Edgar Coker was only 15 when, upon advice of court-appointed counsel, he entered a guilty plea to the rape of a 14-year-old neighbor and was ordered to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life. The complaining witness recanted her story two months later. However, it took seven years, several attorneys, dozens of law students, and a trip to the Virginia Supreme Court to remove Edgar Coker’s name from the sex offender registry. On February 10, Judge Jane Marum Roush issued an order vacating his conviction due to the constitutionally ineffective assistance provided by his trial counsel. The case is an unsettling reminder of why our youth desperately need highly skilled and motivated representation in juvenile court.
Photo: Edgar Coker outside the Virginia Supreme Court with his family and legal team, which includes attorneys from JustChildren and the UVA School of Law’s Innocence Project and Child Advocacy Clinic.
The Legal Aid Justice Center is pleased to announce that Mario Salas will join the JustChildren Program in September of 2014. Currently a 3rd year student at the University of Virginia School of Law, Salas was named as the 13th recipient of the law school’s Powell Fellowship.
The fellowship will fund a position in our Charlottesville office, where Salas has designed a plan to help children with disabilities and their families realize their educational goals, as well as to prepare for life after school. “My project will allow me to represent parents in special-ed planning meetings and to advocate for better special-ed services that are focused more tightly on that transition to life after leaving school,” Salas said.
Salas has volunteered hundreds of hours with the Legal Aid Justice Center since starting law school, including time with the JustChildren Program. He also took the Child Advocacy Clinic last year and spent an additional semester through an independent project under Professor Andrew Block this past fall. Executive Director Mary Bauer said, “With his background as an educator, Mario is uniquely suited to helping young people with disabilities get what they need to thrive as adults. We are thrilled to host his fellowship.”
The University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and the Legal Aid Justice Center have partnered on a new report documenting the scope of racial disparities in school suspension in Virginia. The Report finds that, in Virginia schools, black male students are at least twice as likely to be suspended as white male students. Most black students are being suspended for relatively minor misbehavior, such as being loud or disruptive in class.
The report also unveils the results of a new study demonstrating that use of the Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines (VSTAG) is associated with lower rates of school suspensions, including a smaller racial discipline gap. Schools using VSTAG have substantially lower rates of school suspensions, especially among black males.
The Legal Aid Justice Center filed a lawsuit in Arlington County Circuit Court on Tuesday, December 17, 2013, on behalf of seven immigrant students from Virginia, all of whom have been granted Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status by the federal government. Although these students grew up in Virginia and graduated from Virginia high schools, the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) has determined that they are categorically ineligible for in-state tuition rates at Virginia’s public colleges and universities. The students are asking the court to overrule SCHEV’s interpretation of the law, and recognize that DACA recipients should be eligible for much cheaper in-state tuition rates – just like other Virginia high school graduates.
The Legal Aid Justice Center is pleased to announce that Mary Bauer has been selected to be the new executive director, following the departure of long-time director, Alex Gulotta.
Bauer – a recognized leader and key litigator in immigration reform efforts on the national level – most recently served as director of advocacy at the Legal Aid Justice Center, a position she has held since June. Prior to that, Bauer was legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery, Ala. There she guided legal advocacy, as well as public policy and legislative reform efforts in five offices in the Deep South.
“Mary brings a wealth of experience to the position, and her tenacity and expertise as a litigator are unmatched,” said outgoing director Alex Gulotta. “I leave knowing that the future of this organization is secure, and that Mary is the best possible leader to ensure that the Legal Aid Justice Center protects the rights and advocates for change on behalf of our low-income clients.”
Alex Gulotta has announced that he is resigning as executive director of the Legal Aid Justice Center, effective at the end of 2013. In January 2014, he will begin his new role as executive director of Bay Area Legal Aid in the San Francisco area.
“I would not have considered this move if I did not believe that the Legal Aid Justice Center is in as strong a position as it has ever been,” said Gulotta. “The leadership of our board, the expertise and dedication of our staff, and the support of a generous and compassionate community leave no doubt that the Legal Aid Justice Center will continue to thrive long after I have moved on.”
The Board of Directors has already begun a national search for a new executive director.
The Legal Aid Justice Center seeks an executive director to lead our nationally recognized law firm dedicated to serving low-income households, from our headquarters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Alex R. Gulotta, who has served as executor director for 19 years, will depart at the end of 2013.
The next executive director will join the Legal Aid Justice Center at a time of great opportunity. By producing outstanding results for more than 45 years, the Legal Aid Justice Center has developed a national reputation for excellence. Six of our attorneys have received national awards for their efforts. Thenext executive director will enjoy the dual opportunities of building upon the Legal Aid Justice Center’s strengths and accomplishments, while also creating new and expanded areas for advocacy.
Public housing tenants and the Charlottesville Redevelopment and Housing Authority (CRHA) reached a settlement in the federal class action suit filed last year to challenge the failure of the CRHA to provide adequate electric utility allowances to residents. CRHA’s failure resulted in tens of thousands of dollars of overcharges to low-income Charlottesville residents. The Legal Aid Justice Center is representing tenants, former tenants and the Charlottesville Public Housing Association of Residents in the class action filed in federal court in Charlottesville.
Federal District Court Judge Glen E. Conrad will determine whether to approve or disapprove the agreed settlement at a hearing on November 4, 2013, at 9:30 a.m. in the Charlottesville Federal Courthouse.
Henrico County Public Schools (HCPS) and the Legal Aid Justice Center are proud to announce a new partnership designed to reduce the disparities in suspension rates among minority students and students with disabilities attending HCPS middle schools. The partnership is the result of more than nine months of collaboration to further develop and enhance Henrico’s existing efforts.
The agreement provides that:
HCPS will partner with an independent consultant to implement effective strategies for reducing the number of suspensions overall and closing the gaps in suspension rates;
HCPS will continue giving quarterly presentations to its School Board pertaining to discipline;
HCPS will determine whether appropriate prevention and intervention plans have been developed in accordance with School Board policy;
The Legal Aid Justice Center and HCPS agree to resolve issues pertaining to disproportionality in discipline through collaborative efforts.
Congratulations to attorney Kate Duvall for receiving the Carol S. Fox “Making Kids Count” Award from Voices for Virginia’s Children. Kate represents dozens of children in the juvenile justice system, helping with re-entry planning, access to school and mental health treatment and other issues. She also successfully helped lobby for positive changes in the juvenile justice system. Way to go, Kate!