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Center for Social Justice

ACLU-NJ's 2012 Legal Leadership Award Winners

The Seton Hall Law Center for Social Justice received the prestigious 2012 Legal Leadership Award from the New Jersey American Civil Liberties Union (NJ-ACLU). In a moving tribute, Jeanne LoCicero, NJ-ACLU Deputy Legal Director, presented the award. Following are Ms. LoCicero's remarks.

ACLU of New Jersey 2012 Legal Leadership Award Presentation to Seton Hall University School of Law’s Center for Social Justice

I am so honored to present our second Legal Leadership Award to Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Social Justice, one of New Jersey’s leading public interest legal organizations and an important partner in the ACLU’s work on so many issues.

The Center’s Director is Professor Lori Nessel who leads a dynamic clinical faculty that is supported by teaching fellows and visiting professors. We have worked with so many of them, including a few here tonight, like Baher Azmy, Jenny-Brooke Condon, Claudette St. Romain, Barbara Moses, Rachel Lopez, Lori Borgen and Trish Perlmutter. Like Amy Gottlieb, the Center for Social Justice has also joined the fight for the rights of immigrants. They represent people from all over the world, not only about their residency and immigration status, but CSJ also works to guarantee fair treatment here, including

  1. Documenting wage theft and workplace violations among day laborers;
  2. Challenging a regulation that denies low income, lawful permanent residents access to health insurance solely because of their immigration status with Gibbons; and
  3. Representing several people who were subjected to abusive raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement with Lowenstein Sandler.

Over the years, CSJ and the ACLU of New Jersey have partnered on many important issues, including an amicus brief regarding predatory lending, challenging a neglect finding by DYFS of a parent who used marijuana for her epilepsy, and a post 9/11 case seeking transparency and fairness for an aviation expert of Arab descent who was suspended from his job at the Transportation Security Administration.

Most recently, the Center for Social Justice has been a key partner in working for constitutional police practices and jail conditions. With CSJ, the ACLU has been able to bring three cases against the City of Newark challenging misconduct by the city’s police department. In one case, we worked together on behalf of two African American teenagers and their Pop Warner football coach who were held at gunpoint during an illegal police stop.

In another, we represented a newspaper editor who had been arrested and held in custody until he agreed to turn over photos his staff had taken of a dead body on a Newark street. Because of the persistence and dedication of CSJ faculty, we now have a precedential opinion in the Third Circuit on a procedural issue in that case that was a victory for civil rights plaintiffs.

Today, we are working closely with them in the case of a Newark honors student who was on a New Jersey transit bus and started using her cell phone to record police officers responding to an incident on the bus. An officer seized her cellphone and deleted the video and then arrested her. Violating state law, the police officers ignored her repeated pleas to call her mother. They tried to charge her with a crime, even though she was a juvenile and they had no lawful basis to charge her. Only after figuring out that they could not charge her with anything, they dropped off a very upset teenager at her mother’s workplace.

The Center for Social Justice is fearless in it work on these police abuse cases. They work tirelessly not only for these clients, but for the communities who bear the brunt of the abuse, and for the important constitutional values at stake.

And, one last case that I would like to highlight, is one that is near and dear to my heart, Colon v. Passaic County Jail. It was exactly four years ago that I received a call from a CSJ faculty member telling me about that CSJ had started investigating the conditions at the jail. A few months before, the legal community had become aware of an important decision by a federal judge to reduce a criminal defendant’s sentence because of the conditions he had faced as a pretrial detainee at the jail.

Many advocates knew about this decision, but it was Seton Hall who took up the cause of the other detainees at the jail. And the conditions they reported were so troubling and inhumane that I knew we had to join them in this effort. CSJ, the ACLU and Dechert joined together to file a class action that many have worked on tirelessly. CSJ has played a significant role on many parts of that case, not the least of which is being the contact point for our clients and handling the very complex and disturbing problems they face at the facility. The good news is that after a long, hard settlement process, we are on the verge of a court-approved agreement with a comprehensive remedial plan that includes an independent monitor who will make sure that the jail provides our clients with adequate medical care and a safer and healthier facility.

We are not only recognizing the Center for Social Justice tonight for its work on behalf of these significant constitutional issues, but also because they are using their mission and this work to train law students - the lawyers of tomorrow - to use their skills for social justice. These students receive hands on training from professors who are leaders in their field. They meet with clients, draft legal filings, and participate in court hearings, and along the way learn important lessons that extend beyond these technical skills. The Center for Social Justice teaches their students to assist the most vulnerable in society, those whose voices are ignored and whose rights are disregarded. The Center for Social Justice teaches them – and reminds all of us – to uphold our democratic ideals and fulfill the promise of justice for all.

We at the ACLU of New Jersey are so grateful for all of the work that the Center for Social Justice does. I am so pleased to present the ACLU of New Jersey’s Legal Leadership Award to the Seton Hall University School of Law’s Center for Social Justice.

Pictured, from left: Deborah Jacobs, ACLU-NJ Executive Director with award recipients William S. Singer, Esq., Amy Gottlieb, Esq. of the American Friends Service Committee, and Professor Lori Nessel, Director of the Center for Social Justice.