Housing, Employment, Family & Disability Clinic Students Help Free Client from Abusive Marriage

Hannah Chapel (’16) and Adrienne Langlois (’17) successfully fought for a divorce settlement and helped to recertify the housing lease for their client.

Hannah Chapel and Adrienne Langlois
Hannah Chapel (’16) and Adrienne Langlois (’17).

Through the Housing, Employment, Family & Disability Clinic (HEFD), Boston University School of Law students Hannah Chapel (’16) and Adrienne Langlois (’17) were able to help their client, “Sity,” finalize divorce papers from an abusive marriage and create a safe living environment for her and her son.

A clinic in BU Law’s Civil Litigation Clinical Program, HEFD gives law students like Langlois and Chapel the opportunity to work with underprivileged clients in need of legal representation. Under the supervision of Clinical Associate Professor of Law Naomi Mann, Langlois and Chapel act as lawyers in their case, making all the legal decisions with Mann’s input and suggestions.

Sity, an immigrant from Ethiopia, came to the clinic seeking legal help regarding her abusive marriage in order to ensure safety for her and her son from her then-husband.

“There are so many people like Sity out there and the resources are dwindling,” says Mann. “There are just too many cases and not enough lawyers and the student attorneys are really filling an important gap in the provision of legal services to people who are disadvantaged.”

Throughout the course of a year and a half, Chapel and Langlois worked with Sity and her interpreter Ruth Worrede to finalize the divorce settlement and move Sity’s husband and his relatives out of her home.

The divorce settlement gave Sity sole legal custody of her child with monitored visitation rights from the ex-husband. The settlement also contained a restraining order, forcing the abusive husband to move out of Sity’s home.

“We basically wrote up a settlement and presented it to opposing counsel the day of the last hearing and spent all day at the courthouse,” explains Chapel. “At the end of the day, it was amazing. I was sitting there right next to her [Sity] while she was signing her name to finalize the divorce from this man who had really emotionally and physically abused her for over a decade.”

Upon the divorce settlement, two relatives of Sity’s ex-husband were still on the lease for Sity’s public housing. The adult relatives, according to Langlois, constantly threatened to hurt Sity and her son, at one point even threatening to poison her food.

“They were making veiled threats. They weren’t taking care of the apartment. They were being noisy. They weren’t respecting Sity and her relationship with her son,” explains Langlois. “She was still living in fear and the abuse was basically continuing.”

Langlois worked with public housing authority officials and the property manager to recertify a new lease that would include only Sity and her son, arguing that the two relatives had previously violated the original lease by leaving public housing for an extended period of time without notification to officials. With the successful recertification of the lease, Langlois moved the two abusive relatives out and provided Sity and her son with new locks for their home.

“It was inspiring to see Hannah and Adrienne assume the role of the lawyer, and to achieve so much for the client. It really demonstrated the value and power of the clinical experience,” says Mann.

For many, like Sity, legal representation from the clinic has helped to improve their lives.

“Sity’s personality and her approach to life completely changed in large part because of the legal assistance that she received. She went from being someone who was very hesitant to speak to someone who was willing to speak her mind,” says Langlois.

According to Sity’s interpreter, Ruth Worrede, the HEFD Clinic’s work gave Sity the opportunity to continue living a normal life.

“Before, she was suffering. She was giving up hope. She was crying everyday. She was so depressed. Now, she’s a different person,” says Worrede. “Now everything is in her hands. She goes to school, works, lives happily as any American should. They opened the door. They made sure she’s safe. There’s nothing she is scared of now.”

Langlois and Chapel both see their work with Sity’s case through the HEFD Clinic as the highlight of their year at BU Law. Langlois, currently a 2L law student, hopes to continue working to provide underprivileged people with legal representation upon graduation. Chapel will be working at Mintz Levin after graduating this year.

“There’s not always a happy ending to a case. But when those happy endings occur, because you’re able to leverage the law and because you’re able to build those relationships and craft a legal argument with a little bit of luck and timing coming together, it’s so powerful and it’s why you do this work,” says Langlois.

Reported by Greg Yang (CAS’17).