May 10, 2010
CUNY Law students will receive their Juris Doctorate on May 14th in a graduation ceremony celebrating their successful path through law school. “We are so proud of the 2010 class,” said CUNY Law Dean Michelle J. Anderson. “Our students are passionate advocates who will carry on the important tradition of public interest law among CUNY grads.”
CUNY Law is recognized as a national leader in public interest law, training lawyers to serve the underprivileged and disempowered and to make a difference in their communities. The Law School’s clinical program, which requires all third-year students to provide direct, supervised client representation to low-income individuals, is consistently ranked among the top ten out of law schools nationwide.
New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS) Commissioner Gladys Carrión, who has a long and distinguished career as a lawyer and social justice advocate for the poor and working families, will be the commencement speaker. A child of Puerto Rican immigrants born and raised in the South Bronx, Commison Carrión’s early career as a Bronx Legal Services attorney put her in the forefront of a wide range of poverty issues, including housing, welfare, education, and family law. While at Legal Services, she rose to become managing attorney for the South Bronx office. As the former commissioner of the New York City Community Development Agency under Mayor Dinkins, she supervised more than 300 community-based organizations and conducted the first major analysis of poverty in New York City since the 1970s.
In 2007, she was appointed Commissioner of the New York State Office of Children and Family Services (OCFS). Among other responsibilities, Commissioner Carrión is responsible for the oversight, administration and management of foster care, adoption, adoption assistance, and child protective services. She is also responsible for directing the functions performed by the Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped (CBVH), and state government responses to the needs of Native Americans on reservations and in communities. In 2009, the New York State Bar Association awarded Commissioner Carrión the Howard A. Levine Award for Excellence in Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare for her juvenile justice reform initiatives.
Lilly Ledbettter, whose lawsuit charging gender-based wage discrimination inspired the first piece of legislation signed by President Obama – the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act – will receive an Honorary Doctor of Law degree. Miguel “Mickey” Melendez, Latino rights activist, parent advocate and author of the 2003 memoir We Took to the Streets: Fighting for Latino Rights With the Young Lords. Melendez, who has held senior positions in the New York City government and has taught in the black and Hispanic studies department at Baruch College, will also receive an Honorary Doctor of Law Degree.
The Dean’s Medal will be presented posthoumously to Professor Rhonda Copelon, co-founder of the International Women’s Human Rights Law Clinic at the CUNY School of Law and founding faculty member of the Law School, who died on May 6, 2010. Before joining the CUNY Law, Professor Copelon spent many years litigating landmark civil rights and international human rights cases at the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York City, including cases opening federal courts to international human rights claims (Filartiga), invalidating the firing of unwed mothers (Drew v. Andrews), and challenging the cut-off of Medicaid funds for abortion (Harris v. McRae). “Professor Copelon’s passing is a huge loss for human rights worldwide,” said CUNY School of Law Dean Michelle J. Anderson. “Her tireless passion and precedent-setting work leaves a legacy in human rights law, and particularly women’s rights law, that altered the bedrock of how U.S. courts treat international human rights abuses,” Anderson added.
Under Professor Copelon’s leadership, CUNY Law’s IWHR clinic initiated a range of precedent-setting legal and advocacy campaigns. For example, IWHR’s amicus briefs in the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia resulted in the recognition in international law of rape as a crime of genocide and torture. IWHR’s work with the United Nation’s Committee Against Torture contributed to the recognition that gender crimes, such as domestic violence, can constitute torture under the United Nation’s Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Professor Copelon also cofounded the Women’s Caucus for Gender Justice and through her role as secretariat and as the Director of IWHR, she argued vigorously that wartime sexual violence should be recognized by the International Criminal Court (ICC). As a result of her tireless passion and work with partnering organizations, the ICC codified sexual and gender crimes as being part of their jurisdiction. “At every turn, Professor Copelon made CUNY Law proud,” said Anderson. “She inspired a new legal framework for adjudicating and understanding gender-based crimes.” After long years of service to students, the legal community, and clients, Professor Copelon retired in January of 2010.
Graduation will be held on May 14th at 11 a.m. at the Kupferberg Center for the Arts, Colden Auditorium, Queens College, 65-30 Kissena Boulevard, Flushing, Queens.
Contact: Vivian Todini 718-340-4530 or Carol Kozo 718-340-4207