Through the International Justice Clinic at Fordham University School of Law, students such as 3L Rene Hertzog are getting the chance to help some of these political detainees. The clinic is currently defending four men detained at the Cuban-based naval base.
"Our primary goal is to get our clients a meaningful opportunity to challenge our government's allegations against them and/or to be transferred back to their home countries upon a finding that they do not pose a threat to the United States," Hertzog said. "As with almost all of the men detained at Guantanamo Bay, they have been deprived of this right, one of the most fundamental in our legal system."
According to Hertzog, the clinic's secondary goal is to change the view of America as a "violator" of human rights to a view of the nation as "an advocate and leader."
"Right now, the conditions of confinement at Guantanamo Bay are rapidly worsening as more and more men are housed in extraordinarily restrictive isolation for no clear reason; they are not accused of acting out, and some of them have been cleared for release. The isolation of these housing units is so intense that some detainees' mental and physical health is deteriorating rapidly," Hertzog said.
In addition to being involved with the International Justice Clinic, Hertzog is an active member of the Student Hurricane Network (SHN), an organization of law students formed in response to Hurricane Katrina. Hertzog and other law students spent their spring break last week doing relief work. This was Hertzog's third trip to New Orleans with the SHN.
"Last March, I was working on voting rights prior to the city's mayoral election," Hertzog said. "In January, I was involved in criminal-defense work, and [last week], I [was] working with the Gert Town Revival Initiative, a project aiming to create a database of parcels of land in the Gert Town community."
As well as engaging in humanitarian work, Hertzog is an editor for the Fordham Urban Law Journal, which is dedicated to legal issues affecting or related to urban areas.
In the future, Hertzog would like to work in the public-service arena, most likely in criminal law. Upon graduating in May, she will begin working at a mid-sized firm in Manhattan doing some general litigation work.
"I do not yet know what I will specialize in at the firm [since] the first year we do a little bit of everything. But one of the firm's specialty areas is insurance-recovery litigation," Hertzog said. "The firm—mostly branches outside of NYC—has been active in representing Gulf Coast policyholders in their claims in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I hope to get a broad range of experiences. I also hope to remain active in other areas of the law by engaging in pro bono work."
During the summer following her first year at law school, Hertzog interned at the New York State Office of the Attorney General in the Consumer Frauds and Protection Bureau, which investigates complaints about healthcare services and products manufacturing. She also interned at the New York City Department of Investigation in 2005. The second internship introduced Hertzog to criminal law, a field she has become very interested in pursuing.
"My internships, clinic work, and experiences with student groups have helped me identify how I would like to use my law degree," Hertzog said.
According to Hertzog, she has always had the idea that she might become a lawyer. She decided to go to law school for a new challenge after working full-time for seven years doing software quality assurance for a publishing company; she began working for the publishing company after completing two undergraduate degrees—in history and English—at the University of Vermont in 1997.
She said that one of the things that prompted her to study law "was a reaction to many of the policies of our current administration." While many people complain about policies and various aspects of law they do not agree with, few take proactive steps toward correcting those problems.
What do you do for fun?
I like to travel, run, bake, go to the ocean, participate in book clubs and theater.
What CD is in your CD player right now?
A mix a friend made for me for my birthday; Iron & Wine, The Creek Drank the Cradle; and Love, Forever Changes. (I have a three-disc changer.)
What is the last magazine you read?
Time Out. (NYC's guide to arts and entertainment.)
"I wanted to take affirmative steps and become more active in community issues, whether the community is on a local or more national level," Hertzog said. "For example, remembering the debacle of the 2000 election, during the 2004 election, my first year of law school, I traveled to Philadelphia and volunteered to be a poll watcher with a nonpartisan group of lawyers, law students, etc., called Election Protection. We provided general information to PA voters about their voting rights and helped guard against issues of disenfranchisement and intimidation."
Hertzog's favorite aspect of law is the vast amount of information there is to learn. Having completed almost three years of school, she feels that she has barely scratched the surface of all there is to know. She has also enjoyed the problem solving that comes with being a lawyer—the chance to use creative ideas in litigation strategy, advising clients, or helping to develop policy and legislation.
Hertzog encourages others to learn more about the situation at Guantanamo, as there are several pieces of legislation moving through Congress right now that will "restore the rights of those being held in U.S. detention sites" if passed.
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