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17th Annual School Law Institute

Speaker(s): Abja Midha, Caroline J. Heller, Christopher P. Borreca, Joanne L. Butler, Kimberly Forte, Selene A. Almazan
Recorded on: Jun. 8, 2017
PLI Program #: 185632

Chris Borreca is a lawyer who has represented public and private schools for more than twenty years, concentrating in the area of special education. Borreca is a founding partner of the law firm of Thompson & Horton located in Houston, Texas. Previously, he was a partner at the firm of Bracewell & Giuliani LLP.

Prior to becoming an attorney, Borreca was a teacher and school administrator in Madison, Wisconsin and directed a private school in Houston serving students with significant disabilities. He is a former president of the Education Law Association and received his undergraduate degree from Peabody College (Vanderbilt University), his master's degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his J.D. from the University of Houston Law Center. 

In addition to representing school districts before administrative judges and courts, Borreca provides legislative consultation at the state and federal level. He is a frequent speaker at national conferences dealing with special education law. He has authored numerous articles and books for the Atlantic, the National School Boards Association, the Education Law Association, LRP Publications  and others.

Abja Midha is a Project Director at Advocates for Children of New York (AFC).  Abja leads AFC’s Immigrant Students’ Rights Project, which works to protect English Language Learners’ and immigrant students’ access to educational programs and improve their educational outcomes.  She also coordinates the Coalition for Multiple Pathways to a Diploma, a statewide coalition of advocates, educators, parents and youth who have come together to urge the creation of multiple pathways to a high school diploma in New York State.  

Previously, she was a Vice President of Strategy at Teach For America, where she worked closely with the development and legal affairs teams.  She has also been a Litigation Associate at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, LLP, a Law Clerk for the Honorable Charles P. Sifton with the United States District Court, E.D.N.Y., and an Equal Justice Works Fellow/ Immigration Intervention Project Staff Attorney at Sanctuary for Families.

Abja graduated magna cum laude from Brown University with a B.A. in Economics and International Relations and earned her J.D from Yale Law School.

Caroline J. Heller is a shareholder in the Litigation Practice of Greenberg Traurig, LLP’s New York office. Caroline is also the Chair of Greenberg Traurig Global Pro Bono Program.  Caroline is a faculty member of Greenberg Traurig’s GT Litigation Academy, which provides intensive in-house training programs in jury trials, expert witness preparation, deposition practice, motion practice, and mediation. Caroline focuses her practice on complex commercial litigation and business disputes on a nationwide basis in the fields of professional liability, partnership disputes, securities litigation and entertainment disputes. In the field of special education, since 2006, Caroline has represented parents of children with disabilities on a pro bono basis at impartial hearings, appeals to the SRO, and in federal court.  She received her B.A. from Bryn Mawr College and her J.D. from Northwestern University School of Law.

Areas of Concentration: Business and commercial litigation; Securities litigation; Appellate advocacy

Professional & Community Involvement: Member, New York State Bar Association; Member, Association of the Bar of the City of New York; Member, District of Columbia Bar; Member, American Bar Association; Member, Board of Directors, Advocates For Children of New York; Member, Board of Directors, Fund for Modern Courts

Awards & Recognition: 

Listed, City & State, "The Responsible 100," 2017

Recipient, New York Business Journal "Women of Influence Award," 2017

Listed, Super Lawyers magazine, New York Metro Super Lawyers, 2013-2017

Listed, “Rising Star,” 2012

Finalist, Chambers USA “Women in Law Awards,” Leadership in the Community: Lawyer of the Year, 2015

Recipient, Lawyers Who Lead By Example, Pro Bono Award, New York Law Journal, 2014

Recipient, President’s Pro Bono Award, First Judicial District, New York Bar Association, 2012

Honoree, Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, recognition for pro bono services, March 2011

Recipient, Greenberg Traurig, LLP, Pro Bono Attorney of the Year Award 2010

Honoree, Advocates for Children of New York, Inc., March 2010

Recipient, John K. Geiger Award, Her Justice (inMotion), November 2006

Joanne L. Butler represents numerous boards of education as general or special counsel. In addition to providing daily counsel to her school district clients, Ms. Butler conducts in-service training at all levels and represents her clients in investigations and litigation before the Department of Education, the Office of Administrative Law, the Public Employment Relations Commission, the Division on Civil Rights, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and various state and federal courts. A co-chair of the Labor & Employment Practice Group, Ms. Butler also offers employment counseling to private employers.

