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Brothertown Indian Nation Chief Maurice “Storm” Champlain knew he was in for a fight last year when he decided to add his small tribe as an additional plaintiff in New York state’s long-running legal dispute with the Oneida Indians over ownership of thousands of acres in upstate New York. Through a friend, Chief Champlain heard about Marilyn Ford, a professor at Quinnipiac Law School in Connecticut who had donated her time in 1995 to represent the Alaskan Eyak tribe in a suit against a corporation that was clearcutting on Indian land. In fall 2000, David King, the current acting Quinnipiac Dean, received a phone call from Chief Champlain, recalled Ford. “He didn’t know my name, but he was looking for the attorney who represented the tribe in Alaska.” While Chief Champlain may not have known Ford by name when he sought her services, it was clear that he had found the right attorney. Despite opposition from the powerful Oneida Nation, which generates millions of dollars in yearly revenue from its casino and other businesses, Chief Champlain said he believed that his tribe had a valid claim since the Oneidas had signed a treaty in 1774 giving the Brothertown ownership of a 12-by-13 mile tract of land on the disputed territory. “We were quite confident even though everyone doubted us,” Chief Champlain remembered. “They said the Oneidas were too big and too strong, but we knew we did our homework and information is power. … To some people when they do Indian land issues, it’s a job. To us, it’s our life. We promised our grandfather we would get this done. He raised us to do this, along with my mother and father.” Armed with a cadre of dedicated students performing research for her, Ford went to work. On May 21, the Brothertown motion to intervene in the land claim case was granted by Northern District Judge Lawrence E. Kahn, securing the tribe a place as a co-plaintiff in the litigation against New York. “The way she presented our material was excellent,” Chief Champlain said about Ford. “Marilyn is very creative and not afraid to go against the grain.” For Ford, 52, the opportunity to lend her legal talents to public interest causes came after a career as a corporate attorney. After graduating from Rutgers Law School in 1972, she spent three years as an associate in the corporate department of Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle. A year working at the New York City Commission on Human Rights was followed by a position as an in-house attorney at Continental Oil Company. She left Continental in 1978 to join the faculty at Quinnipiac as a professor of corporate law. Ford’s extracurricular activities representing causes she believed in began in 1995, when one of her research assistants, Francis Caruso, urged her to consider the Alaskan Eyaks’ request that she use her corporate law background to aid their effort to stop deforestation of what the Eyaks claimed was their native land. “I didn’t have experience in Native American law, but before teaching law school I was a corporate lawyer and the issue was corporate as well,” said Ford. She argued that the corporate interests controlling the Eyak lands exceeded their authority in transferring timber rights and authorizing the logging of ancestral territory. While she was unsuccessful in her motion to enjoin the loggers, Ford feels the delay caused by the lawsuit was a factor in the logging company’s decision to abandon the project. That case inspired Ford to pursue other pro bono cases in her free time, but she is quick to point out that her biggest inspiration comes from her student research assistants. As her work exists outside Quinnipiac’s extensive clinical program, Ford must rely on the help of her research assistants, many of whom put in more hours on the projects than she does. VOLUNTEERS KEEP COMING The hard work, however, does not scare off potential volunteers. Ford had to wade through 42 applications from students who wanted to volunteer for the last pro bono case she took — representing hip-hop artist Keith Murray in his unsuccessful appeal of an assault conviction last year. “As a civil litigator myself now I can attest to what Marilyn had said about how you take the theoretical and put it into the practical,” said former research assistant Keith Blumenstock, now an associate at Bai, Pollock, Blueweiss & Mulcahey in Bridgeport, Conn. “The partners at my firm now can hand me something and feel confident that I have a basic understanding or familiarity with procedure, practice research and writing.” STUDENTS HELP Other students who have helped manage the Brothertown case for Professor Ford include recent graduates Gwendolyn Lewis and Kathy Brewer, second-year law student Adam Schlein, and first-year student Gary Ford. Now that Ford and the Brothertown tribe have managed to win a place in the land claim suit, the really hard work is beginning. The case, which is more than 25 years old, faces stiff opposition from the state. Chief Champlain said he feels confident that Ford understands the quest his grandfather set him on long ago. “She’s not just our lawyer; she’s like our aunt,” said the chief. “We’ve incorporated her into the spiritual mode of our nation. She’s become a part of us.”

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