“If it weren’t for Stand Down, I’d be in a world of hurt,” said Army veteran Cornell Granville moments after a court commissioner approved his new, lower child support payments.
Representing him in court was third year student Danielle Mor, who volunteers at Thomas Jefferson School of Law’s Veterans Legal Assistance Clinic (VLAC).
“She deserves a raise,” said Granville. “On a scale of one to ten, I would give her a ten – she’s definitely doing her job.”
They both appeared before Superior Court Commissioner Adam Wertheimer. He had high praise for the TJSL students as well as the experience the clinic gives them in an actual court setting. Wertheimer’s court was set up outdoors in the handball courts at San Diego High School, where Stand Down is held each year.
“It’s great for the students to appear in court, albeit a handball court, but it’s still a court,” said Commissioner Wertheimer. “The advantage for the veterans is we come to them, so they don’t have to come to the courthouse. This is much less intimidating.”
“It can be daunting,” TJSL student Scott Greenwood agreed about the courthouse experience many veterans tend to avoid. “This is a much less stressful court environment,” he said. “Here, we can cut through a lot of red tape and it’s all one stop shopping. They can negotiate with the County Office of Child Support, and go directly to court.”
And there is a TJSL student like Greenwood at their side to negotiate and appear with them in front of the commissioner.
Stand Down is a national event founded in San Diego to allow homeless veterans, or recently homeless veterans to get a wide range of services. TJSL has run the VLAC at Veterans Village of San Diego, the organizer of the Stand Down event since 2006.
TJSL 2L student Matt Ferrara also volunteers at the clinic, and he has a passion for helping veterans, since he is a former marine himself, having served two tours of duty in Iraq.
“It makes me feel good to give back to the veteran community, he said. “It’s a very rewarding experience working at the veterans clinic. And this is my first taste of actually applying the law.”
“Working Stand Down was an incredible experience in itself,” said 3L Daniel Nguyen, who works at VLAC. “For a law student I cannot think of a better pro bono experience to have. You get to see the entire legal processed wrapped up in one short day. The best part for me by far was being able to work directly with my clients on my own without assistance and achieving their legal goals.
“Working Stand Down was also my way of honoring my late mother Phuong Nguyen who passed away from cancer recently. She was my inspiration for going to law school and driving motivation to join the VLC. Because of the opportunity the VLC gave me to practice law my mother was able to hear about my success in the VLC and Stand Down before she passed just 2 days after Stand Down. Knowing that she was happy, I will always value my time at the VLC.”
Clinic fellow Tiffany Gilmartin ‘10 says the students were “doing a great job forcefully representing their clients. I’m very proud of them for seeing live clients on the fly and doing such a good job.”
“I’m so happy I signed up for this clinic,” said 3L Elisabeth Donovan. “It’s great to get actual experience. The best way to learn is through trial and error.” As for the veterans, she says, “They have a lot in their lives working against them. They truly do struggle with so many issues. But they really love their children. We’re doing something to make their burden less heavy.”
3L Kelly Lynch made the burden less heavy for her client, whom we’ll call “Ellis,” a former marine who now works as a hospital public safety officer. She negotiated more affordable child support payments for him.
“People who have helped their country who fall short of their goals -- we can help them get back on their feet,” Lynch said. “I’m a lot more comfortable with my child support payments now,” Ellis said of Kelly Lynch. “She did a superb job. I came to the right place to get my problem solved.”
“Every year this is better and better – we refine the process,” said Commissioner Wertheimer. “And it’s great to know that the TJSL veteran’s clinic is part of a system (Stand Down) that helps these veterans get off the streets. They are able to get their cases processed and it helps them get out from under the burden.”
“This is amazing,” Danielle Mor said of her experience at the Stand Down Family Court. “I’ll definitely be back next year after I graduate.”
“She did a great job,” said Mor’s client Cornell Granville. “Things are looking up and up.”
And as he left, Granville stopped to give Mor a hug.
It’s all in a day’s work at the TJSL’s Veterans Legal Clinic.