Create Change is designed and produced by the staff of the John and Terry Levin Center for Public Service and Public Interest Law.
New Faces At the Levin Center
If the Levin Center’s new Pro Bono and Externships Director Betsy de la Vega
were allowed to offer only one piece of advice to students, it would be this: You have to be open to surprise. “When I stepped into the Minneapolis United States Attorney’s Office as a law student,” she explains, “I had no thought of ever being a prosecutor. On the contrary -- after reading Gideon’s Trumpet as a high school student in Massachusetts, I was certain that I would become a criminal defense attorney.” But it didn’t take long at the USAO for de la Vega to recognize that she could do as much to protect defendants’ rights from the prosecution table as she could from the defense side.
After two years as a U.S. District Court Clerk, Betsy went on to become an Assistant U.S. Attorney for over 20 years, first in Minneapolis and then in San Jose. As an AUSA, she prosecuted all types of federal cases, including: white collar crime, tax and money laundering violations, RICO, arson conspiracies, and the first prosecution of commercial pilots for “flying under the influence.” She also briefed and argued cases before the Eighth and Ninth Circuit Courts of Appeals. The recipient of community and Justice Department awards -- including a Director’s Award for Superior Performance as an AUSA -- de la Vega was also in the Organized Crime Strike Force and chief of the San Jose Branch of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Throughout her career, Betsy has lectured frequently on substantive criminal law, investigation and trial practice in CLE programs and taught various courses -- white collar crime, legal writing, trial and appellate advocacy -- at the University of Minnesota School of Law, William Mitchell College of Law, University of San Francisco School of Law, and Santa Clara University School of Law.
After leaving federal service in 2004, Betsy surprised herself again by submitting an unsolicited article to an online publication, which led her to an entirely new career as an author and speaker. The author of U.S. v. Bush (Seven Stories Press, 2006), Betsy has published numerous legal/political pieces in print and online media: i.e., The Los Angeles Times, Salon, The Christian Science Monitor, Nation, Chicago Sun-Times and Common Dreams. She has also been a guest expert on issues of criminal justice and public integrity on KPFA’s The Morning Show, The Colbert Report, The Tavis Smiley Show, Thom Hartmann Radio Show, WGBH’s Cambridge Forum and Countdown with Keith Olbermann, among other shows.
How did Betsy end up at Stanford Law School? “Pure serendipity,” she says. “I saw the ad for the position and thought immediately that I could think of no better place to be at this point in my career.” And Betsy could not be more delighted with her decision to join the Levin Center’s pro bono and externship program: “Where else would I have an opportunity to work with enthusiastic colleagues who are dedicated to encouraging aspiring lawyers to embrace public service? And the students themselves, of course, are amazing -- not merely smart and energetic, which they are -- but also creative and caring. They inspire me every day.”
Marilia “Mari” Zellner is the Levin Center’s current Public Interest Counselor specializing in International Public Interest & Public Sector/Governmental Opportunities. Mari is able to help students find opportunities ranging from summer placements to permanent career options.
Originally from Palo Alto, CA (although she spent some time in Morgan Hill, CA), Mari graduated from Palo Alto High School and continued her studies at Pomona College as a History major. Upon completing her undergraduate studies at Pomona, Mari went directly to Harvard Law where she was involved in various student groups such as Women of Color Collective, BLSA, and the Children & Family Rights Project. An activity that Mari holds fond memories of is her time singing with the Scales of Justice. She comments, “It was a lot of fun and helped me stay grounded in the sometimes pressure-filled law school experience. My best friends were with Scales.” Not only did Mari take advantage of the various student groups at Harvard, but she also ascertained her passion for public interest law. “I’ve always loved public interest law and poverty law generally because
once you meet with enough people, you get a sense of systemic problems and can try to help make bigger change, and at the same time, the counseling part of lawyering is really what drew me to the profession to begin with. It is an honor to help someone find their voice and then use your training and J.D. to help amplify and highlight critical justice issues. I have been most interested in helping disenfranchised groups and individuals understand and appreciate their legal options in simple, meaningful terms, so that they can make informed choices in their lives.”
With her passion for public interest law, Mari graduated from Harvard in 2000 and went on to practice non profit law as a legal aid attorney. A few months after graduation Mari landed a staff attorney position at Mid-Minnesota Legal Assistance (the Legal Aid Society of Minnesota), did landlord-tenant housing and housing discrimination work for the first several years and then switched to immigration law with a focus on working with survivors of violence and torture starting in the end of 2003. Mari moved back to the Bay Area in late 2006 and worked almost exclusively in the Latino community with the same focus on immigration at Bay Area Legal Aid and then at Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto.
When asked about her time here at Stanford Law, Mari says “I’ve always loved working with law students at my various legal aid jobs. Although I am still practicing immigration part time, I moved to the Levin Center at Stanford hoping to spend more time with an inspired group of lawyers-in-training and to expand my own understanding of the world of public interest and public service in the law. My prior work with refugees from Somalia, Liberia, El Salvador, Hmong from Laos, and Oromo from Ethiopia, inform my interest in international human rights, while my experiences advocating for clients before government agencies like HUD and the Department of Homeland Security and local District Attorneys offices are the basis for my interest in counseling students in government opportunities.”
