October Legal Briefs Monthly News from Wake Forest Law

A Message from Dean Jane Aiken

To my Wake Forest Law community:

As we move into the second half of the semester, I continue to take pride in the connectedness of our community — of how we’ve remained dedicated to the core tenets of who we are. We are engaged in service and pro bono work. We are competing in numerous competitions and hosting virtual events that bring the brightest ideas of our time to the law school. We’re also writing and publishing blog articles, research, and amicus briefs that relate to many of the issues that have surfaced as a result of COVID-19.

Now, a little more than halfway through October, we are also nearing the 2020 election. Although this election is already momentous and deeply historical in its own right, it is also taking place 100 years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment. This anniversary not only marks 100 years of the women’s right to vote. It also commemorates the decades-long fight that preceded it, a fight that continued for black and indigenous women even after its ratification. The Law School sponsored this year’s speaker for Constitution Day, award winning historian Martha S. Jones. Dr. Jones, who discussed her book Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote and Fought for Rights of All, reminded us of this ongoing struggle.

I encourage each and every one of you to be involved in the democratic process, to continue to honor the efforts of those who came before us—to voice your opinion and cast your vote.


Jane Aiken

Background photo (source Ken Bennett): Dean Jane Aiken in the Worrell Professional Center Commons.

Our Character, Our Impact

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Veterans Legal Clinic Client Issued Honorable Discharge

A local veteran has a reason to celebrate. After 13 years since a less-than-honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, this veteran, who we will call Frankie for purposes of anonymity, has been issued an honorable discharge thanks to the Wake Forest Veterans Legal Clinic.

Frankie’s Story

Frankie enlisted in the Army at 17-years-old and served in an Airborne unit that was deployed to Iraq for over a year. During this combat deployment, Frankie witnessed horrific wartime events, including the death of close friends. Frankie also personally sustained a brain injury during a rocket attack. After this event, Frankie earned a Combat Action Badge for being actively engaged by the enemy.

After returning home from war, Frankie began to experience the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) – a result of Frankie’s wartime experiences. Frankie engaged in minor misconduct that resulted in administrative punishment and, eventually, a less-than-honorable discharge from the U.S. Army. This minor misbehavior was directly related to undiagnosed PTSD and TBI. These conditions were left untreated and would eventually contribute to a challenging transition to civilian life.

This discharge and the underlying medical conditions that contributed to it would continue to dramatically affect Frankie’s life for the next 13 years. Before being professionally diagnosed with PTSD and TBI, Frankie faced bouts of homelessness as well as significant barriers to long-term employment. Although Frankie was able to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree with honors after serving in the Army, the less-than-honorable discharge continued to make it difficult to obtain employment.

Veterans Legal Clinic

In 2017, Frankie sought help from the Wake Forest Veterans Legal Clinic with the hope of changing military records so they would more accurately reflect meritorious service. These changes would be critical as they would help Frankie secure long-term employment and, as a result, financial security.

That’s when Frankie’s story entered the lives of Charity Barger (JD ’18) and Jilliann Tate (BA ’15, JD ’18). As students in the Veterans Legal Clinic, Barger and Tate, under the supervision and mentorship of then-Clinic Director Brandon Heffinger (JD ’14) and Adjunct Professor Christopher J. Geis (JD ’98), conducted extensive fact investigation and legal research while working closely with Frankie throughout the process.

“When I first met this client and heard this story, it was hard to hold it together,” says Barger. “This story was so compelling. I saw how difficult it was for Frankie to carry the weight of this less-than-honorable discharge.”

After countless hours of review and complex problem-solving, Tate and Barger developed an argument that concluded that a less-than-honorable discharge was an injustice. This conclusion was based on the length and quality of service, which included combat deployment where Frankie sustained life-altering physical and mental injuries, as well as post-service diagnoses and combat-related accolades. The students also argued that Frankie’s PTSD and TBI explained and mitigated the misconduct.

According to Clinic Director and Professor Ellie Morales (JD ’10), these challenges are not unique to Frankie.

“The veteran featured in this story is not alone. This is a typical case we see in the clinic. More than 100,000 service members have left the military with a less-than-honorable discharge just in the last 10 years, and the consequences of a less -than-honorable discharge can last a lifetime.”

