Affiliated with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Board of Directors

Roosevelt Hairston, Jr., Chair

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia


Eric J. Rothschild, Vice Chair

Pepper Hamilton LLP


Melissa A. Wojtylak, Treasurer

Reed Smith LLP


Scott Bennett Freemann, Secretary

Freemann Law Offices


Danielle Banks

Stradley Ronon Stevens & Young LLP


Richard L. Bazelon

Bazelon Less & Feldman


Anna M. Bryan

White and Williams LLP


Nicholas E. Chimicles

Chimicles & Tikellis


William H. Ewing


Joseph B.G. Fay

Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP


Brian T. Feeney

Greenberg Traurig LLP


H. Robert Fiebach

Cozen O'Connor


Howard R. Flaxman

Fox Rothschild LLP


Ellen S. Friedell

Reaching Agreement ADR LLC


George G. Gordon

Dechert LLP


Stacy L. Hawkins

Diversity Consultant

Rutgers School of Law - Camden


Marilyn Heffley

Sunoco, Inc.


Donald K. Joseph

Rutgers School of Law - Camden


Aliza R. Karetnick

Duane Morris LLP


Joseph W. "Chip" Marshall, III

Stevens & Lee


Marciene S. Mattleman

After School Activities Partnership

KYW Newsradio


Sharon F. McKee

Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin


H. Laddie Montague, Jr.

Berger & Montague PC


Carlos S. Montoya



Derek Redcross, CPA

Redcross Associates


Paul H. Saint-Antoine

Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP


David Smith

Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP


Marc A. Topaz

Barroway Topaz Kessler Meltzer & Check, LLP


Shelly D. Yanoff

Public Citizens for Children & Youth




DaQuana L. Carter

Barristers' Association of Philadelphia 


Carolyn M. Chopko, Chair

Young Lawyers' Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association


Rachel Gallegos

Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania


Rudolph Garcia, Chancellor

Philadelphia Bar Association


Ellen T. Greenlee

Defender Association of Philadelphia


John Savoth, Chancellor-Elect
Philadelphia Bar Association


Djung Tran

Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania


Kathleen D. Wilkinson, Vice Chancellor

Philadelphia Bar Association


Letter from the Executive Director

It was 50 years ago, in the Circuit Court in Bay County Florida, that  a 51-year old indigent wanderer, Clarence Earl Gideon, stood in court, accused of petty larceny.  He told the court that he was not ready for trial: "Why aren't you ready?" asked the Court.  "I have no counsel," answered Gideon. "The United States Supreme Court says I am entitled to be represented by counsel."  Of course, Gideon was wrong about the law at the time, and, being forced to answer the charges alone because he could not afford a lawyer, he was convicted.  Gideon's demand for a lawyer led to the famous Supreme Court case, Gideon v. Wainright, establishing the right to a lawyer in criminal cases.


Today, it is hard to imagine that people were once forced to face a judge, jury and possible prison without a lawyer, but in fact there are still hundreds of thousands of people who do stand alone in court when they face serious consequences -- in civil cases: a parent faced with the loss of custody of her child, seniors faced with the loss of their apartments, families who are threatened with foreclosure and the loss of their houses.  The vast inequality of these settings is as unfair as Gideon's first trial, and it is for this reason that since the day of Gideon's victory, we have talked about "Civil Gideon" -- that is, the right to counsel for indigent people facing civil cases involving basic rights.


I'm happy to say that lawyers in Pennsylvania are part of the national debate with both the Pennsylvania Bar Association and the Philadelphia Bar Association having convened task forces to address the scope, cost and strategies for securing such a right.  I was honored to have recently been appointed by Philadelphia Bar Association Chancellor Rudolph Garcia to join that task force and help guide the strategy in Pennsylvania.


Here at the Law Center, we work on broad strategies that directly and indirectly address the fact that people cannot afford lawyers for matters involving their most basic needs. We offer training and low-cost or free consultations for families with children with disabilities so that they will understand their rights; we train other lawyers who are in contact with the families -- one of those trainings is described below -- and we are training pro bono lawyers at Dechert LLP and law students at the Earle Mack School of Law at Drexel to represent those families.  In Lebanon, Pa., families were altogether receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in civil fines and even jail time when their children were truant; without counsel they did not know that the fines exceeded the lawful limit and were contrary to state policy.  As described below, when Michael Churchill and the NAACP of Greater Philadelphia started to ask questions, some of the fines were reduced or eliminated while others were kept, apparently without any rationale.  The families, represented by the Law Center and Pepper Hamilton's Tom Schmidt, have now filed a federal lawsuit to recover the fines already paid and eliminate the rest.


