THE PUBLIC INTEREST LAW CENTER OF PHILADELPHIA
Affiliated with the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Board of Directors
Eric J. Rothschild, Chair
Pepper Hamilton LLP
Brian T. Feeney, Vice Chair
Greenberg Traurig LLP
Melissa A. Wojtylak, Treasurer
Reed Smith LLP
Scott Bennett Freemann, Secretary
Freemann Law Offices
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
H. Robert Fiebach
Howard R. Flaxman
Fox Rothschild LLP
Ellen S. Friedell
Reaching Agreement ADR LLC
George G. Gordon
Stacy L. Hawkins
Rutgers School of Law - Camden
Donald K. Joseph
Rutgers School of Law - Camden
Joseph W. "Chip" Marshall, III
Stevens & Lee
Marciene S. Mattleman
After School Activities Partnership
Sharon F. McKee
Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin
H. Laddie Montague, Jr.
Berger & Montague PC
Carlos S. Montoya
Derek Redcross, CPA
Paul H. Saint-Antoine
Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP
Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP
Marc A. Topaz
Barroway Topaz Kessler Meltzer & Check, LLP
Shelly D. Yanoff
Public Citizens for Children & Youth
Chair, Young Lawyers' Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association
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
Asian Pacific American Bar Association of Pennsylvania
Kathleen D. Wilkinson, Vice Chancellor
Philadelphia Bar Association
Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin
Reed Smith LLP
Dean JoAnne Epps
Temple University Beasley School of Law
Richard Z. Freemann
Freemann Law Offices
Honorable James T. Giles
Pepper Hamilton LLP
Clifford E. Haines
Haines & Associates
Ernest E. Jones
Philadelphia Workforce Development Corporation
Michael L. Lehr
Greenberg Traurig LLP
Honorable Timothy K. Lewis
Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, LLP
Arthur E. Newbold, IV
Albert P. Parker, II
Helen P. Pudlin
Michael H. Reed
Pepper Hamilton LLP
Sister Mary Scullian
Annie E. Casey Foundation
Charles F. Thomson
|Letter from the Executive Director
Two weeks ago, the Honorable Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals (New York State's highest court), stood before some thousand members of the Philadelphia Bar Association, who had gathered for our quarterly meeting in the ballroom at the Bellevue Hotel in Philadelphia.
Judge Lippman started slowly, with individual stories of people who go to court without lawyers and lose their children or their homes; the individual stories cascaded into thousands and tens of thousands as New York's rate of poverty mounts. As we listened, he transformed the numbers into tragedy.
"Each day in our courthouses we see the fallout from the economic downturn reflected in dockets surging with new foreclosure, eviction, family offense, consumer debt and criminal cases. This flood of cases carries with it the futures of millions of New Yorkers - many of limited means, including families, children and the most vulnerable members of our society - all seeking justice and often fighting for life's most basic needs, people who have nowhere else to turn to but the courts to protect their fundamental rights. They come in record numbers at the very time that courts and judges are stretched thinnest, when New York's economy and business climate are at their weakest. And it is our constitutional obligation - ours alone - to hear and resolve every single one of these matters with fairness, speed and wisdom."
Judge Lippman went on to make his basic point: the piecemeal efforts to supply counsel, tried in New York and elsewhere, are simply not working. "I came to the conclusion," he carried us along, "that providing counsel to our citizens is as much a state function as education and environmental protection. This is a fundamental obligation that should be built into our state budget, just like any other core function."
This was bold thinking and moving talk, but Judge Lippman has not stopped with thinking and talking. Exercising his leadership as the highest judicial officer of one of the country's largest and most prestigious court systems, he took his message around New York State, holding hearings, gathering support, and building momentum. He proposed a $100 million addition to the state budget to fund private counsel and, although he did not get the full amount, he persuaded New York's legislature to increase that funding in a budget otherwise subject to deep cuts.
I recount Judge Lippman's remarkable journey, not just because of its immensely important subject, but also because of the inspiration it offers: as voters, we can demand of our federal and state legislatures and (in Pennsylvania) elected court officials, that they protect and nourish our most vulnerable fellow citizens. As community and business leaders, we can create and lead our own initiatives.
