Center for Civil Rights Newsletter

Center for Civil Rights Newsletter: Tuesday, May 25, 2010

About the Newsletter

The Center for Civil Rights newsletter is a publication about our work to further civil rights in North Carolina and throughout the South. In addition, the newsletter contains information regarding employment and pro bono opportunities, civil rights conferences and events at Carolina Law and beyond, and notable civil rights news and developments. If you are not currently receiving this newsletter and would like to subscribe, please email Sarah Krishnaraj at civilrights@unc.edu.

A Message from the Directors

In addition to our direct advocacy, the Center strives to ensure that future generations of attorneys are equipped to continue the ongoing campaign to secure fair and equal opportunities for minority and low-income people. The Center recognizes that, while classroom instruction equips law students with an understanding of legal concepts and theory, fellowships, internships and pro bono opportunities provide the vital, hands-on experience needed to develop the skills to successfully practice civil rights law.

The Center's summer legal internships provide this critical experience to students and enhances our capacity to undertake this critical work. Summer interns work directly with Center clients and attorneys to develop a first-hand understanding of civil rights law. This summer we are proud to be working with eight summer interns representing UNC, Duke, North Carolina Central and New York University law schools.

Claudia Ahwireng is a third year student at Duke Law School. She worked with the Colorado Progressive Coalition as an economic justice organizer, and also volunteers with Legal Aid-Durham and the NC Justice Center.

Jane Atmatzidis is a second year student at UNC School of Law and was a member of AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps where she worked on Hurricane Katrina and Rita disaster relief efforts. Along with her law degree, Jane is pursuing a Master's of Social Work at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Tessa Benjamin is a second year law student at UNC School of Law. Before law school, she served as an Americorps member with City Year Miami, focusing on education in underserved communities.

Daniel Bowes is a third year Root-Tilden-Kern Public Interest Scholar at the New York University School of Law. At NYU, he has coordinated the Prisoners' Rights and Education Program and interned with the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Nigel Edwards is a third year law student at UNC School of Law. In 2009 Nigel joined the UNC Center for Civil Rights as a research assistant for the Long Civil Rights Movement Project.

Christie Trice is a third year student at UNC School of Law. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Christie was in the first graduating class of Carolina Covenant Scholars at UNC, and participated in several pro bono projects with the Center for Civil Rights this year.

Amanda Wright is a second year student at North Carolina Central Law School. She has interned in the Charlotte Public Defender's Office and in the Juvenile Justice Teen Court Program in Concord.

Casey Weissman-Vermeulen is a second year student at UNC School of Law and has worked as a litigation assistant at Appalachian Voices, an Asheville NC based environmental advocacy group. Casey is also pursuing a joint degree in City and Regional Planning.

The Docket

Center Hosts Roundtable Discussions with Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez - On February 1, 2010, the UNC Center for Civil Rights hosted U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Thomas Perez, and several members of his staff to discuss long-standing and emerging civil rights issues in North Carolina. The Center convened two roundtable discussions that brought together experts, grassroots activists, legislators and nonprofit leaders in the fields of education and community development to share their insights into social justice and civil rights issues affecting local communities and regions across the state. The afternoon produced a rich and informative dialogue between Asst. Attorney General Perez and participants, and established a more direct line of communication between advocates and a rejuvenated Civil Rights Division within the DOJ.

Center Participates in Lawsuit Against Wake County Board of Education - On May 6, 2010, the Center and other civil rights groups-including the ACLU of North Carolina, Southern Coalition for Social Justice, NC NAACP, and NC Justice Center-along with several private lawyers filed suit on behalf of a diverse group of Wake County citizens, alleging the Wake County School Board's actions at and around its March 23rd meeting violated the state's Open Meetings Law. This "good government" suit challenged a range of board actions, including a confusing and hastily adopted ticketing policy, that we alleged were intended to impede public access and participation in the meeting, and minimize public opposition to the Board's actions. The suit sought injunctive relief to eliminate these practices and asked the court to invalidate any action taken at the March 23rd meeting in violation of the Open Meetings Law.

The highlight of the March 23rd meeting was the Board's elimination of Wake County's nationally lauded socioeconomic diversity policy in favor of a so-called "neighborhood schools" plan. Despite the overwhelming public interest around this issue and the very large turnout anticipated, the Board made little effort to accommodate the large crowd that attempted to attend the meeting. Significant numbers of people were barred from attending based on limited space despite the fact that larger venues were available and news organizations had offered to pay the costs of changing locations.

Following an expedited hearing on May 14th, Superior Court Judge William Pittman ruled that the Board acted unreasonably in some respects, but found that changes in Board procedures (adopted as a result of the lawsuit and sustained community advocacy) adequately addressed those issues, are unlikely to be repeated, and dismissed the case.

Despite the ruling, the case was a critical boost to community organizing and advocacy efforts in support of integrated and diverse schools. The Center will monitor Board meetings to ensure that our clients' and the community's concerns about due process and Open Meetings are addressed.

Center Participates in Pro Bono Spring Break Wills Project - After a frigid winter which produced several snow storms across the state, many North Carolinians have been counting the days to the start of the Spring season. Instead of the traditional sun and sand, Mark Dorosin, the Center's senior managing attorney, had a different idea about how to celebrate the beginning of warmer temperatures - behind the wheel of the UNC law school van and alongside 20 UNC law students as they drafted wills and other advanced directives for low-income and elderly residents. The four day pro bono project marked the third project by the school and was the culmination of planning and collaboration among Legal Aid of North Carolina, the UNC School of Law Public Service Programs, the UNC School of Law Pro Bono program, and the Center for Civil Rights.

