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Life Arts    H3'ed 5/21/10

Joe Libertelli on 9th Annual Human Rights Program, May 24-28 in DC

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Today's guest is Joe Libertelli, director of alumni relations for UDC David A. Clarke School of Law. Welcome to OpEdNews, Joe. I understand that your school is co-sponsoring an exciting event coming up really soon. Can you tell us about it?

Well, we have several interesting events coming up at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC-DCSL) ( including a talk by Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree on his book on the arrest of his colleague, Louis Gates, Jr. (on June 7) and we also have the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder coming on June 17, but I think the one you're referring to is our 9th Annual Human Rights program, coordinated by Joshua Cooper, Ph D from the International Human and Peoples' Rights Law Program based in Hawaii. The Human Rights course, which is non-credit-bearing and open to the public, features guest lectures from a wide variety of activists and human rights professionals.

Lots going on over there. Tell me more about the Human Rights course. It sounds fascinating. How does it work?

Well, Joshua Cooper is the man in the middle. He has both encyclopedic knowledge of human rights law and has had many years working as an activist. Although based in Hawaii, he has contacts literally everywhere and he reaches out to people he knows in DC and brings them in to speak with students - who run the gamut from law students and experts in human rights to interested high school students. The course is typically quite small - usually no more than 30 students - and affords lots of opportunity for interaction. The price ranges from zero to a few hundred dollars, depending on what students can afford to and choose to pay.

Can you give us a taste of the classes being offered?

Well, Joshua is particularly involved with indigenous people's issues and the session on Human Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the Organization of American States and the United Nations will be excellent. US Responsibilities to UN Treaty Bodies: CERD, CAT and ICCPR and US Actions to Ratify International Human Rights Conventions - Disabilities, CRC and CEDAW are, unfortunately, perennial topics as the US constantly needs advocacy to live up to its international obligations. Peace as a Human Right is another important session and Climate Change and Human Rights and Climate Legislation in the US Congress & Upcoming COP 16 in Cancun are new offerings.

The program is usually spiced with films at noontime and - I think humorously named - "excursions of empowerment" to various offices and agencies are also built into the program, typically in the late afternoon.

Wow! All this good stuff and movies, too! Who attends? Primarily locals, or do people come to town in order to partake?

Joshua times the course to follow the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, which he attends annually in New York. For the past few years he has brought several indigenous activists down to DC with him and has told me he will be bringing six this year. We also typically get a few of our UDC law students, a local high school student or two, and a variety of professionals at DC-based rights organizations and agencies who come out to broaden their knowledge. Often presenters themselves stay for subsequent sessions as students and sometimes return on a following day.

I wish I were in the neighborhood and could take advantage of the human rights program. Let's switch gears for a moment. Tell us a little about your law school. Many people may not be familiar with it.

Well, the UDC David A. Clarke School of Law (UDC-DCSL) has an interesting history. One could say that it is a reincarnation of the Antioch School of Law, a public interest law school in Washington, DC that closed in 1988. Before it closed, we mounted a campaign to convince the District of Columbia Council to turn Antioch Law into the District's public law school. We were successful - likely making us the nation's only law school created through a grassroots community organizing effort. I graduated from Antioch School of Law in 1985 and was the Campaign Coordinator for the effort to save it. We graduated our first class in 1991 and, five years later, we merged with the University of the District of Columbia and moved to our current location in Northwest, DC.

What makes UDC-DCSL unique is that, in addition to being one of the nation's most diverse law schools, all students must provide a minimum of 740 hours of public service in one of the seven clinics. These include Housing & Consumer Law, Special Education and Juvenile Justice, Small Business & Community Development Law, Legislation, the Government Accountability Project - which does whistleblower protection, Low-Income Tax, and HIV-AIDS-related law. This fall we'll open a new clinic in Immigration and Human Rights. Other law schools offer clinic as an option, and a few require it in smaller amounts, but none approach the scale of the UDC-DCSL clinical program. All told, although we remain a small law school, with among the nation's lowest faculty-student ratios, we provide about 85,000 hours of service to many of the District's most vulnerable residents.

Antioch School of Law was founded by an interracial couple, Edgar S. and Jean Camper Cahn. The public version was championed by, and would not exist without the support of Hilda and Charles Mason, another interracial couple. Our faculty and student body have always been among the nation's most diverse - not only in terms of race and ethnicity, but also socioeconomic class and age.

While our students take the same core classroom courses as students at other law schools, the experiential learning provides an extra dimension that both better prepares our graduates for practice - many go into small and solo law firms - but also sensitizes them to how the legal system works - and often does not work well - when it comes to protecting poor people and the public interest. The diversity and public service focus serve to create a uniquely cooperative learning environment.

As a progressive educational institution in Washington, DC, we are able to take advantage of the fact that the District is saturated with lawyers and law-related organizations. We raise funds to pay our first year students stipends to do summer public interest fellowships at non-profits, government agencies, and in judges chambers. We also get phenomenal adjunct faculty members, who supplement our excellent core faculty. And even though we have never paid for a speaker, we have had numerous cutting edge attorneys speak at the School, from Morris Dees, to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, to Ralph Nader, to Reps. Barney Frank and John Lewis, Senate Judiciary Chair Pat Leahy, and many more.

In addition to the free Human Rights course, which would be very difficult to pull off in most other places, we have two other public events coming up. On June 7, our former University Board Chair, Harvard Law professor Charles Ogletree, will be speaking on his new book, "Presumption of Innocence; The Arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Race, Class and Crime in America." And on June 17, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will deliver the 18th annual Joe Rauh Lecture. Your readers are welcome to attend either or both - and can register via our home page at

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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