Right now – in the midst of this global pandemic – I’ve never been more proud to be a member of the LPS community. That’s because my fellow fellows have stepped up and used their legal education to fight for better outcomes for people affected by COVID-19. They’ve inspired me to think creatively about how I, now armed with a third-year practice certificate, can make myself useful. Here’s what some of my friends have been up to.
In April, the moment a bill to make certain Virginia inmates eligible for parole became law, my classmates Dominique Fenton ’21, Nathan Eagan ’21, and Perrin Tourangeau ’21 sprang into action. It’s no secret that people in prisons and other institutions are extra susceptible to the virus and are more likely to succumb to it, so the bill was fast-tracked and went into effect immediately. These three LPS fellows – who participated in the law school’s Innocence Project clinic this past year – have since filed several parole petitions for their newly-eligible clients. Hopefully these clients will get to return home to their families soon. Relatedly, Dominique, Hayley Hahn ’21, and Sara Wendel ’21 have kept in close contact with some of the women incarcerated at Fluvanna – an institution that, even prior to the pandemic, has been notorious for health and safety violations.
Meanwhile, Katharine Janes ’21 has advocated for the health and safety of juveniles incarcerated in Virginia. As an extern with the Charlottesville Public Defender Office, she has worked to get vulnerable, detained youth out of custody in light of the public health crisis. Her efforts could not be more critical – as of April, 1 in 8 juveniles detained at Bom Air had contracted the virus.
Earlier this year, when the virus first started to spread through the U.S., Tyler Demetriou ’22 helped monitor how different states categorized employees of group homes for disabled people. For a variety of reasons – institutionalization, pre-existent health conditions, and ableism – members of the disability community are very susceptible to COVID-19. The concern was that employees of group homes would not be considered essential, which would leave their residents without critical support. Fortunately, Virginia ultimately decided to categorize them as essential.
So many LPS members have also volunteered many hours on eviction hotlines, as well as the law school’s own unemployment insurance hotline. And, with the bar exam now pushed to September, some of our recent graduates – like Sarah Houston ’20 – have committed to do pro bono throughout the summer. Sarah will help transgender asylum seekers with credible fear denial appeals.
The above examples are just some of the ways that LPS fellows have stepped up in the past few months. It’s really an honor to get to be part of their public interest community.
Eliza Schultz is a 3L originally from Brooklyn, New York. Before law school, Eliza worked for three years as a researcher of disability and anti-poverty policy at the Center for American Progress (CAP) in Washington, D.C. There, she also helped lead CAP’s bargaining unit, part of the Nonprofit Professional Employees Union. For her 1L summer Eliza interned as a Peggy Browning Fund fellow at the National Employment Law Project (NELP) and researched constitutional paternity with a law professor. Eliza hopes to become a legal aid attorney after graduation. Interests: Public Benefits, Family Law, Employment Law, Labor Law, Civil Rights