Clerking for Equity in California’s Classrooms:
Supporting Public Advocates’ Education Team
After her second year at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, Rigel spent
last summer supporting Public Advocates’ impact litigation, policy advocacy, and community education
efforts towards the ultimate goal of ensuring an equal and adequate education for all California public
school students. Public Advocates is a public interest law firm that challenges the systemic causes of
poverty and discrimination by promoting civil rights through advocacy, litigation, and partnership with low-
income communities, people of color, and immigrants. Receiving a Dan Bradley Fellowship from the
Legal Aid Association of California enabled Rigel to live in the Bay Area and work as an unpaid intern
without accruing more debt.
At Public Advocates, Rigel created and presented a training in Spanish to a Central Valley
community group interested in using the Williams settlement as a tool to remedy contaminated drinking
water in local schools. As part of her work implementing the Williams settlement, Rigel used her
experience as a middle school teacher to interview and document the experience of immigrant students
denied permanent, credentialed teachers in their English class and switched involuntarily into electives
unrelated to their academic needs. She researched and wrote legal memoranda in support of two high-
profile cases currently rolling through the courts: Renee v. Spellings, a case to enforce NCLB’s “highly
qualified teacher” provisions and In re Rachel L., a case addressing the rights of homeschooled children.
Rigel determined whether schools in Contra Costa County had published their School Accountability
Report Cards—the primary tool that parents and the public have for assessing differences in quality
between schools—and drafted demand letters for districts that are failing to publish their SARCs. She
also researched legal claims for potential new litigation. After attending meetings, legislative hearings,
and strategy sessions, Rigel understands how this public interest law firm uses impact litigation, policy
and media advocacy, and strong community partnerships to foster increased educational equity in
Following graduation in 2009, Rigel plans to leverage her professional experiences as a teacher,
leader, and advocate to pursue a career fighting for equal educational opportunities for public school
students in Arizona and California. She greatly appreciates the Legal Aid Association of California and the
Dan Bradley Fellowship Committee for supporting her fight for equity in California’s classrooms.
I went to law school with the goal of making systemic change and empowering the voiceless. I
have always wanted to work at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, an organization with the mission
“to advocate civil rights, provide legal services and education and build coalitions to positively influence
and impact Asian Pacific Americans and to create a more equitable and harmonious society,” because I
deeply believe in its mission and it represents a place at which I envision myself working as an attorney
after law school. The Dan Bradley Fellowship made it possible for me to take a summer clerkship at the
Impact Litigation Unit of APALC this year.
I spent the first of my summer at APALC working on a housing case involving four low-income
Koreatown tenants whose landlords sought to make money from the “condo boom” by converting their
12-unit apartments to condominiums. Without providing advance notice, the landlords tore out ceilings,
walls and doors, and removed bathroom and kitchen fixtures. For seven months, the landlords entered
the tenants’ apartments at any time of day, on weekends and holidays, without warning and without
knocking. The tenants were subject to horrible living conditions, including exposed electrical wires
everywhere, unbearable amounts dust and no water for cooking, while the landlords continued to collect
full rent from the tenants.
With only two weeks away from trial, I immediate delve into the case when I started my summer
clerkship. I assisted with the attorneys with the trial brief, witness preparation, and other trial preparation.
My involvement in pre-trial matters included writing memoranda regarding defectively pled defenses and
principal-agency liability, summarizing witness depositions, researching the elements of defenses,
researching on civil procedure, and drafting direct examination questions for a co-defendant. I also
participated in various meetings and settlement negotiations. My suggestion was incorporated into one of
the counteroffers to the defendants during mediation.
The case proceeded to trial at the end of May. I brainstormed with the attorneys on last minute
trial strategies and provided feedback on trial progress. Since the trial was bifurcated, I wrote a
memorandum regarding the procedure and requirements of Phase II. After a six-day trial, I assisted with
post-trial motions and wrote part of a brief. At the end, our clients won a total judgment of over $572,000.
In the latter half of my summer at APALC, I worked on several potential cases important to the
public interest. I researched and drafted memoranda regarding the California Unfair Competition Law,
immigrant healthcare access, and the Lanterman Developmental Disabilities Services Act. I also
participated in meetings with the attorneys on case selection.
My summer experience at APALC was challenging, invaluable, and rewarding. I was given the
opportunity to see how impact litigation works from within. I saw the many different phases of litigation
ranging from case selection to post-trial motions. Not only did I learn a tremendous amount about civil
rights litigation, I also found incredible mentors at APALC. My summer would not have been possible
without the support of the Dan Bradley Fellowship and I am extremely grateful to be a recipient.
Prior to entering law school I knew that I wanted to practice family law. As a queer activist, I was
very conscious of the problematic history of the field in reinforcing normative family structures. I saw my
fellowship at the Senior Legal Hotline’s Grandparent Project as a unique opportunity to assist clients who
fall out of that structure. Perhaps naïvely, I thought the largest hurdle in filing petitions for guardianship
and adoption would be either suspending or terminating parental rights. My assumption was that the
courts would try to preserve the immediate family as much as possible regardless of race or ethnicity. In
actuality, I experienced that the court was committed to maintaining white families, but less invested in
preserving black families. This gross inconsistency spoke to the court’s racialized conception of a healthy
and stable family.
Most of the grandparents I assisted were women in their late 40’s and greatgrandparents in their
60’s. They were predominately low-income women of color. By the time most of these women sought
guardianship or adoption, their grandchildren or greatgrandchildren were already in the custody of Child
Protective Services (CPS). The majority of the social workers with whom I spoke were too busy to return
my calls or respond to my letters. One case which illustrates the court’s disregard for preserving the
family of origin involved a great-grandmother who wanted to adopt her greatgranddaughter.
The child was living with her father’s female partner. The child’s father was incarcerated and she had
been abandoned by her mother several years ago.
While filing a petition for guardianship, my client and I discovered that the female partner had
obtained guardianship without providing notice to the rest of the family. With the assistance of Child
Protective Services, the partner had provided false or misleading statements about the family in her
petition. Nonetheless, guardianship was granted. Despite consistently seeking assistance from the
guardianship social worker and CPS ombudsperson involved in the case, my client and I encountered
deliberate obfuscation of the details of the case.
I have witnessed flagrant violations of due process and overt instances of institutional racism. My
time with the Senior Legal Hotline reinforced the importance of being a culturally sensitive and socially
conscious family law attorney. The Dan Bradley Fellowship was an invaluable opportunity to develop as
an activist and to learn how to work within an often dysfunctional system. Although I was not successful in
all of my cases, I was able to reach multiple communities that are largely ignored within family law. My
fellowship only lasted a summer, but this experience will contribute to a lifelong commitment to changing
the face of the field.