Melissa Lee

Melissa Lee

Assistant Director, Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality

 Sullivan Hall 314

 206-398-4394

Email Melissa

AREAS OF EXPERTISE

  • Appellate Litigation
  • Civil Litigation
  • Civil Rights
  • Law and Inequality
  • Law and Social Science
  • State Constitutional Litigation

EDUCATION

  • B.A., International Studies and Spanish, minor in Economics, summa cum laude, June 2000
  • J.D., New York University School of Law, May 2004

Biography

Melissa Lee is an Assistant Director and Staff Attorney with the Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality at Seattle University School of Law where she co-teaches in the Civil Rights Clinic and litigates civil rights and race equity issues before state and federal courts. Her work, through both direct representation and amicus curiae advocacy, addresses issues of structural inequality, racism, and explicit and implicit bias in the legal system. Prior to joining the Korematsu Center, she worked for 12 years in civil legal services, most recently as the Directing Attorney for the Institutions Project at Columbia Legal Services from 2011-2016. In her work, she has focused on high impact litigation, research, and policy work related to race equity, the health and safety of people in institutions and foster care, sentencing reform, reentry, and fair treatment in employment for agricultural workers. She has experience litigating in federal and state courts, at both the trial and appellate court levels.

Publications

Selected Cases, Amicus Briefs & Other Advocacy

Racial Justice

  • Task Force on Race and Washington's Criminal Justice System 2.0, (Convened by the deans of Washington's three law schools, Task Force 2.0 seeks to contribute to the racial justice movement, which calls national attention to the devaluation of Black lives by police but which also calls broader attention to systemic discrimination in the criminal legal system. Serve as a member of the Oversight Working Group overseeing and coordinating the work of the Task Force; member of the Research Working Group through which I oversaw a team researching and drafting an appendix to the report focused on race disproportionality and disparities in Washington's prisons; co-chair of the Recommendations Working Group, helping to coordinate and facilitate process for developing recommendations based on data and findings in the report of the Research Working Group and drafting final recommendations report; co- planned Presentations of the Task Force 2.0 to the Washington State Supreme Court on September 29, 2021 and July 13, 2022, including developing and coordinating panels and speakers).
  • Brief of Amici Curiae Pioneer Human Services, Tenants Union of Washington, Fred T. Korematsu Center For Law And Equality, and ACLU of Washington In Support of Appellee, Yim, et al. v. City of Seattle (Ninth Circuit Ct. of App., No. 21-35567) (with Robert Chang) (supporting the City of Seattle on appeal from summary judgment order upholding an ordinance restricting the ability of landlords to conduct criminal background checks on prospective tenants, by detailing the impact of the ordinance on community members, providing the historical context of housing discrimination against communities of color, along with the disproportionality of people of color with a criminal record, and arguing that this combination of factors necessitates government action to proactively address disparate effects).
  • Brief of LLS Anti-Racism Center, et al. in Support of Respondent, K.L. v. R.H, (CA Ct. of App., 4th App. Dist., Div. 3, No. G059109) (with Robert Chang and co-counsel James Thuerwachter) (filed brief on behalf of group of Race Centers located at law schools across the country supporting respondent's challenge of domestic violence protection order entered against her, where she is a survivor of significant intimate partner violence, by providing information and context to the court regarding the negative bias, stereotyping, and discrimination that Black women experience when seeking protection from violence in the courts).