Our work to bring lawyers to tackle the great human needs of our region can only continue with the great tide of financial support generated by you, our supporters.  This is collective and ongoing  work.  Thank you for joining us!  



Very truly yours,

jenny sig
Jennifer R. Clarke
Executive Director
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In This Issue:
Challenging Abusive Truancy Policy
"Blunt" Makes Headline Across the Country
Law Center on Facebook!
Law & Education Training Sessions
Case Affirms Parents' Rights Under IDEA
Settlement in Chicago Case to Integrate Adults with Disabilities
Register Now for Brownfields Conference 2011!
Report on Philly Zero Tolerance Policies Released
EJ Clinic Partners Task Force on Pathological Gambling
Help the Law Center win $5000!
Upcoming Events

Law Center Files Lawsuit Challenging Illegal and Ineffective 

Lebanon client

Law Center Client Monique Copeland

Truancy Policy in Lebanon, Pa.

On January 20th, the Law Center and the Pennsylvania NAACP announced the filing of a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against the Lebanon School District that requests that the District be compelled to stop collecting and repay 500 truancy fines assessed illegally in an abusive and counterproductive truancy policy. 

Read more about the case.

Read the Law Center's report on the District's policy.


The lawsuit and press conference have received wide coverage:

PA School Distrit Sued Over Truancy Fines [with Video] - AP via Fox 43, January 20
Suit targets Lebanon School District's fines for truancy - Patriot-News, January 19
Truancy: Lebanon district puts money ahead of students - Patriot-News, January 20
Announcement that Blunt Will Enter Trial Pool Makes National News

The announcement that Blunt et al v. Lower Merion School District will return to trial later this year caught the attention of media both locally and around the country. Blunt alleges that LMSD has discriminated against black students by disproportionately and inappropriately referring them to special ed and low-level classes. (Read more about the case.)


Press Coverage:

Trial set for suit on African American achievement in Lower Merion

Philadelphia Inquirer, January 4

Long-Running Special Education Lawsuit in Pa. Gets Trial Date

Education Week, January 5

Pennsylvania Parents Sue Lower Merion School District For Wrongly Classifying Children As Special Needs Students

Huffington Post, January 4


Also in LMSD: Decision in Student's Case Bolsters Families' Ability To Obtain Hearings On Special Education
The Law Center continues to represent individual students in the Lower Merion School District to secure the quality educations promised them by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The Law Center's efforts have been bolstered by a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in the case of Marcia Lyons and Heloise Baker vs. LMSD, in which Judge Legrome D. Davis decided that Sean Lyons, a Law Center client, was guaranteed a due process hearing to address his family's request for an Independent Educational Evaluation. Read more...

Law Center Launches New Facebook Fan Page!

In January, the Law Center officially launched its Facebook Fan Page! At the site you'll find updates on our cases, as well as upcoming events, press coverage, and different ways you can stay involved with the Law Center. 


Take a look and "Like" the Law Center! And while you're there, feel free to invite any friends or family you think might be interested in our work to see what we've been up to and to follow new developments in our important projects.

Law Center Attorney Sonja Kerr Shares Her Expertise
Sonja Teaching

Sonja Kerr teaching a group of parents, advocates, attorneys, and others

On January 21st, Law Center attorney Sonja Kerr spoke at the Continuing Legal Education session, Back to School: Education Issues in Juvenile Court Part II, sponsored by the Family Court of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Bar Association. Kerr covered the Federal and State laws pertaining to special education, the process for the Individualized Education Program, and special education discipline.

Kerr also leads a series of training seminars called Hot Topics in Special Education, the next of which will be held on Tuesday, February 22nd, and will cover Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities: Identification and Services. Register now! Click here for more details, and please email cle-training@pilcop.org with questions or scholarship requests.
NJ Special Ed Decision Affirms Parents' Rights Under IDEA
In November, Judge Joseph E. Irinas of the U.S. District Court for New Jersey decided in favor of a student and her family in the case D.B. and L.B. v. Gloucester Township School District, in which a student's parents filed a complaint against the District for refusing to allow them to participate substantively in the planning of their daughter's educational program. Read more...

Read the full decision here. 

