McGeorge School of Law

Legislation guided by McGeorge alumni to help police fight elder abuse

February 14, 2020

Stephanie Chavez ’19 (second from the left) and Spencer Saks ’19 (third from the right) worked for nearly a year to help guide the passage of the Senior and Disability Justice Act, which requires police departments to update policies and training related to elder abuse cases.

Stephanie Chavez ’19 (second from the left) and Spencer Saks ’19 (third from the right) worked for nearly a year to help guide the passage of the Senior and Disability Justice Act, which requires police departments to update policies and training related to elder abuse cases.

University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law alumni Stephanie Chavez ’19 and Spencer Saks ’19 know firsthand what it takes to fix state law by working in the halls of the state Capitol in Sacramento.

Chavez and Saks worked in McGeorge’s Legislative and Public Policy Clinic and, with help of the Elder and Health Law Clinic, state Sen. Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) and advocacy groups, pushed for passage of Senate Bill 338, the Senior and Disability Justice Act. The legislation, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom in October, goes in effect in April and works to close the gap in law enforcement policies and training related to elder abuse.

“The thing that drew me to this issue was the terrifying thought of something terrible happening to my grandparent or my parent and the police being underequipped to handle it,” Saks said. “On average, 1,000 Californians become seniors every day. This is one of the largest demographic switches ever seen in California and, unfortunately, police training manuals are not up to snuff on how to best handle elder abuse issues.”

Chavez and Saks believe the combination of learning in McGeorge classrooms and working in the clinic allowed them to thrive and have a successful outcome.

“It was the culmination of the hard work and knowledge gained in McGeorge’s Capital Lawyering courses, where you get to apply what you learned in class to your work in the state Legislature,” Chavez said. “That is a rare opportunity. Part of the reason I went to law school was because the laws and systems we live within are created by us and I wanted to learn how to become a part of that.”

Saks agreed: “In law school we mostly focus on the interpretation of the law, but this clinic allowed me to take a deep dive into the creation of law and the complex process of legislative advocacy.”

Not all went smoothly along the way. Chavez and Saks faced a hurdle about halfway through their initial project designed to curb illegal green waste when the environmental group they were working with decided to go a different direction. Fortunately, they were added to the Hueso team in the early stages of SB 338.

“Spencer and I had several issues we considered, but we ultimately chose this option because of the passion of Greg DeGiere at The Arc California, the experience and knowledge of Sen. Hueso and his staff, because they had worked on elder law issues in San Diego. And because McGeorge has the Elder and Health Law Clinic,” Chavez said. “All these elements came together and helped us greatly along the way.”

Chavez and Saks worked with Hueso, the California Alliance for Retired Americans and The Arc California, an advocacy group promoting human rights for people with disabilities, for nearly a year to guide the bill through the state Legislature without a single “no” vote.

McGeorge courses and clinics help law students to gain hands-on experience in the legislative process and, ultimately, find a career after law school.

“This helped me understand the real world impact of what I learned in classes,” said Chavez, now the director of the Yolo County Law Library helping the public access legal resources. “The entire Capital Lawyering program and the skills gained in the clinic have allowed me to explain the legislative process and help other people get involved with their local and state governments, even as a student.”

The experience has tangible career implications.

“Prior to the clinic I’ve known that I wanted to go into a career of legislative advocacy,” Saks said. “I’m currently working at a law firm contracting as a special adviser to a lobbying firm and I am consulting with a grassroots organization working on securing citizenship for undocumented veterans. This experience in the clinic has allowed me to dive head first into issues and help tackle these complicated problems.”

Learn more about McGeorge’s legal clinics.