  • Brief of Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioner, State of Washington v. D.L. and State of Washington v. M.S. (Wash. Supreme Ct., Nos. 96143-3 and 96894-2) (with Lorraine Bannai and Robert Chang) (supporting youth challenging lack of due process protections where a manifest injustice sentence is sought in juvenile offender matters by providing context to the Court related to the racist history of the juvenile legal system, the jurisprudential shift toward greater due process protections in juvenile court matters as those proceedings have shifted toward punishment and away from rehabilitation, and the discriminatory impact of the exercise of discretion on children of color).
  • Brief of Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioner, State of Washington v. John Jackson, Sr. (Wash. Supreme Ct., No. 97681-3) (with Robert Chang and Civil Rights Clinic students) (supporting respondent's challenge the lack of a hearing prior to being shackled in court during pretrial proceedings before the judge by presenting empirical research related to judicial bias, including the operation of unconscious bias on judicial decision-making).
  • Brief of Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioner, State of Washington v. Kevin Boot (Wash. Ct. of Appeals, No. 35408-3-III) (with Jessica Levin and Nicholas Doherty) (arguing that sentencing courts, when sentencing a juvenile prosecuted in adult court, must acknowledge and incorporate race-based trauma as part of the cumulative trauma that Miller v. Alabama recognizes as diminishing the culpability of young offenders).
  • Report to King County Council regarding Restructuring of King County Civil Rights Commission (with Robert Chang) (conducted research commissioned by members of the King County Council regarding national best practices related to local government civil and human rights commissions, the possibilities for broadening the reach of the County's Civil Rights Commission, and how to enhance protections for county residents; drafted report documenting research and recommendations; presented findings at a meeting of the King County Council).
  • Brief of Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality as Amicus Curiae in Support of Plaintiff- Appellee and for Affirmance, Fair Housing Center of Washington v. Breier-Scheetz Properties, LLC et al. (Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 17-35898) (with Robert Chang and Jessica Levin) (supporting FHCW's request to affirm trial court's determination that defendant-landlord's occupancy restrictions had a disparate impact on families and thus constituted housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, by providing historical context demonstrating that occupancy restrictions have and continue to have a disproportionate impact on families of color, and asking the court to affirm the award of punitive damages, arguing that their deterrent effect is as important in disparate impact cases as it is in cases of intentional discrimination).
  • Brief of Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality as Amicus Curiae in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Preliminary Injunction, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project v. Sessions (U.S. Dist. Ct. for the W.D. of Wash., No. 2:17-cv-00716-RAJ) (with Robert Chang and counsel at Dorsey & Whitney, LLP) (supporting the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project's request for a preliminary injunction preventing the United States Department of Justice from enforcing the terms of a cease and desist order in which the DOJ instructed NWIRP and other legal aid providers that they could no longer provide limited legal services to immigrants by examining the historical context of this and other cases where those in power have attempted to silence marginalized communities through attacks on their advocates).
  • Brief of Amici Curiae Fred T. Korematsu Center For Law And Equality and ACLU of Washington In Opposition To Plaintiffs' Motion For Summary Judgment and in Support of Defendant's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment, Yim, et al. v. City of Seattle (U.S. Dist. Ct. for the W.D. of Wash., No. 2:18-cv-736-JCC) (with Robert Chang) (supporting the City of Seattle's motion for summary judgment to uphold an ordinance restricting the ability of landlords to conduct criminal background checks on prospective tenants, by providing the historical context of housing discrimination against communities of color, along with the disproportionality of people of color with a criminal record, and arguing that this combination of factors necessitates government action to proactively address disparate effects).

