Our Grants For 2018

The Board met during September 2017 to discuss grant applications. As a result of that discussion, the Board made the following grants to six worthy organizations.

Click on each Grantee’s name below to read about their organization and the case for which they received funding, and to view their six-month report, year-end report, and case update.

Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law

Since 1972, the Judge David L. Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law has advocated for the civil rights, full inclusion, and equality of adults and children with mental disabilities. The Bazelon Center was pivotal in expanding the civil rights movement to include fighting discrimination against, and segregation of, people with mental disabilities. Today, the Center accomplishes its goals through a unique combination of litigation, public policy advocacy, coalition building and leadership, public education, media outreach, and technical assistance—a comprehensive approach that ensures the largest possible impact.

The Bazelon Center uses cutting-edge litigation to effect progressive systemic change and impact public policy. We secured early legal precedents creating basic civil rights for people with mental disabilities—including the rights to a public education, receive services in community based settings instead of institutions, and make decisions about one’s own care. The Center was instrumental in the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 and played a key role in the historic case of Olmstead v. L.C. (1999), in which the Supreme Court found that needless segregation of people with psychiatric disabilities violates the ADA. Over the last decade, the Bazelon Center has worked to expand the reach of Olmstead to address not only unnecessary institutionalization in public facilities (e.g., psychiatric and criminal justice), but also to remedy segregation in nursing homes, board and care homes, schools and classrooms, sheltered workshops, and other day services. Our Olmstead work has created legal precedents defining a national model of comprehensive community-based disability systems and led to settlement agreements providing thousands of individuals with opportunities to move out of segregated, dead-end facilities and to live full lives in their communities.

THE CASE: The Bazelon Center has long worked to ensure that children with mental health disabilities have the same educational opportunities as their non-disabled peers. As part of this advocacy, and using funding from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation, the Bazelon Center has filed a case challenging Georgia's system of segregated educational centers, known collectively as the Georgia Network for Educational and Therapeutic Services, or GNETS. The Bazelon Center and its co-counsel represent three current and former GNETS students as well as a class of students with disabilities now in GNETS or at serious risk of being placed in GNETS. Other plaintiffs include the Georgia Advocacy Office and The Arc of the United States. The plaintiffs allege that Georgia’s use of the GNETS system violates the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Equal Protection Clause by denying equal educational opportunity to children with disability-related behavioral needs and by needlessly segregating them in separate and inferior classrooms and schools. The defendants include the Georgia Board of Education, Department of Education, Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities, Department of Community Health, and several individuals in their official capacities.

Approximately 5,200 students with disabilities are in the GNETS system. In a series of investigative articles published last year, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that GNETS operates 53 segregated “centers,” where only children with disabilities are enrolled, as well as satellite classrooms, also segregated by disability, attached to numerous neighborhood schools. GNETS students are disproportionately children of color – 51 percent versus 37 percent in all public schools statewide. In some areas, the percentage of African-American students in GNETS exceeds 60 percent, and in one program, almost 9 out of every 10 students are African American. See Judd, A. “Georgia ‘psychoeducational’ students segregated by disability, race,” The Atlanta Journal Constitution (April 28, 2016) (retrieved from http://specials.myajc.com/psychoeducation/?ecmp=AJC_internallink_4292016_AJCtoMyAJC_p sycho_ed_gwinnett.)

The lawsuit seeks an injunction requiring Georgia to provide students with disability-related behavioral needs appropriate services in neighborhood schools alongside their non-disabled peers. Unless these concerns are resolved, students segregated in GNETS will continue to fall further behind in school, be less likely to graduate, and be more likely to enter the criminal justice system.

Ira Burnim, Legal Director, irab@bazelon.org, 202-467-5730 ext. 1320 
Mark Murphy, Managing Attorney, markm@bazelon.org, 202-467-5730 ext. 1323 
Maura Klugman, Staff Attorney, maurak@bazelon.org, 202-467-5730 ext. 1331

Children’s Advocacy Institute of the University of San Diego School of Law

The Children's Advocacy Institute (CAI), founded in 1989 at the nonprofit University of San Diego School of Law, is one of the nation's premier academic, research, and advocacy organizations working to improve the lives of all children and youth.

