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Housing heroes: Civil rights clinic first to receive prestigious award

January 17, 2019 10:00 AM
 | 
Alina Hernandez ahernandez4@tulane.edu

The 2018-2019 Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic's student attorneys were sworn in this fall, alongside Clinic Director Lucia Blacksher Ranier and Clinic Instructor Samuel Brandao (left of center) in the chamber of the Louisiana Supreme Court. Presiding over the event was Associate Justice Greg Guidry, (center) and Law School Dean David Meyer. (Photo: Susan Poag)

 

Heroes come in many forms, but to be the first chosen for recognition is indicative you’ve set the bar at the highest level.

For their “invaluable contribution” and “their tireless efforts to provide legal representation to members of our community who have experienced housing discrimination,” the Tulane Law Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic is the first recipient of the Fair Housing Hero Award from the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center.

The clinic, under the direction of Lucia Blacksher Ranier, has worked on a range of cases with the Center involving clients facing housing discrimination on the basis of race, sex, familial status, and disabilities. Dozens of student-attorneys over the years have prepared briefs, interviewed clients, won settlements and otherwise represented clients under the supervision of Blacksher Ranier and Clinical Instructor Sam Brandao (L ’12).

“The Clinic’s partnership with GNOFHAC is invaluable because of the opportunity it presents for our students to help further the mission of the organization while learning essential lawyering skills,” Blacksher Ranier said. “When representing clients with GNOFHAC, students gain an understanding of the discriminatory obstacles many people in our community face when searching for housing and graduate knowing they have helped someone to stand up for their fair housing rights.”

In giving the award, the Center said “this honoree ensures that our neighbors access justice, whether that means receiving needed accommodations to stay in their homes, gaining access to housing that they were illegally barred from, stopping sexual harassment, or ensuring fair treatment. Not only that, this honoree makes an invaluable contribution to building the fair housing movement each year by training the next generation of advocates.”

Their partnership includes current litigation involving an Uptown landlord accused of renting only to young women and then targeting them for dates and sex-for-rent schemes. The case is important because of the large number of individuals affected and its potential to advance legal precedents defining sexual harassment as a form of housing discrimination.

While that case is important, the clinic helped the Center for nearly a decade to fight to hold the Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) accountable for promises it made after demolishing thousands of public housing units before and after Hurricane Katrina, said GNOFHAC Legal Director Elizabeth Owen. The clinic was ultimately successful in getting HANO to agree to rebuild affordable housing units in those New Orleans neighborhoods most at risk for gentrification.  

“But the real spirit behind the award is that the clinic is training a generation of future advocates to take on these difficult and important cases,” Owen said.

Besides working with the Center on housing litigation, the clinic takes on dozens of cases each year that involve a range of civil rights issues spanning prisoners’ rights, to employment discrimination, to violations of civil liberties. Clients often apply for clinic representation after referrals through partnerships with national organizations, local advocacy groups, and the courts.

This year is particularly noteworthy as all of Tulane’s legal clinics are celebrating their 40th anniversary. In addition to the Civil Rights and Federal Practice Clinic, there are five other clinics: Criminal Law, Domestic Violence, Environmental Law, Juvenile Law and the Public Law Center, which focuses on legislative and administrative advocacy.

Associate Dean for Experiential Learning and Public Interest Programs Stacy Seicshnaydre said it was gratifying to see two dedicated professors receive the honor and distinction of being called ‘heroes.’

“Blacksher Ranier has dedicated her career to the practice of civil rights and has played a pivotal role in developing and litigating some of the highest profile fair housing cases to be brought in the state. She has drawn on this experience in supervising and mentoring Tulane Law students over the past 10 years,” Seicshnaydre said.

“Prof. Brandao, a former Skadden Fellow with intensive experience representing low-income victims of housing discrimination at Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, is an alumni of the Civil Rights Clinic and a stellar teacher and writer. Our students and their clients are enormously fortunate to work with both of them.”