California Lawyer Recognizes Two Public Counsel Cases with Its 2015 Attorney of the Year Awards
California Lawyer magazine announced its 2015 Attorney of the Year (CLAY) awards on February 18 and recognized two Public Counsel cases that made a difference for thousands of students, families and individuals last year: Guillory v. Los Angeles County and D.J. et al. v. State of California et al.
These litigation victories protected the rights of the poorest Angelenos in the General Relief program and ensured that English learner students in California schools have the support they need to succeed.
The CLAY award in Guillory v. Los Angeles County recognized the efforts of Gary Blasi, special counsel in Public Counsel's Opportunity Under Law initiative; Dan Grunfeld, partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP and Public Counsel board member; former Public Counsel staff attorney Erin Darling; and Amos Hartston, formerly with Inner City Law Center.
The CLAY award in D.J. et al. v. State of California et al. honored a team led by Mark Rosenbaum, director of Public Counsel's Opportunity Under Law initiative, including Jessica Price of the ACLU of Southern California and pro bono attorney Robert Crockett, formerly of Latham & Watkins LLP.
"The measure of these cases is not in the awards they receive but in the thousands of children in our schools who will be able to read, write and succeed in English, and the thousands of homeless Angelenos who depend on General Relief to survive and will be provided with fundamental due process and basic fairness," said Rand April, interim President and CEO of Public Counsel. "The achievements of Public Counsel's attorneys and staff are bringing hope into our state's poorest communities."
This year's CLAY awards recognized 62 attorneys in 17 areas of legal practice, including public interest attorneys and pro bono firms.
The recipients will be featured in the March 2015 issues of California Lawyer. Click here to read more at CalLawyer.com.
A victory for English learner students: D.J. et al. v. State of California et al.
D.J. et al. v. State of California et al. was filed over the state's failure to provide specialized instruction to students learning English in school. More than 1.4 million children -- a quarter of all California's public school students -- are designated as English learners. Without support in school, English learner students are among the lowest performing California students and most likely to drop out of school.
On August 12, 2014, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Chalfant validated charges filed by Public Counsel, the ACLU of California, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, and the law firm of Latham & Watkins LLP that California was failing to live up to its responsibility to ensure the delivery of meaningful educational support to thousands of the state's English learner (EL) students.
"It is unrealistic to believe that ELs will pick up the sophisticated skills required by state standards simply by sitting in a class," Judge Chalfant wrote. "Without appropriate supports and ELD [English Language Development] services, ELs do not have meaningful access to their curriculum and instruction."
"State educational officials had created a virtual caste system in which tens of thousands of children -- nearly all of whom are U.S. citizens -- were denied access to the bond of English language that unites us as Californians," said Mark Rosenbaum, lead counsel on the case.
Public Counsel has a long-standing education practice and over the past two years has intensified our focus on English learner issues with the support of Equal Justice Works fellow Gabriella Barbosa, who is sponsored by the Morrison & Foerster Foundation.
Fighting for Angelenos in dire poverty: Guillory v. Los Angeles County
Public Counsel and other advocates filed Guillory v. Los Angeles County on behalf of homeless and extremely poor individuals who received General Relief benefits -- up to $221 per month that paid for basic necessities like shelter and medicine. As the economic crisis drove more Angelenos into poverty in 2010, the LA County social services department improperly limited or cut off access to the program for thousands of people at a time they needed it most.
Aleah Guillory, who lost her General Relief benefits several times because she didn't receive notices, said that it pushed her into homelessness. "When I wasn't on General Relief, I was homeless, living on the street, sometimes staying with people and panhandling on the freeway," she said. Guillory is now stable and living in affordable housing.
On April 8, 2014, attorneys announced a settlement that included a $7.9 million fund and new rules to ensure people are not removed from the program unlawfully, particularly homeless individuals who make up a huge percentage of General Relief recipients. The Los Angeles Superior Court granted final approval of the settlement on September 29, 2014.
The settlement modernized how participants received official notices so that homeless individuals without a regular mailing address would not lose their benefits as a result, and it eliminated the so-called "shared housing deduction," which reduced the incentive to seek stable housing in overcrowded Los Angeles.
"This settlement addresses systemic problems with the General Relief Program and represents the first significant and impactful reform of the program in decades," said Public Counsel's Gary Blasi, a longtime advocate of General Relief reform.
D.J. et al. v. California et al.
Public Counsel attorneys and staff who worked on D.J. et al. v. State of California et al. include:
Mark Rosenbaum, director of Opportunity Under Law
Ben Conway, supervising staff attorney in the Children's Rights Project
Gabriella Barbosa, Equal Justice Works fellow in the Children's Rights Project, sponsored by the Morrison & Foerster Foundation
Judy Verduzco, social worker in the Children's Rights Project
Viridiana Chabolla, organizer in Opportunity Under Law
Sally Chung, researcher in Opportunity Under Law
Guillory v. Los Angeles County
Public Counsel staff and pro bono partners who participated in Guillory v. Los Angeles County include:
Gary Blasi, special counsel in Public Counsel's Opportunity Under Law initiative
Dan Grunfeld, partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP, Public Counsel board member and former Public Counsel president
Erin Darling, former staff attorney at Public Counsel
Lucy Petrow, staff attorney at Public Counsel
Alma Stankovic, staff attorney at Public Counsel
Eric Post, staff attorney at Public Counsel
Jennifer del Castillo, former staff attorney at Public Counsel
David Cox, of counsel at Morgan Lewis
Lisa Veasman, associate at Morgan Lewis
Esther Ro, associate at Morgan Lewis
Joseph Bias, associate at Morgan Lewis
Meghan Phillips, associate at Morgan Lewis
Michael Rome, associate at Morgan Lewis
Chris Vargas, paralegal at Morgan Lewis
Click here to learn more about Guillory v. Los Angeles County