Bishop Office Highlights

By Mike Godbe, CILS Bishop Office Directing Attorney

The Bishop office of California Indian Legal Services (CILS) has been busy.

For over 35 years, CILS’ Bishop office has been the home of the Eastern Sierra Legal Assistance Program (ESLAP) and the Inyo Mono Senior Legal Program (IMSLP), where we assist seniors (60 +) and low-income individuals with legal matters unrelated to federal Indian law (eviction defense, public benefits, simple wills, durable powers of attorney and advance healthcare directives, etc.). With grant-funded support from the City of Bishop, CILS commissioned the design of new logos and manufacturing of a new sign for the office promoting these two programs .

The new logos were designed by award-winning creative services leader, Ashraf Ali, in consultation with CILS. Ashraf’s commitment to the display of equality, empowerment and inclusion is evident in his work. We’re thrilled with the result and hope that with a sign visible from Bishop’s Main St., that more local residents will find our legal services!

The new sign arrived just in time for an expansion of the office’s eviction defense and homelessness prevention (HP) work. In December 2021 the California State Bar awarded CILS with a competitive HP III grant with two primary components.

First, we will be opening remote computer workstations up and down the far reaches of Alpine, Mono, and Inyo counties to make our legal services more accessible to these rural and underserved populations. Housing insecure tenants will be able to schedule an appointment or come to set office hours and video chat with an attorney who can assist them in scanning their lease or an eviction notice. The farthest workstations will be located in Bear Valley and Tecopa – each approximately 4 hours away from our Bishop office.

The second primary component of this exciting new project will also involve remote workstations in three Urban Indian Health Organizations located in Sacramento, Oakland, and Los Angeles. CILS will provide limited legal services to housing insecure urban Native Americans in the clinics where they already receive medical care and related services. CILS will then make an elevated referral directly to a managing attorney at local qualified legal service provider partner who can take the reins and take over representation.

CILS’ Bishop office has also recently welcomed a number of new staff members.
Laura Janoff, Advocate, begin working in October. Laura is a paralegal and notary, and longtime resident of the eastern Sierras. When she’s not working for CILS she volunteers with Disabled Sports Eastern Sierra and plays an active role with local alcohol recovery organizations supporting individuals in recovery.

Rachel Leiterman joined the office in February as a part-time Housing Staff Attorney to support the HP III grant projects. She was in private practice for two decades before moving to the Bishop area 10 years ago, and she serves as the volunteer coordinator for Mule Days and volunteers with the Forest Service in her spare time.

Emma Williams joined the office in March as an Administrative Assistant. Emma is a member of the Bishop Paiute Tribe and brings over a decade of experience working for her Tribe and tribal organizations. Before joining CILS, Emma directed the Bishop Paiute Tribe’s Elder’s program.

Welcome Laura, Rachel, and Emma!

The Bishop office is also searching for a Full Time Housing Staff Attorney to oversee the exciting HP III projects mentioned above. See the details and learn how to apply by reviewing the employment section of our website!

New CILS Project: Assisting Native Vets in Upgrading Military Discharge Status

By Jay Petersen, CILS Sacramento Office Senior Staff Attorney

CILS Sacramento is launching a new project, The Military Discharge Upgrade Project (MDUP), to help Native veterans with less than honorable military discharge histories improve their discharge classification.  Successful discharge upgrades usually qualify veterans for most or all the benefits otherwise unavailable to them. The MDUP will allow qualifying vets to restore access to medical coverage, pensions, home loans, and educational opportunities.

MDUP is an outgrowth of CILS’ expungement project, Native American Record Clearing (NARC), initiated in the northern Sacramento Valley that now assists Native people statewide clear their conviction records. Both projects offer tremendous benefits to qualifying Natives especially by expanding opportunities for employment and easing successful re-integration into their communities.

Native people have played an important role in the United States military having one of the highest representations of all races in the armed forces. California is home to more than 52,600 Native veterans, more than any other state. Women represent twelve percent of this total number. (Native women serve at a 33% higher rate than women of any other race).