Settlement in Chicago Case Gives Adults with Disabilities Option of Community Living, Requires Provision of Necessary Services
A settlement agreement in Ligas v. Maram was filed on January 11th in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois that will greatly expand community living options for people with disabilities. The agreement will allow people with disabilities currently living in Intermediate Care Facilities to move out into community living arrangements with necessary supports provided to them. Read more...
Brownfields brochure cover
Law Center Endorses Brownfields Conference
The Law Center has signed on as an endorser of the National Brownfields 2011 Conference, which will be held from April 3-5 at the Philadelphia Convention Center. The conference will focus on environmental revitalization and economic redevelopment, and will include panel and roundtable discussions, debates, and film screenings, as well as opportunities to network with others involved in environmental issues and to see revitalization efforts taking place in Philadelphia firsthand. 

Registration is free, but ends on March 18th. Sign up now! 
Report Shows Students With Disabilities Disproportionately Affected By Rigid Disciplinary PoliciesZero Tolerance Report Cover
On January 13th, Youth United for Change and the Advancement Project in consultation with the Education Law Center released a report on zero tolerance policies in the School District of Philadelphia. The report, Zero Tolerance in Philadelphia: Denying Educational Opportunities and Creating a Pathway to Prison, found that zero tolerance policies had profoundly negative effects and led to increased expulsions and suspensions - especially for minority students and students with disabilities.
Law Center's Environmental Justice Clinic Partners with Pathological Gambling Task ForceAdam in Chinatown
Building on his collaboration with the Chinatown Preservation Alliance (CPA) to keep a Foxwoods casinos away from Chinatown, Adam Cutler, Director of the Law Center's Public Health and Environmental Justice Clinic (EJ Clinic), is working on the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health's Pathological and Problem Gambling Task Force.  


The EJ Clinic partnered with the CPA Health Committee, which is comprised of local medical professionals and researchers and members of Philadelphia's Asian American community, to study issues concerning the public health impacts of pathological and problem gambling on Philadelphia's Asian communities. On the Task Force, Adam and other members of the CPA Health Committee are extending their earlier research and advocacy with performing community outreach that aims to protect at-risk populations from compulsive gambling.   
Dean Williams

Meet our Volunteers!

The Law Center's day-to-day operations rely in large part on the hard work of its wonderful volunteers. A big thank you to our volunteers and interns for their contributions to the Law Center's success! Our current volunteers are Jim Kostman, Dean Williams, Lynne Herbst, Bunmi Bayode, Lenore Bushlin, Becca Devine, Candace Lerario, and Karen Wheeler.  We're grateful to all of our volunteers for spending their free time to help our clients! 


This month we're featuring Dean Williams, who is pictured hard at work at our front desk. Thank you for all your help!

Review the Law Center to Help Us Win $5000!
If you've had positive experiences in your relationship with the Law Center, whether as a client, a volunteer, a donor, or otherwise, you can help the Law Center continue our important work. Guidestar, a nonprofit information and research company, and KIMBIA, a fundraising empowerment company, will give away $5000 to the nonprofit that gets the most reviews on its Guidestar profile during the month of February. 
Please take a minute to visit our profile on Guidestar and help us spread the word about the important work we do!

Join Us at These Upcoming Events:

Dyslexia and Other Learning Disabilities: Identification and Services
When: Tuesday, February 22nd, 12-4 p.m.
Where: United Way Building, 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia PA
Cost: $100; $200 for attorneys; scholarships and multiple-course discounts are available

This seminar is designed for individuals with varying knowledge of Dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities. General topics to be covered include: 1) How does the IDEA define dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities? 2) Identification requirements under the IDEA; 3) What does the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendment of 2009 mean for children with Dyslexia and other specific learning disabilities? 4) Services for children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.


Screening of Pennhurst Documentary

When: Monday, April 11, 2011

Where: 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia PA

This film, directed by Amy Laura Cahn, who will be a Skadden Fellow at the Law Center in the Fall, documents the stories of many people whose lives are irrevocably intertwined with the history of the Pennhurst state School and Hospital, located outside of Philadelphia. Once a massive intitutional home for the developmentally disabled, Pennhurst exemplified the divisive method of institutionalized care that rose to popularity early in the 20th Century as a result of the Eugenics Movement. Though the facility closed in 1987, its haunting past is a reminder of a place and time that gave birth to a civil rights movement all its own. 

RSVP to info@pccy.org or call 215-563-5848 x 11

The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia is dedicated to advancing the Constitutional promise of equal citizenship to all persons irrespective of race, ethnicity, national origin, disability, gender or poverty. We use public education, continuing education of our clients and client organizations, research, negotiation and, when necessary, the courts to achieve systemic reforms that advance the central goals of self-advocacy, social justice and equal protection of the law for all members of society. www.pilcop.org

The Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia is a registered charitable organization. A copy of the official registration may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll free within Pennsylvania 1.800.732.0999. Registration does not imply endorsement.