Professor Morales notes that service members with less-than-honorable discharges are not typically entitled to full benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which includes health care coverage and services.

“These service members also have a higher risk of homelessness and suicide,” Professor Morales adds. “It is hard to believe but sometimes they are worse off than if they had never served.”

The students brought these issues to the surface in a brief that was later submitted to the Army Discharge Review Board. After considering the evidence, Barger and Tate focused their argument on one outstanding declaration: Frankie deserved an honorable discharge.

“Petitioning for a discharge upgrade is a challenging process,” says Judge Advocate and Captain Chris Salemme (JD ’17), who was the Veterans Legal Clinic fellow who oversaw the processing of Frankie’s case.

In 2020, Frankie was finally granted an honorable discharge.

“This has changed my life considerably,” says Frankie. “Having my characterization of discharge as fully honorable has given me the opportunity for the GI Bill to further my education.”

The honorable discharge also renewed Frankie's sense of pride for having served in the military.

“I’ve been fighting this for 13 years. Because of this result, I will now have a totally different relationship with the VA – everything used to be a fight and now it will not be. Having an honorable discharge is a huge weight off my shoulders. It really feels good to say I was honorably discharged. Now I am really proud of my service.”

After the announcement of Frankie’s honorable discharge, Barger and Tate reflected on their experience in the clinic with immense gratitude.

“Working with actual clients encouraged me to work harder,” says Tate. “I realized it was so much bigger than me – it was not about me anymore. Winning this client’s case is the most valued professional accomplishment in my life to date.”

“This one successful result also demonstrates the power and importance of clinical education,” Tate continues. “It gives students an opportunity to learn and flourish. This is life-changing for me and my client. It is so humbling.”

Barger also recognizes the importance of this experience, specifically noting how her clinical work allowed her to develop the softer skills that are frequently required, but often overlooked, in legal practice.

“I learned many skills that transferred to my civil law practice. For example, I learned the importance of truly listening to your client. I learned, through this clinic case, the importance of giving your client the opportunity to speak and that by giving them this chance you are creating a safe place for them. This skill has enabled me to develop a strong rapport with my clients in private practice.”

Students in the Wake Forest Veterans Legal Clinic have the opportunity to work closely with low-income former service members under the supervision of a licensed attorney. Clinic students help service members, who are often severely impacted by mental health challenges, racial discrimination, and a lack of access to health care, correct injustices in their records. Students collaborate with their peers, develop their client interviewing and counseling skills, conduct extensive case investigation, and draft legal arguments on behalf of their clients. They also work with medical professionals to better understand their cases and advocate on behalf of their clients.

Background photo (source Unsplash): American flag outside courthouse.

Engaged In Our World

See how members of our community are using their expertise and skills to help solve the greatest issues of our time.

Wake Forest Journal of Law and Policy to hold symposium on voting rights

The Wake Forest Journal of Law and Policy will host the virtual symposium, “The Health of American Democracy: Re-examining the State of Voting Rights on the 100th Anniversary of the 19th Amendment,” on Friday, October 30, 2020, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. EST.

In commemoration of the 100th Anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the symposium will reevaluate and reexamine the current state of voting rights throughout the U.S. In addition to broadly discussing voting rights, the symposium will specifically address topics related to administrative attempts to alleviate voter suppression, alternatives to alleviate racial gerrymandering, and North Carolina’s role in recent electoral malapportionment litigation.

The event is free and open to the public. Registration is required.

Criminal Justice Program (CPJ) to host Netflix watch party and virtual conversation

The Wake Forest Criminal Justice Program (CJP), in partnership with the Office of the Provost and the Wake Forest University Prosecutor Accountability Project, will host a virtual Netflix watch party featuring episode 8 of The Innocence Files, "The Hidden Alibi." Professor Kami Chavis, associate provost for academic initiatives and director of the CJP, will host a virtual conversation with attorney Brian Stolarz and his client, Alfred Dewayne Brown, who are both featured in the episode.

The watch party will begin at 6:30 p.m. EST on Thursday, October 29, 2020. A question and answer session will follow at 8 p.m. EST on Zoom. Registration is required. 

Background photo (source Library of Congress): Suffrage and labor activists in 1913.

Engaged In Our World

See how members of our community are using their expertise and skills to help solve the greatest issues of our time.