Service, honor, and sacrifice are key elements in Native culture. Less than honorable discharges can stigmatize Native veterans and make their re-entry into their communities even more difficult. About 10% of veterans separate from the military with less than an honorable discharge. While we do not have access to statistics confirming the number of Native veterans with less-than-honorable discharges, we estimate that the percentage of discharges among Native veterans likely exceeds this 10% rate.

When veterans separate from military service (i.e., is discharged), they are assigned a discharge rating based on their work performance. The discharge rating affects veterans’ access to life-long medical care, disability compensation benefits, educational benefits, home loans, and pensions. Discharge ratings can also affect veteran post-service employment prospects. Much like criminal convictions, less than honorable discharges can be used to arbitrarily screen out applications for otherwise qualified job applicants.

Veterans with less than honorable discharges are seven times more likely to be homeless. Substance abuse disorders are diagnosed in nearly half of less than honorably discharged Native veterans. This percentage is almost double the rate found among all discharged veterans.

The Discharge Process 

When a veteran believes a discharge rating does not fairly reflect their service performance, the veteran can seek a discharge upgrade.  There can be time limits within which upgrades must be requested.  But veterans should not assume that because many years have passed since their separation from the military that they cannot upgrade their discharge rating.

A veteran can seek a discharge upgrade in two ways:

  • Most commonly, veterans can upgrade their discharge status through the Discharge Review Board (DRB) that is part of their military service branch. Veterans must apply to the DRB for a discharge upgrade within fifteen years of their service. Upgrade applications can be based on legal and factual errors that occurred during the discharge process and policy changes that apply retroactively. Applications can also be based on equitable grounds that show the discharge was inconsistent with disciplinary standards at the time or that the same discharge decision would not be reached today under current policies and procedures. Veterans with a court-martial history are ineligible for a discharge upgrade through a DRB.
  • Veterans with a court-martial history can apply for a discharge upgrade through their service branch’s Board for Correction of Military Records (BCMR). This upgrade process is similar to a clemency petition. A BCMR can also decide some cases beyond the fifteen-year time limit governing the DRB.

 CILS Services in the Military Discharge Upgrade Project

The upgrade process can take anywhere from several months to two years to complete.  Unfavorable upgrade decisions can be challenged in federal court. Under this Project, CILS attorneys and outreach staff will help Native veterans navigate all aspects of the upgrade process by evaluating the merits of a discharge upgrade effort, helping to select an upgrade path, providing self-help guidance materials, and, where appropriate, by providing direct representation through the upgrade process. To qualify for our free legal services Project, the veterans must be low income but can earn up to 200% of the federal poverty guidelines.

MDUP is a statewide project that will combine outreach efforts with those of our newly funded and expanded criminal record clearing project. We will also target homeless and women’s shelters, veterans’ outreach projects, health centers, residential treatment programs, and re-entry programs throughout the state. CILS has secured pro bono commitments from the San Francisco and Palo Alto offices of a major private law firm to assist with direct veteran representation. We also hope to secure additional funding for a full-time attorney through a law school social venture project fund.

For additional information about the MDUP and the expanded NARC project, please contact Jay Petersen in the CILS Sacramento Office at 916-978-0960 and 800-829-0284.

TRIBAL ALERT – Supreme Court to Determine the Constitutionality of the ICWA

This morning the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments in Brackeen v. Haaland, the federal court case challenging the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).  The case comes to Court from a decision by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals that found the ICWA was constitutional except for certain provisions of the Act such as the requirements for “active efforts” and a “qualified expert witness.” The Fifth Circuit also found that the Act’s placement preference for Indian children with “other Indian families’ was also unconstitutional.  These provisions are at the heart and core of the ICWA.

The case will be heard later this fall, which will allow tribes to mobilize their response in support of the constitutionality of the ICWA.  CILS and other tribal ICWA advocacy groups will be calling on all California Tribes and tribal organizations to support and sign on to an amicus brief (“friend of the court brief”) that will be submitted by the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).

CILS will continue to update tribes on the briefing timeline and other developments.  If you have questions concerning the case or want to learn more please contact Dorothy Alther at or 760-746-8941.

Thank you and we look forward to your support.