Law Students of the Year: Ahmed Lavalais, UC Berkeley School of Law

Friday, March 10, 2017

Third-year UC Berkeley School of Law’s Ahmed Lavalais is a remarkable law student who came to law school specifically to do public interest work, and he’s been a tenacious advocate for juvenile defendants and the poor.

For the past two years, Lavalais has been a key player in the law school’s Policy Advocacy Clinic (PAC), leading student teams working to end regressive and discriminatory fees in the juvenile justice system. In one of PAC’s most gratifying success stories, Lavalais and his fellow students persuaded California’s Alameda County to repeal its juvenile justice fees — the first in the state to do so. The New York Times editorial board referenced the clinic study and cited Alameda County in its call for an end to such fees nationwide.

Based on the clinic’s work, three counties have now imposed a moratorium, relieving more than 10,000 families of millions of dollars in juvenile debt.

The work of Lavalais and his team of clinic students had tremendous impact because of the depth and breadth of their research. They surveyed all 58 chief probation officers in California and found that 48 of the state’s 52 responding counties charge families for detaining their children in juvenile hall, 37 for providing a public defender, and 28 for electronic ankle monitoring. Some counties also charge families for probation supervision, drug testing and investigation fees.

The team analyzed state statutes, submitted Public Records Act requests, and interviewed key stakeholders, including affected families. In Alameda County alone, they discovered that fees for an average youth in the juvenile system jumped more than 10-fold since 2009. Due to collection-related costs, however, the county saw no meaningful budget gain from this increase.
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