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March 3, 2009

Parisa Fatehi, ’07, awarded Equal Justice Works Fellowship to practice public-interest law

Photo of Parisa Fatehi

Parisa Fatehi, ’07

Parisa Fatehi, ’07, has won an Equal Justice Works Fellowship. Fatehi will use the two-year fellowship, awarded by the nonprofit public-service legal organization and sponsored by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in collaboration with Hewlett-Packard, to work at Public Advocates Inc., a San Francisco-based nonprofit law firm and advocacy group that works on behalf of low-income communities, people of color, and immigrants in the areas of education, housing, and transit equity. Her fellowship project will focus on ensuring that the needs of low-income Bay Area residents are included in plans to implement new climate-change statutes that mandate decreased carbon emissions and higher density land use development.

California’s AB 32, which was signed into law by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, sets a number of environmental goals, but without any special provisions for the needs of low-income communities. Fatehi said she hopes to use coalition building, state policy advocacy, and local administrative and legal action to “harness the momentum for climate change reform in California in conjunction with affordable housing laws to secure workforce housing near quality jobs and public transit.” Fatehi said the AB 32 statutes “present a distinct opportunity to promote housing equity.” But she also warned of the danger that low-income voices could be excluded from their implementation and that environmental reform could be accomplished at their expense. “With my project, I have the opportunity to improve what is perhaps the most fundamental part of every low-income Californian’s life: the roof over their heads,” Fatehi said.

Her work with the University of Texas School of Law’s Transnational Worker Rights, Immigration, and Texas Civil Rights Project clinics was instrumental in encouraging her to carry out the sort of work her fellowship will entail, Fatehi said: “Working with the Transnational Worker Rights Clinic was transformational. The principle on which that clinic is based is empowering workers. That’s something I’ve internalized. And working with clients in the Immigration Clinic, they’re people you never forget, who have endured situations I hope I never see again. To represent them left a great impression on me. You learn so much when you’re given that responsibility. My supervisors at the Texas Civil Rights Project gave me a great deal of responsibility, such as the opportunity to work on a long-standing free speech case where I drafted our clients' response to a Motion for Summary Judgment and then presented our arguments in court. I also performed a couple of direct examinations of witnesses during trial. The courtroom experiences I had during my TCRP internship were highlights of law school and taught me that I wanted to do litigation in the future.” Since graduation, Fatehi has clerked for U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa D. Gilmore in the Southern District of Texas.

Fatehi, who was student body president at UT as an undergraduate and earned a Master of Public Affairs from UT’s Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs along with her J.D. from the Law School, said her inspiration to focus on affordable housing can be traced to her very earliest experience with the University of Texas. “My family came from Iran to the U.S. in 1978 for my father’s education at UT,” Fatehi said. “Because of housing assistance, we lived in a central area of Austin that would have otherwise been unaffordable, near good schools, near my parents’ jobs, and surrounded by diverse families. Just as the University invested in my family’s life by providing subsidized housing, a city invests in the entire community by providing affordable housing. The broad political consensus emerging in California on the issue of climate change, and the resulting policy landscape bridges party lines and brings together traditionally adverse interests such as builders and environmentalists. This momentum presents an opportunity to help families like mine meet their critical housing needs and foster the kind of diverse, interdependent housing community I was able to live in when I first moved to the U.S. I can’t wait to get started.”

Fatehi’s fellowship begins in September and is sponsored by Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in collaboration with Hewlett-Packard. The Equal Justice Works (formerly NAPIL) Fellowships Program offers salary and loan repayment assistance, a national training and leadership development program, and other forms of support during the term of the Fellowship.

Related Links:

Public Advocates

Equal Justice Works

Kirston Fortune, UT Law Communications, (512) 471-7330, or