Mentoring the Lawyers of Tomorrow
If you have ever called Home School Legal Defense Association’s legal department, chances are you talked to a legal assistant. These assistants are a key component of HSLDA’s service to its members and they form a hardworking, dedicated team to assist the staff attorneys. They answer calls and emails, draft memos and letters, and track homeschool legislation, making it possible for the organization to provide legal help to literally thousands of homeschooling families each year.
In exchange, the assistants gain invaluable experience in the law. For many, working under the supervision of HSLDA’s attorneys serves as a training ground for future careers.
HSLDA carefully recruits law students who have a unique blend of commitment to the concept of homeschooling and commitment to the law. Not only are they eager to learn about the day-to-day operation of a law office, but most were homeschooled themselves, and therefore understand the issues affecting homeschooling families. Working at HSLDA enables these students to learn about the legal profession in a positive environment where the senior attorneys serve as role models and mentors, using the law to better people’s lives.
Here is a look at several former legal assistants, each of whom attended Oak Brook College of Law, a distance-learning law school based in Fresno, California.
Peter Fear came to HSLDA in 1997 and worked for then-Litigation Attorney David Gordon for two years. Among other responsibilities, Peter drafted legal reviews of proposed local curfew ordinances. One of the more challenging was the Monrovia daytime curfew—Peter recalls staying up all night to finish a legal brief for the case. Because he was thoroughly familiar with the three file boxes of legal documents dealing with the situation, he had the opportunity to travel with Mike Farris to Los Angeles for the Monrovia hearing. “It was neat to see how a top-flight lawyer thinks through and prepares for a big case,” Peter says.
After completing his law degree and passing the bar exam, Peter moved to California and worked for a sole practitioner for about four years. About a year ago, Peter launched his own practice, focusing primarily on estate planning and bankruptcy. He and his wife Debra have two children, Hannah and Daniel, with another on the way.
KEVIN & AMY (WILLIAMS) KOONS
Kevin Koons arrived at HSLDA in 1998, first as an assistant to Christopher Klicka and later to Litigation Attorney Jim Mason. One of Kevin’s projects was working on HSLDA’s federal legislation enabling homeschooled graduates to enlist in the military with the same privileges as public school graduates. After drafting the language, Kevin helped get the bill introduced and passed by Congress.
HSLDA attorneys have a reputation as tough litigators and passionate advocates for homeschool families, but Kevin saw another side of the legal department. One of his favorite examples of the “other side” was a trip in which he accompanied Chris Klicka to a conference in West Palm Beach, Florida. Noticing dozens of lizards crawling around outside their hotel, Klicka captured several and carefully tucked them into a ventilated Ziploc bag, along with a meal of grass clippings, to carry home to his kids.
In addition to drafting legislation and chasing reptiles, working for HSLDA provided Kevin with an unexpected benefit when he met and married Amy Williams, another legal assistant just a few offices down the hall.
During her time at HSLDA (2000–2002), Amy worked for both Scott Woodruff and Chris Klicka. With Woodruff, Amy developed mini-seminars on the Virginia homeschool law and presented them to private umbrella groups. Because HSLDA is located in Virginia, Amy was able to meet many local members face-to-face when they stopped by the office to pick up forms or ask questions.
Looking back, Amy appreciates the perspective she gained from HSLDA on the importance of parental rights. “In modern society parental rights are often ignored, undermined, and even openly disdained. Without HSLDA defending the rights of parents to simply parent their own kids, we would quickly see their fundamental rights taken away.”
After completing law school, the Koons left HSLDA in December 2002 to study for the California bar examination. Kevin then went to work for a Sacramento firm that specializes in land use litigation and private property rights, and Amy served as a lobbyist for a pro-family public policy organization in Sacramento. Today, Amy continues her work on a part-time basis from home, researching and writing while caring for their daughter, Meredith, who was born in July 2005. “Yes, we plan to homeschool her,” says Kevin.
After interning with HSLDA in 1996, Will Humble returned from 1999 to 2001 as a litigation assistant for David Gordon and then Jim Mason.
One of the cases Will worked on was DeSantis v. Mullvain, in which an HSLDA family sued social workers for violating their 4th Amendment rights. “It was a big deal to me, talking to the family on the phone and then seeing how the paperwork brought their case 'alive’ in court,” says Will. “I happened to be studying civil procedure and constitutional law at the time, so the work fit perfectly.”
Will also handled nonmember emergency calls. One day a man called asking if it would be legal to bury his grandmother in the back yard. “Now that was an unexpected question!” laughs Will.
Moving on from HSLDA, Will took the bar exam and moved to Costa Rica to study Spanish for several months. Shortly after returning to the U.S., he began working in Texas as an immigration attorney. He married Christian Luce in November 2004, and in June 2005 they moved to New York City, where he continues to work as an immigration attorney. “NYC is like living on another planet,” Will quips. “There are aliens everywhere!”
Will credits the attorneys at HSLDA with inspiring him to become a lawyer. “They were passionate about their legal work as Christian fathers and husbands, and committed to excellence as protectors and advocates.”