Juvenile Sentencing

  • State of Washington v. Miguel Gaitan, (Yakima Cty. Superior Ct., No. 93-1-01018-0) (co-counsel with Paul Holland) (representing individual sentenced to serve a sentence of life without the possibility of parole for a crime committed at the age of 14 in a resentencing hearing pursuant to the Miller-fix statute and new case law finding that children are inherently less culpable than adults and are therefore less deserving of the harshest punishments).
  • Brief of Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioner, State of Washington v. Timothy Haag (Wash. Supreme Ct., No. 97766-6) (with Robert Chang and Jessica Levin) (argued on behalf of amicus curiae) (advancing state constitutional argument that courts must set sentences at or near the statutory minimum of 25 years where a child convicted of aggravated murder is found to be less culpable and not irreparably corrupt and advocating for the recognition of Mr. Haag's sentence as a de facto life sentence where he would not have the opportunity to seek release until he had served at least 46 years for a crime committed when at age 17).
  • Brief of Fred T. Korematsu Center for Law and Equality as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioner, State of Washington v. Jeremiah James Gilbert (Wash. Supreme Ct., No. 95814-9) (with Jessica Levin, Robert Chang, and Lorraine Bannai) (advancing state constitutional argument that court must interpret sentencing statutes to guarantee a juvenile offender a meaningful opportunity for release, consistent with Washington's categorical bar of juvenile life without parole and its recognition that Miller v. Alabama applies to both de facto and actual juvenile life without parole sentences).
  • In re the Personal Restraint Petition of Raymond Mayfield Williams, Jr. (Wash. Ct. of Appeals & Wash. Supreme Ct., 100222-0) (with Jessica Levin and Robert Chang) (representing individual who was sentenced to life without parole under the three strikes law, where one of the offenses was committed as a juvenile, in post-conviction proceedings arguing that the use of a juvenile strike to support the state's harshest punishment is a violation of the Washington constitution, due to the intrinsic nature of youth that undercuts the penological justifications for imposing harsh punishment).
  • In re the Personal Restraint Petition of Light-Roth (Wash. Supreme Ct., No. 94950-6) (with Robert Chang and co-counsel Jeffrey Ellis) (represented Mr. Light-Roth, who was convicted of murder when he was 19, arguing that the Washington Supreme Court should hold that its decision in State v. O'Dell, where the court held that courts may consider whether the mitigating qualities youth diminishes the culpability of young offenders (i.e., over the age of 18 but still young), applies retroactively).
  • State v. Scott (Wash. Supreme Ct., No. 94020-7) (with Robert Chang and co-counsel Jeffrey Ellis) (represented Mr. Scott and argued that a future opportunity for parole cannot substitute for a juvenile defendant's constitutional right to have his or her characteristics of youth fully considered at sentencing, in light of Miller v. Alabama and Montgomery v. Louisiana).

Other Civil Rights

  • Village of Kotlik, et al. v. Frontline Hospital, et al. (Superior Court for the State of Alaska at Anchorage, No. 3AN-17-06569 CI) (with Robert Chang and co-counsel with Alaska Legal Services Corporation) (representing individuals and an Alaskan Native Village in a lawsuit against Frontline Hospital and The Office of Children's Services of the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services, seeking to enjoin the administration of psychotropic medications to Native Alaskan foster children in non-crisis situations, and alleging that the practice of subjecting children to this type of medication violates the Alaska Constitution's guarantees of liberty and privacy, and violates statutes that allow individuals to withhold or give consent to psychotropic medications).
  • Farris, et al., v. Franklin Co., et al., (U.S. Dist. Ct. for the E.D. of Wash., No. 4:14-cv-05083-SAB) (represented class of prisoners in an Eastern Washington county jail in a case seeking injunctive relief under the Eighth Amendment to address unconstitutional conditions and practices in the jail, including improper use of restraints and chemical spray, 23 hours per day cell confinement, and insufficient medical and mental health care).
  • Ramirez-Martinez, et al. v. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, et al. (U.S. Dist. Ct. for the W.D. of Wash., No. 3:14-cv-05273-RJB) (with co-counsel at the ACLU of Washington) (represented immigrant detainees seeking declaratory and injunctive relief prohibiting ICE from retaliating against detainees by subjecting them to solitary confinement for engaging in protected expressive activity and seeking a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) for the detainees' immediate release from solitary confinement).
  • Teamsters Local Union No. 117 v. Washington State Department of Corrections (U.S. Dist. Ct. for the W.D. of Wash., No. 3:11-cv-05760-BHS; Ninth Circuit Ct. of App., No. 13-35331) (with co-counsel at the Public Interest Law Group) (represented class of Intervenor-Defendants who were class members in the Jane Doe v. Clarke lawsuit, to support the Department of Correction's designation of certain positions in its women's prisons as women-only bona fide occupational qualifications, and resulting in a favorable opinion from the Ninth Circuit).
  • Jane Doe, et al. v. Clarke, et al. (Thurston Cty. Superior Ct., No. 07-2-01513-0) (with co-counsel at the Public Interest Law Group) (represented class of current and former women prisoners in the custody or supervision of the Washington State Department of Corrections in case seeking injunctive and declaratory relief to address widespread sexual abuse and misconduct by prison employees toward class members, resulting in sweeping changes to increase the safety of women in Washington's prisons).