168th Commencement: Watch Live
It all started with Attica. Fallout from the worst prison riot of the 20 th century made prison conditions a hot topic in New York's halls of justice in the early 1970s, and the Albany Law School Clinic's roots are planted firmly in the State's response to the tragedy. Albany Law School jumped with both feet into the world of clinical education during the academic year for 1974-1975. Judicial concern for prisoners' rights was growing in the wake of the uprising over conditions at Attica Prison in the summer of 1971. The riot had precipitated a violent response from guards and state police and led to the deaths of 20 prisoners and ten prison officials taken hostage. Lawyers for the prisoners filed a class-action lawsuit against prison and state officials in 1974.
Judge J. Clarence Herlihy of the 3rd Department of the State Appellate Division called for a system whereby prisoners could file grievances and even sue over the terms and conditions affecting their lives. He looked to nearby Albany Law School to make it happen. As Professor Daniel Moriarty explained it, Albany Law School was a good place for the courts to turn-the work would be essentially free, and students would be learning something at the same time. Professor Moriarty was chosen to provide the academic imprimatur to the new Albany Law School Legal Assistance Project and recruit a handful of students. The Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA) funded the program. After two years, the LEAA was interested in creating a state-wide program.
That program was known as Prisoners' Legal Services (PLS) and students were placed with PLS for the next approximately thirty years. The students and faculty were instrumental in establishing formal grievance procedures for inmate statewide. Inmates even began to sit as voting members on committees. Supervising attorney Lanny Walter added, "The only problem was that if they voted wrong on a committee, they might very well get transferred to a worse prison." "But then we'd defend their first amendment rights."
The 1980s brought major steps in the evolution of the Clinic. Professor Joseph Baum '72 became the Director of the Clinic in 1981 and served in that role until 1990. The Litigation Clinic was established in 1981 to represent clients on several kinds of cases, including divorce, unemployment, mortgage foreclosures and bankruptcies.
In some cases, students have not only worked within the legal system, they've made law. The Civil Rights and Disabilities Law Project, established in 1983, made case law in Russman v. Sobol, which determined that public schools could enter religious schools to provide special education services. It helped David Glass '95 sue the New York Board of Law Examiners to obtain four days instead of two to complete the bar exam due to his severe dyslexia.
Professor Nancy Maurer led the Clinic as Director from 1990 through 1992.The 1990s also served as a watershed era with the creation of programs like the Domestic Violence Project-which attracted national attention in two separate cases when it won clemency for survivors of domestic violence convicted of killing their abusers. Professor Connie Mayer took over as Clinic Director from 1992 until 2001. In 1996, the Clinic won clemency for Charline Brundidge, the first time in New York that an incarcerated battered woman who killed her abuser was granted clemency. During this decade, The AIDS Law Project became one of the first law clinic programs to serve clients with AIDS or HIV. The decade culminated with the Clinic receiving the New York Bar Association's Pro Bono award and recognition in National Jurist magazine.
The 21 st century has brought even more progress. In 2000, the Clinic moved to a new state-of-the-art facility. Professor Mary Lynch took over as Clinic Director in 2001 to 2003. Professor Nancy Maurer served as Acting Clinic Director during the Spring 2004 semester. Then Professors Maurer and Lynch became Co-Directors of the Clinic in 2004 until 2009. The AIDS Law Project expanded into a comprehensive Health Law Project, representing clients living with cancer and other chronic impairments. An Investors Rights program, also known as the Securities Arbitration Clinic, began representing investors on securities arbitration matters before the National Association of Securities Dealers and the New York Stock Exchange. The Low Income Taxpayer Clinic opened its doors to taxpayers who have disputes with the IRS, representing clients in both administrative and judicial proceedings.
In 2005, the Clinic celebrated its 30 th Anniversary. The Clinical program became known as the Law Clinic & Justice Center in 2006. Also in 2006, Sherry Gold gave $1 million to the Albany Law Clinic & Justice Center at Albany Law School, in memory of her late husband, Barry. The donation, which amounts to the largest ever given to the Clinic, will establish the Barry A. Gold '70 Health Law Clinical Program Endowment Fund. Professor Joseph Connors '88 took over directorship of the Clinic in 2009. Thanks to the students, faculty and attorneys who have gone before them, clinical students enjoy a wealth of programs, experiences and advisors in an up-to-date facility. And that's an important component of law school admissions today.