Civil Rights Clinic
|LW.10627 / LW.10559
Professor Christopher Dunn
Professor Alexis Karteron
Open to 3L and 2L students
Maximum of 8 students
Recommended: Evidence, Federal Courts
Working with faculty and with the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York State affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, students in the Civil Rights Clinic handle police accountability cases in New York federal and state courts.
The year-long Civil Rights Clinic is an intensive 12-credit litigation program in which students represent plaintiffs in civil rights cases in the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York and occasionally in state court under the supervision of professors at the NYU clinical offices and the New York Civil Liberties Union. They also take part in seminars that help to develop their litigation skills and their understanding of the law and the political and social contexts of civil rights litigation. Students devote an average of 17 hours to clinic work each week. We aim to graduate students with an appreciation for the challenges of civil rights work; a thorough understanding of the civil litigation process; experience in the issues involved in representing clients; and the lawyering skills, habits of reflection, and confidence to handle clients and litigation effectively.
The New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) is the constitutional conscience of New York and one of the nation's foremost defenders of civil liberties and civil rights. Founded in 1951 as the New York affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, it has a central office in New York City with more than fifty staff members, eight regional offices, and more than 40,000 members across the state. Its core mission is to defend and promote the fundamental principles and values embodied in the Bill of Rights, the U.S. Constitution, and the New York Constitution, including freedom of speech and religion, and the right to privacy, equality and due process of law for all New Yorkers. The clinic has dedicated workspace at the NYCLU and the clinic students are an integral part of the NYCLU’s legal team.
Students in the clinic run their own cases, almost always involving police practices, with the help of a veteran civil rights and liberties lawyer, Chris Dunn, the associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. Working in teams of two or three, the students are fully responsible for their clients and cases, and directly handle all aspects of the litigation. Sometimes we are able to take a case from its initial stages through disposition within a school year, but not always. While a particular case may not present the opportunity to engage in all of the following tasks, each student will handle many of them: the decision whether to take a case; the development of case strategy; counseling clients; drafting pleadings; conducting discovery, including taking and defending depositions; negotiating settlements; appearances at pretrial conferences; briefing and arguing district court motions; and conducting trials.
The focus of the Clinic's case work is on the constitutionality of police practices, although any kind of civil rights or liberties matter might be on our docket. Some students in the clinic may pick up litigation that will carry over from this year. We are usually able to respond to student interest by matching students with their preferred cases.
Cases being handled by current clinic students include two § 1983 cases that defend the public’s right to take photographs of police activity in New York City without fear of being arrested and a major challenge to the practice of long-term extreme isolation disciplinary sentences in New York State prisons. To give interested students an idea of the kinds of cases and issues clinic students have handled, we describe some of them below. Much of the clinic’s work is featured on the NYCLU’s web site, www.nyclu.org, which we encourage you to visit.
- Matthews v. City of New York (S.D.N.Y), challenging repeated retaliation against a veteran police officer who disclosed the use of an illegal quota system for arrests, summonses and stop-and-frisk encounters in the 42nd Precinct in the Bronx;
- Sharma v. City of New York (S.D.N.Y), which challenged the arrest of an Indian filmmaker and the constitutionality of New York City’s film-permit scheme;
- Battle v. City of New York (S.D.N.Y), a challenge to the NYPD’s unlawful practice of detaining, questioning and searching innocent livery cab passengers – particularly blacks, Latinos and other people of color;
- Sullivan v. City of New York (E.D.N.Y.), involving the arrest of a Staten Island environment activist who criticized the borough president about his handling of a local development site;
- Wiita v. City of New York (S.D.N.Y.), which challenged NYPD photography-investigation practices implicated by the arrest of a Columbia University graduate student for taking pictures near a subway stop;
- Blair v. City of New York (S.D.N.Y.), which challenged NYPD stop-and-frisk practices implicated by the arrest of an African-American reporter for the New York Post as well as certain aspects of a stop-and-frisk database maintained by the Department;
- Lino v. City of New York (New York County Supreme Court), challenging the NYPD’s refusal to seal the database containing personal information of people wrongly stopped and frisked;
- NYCLU v. NYPD (New York County Supreme Court), which challenged the NYPD’s refusal to produce, pursuant to the New York Freedom of Information Law, a copy of an electronic database containing information about hundreds of thousands of police stops;
- NYCLU v. New York City Transit Authority (S.D.N.Y.), a First Amendment challenge to the secrecy in the hearing process for people accused by police officers of offenses on New York City’s subways and buses;
- Campeau-Laurion v. Raymond Kelly, The New York Yankees Partnership, et al. (S.D.N.Y.), a successful action on behalf of a Queens man who was ejected from the old Yankee Stadium after trying to use the restroom during the seventh-inning stretch rendition of “God Bless America;”
- Musumeci v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security (S.D.N.Y.), involving government mistreatment of photographers; and
- Sultan v. Kelly (E.D.N.Y.), a successful challenge to the twenty-one searches of a brown-skinned straphanger under the NYPD’s purportedly “random” subway bag search program.
In addition to the field work, the Clinic has a three-hour seminar where we meet at the NYCLU and use the cases that the students are working on as data for discussing and resolving the real-life challenges of litigation. Finally, litigation involving the police provides a rich experience from which we all can draw in seminar and other clinic discussions about the complex institutional, political, and social factors that drive behavior and policy in these settings, and about the possibilities for institutional change.
To apply to the Civil Rights Clinic, please submit the standard application, resume and transcript online through CAMS. Selection of students is not based on interviews; however, you are welcome to come to a small group meeting of applicants and faculty so that we can have the opportunity to meet each other and so that we can answer the questions you may have. Please contact the clinic administrator Steven Bautista at 212-998-6448 or via email after you submit your application to sign up for a time.
We suggest that students who are interested in the Clinic talk to current students; they are:
* 12 credits includes 3 clinical credits and 3 academic seminar credits per semester.