uses her own experience with Governor Warner as an example.

“You never know who’s watching you,” Jennifer explains. While with the Young Democrats, “I was willing to do anything. I never said, ‘Oh, that’s beneath me.’” As such, the Warner campaign “saw my work ethic, saw my passion,” and when they needed someone for his office, “they called me.”

Jennifer emphasizes this given the current economy: “The market is so competitive right now that you’re going to start at the bottom. If you look at a lot of the things I did, I didn’t get paid, but each opportunity gave me experience.” Other than that, a lot of her experiences came from being at “the right place at the right time.”

Jennifer’s message to current and aspiring leaders can be best summed up by her own words to Virginia Commonwealth University graduates in 2010: “All of you have been called to serve in some capacity,” she explained. “Now, I am calling on you to disregard any fears or doubt you may have over your own importance and take part in the great struggle of our time. Each of you has a role to play, each of us has a chance to move mountains. So please, work hard, and take your place beside all of those people who are working to build a better future for our country.”

Ashley Matthews ('12)

Interview with PILA President Ashley Matthews ('12)

PILA Growing, Still Needs Support

-By Billy Easley II ('13)

Q. Tell us a little about yourself.

I worked at the law school for a year before starting here. I became friends with Rebecca Vallas who was the president of PILA. I was impressed by the organization and knew that I wanted to do public interest work, so I got involved. Last year, I was on the PILA Board’s Fundraising Committee and worked on several events, including the PILA book sale. The experience was very rewarding—I felt a true sense of purpose and took a lot of pride in the furtherance of PILA’s mission.

Q. What has been the most important thing that you have done with the organization?

We’ve had a number of accomplishments in the last year. We made more money on the fall book sale than ever before. We’ve tweaked other fundraising events to draw larger crowds and maximize fundraising. We want to build upon established and community events so that we can reach out to more of the student body. But we’re also looking into creating new events. For instance, we had our first trivia night last year.

Q. What are the biggest needs of the organization?

We really want to develop more support from our alumni, so alumni involvement is one of our major initiatives. Alumni can assist PILA in multiple ways, like by speaking at PILA or Public Service Center events, and serving as informal mentors to the next generation of UVA’s public interest attorneys.

Q. What do you see as PILA’s role in the University?

PILA is a multi-faceted organization. First, we serve students who wish to pursue full-time careers in public interest law. Second, we hope to encourage people who might not wish to pursue full-time careers in public interest work, but who will positively impact their communities through volunteer or pro bono work. Finally, we provide some valuable services to the entire law school community through events like the PILA Booksale, where everyone in the law school community can benefit from lower-priced books. The PILA Auction and Rock-A-PILA are events that, while raising money for PILA, also provide the entire law school university with an opportunity to gather and have a really great time.

Q. Could you tell about one of the new initiatives that PILA has adopted during your tenure as PILA President?

I particularly like our newsletter initiative. It’s a great way to reconnect with PILA alums and let them know about what PILA is doing today. We need to collect more information from our alums in order to make it even more effective, so we would love it if alums would reach out to us.

Q. Is there anything else you wanted to add?
The Law School Foundation has been so supportive with all of PILA’s efforts, and we want to thank them. The Public Service Center and PILA are exploring more partnership and cooperative efforts, and we are so excited about these opportunities, and how they will benefit the law school’s public interest students. Finally, PILA Board members are doing a great job of working on new initiatives for the organization, and I’d like to thank them for the countless hours they spend on PILA initiatives.

Nicole Frank ('13)

PILA Grantee Spotlight: Nicole Frank ('13)

Legal Aid Justice Center, Virginia Institutionalized Persons Project

I’m from rural, north central Nebraska, where there are almost no law offices, and certainly no public interest law opportunities. Most students can return home for summer jobs if they are set on working in public interest law in their communities, even if cost is a barrier. But I didn’t even have that option. I am committed to public service, however, and didn’t want to miss out on a relevant and meaningful internship. Receiving a PILA grant for the 2011 summer enabled me to stay in Charlottesville and work at the Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC), where my focus was prison issues through the Virginia Institutionalized Persons (VIP) Project. I also had the opportunity to work on several housing cases through the Civil Advocacy Division.

