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    08.20.18 Disability and Civil Rights Clinic Awarded New Multi-Year Taft Foundation Grant
    Disability Roundtable

    Launched in 2014 with an initial grant from The Taft Foundation, the Law School’s Disability and Civil Rights Clinic, under the direction of Professor Natalie Chin, has been a leader in addressing the pressing legal needs of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families. In recognition of the clinic’s accomplishments and to continue supporting its important work, The Taft Foundation has awarded a new grant—increasing its total support of the program to $1.6 million—that will enable an expansion of the clinic’s programs over the next two years.

    The clinic functions as a pro bono law firm, with students representing low-income New Yorkers and their families in a variety of civil legal matters, including housing, public benefits, access to health care, special education, parental rights, alternatives to guardianship, asylum, and discrimination in access to programs and services.

    “This is wonderful news for our students and, more important, for the historically underserved population of New Yorkers and their families that the clinic assists,” said Professor Stacy Caplow, Associate Dean for Professional Legal Education. “The clinic provides students with unparalleled, real-world experience that develops their professional skills and aligns perfectly with the Foundation’s own mission to measurably and significantly improve the lives of people with serious medical conditions and intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities (IDD).”

    The Taft Foundation is honored to continue its support of Brooklyn Law School’s innovative approach to supporting individuals with IDD,” said Howard Rothman ’71, Chairman and President of The Taft Foundation. “The clinic provides critically important advocacy for individuals in need and practical experience for the law students—so it’s a real win-win partnership.”

    “Our clinical programs are among the most diverse, extensive, and comprehensive in the country,” said Stuart Subotnick ’68, chairman of the Brooklyn Law School Board of Trustees. “The generous support of The Taft Foundation will allow us to enhance the unique educational opportunities and important work of the Disability and Civil Rights Clinic and demonstrates why Brooklyn Law School remains at the forefront of legal education.”

    The clinic has achieved some significant victories for clients. Recently, Simone Lamont ’18, Mario Fitzgerald ’19, and David Kass ’19 represented an intellectually disabled Honduran immigrant in his application for asylum. Through lengthy meetings with the client and his aunt, phone calls to multiple witnesses in Honduras, and extensive research, the team pieced together the facts of the persecution the client suffered in his native country because of his disability and assembled his asylum application and supporting documents. In another case, Chad Schwach ’18 served as guardian ad litem for a young woman with an intellectual disability in an adult guardianship case. As the result of his vigorous representation of his client, the young woman’s mother, who petitioned for guardianship, withdrew her request in favor of pursuing supportive decision-making for her daughter.

    The New York Law Journal highlighted a case in which the clinic helped a 29-year-old man with Down Syndrome maintain his rights to marry and start a family. A Brooklyn Surrogate Court judge denied a guardianship petition sought by family members of the man, ruling that their objection to him marrying was an insufficient basis for appointing them guardians. In response to the family’s request for an Article 17-A guardianship, which would have placed the man under the guardianship of his immediate family members, the judge appointed a guardian ad litem from the Disability and Civil Rights Clinic, which provided an 18-page report based on interviews with the man, his family, co-workers, and friends.

    The clinic also serves as a resource to the community. For example, last spring Sara Lepis ’19 delivered a presentation on guardianship and alternatives to guardianship for teachers, parents, and students with disabilities at PS 373, the Brooklyn Transition Center. The clinic plans to continue its collaboration with the school through presentations, pop-up advice clinics, and other outreach.

    In addition, the clinic undertakes policy initiatives, provides advice, and disseminates information to individuals and institutions about the legal environment that service providers must navigate. Its annual roundtable breakfast brings together lawyers, social workers and service providers, disability rights advocates, parents and other stakeholders in a discussion of recent legal developments and other issues that relate to the diversity of work being done to advance the disability rights movement for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

    Read more about the Disability and Civil Rights Clinic