And as vital members of the Law Center's community, we take our own steps to redress society's large inequalities: from testimony by Adam Cutler favoring long-overdue regulation of dangerous mercury emissions from power plants (that the EPA has now adopted); to a class action lawsuit designed to improve the education of some 3000 children with autism in the School District of Philadelphia, to studies bolstering the core claim of our lawsuit in Florida: that children enrolled in Medicaid do not have access to doctors and dentists. Our strength is derived directly from you, our financial and volunteer supporters. Thank you!
Very truly yours,
Jennifer R. Clarke
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New Class Action Complaint: Blanket Refusal to Hire Based on Criminal Conviction Unlawfully Disciminates Against Minorities
On June 1st, the Law Center and co-counsel Shanon J. Carson and Sarah Schalman-Bergen from Berger & Montague, P.C. filed a class action complaint with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Integrity Staffing Solutions
challenging their blanket policies of refusing to hire workers with a prior criminal conviction for jobs in Amazon.com fulfillment warehouses.
The named plaintiff and proposed class representative, Mr. Albert Dunn, was turned down from a job on the basis of a nearly thirty-year-old conviction, despite having maintained an immaculate record and developing an impressive resume and work record in the years after completing his sentence and probationary period.
Criminal background policies like those challenged here have a disparate negative impact on minority populations because minorities are convicted of crimes at disproportionate rates. The complaint alleges that this disparate impact violates state and federal antidiscrimination laws.Read Mr. Dunn's story.Read the complaint.
For more information, read the PHRC's Policy Guidance Concerning The Disparate Impact Discrimination Implications of a Denial of Employment Based on a Criminal Record
| Lawsuit Filed Challenging Philadelphia School District's Autism Transfer Policy|
On Monday, June 20th, 2011, the Law Center and co-counsel Dechert, LLP, filed a class action on behalf of families whose children with autism attend city schools. In P.V. v. The School District of Philadelphia, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the parents of four children -- MM, PV, JV, and RS -- allege that the District has an illegal "Automatic Autism Transfer Policy" that requires some 3,000-4,000 children with autism to be illegally moved from school to school because of their autism.
PV and MM prevailed in a previous case about this transfer policy on the administrative level, and this federal lawsuit aims to fix the problem on a systemic level.
Read more about the case.
Read coverage of the case from the Inquirer and other news outlets.
Law Center Client Prevails in Due Process HearingAccording to a decision in administrative hearing released on May 25th, the District also violated the law in its planning of extended school year (ESY) services for JV, one of the four named plaintiffs in the above-mentioned case. The decision notes that although JV's parents raised concerns about JV's ESY program as early as November of 2010, the District had still not responded to those concerns when they sent a plan for JV's ESY program to the parents in April of 2011. Even then, the notification stated only that JV would be in "autistic support" without further detail.
Read more. Read the decision here.
Transforming A Trash-Strewn Lot Into A Community Garden
On June 23rd, Law Center attorney Adam Cutler and interns Ashley Hopkins and Alison DiCiurcio joined about 15 residents of Hunting Park to begin the process of cleaning up a vacant lot and turning it into a community garden.
The lot, located at 3rd and Wingohocking Streets, was overgrown with weeds and had been used as a dump site. The cleanup crew cut through the dense thicket of weeds and dug through the dirt to remove the litter and debris that had accumulated, finding scrap metal, broken glass bottles, an antifreeze bottle, an oil can, and a large number of car parts. When the day's efforts were over, the crew had filled more than 40 trash bags with litter, debris and weeds.
Law Center staffer Dave Hanyok was on hand to take pictures, which you can see in a slideshow on our website. Follow us on Facebook to see the next steps in the lot's transformation into a community garden! This project is supported by a $25,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Read more and see more pictures of the clean-up!
|Registration Open Now for New, Year-Long Special Education Law Training Program! |
Following up on last year's series of special education law training sessions, the Law Center is pleased to announce that we will be holding another series for the 2011-2012 school year, entitled Know Your Child's Rights! A Year-Long Training Program in Special Education Law, intended for parents, teachers, attorneys, advocates, and others involved in the effort to provide a high-quality education to students with disabilities.