Most students who work for Legal Aid offices across the country never get to work on prison issues because of federal funding limitations, so my internship was incredibly unique. My first project was an appeal in the Fourth Circuit (Burnette v. Fahey). It’s a class action brought by prisoners being denied parole without any explanation other than the serious nature of their crimes. The case was brought on both due process and ex post facto claims. Our office worked on the ex post facto part of the appellate brief. The inmate class in the suit has been serving much longer sentences than average before parole was eliminated in 1995. The parole board does everything in secret, no longer meets in person (rather, everything is done online), and does not speak to officials within the prison system who could testify to the nature of each inmate (though they do listen to testimony from families of the victims). The case had previously been dismissed with prejudice on a 12(b)(6) motion, with the court saying that the complaint did not meet the more rigorous plausibility standard under Twombly and Iqbal. Working on the brief was a challenge for me, as we had to research cases beyond the Fourth Circuit, and were under a tight deadline. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and I look forward to attending oral arguments this fall.

I also spent much of the summer corresponding with inmates concerning conditions and mental health issues in Virginia prisons. I visited some in person, while corresponding by mail with others. LAJC cannot directly help individuals with these problems, as they do not have the resources, but we informed inmates about the grievance procedures available to them. The mental health issues are especially prevalent at the state’s only super-max prison. To date, I am continuing to write a paper about the effects of solitary confinement on mental health, an issue becoming more widely recognized across America. I really enjoyed working with the inmates as individuals (rather than as a legal class), and often found myself moved by their stories. It amazed me how much inmates appreciated an ear to voice their problems.

In addition to all of this, I also helped coordinate a state delegate’s prison visit, interviewed potential housing clients and investigated their cases, and attended meetings on Virginia’s compliance with the new health care standards. My internship with LAJC was extremely rewarding—not only the work itself, but the opportunity to intern with outstanding attorneys. My internship inspired me to enroll in the Capital Post-Conviction Clinic and to work in criminal defense next summer. I could never have achieved this without the PILA grant.

Kim Rolla ('13)

PILA Grantee Spotlight: Kim Rolla ('13)

Legal Aid Justice Center, Public Housing Association of Residents

During both the fall and spring of my 1L year I did pro bono work at Legal Aid Justice Center (LAJC) for their long-time client, the Public Housing Association of Residents (PHAR). This summer a PILA grant enabled me to accept a summer internship with the Civil Advocacy Program at LAJC here in Charlottesville. The legal and organizing work I did for PHAR was only one aspect of my summer experience, but it was uniquely rewarding. My work for PHAR focused on two major campaigns: utility allowances and barment policy.

Public housing rent is calculated so that shelter and utilities equal 30% of a resident’s adjusted income. Typically housing authorities pay electric and water directly to the utility companies for the whole development, but also monitor individual unit’s use. Each household receives a consumption allowance for a “reasonable” use of each applicable utility; if the household exceeds that allowance, they must reimburse the housing authority. Through PHAR, LAJC became aware that routinely well over half of the public housing residents in Charlottesville were receiving surcharges for “excess” utility use, many for non-trivial amounts. This meant that the extremely low-income people living in Charlottesville’s public housing were actually paying more than 1/3 of their adjusted income for rent and utilities.

During the academic year I had written multiple memos on Department of Housing and Urban Development regulations and other law concerning utility allowances. This summer I learned the nuances and complexities I had previously missed as I sat in on conference calls with a national network of housing advocates. More importantly, I was exposed to how that legal information influenced our strategy as I participated in meetings with attorneys for the City of Charlottesville and the managers of the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing authority.

Barment is another issue of great important to public housing residents that LAJC became aware of through its relationship with PHAR. Barment is the process through which the housing authority officially bans a person from housing authority property. Currently in Charlottesville, once an individual is barred s/he would be prevented from visiting any city public housing community for the rest of their lives, unless the barred person petitions the executive director of the housing authority to be removed from the barred list. The executive director has vast discretion in granting or denying that request. This issue is very important to many residents because their children, parents, or other family members may remain on the barred list for a minor infraction that occurred many years ago.

LAJC has drafted a potential new barment policy that limits police and housing authority discretion in who to bar and creates a more accessible process (with specific duration and decision making guidelines) through which individuals can be taken off the barred list. I was able to watch the draft evolve as I attended PHAR board meetings with my supervising attorneys, listened to concerns, and then helped integrate them into our proposed policy. I also came to appreciate attorneys’ roles as facilitators of negotiation, as we also redrafted to address housing authority concerns in a manner PHAR considered acceptable.

My PILA grant allowed me to spend the summer getting hands on experience community lawyering and to develop a lasting relationship with the board of PHAR.