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“I have always been fond of the West African proverb: ‘Speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.’ “ – Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) Andrew G. Celli Jr., chief of the New York Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau, is a quiet man whose actions speak loudly. Perhaps Teddy Roosevelt would agree. April Sepanski certainly does. As a private civil rights lawyer, Celli represented Sepanski and her organization — Metropolitan Area Newsdealers Inc. — when former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani sought prohibitive new license fees for humble sidewalk news vendors. Giuliani preferred a city of brand-new stainless steel kiosks, whose proprietors would not balk at the increased cost of doing business. “I suppose he’s accustomed to dealing with very sophisticated people,” Sepanski said of Celli. “But we’re just immigrant people, we’re widows, and we’re handicapped people. Andy Celli was a good listener and he cared about us.” “He made us feel comfortable. Some lawyers make you shiver in your shoes, you know?” The former mayor, who famously caused a number of persons to shiver, did not prevail against Celli, clearly a young lawyer on a mission. Equally as clear, he has chosen a pair of simpatico lawyers as deputies — Natalie R. Williams, 37, who served as a White House counsel in the Clinton administration, and Tanya L. Washington, 36, formerly with the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem. Celli explained his move from a partnership at Emery, Celli, Cuti & Brinckerhoff to his current job: “Why did I come here? Power. The power to use the seal of the State of New York. “We’re going to change structures,” said Celli, 36, a graduate of New York University School of Law. “And the result? We’re going to produce generations of non-victims.” Among the bureau’s accomplishments since Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer persuaded Celli to become New York’s top civil rights agitator: � A team of Celli’s lawyers works daily with a federal monitor charged with overseeing radical changes in the upstate Wallkill Police Department, subject to settlement of a lawsuit brought last year in the Southern District. According to the complaint, the routine lawlessness of the 25-member police department included officers stopping female motorists to solicit dates, refusing to cooperate with other law enforcement agencies, and harassing critics such as the local newspaper and elected officials. The complaint also made note of a town board disinclined to halt such practice. � In late June, the bureau went to the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to successfully defend New York’s anti-blockbusting statute, adopted to prevent real estate solicitors from panicking property owners in neighborhoods undergoing racial change. In Anderson v. Treadwell, 01-7954, the 2nd Circuit reversed a finding by Eastern District Judge Thomas C. Platt that Real Property Law � 442-h(3) was an unconstitutional restriction of speech. � Following the Civil Rights Bureau’s blistering 1999 report on the New York Police Department’s Street Crimes Unit — in which black civilians constituted 62.7 percent of 19,000 “stop-and-frisk” actions studied — the bureau has led a national dialogue on racial profiling. This public education dimension of civil rights law was not always possible in Celli’s private litigation days. “We’re always on the lookout for opportunities to discuss our findings, and their larger meanings,” he said of the ’99 police study. “In this way, we are assisting police departments and their advocates.” � In New York v. Delta Funding Corp., 99-Civ.-4951, the bureau alleged that the Long Island subprime mortgage broker induced low-income minority householders into “illegal, discriminatory and fraudulent high-cost mortgage loans,” resulting in some consumers losing their homes and many others being forced to pay more than half their gross monthly income to meet house notes. The bureau settled the matter in the Eastern District with the establishment of a $7 million “remediation fund” to reduce monthly payments and a $5 million “amelioration fund” for added restitution. � A slew of brochures and booklets has been published to comport with the bureau’s four special areas of focus: economic discrimination, police misconduct, immigrant rights and reproductive rights. In her work as deputy bureau chief for policy and outreach, Washington has distributed thousands of such published materials. The latest is a booklet titled “Freedom on Four Legs: Service Animals, Individuals with Disabilities, and the Law,” published in June after she sent testers around the state to analyze the difficulties — and humiliations at restaurants and other public places — faced by persons dependent on service animals. To date, said Washington, there have been more than 2,000 requests for the booklet on the rights under state and federal law to public access. (It is available in audio tape and braille format as well as print.) Washington’s concern about public access came as a black girl traveling by car on summer vacations from upstate Sidney, N.Y., to her parents’ hometown of Daphne, Ala. “Once a year, our family made that long trip. Twenty-four hours straight from Sidney to Daphne,” said Washington, a graduate of Georgetown University Law Center. “We might stop to eat, but we’d never stop at a hotel. “As a little girl, I remember thinking that it was just because my parents wanted to get there quickly. But I guess something struck me as odd. I figured it out later. My mother and father did their best to shield us from things like that. “Now here I am, trying to change things by changing attitudes,” said Washington. “If we can do that, we can really make some ground on Dr. King’s mission.” Williams, who is also black, was likewise moved to civil rights law by personal experience. Before graduating from Yale Law School, she spent a semester in Paris working for SOS Racisme, the civil rights organization that advocates on behalf of North Africans in France. One day while sitting in a sidewalk caf�, a mime came to Williams’ table, took up her hand, and pretended to rub the dark color from her skin. “All these Europeans thought it was just hilarious,” she said. “I can’t imagine this happening anyplace in the U.S.” Nonetheless, Williams sees racism as a curse that can strike at ironic moments. For instance, at those times when she previously referred to certain clientele as “L.E.P.” cases (Limited English Proficiency). A Dominican gentleman objected to the ethnic tag. “He told me, ‘If you say that, it sounds like we have a disease,’” Williams recollected. “I keep that in mind. And I try not to get so convinced of my own moral rectitude. I try to remember what it feels like being an outsider.” In the days following last September’s terrorist attacks on New York City, Williams had cause to appreciate the fear of an “outsider.” Responding to a call for help from the principal of her daughter’s school, she agreed to sit with an Arab woman who ran an Islamic garment shop in her own Upper East Side neighborhood. The shopkeeper had received threatening letters. “We were nervous,” Williams recalled. “Every time a car drove by, I wiped my forehead.” That sort of volunteerism makes the boss proud. Of his three top civil rights lawyers, Spitzer said, “They define what we’re trying to do with the bureau, which is to have superb litigators who are themselves great personal advocates.” Of Celli in particular, Sepanski recalled a first meeting: “He doesn’t make a person feel like they can’t speak to him. All lawyers ought to be like that. Otherwise, the people they’re supposed to help might leave out a whole lot of information. “I remember thinking about Andy Celli. This young guy should do very well in his career.”

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