Registration is now open! In the interest of providing these sessions to as many people who would benefit from them as possible, you now have the option to pay whatever price you feel comfortable paying in addition to our set prices. We encourage you to register for multi-session package deals, or you can register for the courses on an individual basis. Contact the Law Center's training coordinator for more information!
The first session, Back to School, will be held on Tuesday, August 30th, and will provide an overarching discussion of the current state of special education law. The rest of the series will cover such topics as bullying, Section 504, discipline, assistive technology, and much more.
See the year's full schedule.
| Adam Cutler Testifies Before EPA in Support of Mercury and Air Toxics Rule|
On Tuesday, May 24th, Law Center attorney and EJ Director Adam Cutler
testified before the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) in support of the proposed Mercury and Air Toxics Rule
, which would for the first time impose national limits on emissions of mercury, arsenic, lead, acid gases, and hazardous air pollutants from coal- and oil-burning power plants.
As Cutler pointed out (quoting Robert Bullard, a Professor at Clark Atlanta University and an influential figure in the EJ movement), "Coal-fired power plants are not randomly distributed across the American landscape," but in fact disproportionately affect African-American and low-income populations, such as Law Center client communities in Chester and Eddystone.
"Once the Rule is finalized," Cutler testified, "these dirty facilities can no longer profit on the backs -- and hearts, and lungs, and developing brains -- of our most vulnerable populations."Read more about Adam's testimony.Read Cutler's full statement.
Law Center Lawyers Plunge into Debate over Philadelphia Schools
On Wednesday, May 18th, Law Center attorney Michael Churchill addressed the School Reform Commission (SRC) in response to a report issued by the Accountability Review Council (ARC), urging them to sharpen their analysis of the Renaissance School initiative over the coming year. Because the Renaissance Schools serve almost entirely minority populations, fixing them will be an essential part of closing the achievement gap, Churchill argued, and understanding which District programs are working and which aren't is essential for an effective allocation of funds. (Read more about Churchill's comments.)
Sonja Kerr, Director of the Law Center's Disability Rights Project, testified against the School District of Philadelphia's proposed cuts from the special education budget at the SRC's next meeting, on May 31st. As Kerr noted, special education services are governed by Individualized Educational Programs (IEPs), and services cannot legally be changed without notifying parents and giving them an opportunity to object through administrative proceedings. With that in mind, Kerr called for a detailed review of how the District will avoid widespread violations. At the request of SRC member Joseph Dworetzky, the District promised to prepare a response to Kerr's concerns, which the Law Center is still awaiting. (Read more about Sonja's testimony.)
Though mismanagement of the District's limited funds needs to be addressed, Churchill notes in a recently written commentary, the root of the problem is inadequate State funding. Churchill praises Mayor Nutter for demanding oversight of the District, but argues that better management alone will not solve the District's problems: the State must decide that it wants Philadelphia public schools to succeed and then fund them adequately.
Read Churchill's commentary.
|Phila. Foundation Awards Law Center $30,000 to Revamp Website
The Law Center has received a grant of $30,000
from the William J. McCahan, 3rd Fund in Memory of Thomas C. McCahan and Florence M. McCahan
through The Philadelphia Foundation
to fund the creation of a new website
. The new site will be built by Maskar Design, a Philadelphia-based design firm that has worked with the Philadelphia Zoning Code Commission, PennFuture, the Reinvestment Fund, and a wide variety of other organizations.
If you want to help us with this project, please feel free to send suggestions about the new website to Taylor Goodman, our Development Director. Tell us: How do you use our current website? How can we make our website more appealing or more useful? What information do you want from our website, and what added functionality would you like to see?
|Analysis Finds School Voucher Bill Violates Pa. Constitution|
According to an analysis conducted by a coalition of public education advocates, including Law Center attorney Michael Churchill
, the creation of a taxpayer-funded voucher system as proposed in Senate Bill 1, also known as the Opportunity Scholarship and Educational Improvement Tax Credit Act, would violate the Pennsylvania Constitution.
