There was certainly no lack of attention-grabbing headlines for New Yorkers in the 1970s. The economic crisis in New York City. Shortages and lines at gas stations across the state. The environmental disaster at Love Canal. The Government Law Center grew out of the need to help governments address serious issues related to these sorts of challenges. As Sandra M. Stevenson, founding director of the GLC, saw it: the location at a law school in New York's capital was ideal for bringing together thinkers and practitioners, researching issues, and informing law and policy makers. In addition, the GLC could open up a wealth of opportunities for students given the varied and rich learning experiences within reach.
J. Langdon Marsh was selected as the GLC's first full-time director in 1979. During his five-year tenure, Marsh facilitated discussions on some of the leading governmental issues of the day on subjects like real property assessment and taxation and New York's still relatively new environmental quality review act. The GLC hosted public sector officials, judges, and attorneys working in government-related fields to help foster internship and career opportunities for students and graduates.
As the Center's reputation grew, Marsh was approached by the Department of Environmental Conservation to prepare the GLC's first legal report for a state entity, on legal problems in the control of hazardous wastes. The Center also produced reports and training programs on a range of issues for the Department of Social Services, Adirondack Park Agency, Department of State, Department of Health, and the legislature.
For a brief time in 1984, Joseph W. Bellacosa served as the GLC's director, before being appointed to serve as a judge on the Court of Claims and chief administrative judge of all State courts, followed by a fourteen-year term on the Court of Appeals.
Associate Dean and Professor Stevenson, the driving force behind the creation of the GLC, stepped in to serve as director from 1985 to 1990. Stevenson made a mark collaborating with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on the internationally recognized annual conference on intellectual property, held in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. She also initiated a pioneering science, technology, and law focus at the law school.
The GLC trained law students in community dispute resolution at a time when alternative ways of settling differences without going to court were becoming more prominent. Before pro bono work was a requirement for admission to the bar, GLC students engaged in volunteer activities through the GLC. One memorable project: performing a student-penned children's play about constitutional issues, wearing costumes of
Wizard of Oz characters as well as the character of Lady Justice, at area elementary schools.
The 1990's brought new leadership to the GLC. Professor George F. Carpinello served as director from 1990 to 1992. He oversaw a series of studies on municipal law issues: legal processes for facilitating local government restructuring, prepared for the Task Force on Local Government Restructuring Project of the Rockefeller Institute of Government; SEQRA and local land use decision making, prepared for the Legislative Commission on Rural Resources Land Use Advisory Committee; and the use of impact fees in New York.
To prepare students for government service, the GLC arranged internships in the counsel's office at state agencies, established a legal career series featuring alums working in government, and published a new directory of legal careers in State government as a convenient, one-stop source of employment information.
The GLC entered another period of change in 1992 when GLC Assistant Director Patricia E. Salkin '88 was appointed acting director and, subsequently, director. Under Salkin, the GLC became known for expertise in land use law and government ethics, and for new law and policy focuses in aging, public policy dispute resolution, and racing and gaming. Programs initiated by Salkin that are still ongoing in some form today include the Warren M. Anderson '40 Breakfast Seminar Series, the Edwin L. Crawford Memorial Lecture on Municipal Law, the Edgar '46 & Margaret Sandman Fellowship in Aging and Health Law & Policy, and the Saratoga Institute for Racing and Gaming.
The year 2000 brought a move to a new building on the Albany Law campus. The year also marked a major step forward in community engagement. As part of a renewed commitment to improving police officer behavior, police department procedures, and police-community trust, the City of Albany created an independent body called the Citizens' Police Review Board. Mayor Gerald Jennings asked the GLC to provide administrative services to the new entity, established by the only law of its type calling upon an academic institution to play a role in a law enforcement oversight process.
As a way to offer students an immersive hands-on experience in government, the GLC partnered with the The Justice Center to launch a pilot Semester in Government program. Now students could spend extended time, thirty hours a week, working with an attorney-mentor in the counsel's office of a state agency.
The GLC developed a new Government-Lawyer-in-Residence program to provide students with an opportunity to learn from distinguished government officials about their diverse public sector experiences and to augment the GLC's expertise on legal issues. Hon. James P. King '59, former Assembly member, Court of Claims judge, and general counsel to the Department of State, served as the first government-lawyer-in-residence.
The GLC and the New York State Bar Association began co-producing the
Government, Law & Policy Journal. The magazine featured substantive articles, each with a theme on a current issue of interest to state and local government attorneys.
When Salkin left to become Dean of Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center in 2012, Assistant Professor Robert Heverly, who had served as the assistant director of the GLC from 1992 to 2001, became the GLC interim director. He was succeeded in 2013 by Assistant Professor Ray Brescia. Brescia served as the GLC director until May 2016.
Under Brescia's leadership, the GLC began an initiative to bolster economic development, entrepreneurship, emerging technologies, and economic justice. The GLC established a regional innovation lab through the Community Loan Fund of the Capital Region to provide technical support on critical housing and economic initiative and to combat urban blight. It began programs with Albany Medical College to develop best practice for its emerging technology and transfer program. It launched a Startup Discover Series to provide advice and business information on how to grow a business in the Capital Region.
Major strides were made in improving access to justice for rural New Yorkers. In 2016, the GLC established the Rural Law Initiative to bring legal assistance to small and start-up businesses in rural Upstate New York, where there is a shortage of attorneys.
During Brescia's tenure, Albany Law was ranked first in the country by
preLaw magazine's 2016 winter issue for preparing students for career in government, partly due to the work of the GLC and the opportunities it provides students. This included a new student initiative through which entering students could become Government Law Fellows. Through the Fellowship, students had the opportunity to work on issues at the GLC and meet with government lawyers, helping to further the GLC mission and expand students' professional networks.
Bennett Liebman, former executive director of the Government Law Center, served as acting director of the GLC from June 2016 until Ava Ayers took over as GLC director in November 2017.
Under Ayers, the GLC has made giant leaps forward in opening up networking and mentoring opportunities for students. During the spring 2017 semester, for example, the Government Law Fellows met as a group with Honorable Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, during her historic visit to Albany Law School.
Beginning in 2017, the GLC has been focused on local and state government issues. Partnering with the Institute for Financial Market Regulation, the GLC hosted a program on one of the most daunting issues facing local governments in the last decade—the problem of vacant and abandoned properties, or blight. GLC research included a series of policy papers on state constitutional law issues, some of them produced in partnership with the Rockefeller Institute of Government. Recognizing that immigration is not only an issue of intense debate, but also tremendously complex—especially for a busy municipal official—the GLC began developing explainers, short policy papers, on issues regarding the state and local governments' role in immigration law.
In response to the increasing number of craft beverage manufacturers in central New York and the scarcity of legal resources, the GLC's Rural Law Initiative hosted successful programs for craft business attorneys in two upstate locations.
In 2017, the GLC moved into a pleasant office suite, well situated on the second floor of the 2000 Building on the law school campus.
There have been many significant accomplishments since the creation of the Government Law Center forty years ago. By all accounts, the GLC has a bright future ahead.