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Prison Litigation 2018


Speaker(s): Betsy Ginsberg, Chase Strangio, David C. Fathi, Hon. Ronald L. Ellis (Ret.), Mary Lynne Werlwas, Samuel Miller
Recorded on: Jun. 5, 2018
PLI Program #: 221976

David C. Fathi is Director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Prison Project, which brings challenges to conditions of confinement in prisons, jails, and other detention facilities, and works to end the policies that have given the United States the highest incarceration rate in the world.  He worked as a staff lawyer at the Project for more than ten years before becoming director in 2010, and has special expertise in challenging “supermax” prisons, where prisoners are held for months or years at a time in conditions of near-total isolation.  From 2012 to 2015 he represented the ACLU in negotiations leading to adoption of the United Nations Revised Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, known as the “Nelson Mandela Rules.”

From 2007 to 2010 Fathi was Director of the US Program at Human Rights Watch.  The US Program works to defend the rights of particularly vulnerable groups in the United States, and has published groundbreaking reports on the death penalty, prison conditions, racial discrimination, the rights of immigrants, and many other human rights issues.

Fathi has lectured nationally and internationally on criminal justice issues.  His op-eds have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, and other major media outlets.  He serves on the Board of Penal Reform International, a UK-based NGO that works for criminal justice reform around the world. He is a graduate of the University of Washington and the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley.


Samuel Miller is Cooperating Counsel at the Center for Constitutional Rights and was the Center’s Interim Legal Director from 2007-2009.  From 2012 to 2015 he was a Senior Attorney at the Center for Public Representation and was Of Counsel at Outten & Golden from 2009 to 2012.  Mr. Miller was an Associate Research Scholar at Columbia University School of Law in 2006-2007 and was a career law clerk for the Honorable Thelton E. Henderson, United States District Court, N.D. Cal from 2000-2006.  He is currently in the monitoring phase of a challenge to long-term solitary confinement in Ashker v. Governor of California, and has litigated other prisoners’ rights cases, including Gates v. Deukmejian, Coleman v. Wilson, and Toussaint v. McCarthy.

His recent publications include From Exclusion to Inclusion: How the ADA Provides an Avenue for School Integration (June 2104), Advocating for Students with Mental Health Disabilities (Oct. 2013), The Roles of Intermediaries in Institutional Reform Litigation (Jan. 2013), and Litigating Municipal Liability in School-to-Prison Pipeline Cases (Dec. 2012).

He is a graduate of Tufts University and Boalt Hall School of Law, University of California.


Betsy Ginsberg is a clinical law professor at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, where she directs the Civil Rights Clinic.  Previously, she taught in Cardozo’s Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic and before that was a member of the Lawyering faculty at NYU School of Law.  Before she began teaching, she worked as a Staff Attorney at the Prisoners’ Rights Project of the Legal Aid Society in New York City, where she litigated class action lawsuits seeking to reform jails and prisons in New York City and New York State with respect to disability rights, mental health care, and prison guard brutality. She has been the recipient of two public interest fellowships: the Soros Justice Postgraduate Fellowship, to support her work at the Prisoners’ Rights Project, and the NAPIL Equal Justice Fellowship, which funded her work at the Prison Law Office in San Quentin, CA, where she litigated class action institutional reform lawsuits on behalf of California prisoners and parolees.  She received her J.D. from New York University School of Law, cum laude, where she was an Arthur Garfield Hays Civil Liberties Fellow.


Chase Strangio is a Staff Attorney with the ACLU's LGBT & HIV Project. He was counsel for Chelsea Manning in her lawsuit against the Department of Defense for denial of health care related to gender transition and was part of the team that organized around her commutation. He has also worked on lawsuits challenging North Carolina's infamous anti-trans laws, HB2 and HB142, and on Gavin Grimm's trans rights case before the United States Supreme Court. He is currently part of the legal team at the ACLU challenging President Trump's ban on open military service by transgender individuals. In his free time he organizes around ending cash bail and hangs out with his kid. Chase is a graduate of Grinnell College and Northeastern University School of Law.


HON. RONALD L. ELLIS, United States Magistrate Judge (ret.)

Judge Ellis has a degree in chemical engineering from Manhattan College and a law degree from New York University.  Following graduation from law school, Judge Ellis was admitted to the Patent Bar.  After a brief stint as a patent attorney, Judge Ellis joined the staff at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund, Inc. in early 1976, where he specialized in fair employment class action litigation.  In 1984, Judge Ellis assumed the directorship of the Fund’s national litigation program in fair employment and held that post until 1990, when he became the Director of the Fund’s Poverty & Justice Program, which addressed the problems of families and individuals in poverty, including cases involving access to health care, school equity, low-income housing, and environmental justice. 

During his tenure at the Fund, Judge Ellis participated in numerous federal cases at the trial level in more than a dozen states, and in significant cases in various federal appellate courts, including the United States Supreme Court.

Judge Ellis is currently an Adjunct Professor at Columbia University School of Law, and has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at New York University, where he taught Employment Law for two years at the graduate level and Racism and American Law for ten years at the undergraduate level, and an Adjunct Professor of Law at New York Law School, where he taught a course in Blacks and the Law for three years.  Judge Ellis co-authored the chapter on “Achieving Race and Gender Fairness in the Courtroom” in The Judge’s Book (2nd ed. 1994).

During his twenty-four years on the bench, Judge Ellis had had more than 40 law clerks from a dozen law schools and more than 200 interns from more than twenty law schools.


Mary Lynne Werlwas is the Director of the Prisoners’ Rights Project of The Legal Aid Society of the City of New York.  The Prisoners’ Rights Project challenges constitutional violations and unlawful conditions in jails and prisons in New York, and advocates for individual prisoners on matters including access to medical care and mental health treatment, safety and protection from violence, disability and conditions of confinement.  She is class counsel in Nunez  v. New York, seeking to reform the systemwide misuse of force in New York City jails, and Handberry v. Thompson, remedying New York City’s failure to provide high school education to youth held in adult jails.  Previously she was an associate at Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin & Demain in San Francisco, specializing in labor, employment, constitutional and civil rights law, and the Leonard Sandler Fellow at Human Rights Watch in New York.  She served as a law clerk to the late Honorable Richard D. Cudahy of the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and to the Honorable Chief Justice Gubbay of the Supreme Court of Zimbabwe in Harare.  She is a graduate of Princeton University and Columbia Law School, where she was a Harlan Fiske Stone Scholar and Articles Editor of the Columbia Law Review.