The students worked under the direct supervision of legal aid attorneys from the Greenville and New Bern offices, serving approximately 27 clients by drafting wills, powers of attorney and living wills as well as providing assistance to clients through Legal Aid's Low Income Taxpayer Clinic. Students gained invaluable hands-on experience as they conducted client intake and drafted and executed the requested documents.

Due to soaring interest in the Wills Project following the success of the inaugural spring and fall break trips in 2009, Legal Aid, UNC Law, and the Center decided to expand the program to include an additional site in western North Carolina. Ten students traveled to Boone, NC to replicate the legal clinics established in eastern North Carolina. These students experienced a busy week as they drafted 103 wills and advanced directives for 36 clients.

Read student impressions and view additional pictures.

Lauren Felter (2L; left) and Carla Hermida (1L; right) take a moment to pose with another satisfied client.

Center Assists Rogers-Eubanks Community in Efforts to Defeat Siting of Waste Transfer Station - The close of 2009 also brought to a close a two year battle to site a solid waste transfer station in the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood, an historic 150 year old African American community located in Orange County, NC. The Center for Civil Rights partnered with the Rogers-Eubanks Neighborhood Association (RENA) and the Coalition to End Environmental Racism (CEER) to ensure the days of dumping on this community would finally come to an end.

Wedged between the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, NC, the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood has long served as the solid waste dumping ground for Orange County and its neighboring municipalities. An unlined landfill was constructed in the community in 1972 and, despite promises made to the community at the time limiting the size and time for the landfill's use, the towns and county have continued to expand and intensify the site's landfill operations. This community has borne a substantial burden of the County's landfill and solid waste operations for nearly forty years including two municipal waste landfills, two construction and industrial landfills, a leachate pond, and a hazardous waste collection site, among other uses.

Aware that its current landfill would reach capacity in 2012, the Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) embarked on an exhaustive search in 2007 for a suitable location to site a waste transfer station. With the help of consultants and significant public input, the BOCC developed three sets of criteria by which to evaluate potential sites around the County. Rogers-Eubanks residents breathed a sigh of relief when they learned the potential site located in their community ("Paydarfar") failed to meet the basic exclusionary criteria and would not remain under consideration. However, almost two years after the site selection process had begun and ten months after a site which met all BOCC criteria had been identified and recommended for acquisition, residents learned the Paydarfar site was once again up for consideration.

The Center worked closely with RENA, CEER, Rogers-Eubanks residents and other community activists to successfully defeat the expansion of the solid waste operation in the neighborhood. During a December 7, 2009 BOCC meeting the Commissioners voted to postpone the construction of a new landfill or waste transfer station for three to five years until an appropriate site could be located. More importantly, the Board also voted to remove the Rogers-Eubanks neighborhood from further consideration from any future waste or landfill operations, acknowledging the racial and social inequity that has plagued this community for the past forty years.

RENA leader David Caldwell and CCR attorney Mark Dorosin stand in protest at the
Orange County Board of Commissioners meeting.

Center Files Brief in Beaufort County Schools Discipline Case - In December 2009, the Center filed an amicus brief with the North Carolina Supreme Court on behalf of a group of national education advocates and researchers in support of two Beaufort County high school students who were given long-term suspensions from school without access to an alternative education program. The students appealed to the Supreme Court in an effort to clarify the scope of the state constitutional right to a sound basic education.

The Center's brief provided social science evidence that Beaufort County Schools violated the students' right to a sound basic education through its use of exclusionary disciplinary practices. The students asked the Court to determine that the right to a sound basic public education includes the right to attend school as well. The Center and the other amici argued that the widespread use of exclusionary practices has resulted in significant infringement of the educational rights of students around the country, and in North Carolina in particular. North Carolina has the fourth highest school suspension rate in the country.

The case was argued on March 22, 2010. Center attorneys and several UNC law students attended the oral arguments. A decision is expected from the court this summer.

In the News

Center Comments on Wake County and School Resegregation

Center Comments on Racial Isolation in Charter Schools

Dicta

Center Attorney receives UNC School of Law Pro Bono Award - Senior Managing Attorney Mark Dorosin was chosen as the 2010 UNC Pro Bono Program Faculty Member of the Year. Announcing the award, Seema Kakad, Pro Bono Board Chair, cited Mark's work with the Wills Project (see above). "In addition to helping establish the Wills Project, Mark is involved with key aspects of the project - training students about cross-cultural lawyering, recruiting clients and supervising students' work. With his energy, passion and sense of humor, Mark serves as a mentor to students both in and out of the classroom. He inspires them to think critically about the problems and theories behind civil rights issues and encourages them to get involved with civil rights pro bono projects. According to his students, he is not only passionate about pro bono, but he considers it a calling to inspire a commitment to pro bono in others."

Pro Bono Opportunities

There are ongoing pro bono opportunities at the Center for law students. Projects vary in time commitment and can often be completed off-site. If you are interested in volunteering to work on a pro bono project, please contact Mark Dorosin at 919.843.7896 or dorosin@email.unc.edu.


To subscribe or unsubscribe to this newsletter, please email Sarah Krishnaraj at civilrights@unc.edu.