The analysis explains that S.B. 1 violates multiple provisions of the Pennsylvania Constitution, and the Law Center and all the authors of the report call on Pennsylvania's General Assembly to heed the Pennsylvania Constitution and reject S.B. 1.Read more.Read the analysis.
|Medicaid Access a Nationwide Problem, and Enforcement May Become More Difficult|
A study released recently has documented conclusively what health care advocates have known for years: that children on
enrolled in Medicaid are often turned away or made to wait unreasonable amounts of time for health care. (Read more in the New York Times.
) This problem of health care access, created primarily by inadequate funding, is exactly what is at issue in the Law Center's Florida Medicaid case, which aims to secure timely, quality care for nearly 2 million Florida children
Further, following a ruling in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocking a steep cut in the rates California pays Medicaid providers, the Supreme Court will soon hear California's case that private parties such as Medicaid providers and beneficiaries should not be able under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution to bring lawsuits to enforce healthcare-access provisions of the law. A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine
provides a comprehensive and accessible overview of the situation and the consequences a decision in California's favor could have: Read more.
| New Officer & New Member Named to Board of Directors|
At a meeting of the Law Center's Board of Directors held on Thursday, May 26th, Board member Brian T. Feeney
was unanimously elected to serve as the Board's new Vice Chair. Brian, a shareholder in the Litigation Department of Greenberg Traurig
's Philadelphia office, was initially elected to the Board in June of 2007, and he has made great contributions to the Law Center leading the Board's Fundraising Committee. (Read more about Brian.
has also joined the Board as an ex officio member representing the Young Lawyers' Division of the Philadelphia Bar Association
. Aneesh is an associate with Volpe and Koenig, PC
, where he specializes in intellectual property. He is also active in the South Asian Bar Association of Philadelphia and other professional organizations. (Read more about Aneesh.
From all of us at the Law Center, we would like to extend a warm welcome to Aneesh and to thank both Brian and Aneesh for their commitment to furthering the Law Center's mission!
Meet our Interns!
The Law Center's day-to-day operations rely on the hard work of its wonderful volunteers and interns. Since the beginning of June, the Law Center has been lucky to have a new batch of talented and dedicated interns for the summer, who have already proved to be an invaluable help.
Pictured (from left to right) are Kaitlyn Maxwell, a law student at Boston University; Alison DiCiurcio, a rising senior at Harvard; Ashley Hopkins, a Master's student in the Yale School of Public Health; Aaron Sommers, a law student at Temple; Logan Welde, also a law student at Temple; and Susanna Hamilton, a rising senior at Princeton.
A big thank you to our interns for their immense contributions to the Law Center's mission, from all of us at the Law Center!
Join Us for These Upcoming Events!
The Law Center's Fourth Annual Symposium on Equality
"Overstudied and Underserved: Uses of the Law to Promote Healthy, Sustainable Urban Communities"
When: Thurday October 6th, 2011, 8:30 a.m. - 4:45 p.m.
Where: The Arch Street Meeting House, 4th and Arch Streets
Cost: $80 General admission; $40 for students and public interest
Join the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia for its fourth annual Symposium on Equality, this year an in-depth look at legal and advocacy tools for protecting minority and low-income communities disproportionately affected by negative environmental impacts, both by stemming further pollution and by crafting a positive vision of their environmental and economic revitalization.
...Followed by the Thaddeus Stevens Award Dinner
When: 5:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
Where: The Down Town Club, 6th & Chestnut Streets
Cost: $125 General admission; $75 for students and public interest
The Thaddeus Stevens Award is given out each year to individuals who have made substantial contributions to equality and justice in the area examined in that year's Symposium.
Back to School: What You Need to Know About Your Child's Education
When: Tuesday, August 30th, 12:00-4:00pm
Where: The United Way Building, 1709 Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA
Cost: Pay what you can! (Suggested prices: $100 for general admission, $200 for attorneys. OR register for multiple courses at once and get a discount. Full scholarships are available for all those who need them.)
This opening session of the Law Center's new year-long series of training seminars on special education law, this course is designed for parents, attorneys, teachers, advocates and will provide an overall update of the state of special education law as we head into a new school year, and a dialogue/discussion about the most pressing matters.
Register for Back to School now!
Or register for multiple courses at a discounted rate!
|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.
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.