"The Levin Center is delighted to welcome both Betsy and Mari to the team. Alumni and students may contact them directly to seek career counseling. Contact information is available on our website at http://www.law.stanford.edu/program/centers/pip/#program_contacts."
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Jess Oats, JD '09 Stanford's Second SPILF - SLS Fellow
Originally from Morristown, Tennessee, Stanford Law School alumna, Jessica "Jess" Oats, JD '09
, is currently Stanford’s SPILF-SLS Fellow at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia. There, Ms. Oats writes direct appeals for indigent defendants in Alabama capital cases and provides legal services to clients whose, according to Oats, “prospects for competent representation are otherwise bleak or nonexistent.” Currently, the state of Alabama has no public defender system in place or a capital resource office. Consequently, the state relies on a roll of court-appointed attorneys to write the direct appeals of all condemned persons who cannot afford to pay; compensation is currently capped at $2,000 per direct appeal. Oats comments, “Too many of the briefs filed on behalf of poor prisoners are fewer than fifteen pages long. Moreover, this appellate attorney is often the last representation that a condemned inmate will have – Alabama is
the only state in the country that chooses to deny an indigent capital defendant an attorney in the post conviction process. Simply, I hope to raise the bar in capital appellate practice in Alabama, creating systemic change while focusing on direct, individual advocacy.”
Before Jessica’s time as an attorney, Ms. Oats completed her undergraduate course of studies at Harvard University where she concentrated in Social Studies and wrote her honors thesis about the confederate flag controversy in South Carolina. Post Harvard, Jessica worked for four years at the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, Georgia, not as lawyer, but as a capital defense investigator; she worked on behalf of indigent men on death row, conducting guilt-innocence and mitigation investigations for pretrial and post-conviction death penalty cases in Georgia and Alabama.
Jessica then came to Stanford Law School and pursued her interests in social and criminal justice, including issues surrounding juvenile justice, indigent defense, reintegration, and the death penalty. In her time here at SLS, Oats comments, “I had lots of interesting experiences while in law school. Two of my most interesting experiences came from participating in SLS’s clinical programs: I participated in the Stanford Community Law Clinic, where I helped low-income clients with eviction defense, criminal record expungement, and wage-and- hour claims. I realized how much I love legal advocacy in pursuit of social justice. I worked on cases before the United States Supreme Court through the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic (including the death penalty case Cone v. Bell and the Confrontation Clause case Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts), and learned how much I love
legal research and writing – especially pertaining to criminal law and procedure.” Today, Oats is grateful for her time at the Stanford Law School and is very proud of being named the 2009-2010 SPILF-SLS Fellow. Jessica says, “It is an accomplishment that is especially meaningful to me. Not only is this an honor, but without the funding provided by SPILF and SLS, I would not be able to do this work – I’m deeply grateful.”
In the end, Oats reminisces about her time here and reflects, “I feel so fortunate to have attended a law school where I met such an amazing and supportive group of friends, colleagues, and mentors. Through my work in classes, clinics, student organizations, and the Law Review, I learned that collaboration can make the difference between success and failure. I’m glad to have met such an incredible group of lifelong allies.”
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Alternative Spring Break News!
Spring Break in Miami may evoke thoughts of sand, fun and sun, but the ten SLS students who are headed there for a Levin Center-funded Spring Break Pro Bono trip are thinking more about immigration law, Haitian refugees and intake training. Eager to help out in the aftermath of Haiti’s devastating earthquake, Stanford students have volunteered to assist the University of Miami’s Elder Law Clinic with a multi-law school project designed to process paperwork for the thousands of Haitian immigrants in Florida who may now be eligible for Temporary Protected Status.
Miami is not the only destination for SLS Alternative Spring Break Projects. Eight students will be boarding a bus bound for Truckee, California to participate in the Public Interest Clearinghouse’s REAL trip. REAL stands for Rural Education and Access to the Law, a statewide public interest initiative designed to address the dire needs of the 1.8 million Californians who live in rural areas that have little or no available legal services. In addition to their seven hour round-trip bus ride, these pro bono volunteers will be putting in full days at two free clinics: a Workers’ Rights Clinic on the first day, and Housing Law Clinic on the second day.
The SLS students traveling to New Orleans this March are not going to have much time to sightsee either. They will be working all-day, every day at the Orleans Public Defenders Office, shadowing attorneys, writing and research legal memos, interviewing clients, handling pretrial services investigations and just generally assisting the extraordinarily busy public defenders in any way they can.
Stay tuned for reports on these trips in the next newsletter!
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Spring Public Interest Celebration
Join us as we honor the students selected for the Deborah L. Rhode Award, Lisa M. Schnizter Memorial Scholarship and Public Interest Fellowships, as well as recognize students who have earned Pro Bono Distinction. The Public Interest Spring Awards celebration will be held on May 13 in Cooley Courtyard.
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Eunice Cho, JD '09
Jacqueline Silva Sanchez, JD ’10
Equal Justice Works Fellowship
Michelle Parris, JD ’10
Independence Foundation Fellowship
Matthew Stark Rubin, JD ’08
U.S. DOJ Honors Program
Nicholas Lyon, JD ’10
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Patrick Nemeroff, JD ’09
Lindsey Powell, JD ’07