In its academic component, CAI trains law students and attorneys to be effective child advocates throughout their legal careers. Its Child Advocacy Clinic gives USD Law students three distinct clinical opportunities to advocate on behalf of children and youth, and its Dependency Counsel Training Program provides comprehensive training to licensed attorneys engaged in or contemplating Dependency Court practice. Conducted through its offices in San Diego, Sacramento, and Washington, D.C., CAI's research and advocacy component seeks to leverage change for children and youth through impact litigation, regulatory and legislative advocacy, and public education. Active at the federal and state levels, CAI’s efforts are multi-faceted — comprehensively embracing all tools of public interest advocacy to improve the lives of children and youth.

THE CASE: With support from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation, the Children's Advocacy Institute will file litigation in federal district court seeking to establish an absolute right to counsel for abused or neglected children in judicial proceedings that will forever impact their lives. These proceedings, generally referred to as Dependency Court proceedings, determine every fundamental aspect of an abused or neglect child’s life: by whom the child will be raised; where the child will live; when will the child see his/her siblings, relatives, friends; where will the child go to school, et al.

Most states recognize an absolute right to counsel for indigent parents in these proceedings, considering the magnitude of the court’s authority—the termination of parental rights. Is an order terminating a parental relationship any less of a constitutional taking for the child than for the parent? The time has come to recognize a right to legal representation for the abused and neglected children who are the central figures in these proceedings.

Thus far, one court has found that abused and neglected children have fundamental liberty interests at stake in the judicial proceedings determining their fate, such as the child's interest in his/her safety, health, and well-being, and an interest in maintaining the integrity of the family unit and in having a relationship with his/her biological parents, to the extent possible. In Kenny A. v. Perdue, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia recognized that these children are subject to placement in a wide array of different types of foster care placements, including institutional facilities where their physical liberty is greatly restricted. Also, the court found that as parens patriae, the government’s overriding interest is to ensure that a child's safety and well-being are protected, and that such protection can be adequately ensured only if the child is represented by legal counsel throughout the course of the judicial proceedings. Unfortunately, Kenny A. is not followed in many states.

The federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act requires that in every case involving a victim of child abuse or neglect that results in a judicial proceeding, a guardian ad litem who may be an attorney or a court appointed special advocate (CASA) (or both), shall be appointed to represent the child in such proceedings, to obtain first-hand, a clear understanding of the situation and needs of the child, and to make recommendations to the court concerning the best interests of the child. CAI fully respects and supports the role that lay CASAs play in the lives of these children. However, the complexity of these legal proceedings, the significance of the children’s rights and interests that are before the court, and the need to recognize and treat children as full parties necessitates the appointment of counsel (in addition to CASAs) to represent these children. Otherwise, CASAs are put in the untenable position of performing duties that are reserved for licensed attorneys.

If successful, CAI's litigation will put in place an absolute right to counsel for abused or neglected children throughout the country.

Robert C. Fellmeth, Executive Director, cpil@sandiego.eduor 619-260-4806

Children’s Rights

Children’s Rights is a national advocacy group working to reform failing child welfare systems on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of abused and neglected children who depend on them for protection and care. Since 1995, we have been fighting to enshrine in the law of the land every child’s right to be protected from abuse and neglect and to grow up in a safe, stable, permanent home. Through tough legal action complemented by substantive policy expertise, we have won landmark victories and brought about sweeping improvements in the lives of abused and neglected children in more than a dozen states.

In the states where Children’s Rights is active, fewer children who have already been victimized by abuse and neglect at home suffer further maltreatment in foster care. More children receive the high-quality medical, educational, and other services they need to recover from the trauma they have suffered and regain the healthy childhood that is their right. And more children go home sooner to better lives and to safe, stable, permanent families.

