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School of Law--Newark
Helping women with AIDS

Archived article from Dec 4, 1998


New Jersey, among the states with the largest percentage of women living with AIDS, has some help dealing with this crisis from a new Women and AIDS Clinic at the School of Law-Newark.

In its first year, the clinic, which helps HIV-positive women and their children, has received funding from the New Jersey AIDS Partnership, the Eddie Blanks Foundation and the Prudential Foundation.

Law students on the Newark campus help guide women infected with HIV through administrative and judicial proceedings to obtain public benefits, arrange guardianships, establish bankruptcy, and prepare medical directives and wills.

They also perform community outreach and education on issues affecting people living with HIV/AIDS and may also conduct more complex litigation to address instances of discrimination.

"Because of New Jersey's staggering statistics regarding HIV infection in women, students and the community recognize this project as a worthwhile effort," said Cynthia M. Dennis, clinic director. "These women need a responsive office where they can have their legal affairs handled in a sensitive manner so they can concentrate on their health and family life."

The demand for the clinic's services has already generated a steady stream of legal requests, according to Dennis. Two clinic students have successfully represented a woman with AIDS and mental illness in an administrative proceeding for Supplemental Security Income benefits. In another case, the clinic negotiated a more favorable status for a client who was being denied necessary pharmaceutical services.

Such experiences, says Dennis, give the students more than just good legal training. "Students gain insight into the lives of many women who have enormous strength and determination. With the numbers of HIV cases rising, pretty soon all of us will know someone who is personally impacted by the virus," Dennis predicted.--Debora D. Smith    

Expanding the rights of aliens

Some 150 students of the School of Law-Newark had a hand in a landmark ruling that permits political-asylum seekers to sue U.S. officials for human-rights abuses under international law.

Under the direction of staff attorney Penny Venetis, the students, over the course of seven semesters, participated in every stage of the legal proceedings through the school's Constitutional Litigation Clinic.

The students were part of a legal team that helped make it possible for 19 asylum seekers to sue the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service for human-rights abuses they allege took place at the Esmor detention center in Elizabeth, which closed in June 1995.

The ruling was handed down by Senior Judge Dickinson R. Debevoise of the U.S. District Court of New Jersey, who held that the asylum seekers could sue INS officials, and the prison corporation that managed the facility, under international law for alleged inhuman and degrading detention conditions. The ruling said the plaintiffs need not suffer torture, death or severe bodily harm to claim human-rights violations.

"This ruling expands the legal protections available to aliens who are detained by the INS," Venetis said. "It permits individuals to sue U.S. officials for violations of international law for abuses that took place in the United States."

Students conducted preliminary interviews with the 19 plaintiffs, researched claims, helped draft the complaint and various briefs, prepared oral arguments and depositions, and attended legal proceedings, Venetis said. "They've assisted me in every stage of the case."

The legal team also included three members of the New York law firm O'Melveny & Myers who are graduates of the Newark law school.

The 19 aliens, suing as individuals, alleged that bright lights shone on them day and night, guards woke them up to taunt them, dormitories smelled of human waste, and the shower and toilet in each dormitory were in the same room as the eating and sleeping areas.--Douglas Frank

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Last Updated: May 30, 2006

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