Professor Emily Benfer coauthors amicus brief supporting CDC eviction moratorium

Lifting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) eviction moratorium — anywhere — will cause increased COVID-19 contractions and deaths, according to an amicus brief co-written by Professor Emily Benfer and third-year law student Emilia Todd (JD ’21).

“Eviction leads to further spread of COVID-19,” says Todd. “The CDC order is vital to curtailing the avoidable devastating and deadly consequences. Working with Professor Benfer and this team on these issues has been remarkable, and hopefully this brief will have helpful, positive impacts on communities in need."

This brief was also written on behalf of Yale Law School’s housing clinic and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Amici to the case, Brown v. Azar, include numerous individual experts and national organizations who urge the court to recognize eviction prevention is critical to protecting public health as well as ensuring health equity during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brown v. Azar, which was filed in a federal district court in Georgia, involves landlords from Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia who are asking the court to stop the CDC from temporarily halting evictions through December 31, 2020.

Background photo (source Unsplash): Row of homes in a neighborhood.

Innovation In Practice

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OUTLaw to host name and gender marker change clinic

OUTLaw, Wake Forest Law’s LGBTQ+ law student group, is partnering with the North Star LGBTQ+ Community Center of Winston-Salem to host a virtual name and gender marker change clinic on Saturday, October 24, 2020, from 1 p.m. until 5 p.m. EST.

Under the supervision of a licensed attorney, Wake Forest Law students will guide North Carolina residents through the process of legal name and gender marker changes.

The event is free and open to the public. Registration is required.

Background photo (source Unsplash): Abstract photo of the LGBTQ+ and Trans Pride flags.

Innovation In Practice

Discover how we’re developing new ways to educate and inspire.

Wake Forest Law and Thomson Reuters join forces to help small businesses

The course collaboration between Wake Forest Law and Thomson Reuters, “Bankruptcy and Small Business: A Practical Course for Newcomers,” is still available. This free 15-hour course is designed to help business owners facing bankruptcy and the strategic advisors — legal or financial — who are tasked to help them.

Bankruptcy expert Professor Steve Nickles conceived this program in response to the anticipated economic impact of the pandemic on small businesses. Throughout his years as a bankruptcy and commercial law teacher and scholar, Professor Nickles has maintained a close connection to the bench and bar, providing students with a unique real-world view of debtor-creditor practice. He is the author of numerous articles and books, including a three-volume treatise used by lawyers throughout the world.

Background photo (source iStock): The exterior of a United States Bankruptcy Courthouse.

News In Brief

Wake Forest Law celebrated its enduring relationship with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Dean Aiken and Dean Emerita Suzanne Reynolds (JD ’77) came together in virtual conversation to talk about their memories, anecdotes, and experiences working with such a formidable and remarkable icon. You can read about our story and work with Justice Ginsburg at wfu.law/JusticeGinsburg and watch the conversation at wfu.law/CelebratingRBG.

> Wake Forest Law criminal justice expert Professor Kami Chavis spoke with Fabiola Cineas of Vox about the power of grand juries and the prosecutor and how these powers are impacting the case of BreonnaTaylor. Read more at wfu.law/jv9.

> The economic fallout of COVID-19 may lead to significant insurance coverage losses. This is especially true for small businesses. "We will probably really start to see it during renewal time, November and December,” Wake Forest Law Professor Mark Hall tells The New York Times. Read more at wfu.law/wk2.

> Parents may be subject to legal liability if a child is knowingly sent to school ill and spreads COVID-19, Wake Forest Law torts expert Professor Jonathan Cardi tells The Doctors. But causation can be hard to prove in these types of cases. Watch Professor Cardi explain at wfu.law/40v.

> Henna J. Shah (JD '21) was named a recipient of a North Carolina Association of Women Attorneys (NCAWA) Sarah Parker Scholarship. Learn more at wfu.law/7bd.

> Alumna Katye Griffin (JD ’15) named executive director of the North Carolina Alliance of Public Health Agencies. Learn more at wfu.law/ef4.

> ESPN signs White Sox TV voice and Wake Forest Law alumnus Jason Benetti (JD '11) to a multiyear extension. Read the full story at wfu.law/7sr.

Background photo (source Lillie Elliot): Dean Emerita Suzanne Reynolds (JD '77) walking with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in Venice during the summer of 2008.

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