THE CASE: With support from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation, Children’s Rights is pursuing a statewide federal class action lawsuit in Missouri challenging the state’s longstanding failure to ensure the safe administration of psychotropic and antipsychotic medications to children in state foster care. Plaintiffs include two- and three-year-old siblings in foster care, who were put on unmonitored psychotropic medications; a 14-year-old placed on six different psychotropic and antipsychotics medications simultaneously who developed facial tics, slurred speech and an inability to stay awake during the day; and a 12-year-old who required psychiatric hospitalization when given the wrong dosage of his medications upon moving from one home to another with no written medical instructions. The lawsuit focuses on the state’s poor informed consent policy, a broken system for maintaining updated medical records for children, and the failure to operate a secondary review system to identify and address dangerous prescribing practices. Our partners include John Amman of the St. Louis University School of Law Civil Litigation Clinic; attorneys at the National Center for Youth Law in Oakland, California, who have expertise related to the oversight of psychotropic medications; and the global law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, as pro bono counsel. Immediate and positive media coverage of our case has brought national attention to this important issue.

Contact: Sandy Santana, Executive Director, 88 Pine Street Suite 800, New York, NY 10005. Tel. (212) 683-2210.

Legal Services of Alabama

Legal Services Alabama (LSA) is the only statewide non-profit provider of free legal services in Alabama. LSA and its predecessor offices have been leading the war against poverty in Alabama for over forty years. LSA provides access to justice and quality civil legal assistance to educate and empower Alabama's low-income community.

LSA provides legal aid and assistance in civil matters including, community education about rights and responsibilities; counsel and advice, administrative and judicial representation and appeals. Our advocates use a variety of strategies and tactics to ensure that poor people have a roof over their heads, food to eat, access to health care, educational opportunities, freedom from domestic violence, protection from economic predators, and access to emergency legal assistance when disaster strikes.

LSA’s goal is to reduce the causes and consequences of poverty in Alabama by providing comprehensive legal services that help low-income and vulnerable people.

THE CASE: LSA is currently preparing litigation against the Alabama Department of Human Resources with the assistance of a grant from the Barbara McDowell Foundation regarding the implementation of the portion of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act related to Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents or “ABAWDs.” The Act limited certain “able-bodied” adults who were not working or attending work training at least 20 hours a week to receiving only three months of SNAP (or “food stamps”) in a 36 month regardless of whether or not jobs or work programs were available. Consequently, tens of thousands of Alabama citizens were terminated from the program in 2016 and 2017 after receiving assistance for years.

LSA believes that thousands of Alabamians were unfairly and unnecessarily terminated from the program in spite of the fact that they qualified for an exception. LSA intends to prove that DHR violated the due process rights of Alabama citizens when it failed to provide notices which gave sufficient notice of the basis for termination and exemptions to recipients. LSA also intends to prove that Alabama has imposed overly restrictive interpretations of the exemptions making it unnecessarily difficult for individuals to receive the benefits that individuals are entitled to receive.

Jaffe Pickett, Interim Executive Director, jpickett@alsp.org 334-223-0232 
Michael Forton, Director of Advocacy, mforton@alsp.org 256-551-2671

Public Interest Law Center

The Public Interest Law Center (www.pubintlaw.org) uses high-impact legal strategies to advance the civil, social, and economic rights of communities in the Philadelphia region facing discrimination, inequality, and poverty. We use litigation, community education, advocacy, and organizing to secure access to fundamental resources and services for large numbers of people. Founded in 1969 as an affiliate of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Law Center’s work brings about lasting, systemic change, breaking down barriers to housing, public education, environmental justice, healthcare, employment, and voting.

THE CASE: With funding from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation, we will upend the unfair, uneven power dynamic in Philadelphia’s Landlord-Tenant Court by bringing one or more federal class actions that combine federal consumer law and existing, but often unenforced, Philadelphia rental protections.