In early 2000, Nathan Richmond was deeply involved in Oregon state politics. His interest in HSLDA had grown the previous year, when as a legislative assistant to a state representative he spent many hours shepherding a homeschool-related bill through the legislature. He decided to apply for a position with HSLDA and landed a job as legal assistant to Senior Counsel Dewitt (Dee) Black from 2000 to 2002. During Nathan’s tenure, he helped develop tools to assist homeschool graduates in gaining recognition of their high school achievements for acceptance into college.
Nathan completed law school soon after leaving HSLDA and started working for the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. He continues to serve the committee as professional staff counsel, and lives with his wife Audra in Alexandria, Virginia.
Starting out as Darren Jones’ legal assistant in 2001, Mike Reitz soon became Chris Klicka’s primary assistant. Mike recalls helping Klicka to pass reforms protecting the 4th Amendment rights of homeschool families falsely accused of child abuse. “In October 2001, Chris and I attended a congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., where Chris testified on behalf of homeschoolers,” Mike says. “This was just after the terrorism attacks of September 11, and we had to go through rigorous security screenings to get into the hearing. On our way out of D.C. the anthrax scare broke out, and Chris and I barely got out of town before everything shut down.”
Another favorite memory involved a central theme of HSLDA’s legal department: preparing future leaders for the legal community. After Mike graduated from law school and passed the bar, he asked Klicka to administer the oath of attorney. A small group of HSLDA attorneys and legal assistants gathered around to witness the swearing-in ceremony.
In 2004, Mike went on to work for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a public policy group located in Olympia, Washington, where he serves as a project director and legal counsel. He and his wife, Rachelle, have a 2-year-old son, Ben.
Nathan Mehrens worked for HSLDA from 2000 to 2002 as an assistant to attorney Scott Woodruff. While he handled a variety of daily tasks, one major project Nathan remembers was fighting a restrictive homeschool law in West Virginia.
He explains, “West Virginia had a law requiring anyone who wanted to homeschool a child through high school to first complete a four-year college degree. I spent a great deal of time working with Scott Woodruff and the state leaders in West Virginia to get the law changed, and shortly after I left HSLDA, the governor signed a new law doing away with this onerous rule.”
After leaving HSLDA, Nathan worked for a campaign finance watchdog organization in northern Virginia. He was recently appointed to a position in the Bush administration. His experience at HSLDA gave him an excellent foundation for working with regulatory matters, a major part of his current position. Nathan and his wife, Sarah, live near Washington, D.C.
Jonathan Bechtle worked for attorney Dee Black from 2001 to 2004, and then was senior legal assistant for another year under Chris Klicka.
Jonathan enjoyed putting together new procedures and systems to make the legal department work more efficiently. While working for Klicka, Jonathan took care of many day-to-day administrative tasks and helped coordinate with the other departments at HSLDA. His favorite part was training new legal assistants. “It was fun to introduce them to the team, and integrate them into the work environment.”
One of Jonathan’s favorite memories is a phone call he received from a homeschool mom. After he answered her question, she told Jonathan, “My children and I pray for you each morning by name.”
“I’ll never forget that call,” says Jonathan. “It brought home the importance of the work we were doing, and how our efforts were impacting lives for good.”
Jonathan, who recently passed the bar, works for the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Olympia, Washington, where he is the project director on election reform issues. He and his fiancée, Melissa, are engaged to be married in the spring of 2006.
Starting out as an assistant to Senior Counsel Dee Black in 1996, Darren Jones passed the bar exam in early 2000 and went on to become one of HSLDA’s staff attorneys. In 2002, he moved to the litigation section of the legal department, under the direction of Jim Mason. Much of his time has been focused on Pennsylvania, where HSLDA is challenging the burdensome homeschool law as a violation of religious freedom.
In looking back at his years with HSLDA, Darren says, “HSLDA is the most awesome place to work in the world. I especially appreciate the twice-weekly prayer meetings, which are led by the president. It’s obvious that they’re important to the leadership here, not just a casual add-on.”
Darren met his wife Sarah at HSLDA, and they now live with their two children, Adelaide and Stuart, in Stephens City, Virginia.
Another legal assistant who continued on at HSLDA as a lawyer, Thomas Jefferson (“Tj”) Schmidt came to work at HSLDA in April 2002, just after taking the California bar exam. He was Dee Black’s legal assistant for nearly two years, then became a staff attorney.
Now responsible for the legal and legislative work in seven states, Thomas enjoys helping families resolve threats against their homeschool program from school officials and social workers. One recent project he was proud to be a part of was drafting a legal memo enabling homeschool graduates to be accepted by New York state colleges.
He and his wife Susan were married in September 2003. They have one son, Josiah, and a daughter, Suzanna.
LAWYERS OF TOMORROW
HSLDA’s commitment to the defense of homeschooling is clearly evident, but the association’s attorneys also advance the cause by investing in their assistants. These young men and women have the privilege of serving ethical, professional attorneys who take an active interest in their future careers. Lawyers learn by example—whether good or bad—and HSLDA is molding the lawyers of tomorrow.