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Piper Rudnickand the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justiceare playing a crucial role in revamping the District’s dysfunctional special education dispute system. More than 15 attorneys from Piper have logged 2,000 pro bono hours on the project � labor worth $700,000. The team conducted interviews, visited schools, and researched legal and policy issues to determine why the District leads the nation in special education complaints and hearings. The work produced a report, released in September, identifying an array of factors that have contributed to the problems, including the lack of a system of accountability and ineffective mechanisms for resolving disputes. The report also fingers what Appleseed Executive Director Walter Smith calls a “distinct minority of lawyers” who have made a “cottage industry” out of filing lawsuits against the schools. To rein in lawyers who are profiting from the school system’s deficiencies, the report recommends encouraging the use of plaintiffs attorneys who are not motivated by money � e.g., attorneys from area law schools, legal aid offices, and law firm pro bono programs. “There are people who will resist that,” says Smith. “But I’m OK with that, because this should be helping the kids, not helping the lawyers.” Last year, the District shelled out $13 million defending itself against parents who sued schools for the lack of effective special education programs for their children. The District also doled out $137 million last year to fund private school tuitions and transportation of special education children � largely due to these disputes, the report says. Still, Smith stresses that plaintiffs lawyers are not the main culprits. “Whoever thinks [they are] the primary problem is missing the boat. The problem needs to be worked in the system,” he says. The next step for Piper and Appleseed attorneys, says Piper pro bono partner Sheldon Krantz, is to work alongside the city and the school system to implement systems of accountability and compliance, including mediation and pilot programs. While Krantz has prior policy research experience, he admits that the work was novel for many of the attorneys involved. The project, he says, is “unusual” compared with the more standard litigation and transactional pro bono work undertaken at many of the city’s law firms. Also contributing to the project were experts from Georgetown University Law Center,the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs,and Sidley Austin Brown & Wood,among others. “We need to restore the trust of our parents who feel the need to take legal action and go to court,” said school superintendent Paul Vance at a Sept. 12 press conference. “Appleseed and Piper have done the school system a great service.” HOUSEKEEPING Although pro bono work is relatively uncommon in the ranks of government lawyers, Department of Laborattorney Seena Foster is one exception. Legal counsel in the DOL’s Office of Administrative Judges, Foster, along with co-counsel from Hogan & Hartson,won a precedent-setting pro bono case last month that shut down a crack house in Southeast D.C. The case, Fort Davis Civic Association v. Rufus Stancil Jr.,spanned five years before D.C. Superior Court Judge Herbert Dixon Jr. and resulted in the first published opinion under D.C.’s Drug Related Nuisance Abatement Act of 1998. Foster became involved in the matter when she volunteered to participate in Operation Crackdown,a program created by the Bar Association of the District of Columbia’s Young Lawyers Section. Admitted to the D.C. Bar in 1991, Foster was eager to try her hand in the courtroom. With the help of litigation associate E. Desmond Hogan from Hogan & Hartson, Foster represented a Southeast neighborhood association dealing with a property that had perpetual drug trafficking problems. On Sept. 4, Dixon issued a decision to close the property for one year so that the new owner can rehabilitate it. Foster was allowed to work on the case as long as it didn’t involve issues that might conflict with Labor’s work, such as workers’ compensation or whistleblower cases. She also had to use personal time on nights and weekends to work on the case, and personal leave when she had court hearings. But according to Operation Crackdown Director Belinda Bulger, volunteer government attorneys are not novel to the project. Nearly half the board is made up of government attorneys, and more than five attorneys continue to work on cases they took while at private firms before they moved into government positions. Foster feels the result in Fort Davis Civic Associationis a win not only for the association’s residents, but also for Operation Crackdown’s volunteers, who will be able to refer back to the decision in ongoing cases involving 50 properties throughout the District. “In the end, we really feel good that we have a judgment,” says Foster. “It was an extremely exciting case.” CREATIVE LAWYERING Behind some of the mainstays of Washington’s art scene � the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Dance Company, and the Source Theatre � is two decades’ worth of legal work by hundreds of pro bono attorneys. Washington Area Lawyers for the Artscelebrates its 20th anniversary this year, culminating in a reception on Oct. 29 at Patton Boggs, a longtime WALA supporter. Shaw Pittman; Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner; Covington & Burling; and Williams & Connollyhave also been strong backers of WALA, sponsoring clinics and allowing their attorneys to take on individual pro bono matters or teach courses to artists on nonprofit organization, contracts, or copyright law, says WALA Executive Director Eric Easter. WALA has a strong volunteer pool, Easter says, with a list of 400 attorneys it can call on for help. Funding, however, has been difficult for the nonprofit group. “[Funders] hear the word lawyersand they just expect that we’re