Our legal theory is that landlords--through their lawyers--routinely make false statements in eviction complaints; namely, the complaints allege that the landlord is entitled to rent and possession of the premises. In large numbers of cases, this allegation is not true because, under the Philadelphia Code, a landlord that fails to comply with housing quality laws is not entitled to either rent or possession. For example, the Philadelphia Code requires that, in order to collect rent, a landlord must not only be licensed, but also must provide each tenant with a Certificate of Rental Suitability, which, among other things, requires a landlord to verify under penalty of perjury that a rental property is fit, habitable, and has no outstanding code violations.

This clear statutory requirement has not, to date, stopped landlords and their lawyers from filing thousands of eviction cases a year in which there was no certificate of rental suitability, the tenants lived in uninhabitable dwellings and, therefore, technically no rent was due and the landlord was not entitled to possession. Because most tenants are not represented to make this argument, these landlords have succeeded in forcing tenants to pay rent, they have recovered possession of premises, and they have secured money judgments against tenants.

The lawsuits supported by the Barbara McDowell Foundation are based on the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) which prohibits the making of false statements in the collection of a debt. On September 26, 2017, we filed our first case, Baker v. Glen M. Ross, PC, a federal class action that alleges that the defendant law firm routinely sues tenants on behalf of landlords for back rent and/or possession when Philadelphia law says that no money or possession was owed. As the group of lawyers who represent landlords in Philadelphia is small and relatively tightly-knit, we expect that one or more of these cases will cause that legal community to pressure their clients—the landlords—to comply with housing quality standards in order to secure legal representation.

Jennifer R. Clarke, Executive Director, Public Interest Law Center, jclarke@pubintlaw.org, 267-546-1302 
 Dan Urevick-Ackelsberg, Staff Attorney, Public Interest Law Center, dackelsberg@pubintlaw.org, 267-546-1316

Sargent Shriver National Center on Law and Poverty

The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law (Shriver Center) provides national leadership in advancing laws and policies to secure justice to improve the lives and opportunities of people living in poverty. The organization achieves this mission through two interrelated programs: (1) Advocacy and (2) Advocate Resources & Training.

Through Advocacy, the Shriver Center develops and advances policies that respond directly to the needs of people in poverty. This advocacy addresses a broad agenda, including promoting access to fair housing, affordable health care, child care, education equity, employment and training, civil rights, criminal justice, and women’s law, and utilizes a variety of strategies including impact litigation, policy development and advocacy, and racial equity advocacy. Through Advocate Resources & Training, the Shriver Center provides intensive training programs and resources, enabling advocates across the US to come together to enhance their skills, share knowledge, and connect with each other to advance anti-poverty advocacy campaigns and drive systems change.

Increasingly, the Shriver Center brings together antipoverty advocates into action-oriented networks. These networks include the Clearinghouse Community, a free online forum where lawyers and other advocates share best practices and strategies; the Legal Impact Network, which connects leading state-based antipoverty organizations to share strategies and coordinate multi-state action; and a network of alumni from a six-month Racial Justice Training Institute, which trains and supports anti-poverty lawyers to advance racial justice advocacy in their daily practices, organizations, and communities.

THE CASE: In August 2017, the Shriver Center (with Relman, Dane, & Colfax PLLC as co-counsel) with funding help from the Barbara McDowell Foundation filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court against the City of Peoria in Illinois for intentionally targeting enforcement of their “chronic nuisance” ordinance in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and against buildings with predominantly African-American tenants. As a result of these enforcement practices, African-American residents regularly face eviction for conduct that would not result in eviction for white residents. The case, HOPE Fair Housing v. City of Peoria, asserts that the selective enforcement discriminates based on race and has an unjustified disparate impact on African-American communities and tenants in the town, violating the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. and Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003. The litigation aims to secure the repeal of the nuisance ordinance and to send a message to other jurisdictions with crime-free and nuisance property ordinances that the enforcement of those laws must comply with civil rights laws.

Kate Walz, Director of Housing Justice & Director of Litigation, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, 50 East Washington Street, Suite 500, Chicago, IL 60602, katewalz@povertylaw.org.

Return to the top