Sunday, December 25, 2011

2011 in Review: The Courage of our Clients

From Sara Rose in Pittsburgh:

The Mort family, with Isabella
As I reflect on the past year as an ACLU-PA staff attorney, foremost in my mind are the clients I represented. Sometimes, we focus more on the civil liberties we defend than the individuals who are affected - and while we say “the Constitution is our client,” it's the people we represent who illustrate why the Constitution is so important. It takes courage and perseverance to stand up for your rights. Their will and determination protect those rights for all of us. 

Steve Conway, a devoted father of three, became our client after Fayette County Children and Youth Services arbitrarily cut off his contact with his children. No one ever accused Steve of abusing or neglecting any of his children - CYS arbitrarily decided his legally consensual relationship with a younger woman constituted child abuse. He spent two years away from his children, including one with no contact whatsoever - no phone calls, not even e-mails. A federal judge ruled in his favor just before Thanksgiving 2010 - a few days after Steve was killed in a car crash.

Debra and Robert Conway, Steve's Parents, have continued the lawsuit on behalf of Steve’s estate. That was not an easy decision. They were forced to relive one of the most painful events in the life of their family – the government-enforced separation of their son from his children – and testify about those events during a four-day jury trial. Debra and Robert felt it was that important to stand up for their son’s rights, and to ensure that the heartache they endured at the hands of Fayette County CYS would not happen to another family.

Liz Mort and Alex Rodriguez were also separated from their child – this time in Lawrence County, by CYS and by Jameson Hospital in New Castle. Just three days after their daughter, Isabella, was born, two caseworkers arrived with two police officers to take her away. Liz had failed a drug test, administered by the hospital without her knowledge while she was in labor.

Isabella was kept from her parents for five days of confusion, until CYS figured out that the hospital was using tests so overly sensitive that the poppy-seed bagel Liz ate not long before going into labor triggered a false positive. It's a scenario most of know from a sitcom, regarded by many as a myth, turned into a nightmare for Isabella and her parents.

The ACLU helped Liz and Alex sue CYS and Jameson hospital to ensure that nightmare is not allowed to happen again. Isabella is a happy and thriving eighteen-month-old, but her parents will never forget the anguish of losing her. 

Then there are the twenty-five plaintiffs, most of them college students, who were swept up in a mass arrest on the University of Pittsburgh campus at the G-20 Summit in 2009. City officials have painted them as anarchists and provocateur - but dozens of interviews, depositions, and hearings have revealed a story of college students on their own campus, some of them freshman on campus less than a month, surrounded by hundreds of riot-clad police officers for no apparent reason, harassed, attacked, and jailed for up to 18 hours.

One young man suffered serious injury from being pepper sprayed and was then humiliated by police. Another was forced to kneel, handcuffed, in front of a line of police officers as they posed for a photo. Some of the women were subjected to sexually harassing comments and denied use of restrooms for hours. 100 people were arrested that night. Only 25 committed to the work required to hold the City accountable. They help protect the rights of everyone. 

Just as we could not bring these important cases without our clients, we cannot bring them without the support of our members and our donors. These clients have courage and perseverance, but few have the legal expertise or funding for a multi-year court battle. They rely on the ACLU for that - and we have it only thanks to our supporters. In honor of our clients and their immense courage, please make a tax-deductible gift today.

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Blogger Eric H said...

Right now I am fighting for my children after a judge let the mother relocate to MD from PA because he thought it was best. After the trial I conficated my daughter,s cell phone and found out since the move she was having sex with people over the age, laughing with the mother about killing me, and conspiring along with the mother and lawyer to terminate my rights. I tried to bring these issues before Judge Ness but he is trying to save face and not my kids. He is forcing me to move my case to MD and giving me a contempt charge also. PA is terrible when it comes to custody issues.

9:59 AM  

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