Professor Bridgit Burke accepted the Clinical Legal Education Association's award for Excellence in a Public Interest Case or Project on behalf of Albany Law School’s Civil Rights and Disability Law Clinic earlier this month.
The clinic, which is part of the Protection and Advocacy system, was honored for community integration efforts by the law students enrolled in the clinic over the last seven years. The law students, who participate as part of their clinical legal education program, have actively investigated incidents of abuse and neglect in facilities operated by the New York State Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities (OPWDD), including incidents where individuals were deprived of education, seriously injured and prevented from living and learning in community settings.
As a result of the work done by the students, a statewide system has been put in place to ensure assessments and planning for an individual's discharge. Clients have received meaningful educational programs, and individuals who had for years lived outside of their community have now become a part of their community.
The institution involved has recently been identified in the The New York Times as a place where some staff have physically abused residents and threatened other staff with retaliation if these criminal acts are reported.
There have also been allegations that administrators at the facility are actively stonewalling criminal investigations. The OPWDD has for years attempted to block the investigations by the Civil Rights and Disability Law Clinic and has rigorously defended a law suit filed by the clinic and Disability Advocates, Inc., to overcome the limitations that the OPWDD has placed on their investigations. In addition to the work of these two offices, the law firm of Patterson Belknap has represented the clinic and Disability Advocates in this litigation.
Next semester, students will be writing a brief for the New York State Court of Appeals on the matter.