full of money,” Easter says. Also, artists are “an audience that we really have to fight to represent,” Easter says. When artists who have spent their lives developing artistic skills they believe are marketable land their first contract, he says, sometimes the last thing they want to hear is the cautionary advice of a lawyer. Finnegan partner Laura Masurovsky says their long-standing relationship with WALA is the best way the intellectual property firm can give back to the community: “Everyone loves it. We feel we can use our legal training and knowledge to help the community artists.” BEYOND THE BELTWAY In civil rights cases across the country, signs of Washington’s pro bono efforts are not hard to find. A series of 13 suits filed in various federal courts in the South against the national restaurant chain Waffle House is the work of Susan Huhta, section director at the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs.The suits charge the restaurant with discriminating against its black customers. Huhta joins Drinker Biddle & Reathpartners Gerald Hartman and Thomas Barton and associate Wendelyn Pizer on the case. They are working with Ferguson Stein Chambersof Charlotte, N.C. Similarly, a group of Arnold & Porterattorneys has joined Lambda Legalin a suit charging the State Department with discriminating against a man who is HIV-positive. The suit was filed Sept. 3 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of Arlington, Va., resident Lorenzo Taylor, who was seeking entrance into the Foreign Service. Arnold & Porter partner Kathleen Behan and associates Amy Spencer, Leslie Hill, and Cara Petersen have paired with Lambda Legal attorney Jonathan Givner in Taylor’s case. Finally, Howrey Simon Arnold & Whitepartner J. Douglas Baldridge is serving as counsel in a suit by the American Association of People With Disabilities against the Florida government. The case charges Duval County with having inaccessible voting equipment and therefore denying the disabled their right to vote. It went to trial Sept. 23 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Jacksonville. JUDGING PUBLIC SERVICE Magistrate Judge John Facciola of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia pleads guilty to trying to steer his interns into public service. In an initiative established last summer, Facciola allows his interns to volunteer at the nonprofit legal organization Archdiocesan Legal Services,where he serves as a board member. Not only is he committed to the work of the legal network, says Facciola, but also he believes law students should use their summers to “taste a little bit of everything” in what is otherwise an “abstract exercise” of studying the law throughout the year. “They loved the one-on-one interaction,” says Facciola of his interns’ time at the network. Compared with the work in his chambers, their work with the poor is “a whole different universe.” Facciola is calling this initiative the Brooks Internship, after the Rev. John Brooks, a former president of the College of the Holy Cross who taught Facciola as an undergraduate student. Facciola says he hopes to volunteer his time as well at the legal network for one week next summer. POOR POCKETS, RICH RESOURCES In an effort to help lawyers who volunteer to take on bankruptcy cases, the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Programhas created a bankruptcy resource on a pro bono Web site. The project aims to assist the 2,500-some petitioners who file for bankruptcy each year, many of whom are pro se.According to the site, last year the District had the 11th highest number of bankruptcy filings per household in the nation. “We’re always looking for new ways to support our volunteers so they can be effective advocates for our clients,” says Mark Herzog, the supervising attorney at the bar program who spearheaded the project. Herzog called on Wiley Rein & Fieldingpartner Valerie Morrison and associate Christopher Mills to help launch the bankruptcy Web site, which premiered in September. In many ways, the project is a blend of two existing projects of the Pro Bono Program � the bimonthly bankruptcy clinics and the hosting of www.probono.net/dc. The site offers model pleadings, training manuals, volunteer opportunities, and news, including relevant legislation. Herzog adds that the project greatly benefited from the support of District of Columbia Bankruptcy Court Judge S. Martin Teel Jr. POVERTY LAW: A CALL TO ARMS To the city’s poor residents, justice is rationed every day. So says a report released by the D.C. Bar Foundationat its 25th anniversary party on Sept. 23 at the offices of Crowell & Moring. The report calls on the legal community to bring more money into the civil legal assistance system, work together effectively, and increase pro bono work by private attorneys. The report outlines substantial gaps in legal service delivery, claiming that too few residents receive help and that the range of services offered is too narrow. For example, of the 25 nonprofit providers in the District, few or none provide service covering the biggest challenges to the poor: affordable housing and family law. Also lacking: preventative and transactional work, and multilingual services. With inadequate funding and staffing, many organizations find that they lack critical infrastructure, such as administrative and support staff and technological upgrades. Retention of staff attorneys is also a significant problem, the report says, pointing to low salaries. The average starting salary at a nonproft is $35,000. The D.C. Bar Foundation commissioned Julia Gordon to research and write the report. Gordon was formerly a senior staff attorney at the Center for Law and Social Policy and is now a consultant on equal justice projects. “Pro Bono Bulletin Board” appears on the first Monday of each month. Alicia Upano can be reached at [email protected]. Next column: Nov. 3.

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