Ms. Butler frequently shares her knowledge and experience in the areas of school law and labor and employment law through lectures and in-service training on various education and employment issues. Topics have included harassment/intimidation/bullying; student discipline; expulsion and alternative education; residency issues; student records; student surveys; Individualized Education Program (IEP) preparation; special education; avoiding/surviving due process; Section 504; New Jersey Family Leave and Federal Family and Medical Leave; sexual harassment; search and seizure; technology on and off school grounds; and school safety concerns.

Prior to joining Schenck, Price, Smith & King, LLP in 1996, Ms. Butler was a partner with the West Orange firm of Young, Dimiero & Sayovitz. Early in her law career, she served her judicial clerkship with the Honorable Clarkson S. Fisher, former Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Kimberly Forte is a dedicated social justice attorney whose career began when she served in the inaugural class of Americorps volunteers.  Her commitment to the rights of children led her to attend law school and brought her to NYC where she ultimately joined The Legal Aid Society. 

Kim is the Supervising Attorney for The Legal Aid Society’s LGBT Law and Policy Initiative.  The goals the Initiative are to increase Legal Aid’s cultural competency to better represent LGBTQ clients and the Society’s litigation, public policy and legislative efforts on behalf of low-income LGBTQ New Yorkers. Kim’s work focuses on all three of the Society’s Practices – Civil, Juvenile Rights and Criminal Defense. She currently serves as the Society’s lead counsel on two landmark cases affecting the LGBTQ communities - CW v City of New York (EDNY), a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of the almost 4000 runaway and homeless youth seeking a the right youth specific shelter and services and Cruz v Zucker (SDNY), a class action lawsuit filed on behalf of transgender Medicaid recipients who were denied medically necessary health care.

She is proud to partner with many of NYC’s queer justice organizations and is confident these relationships will continue to bring about progressive change.  She has been with the Society for over 15 years, where she has held various positions in the Juvenile Rights Practice (JRP), representing youth in NYC Family Courts. She was a staff attorney with JRP's Law Reform Unit which investigates and files impact litigation cases and comments on proposed legislation and policies affecting youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems.  Kim regularly presents at local, state and national conferences on issues related to her current position.  She received a B.A. in Political Science from the University of Florida and a J.D. from SUNY Buffalo.  Kim shares her life with her spouse Tina, their twins, Kyle and Luca, and their beloved dog Rufus.

Selene Almazan has represented students and families for over thirty years. Almazan is a former supervising attorney for the Legal Aid Bureau of Maryland representing children in the foster care system, including in special education matters. For nearly twenty-three years, Almazan represented parents in special education matters with a primary focus on least restrictive environment (LRE) issues at the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education. Since September 2014, Almazan has been the legal director for the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates, where Almazan supports the work of the amicus committee and works on federal and local policy issues. In this position, Almazan writes appellate amicus briefs for appellate courts as well as the US Supreme Court. She was counsel of record for COPAA as an amicus in Fry v. Napoleon Community Schools and counsel on COPAA’s amicus brief in Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District. Since May 2015, Almazan maintains a private practice that focuses on parent and student representation in special education matters, including LRE. Almazan represents families at IEP team meetings, state complaint proceedings, mediations, due process hearings, suspension/expulsion proceedings, and federal court proceedings, including matters involving violations of the ADA and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Almazan has extensive experience training families, teachers, school administrators, attorneys, and advocates on legal issues related to special education law, as well as disability discrimination issues. Almazan obtained a BA from University of Maryland, College Park, and a JD from Antioch School of Law.