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Prison Law 2018


Speaker(s): Amy Fettig, Betsy Ginsberg, Elizabeth A. Gaynes, Eric Hecker, Hon. James L. Cott, Jaya Vasandani, Julia Yoo, Katherine Rosenfeld, Michael E. Cassidy, Miyhosi Benton, Peggy Cross-Goldenberg, Philip Desgranges, Rachel Meeropol
Recorded on: Nov. 13, 2018
PLI Program #: 222005

Amy Fettig serves as Deputy Director for the ACLU’s National Prison Project (NPP).  At NPP, she oversees federal class action prison conditions cases.  Her practice focuses on claims regarding medical and mental health care in prison, solitary confinement, prison rape and sexual abuse, and comprehensive reform in juvenile facilities.  Ms. Fettig is also the director of the ACLU’s nationwide Stop Solitary campaign seeking to end the practice of extreme isolation in our nation’s prisons, jails and juvenile detention centers through public policy reform, state and federal legislation, litigation and public education.  A leading authority on women prisoners, Ms. Fettig also works with a wide range of ACLU affiliates on both campaigns to end the shackling of pregnant women and their advocacy strategies around women’s health and menstrual equity in prison.  A national expert on prisoner rights law, she provides technical legal assistance and strategic counsel to advocacy groups and lawyers around the country and has served as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Georgetown University.  Prior to law school, Ms. Fettig worked with women prisoners, returned citizens, and their families in New York City.  She holds a B.A., with distinction, Carleton College; a Master’s from Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs; and a J.D. from Georgetown University.  Ms. Fettig is a member of the New York State Bar (2002) and the Bar for the District of Columbia (2006).


Elizabeth Gaynes, President & CEO, has led the Osborne Association, a New York criminal justice nonprofit organization, for nearly 35 years. Ms. Gaynes began her legal career representing men involved in the 1971 Attica prison rebellion. She became intimately aware of the challenges faced by prison families when her husband was incarcerated, and she proceeded to raise her two children through his 25 years of incarceration.  Ms. Gaynes is a nationally recognized expert in the design and implementation of replicable programs for individuals and families, including alternatives to incarceration and re-incarceration; and parenting and family support services for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated parents and their children. Osborne operates family-related programs in more than 25 state prisons. Ms. Gaynes is also recognized for her leadership in advocacy and services for children of incarcerated parents. From 2011 to 2013, Ms. Gaynes served as an advisor to Sesame Street Workshop as they developed their “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration” toolkit for children and caregivers affected by parental incarceration. Concurrent with the launch of the toolkit, in 2013, Ms. Gaynes was named a White House Champion of Change for Children of Incarcerated Parents. Ms. Gaynes is co-author of Osborne’s recently released report on aging in prison entitled, The High Cost of Low Risk: The Crisis of America’s Aging Prison Population. Prior to Osborne, she was a staff attorney at Prisoners Legal Services of New York (Albany) and an Associate at the Pretrial Justice Institute (DC). She received her BA and JD from Syracuse University.


Eric Hecker is a partner at Cuti Hecker Wang LLP, where he has a diverse trial and appellate litigation practice.  Eric is an experienced civil rights litigator who has successfully handled many, prisoners' rights, police misconduct, employment discrimination, wage and hour, First Amendment, children's rights, housing discrimination, and election law cases.  He also litigates a wide variety of commercial disputes involving contract, partnership, and intellectual property issues.

Eric graduated magna cum laude from the University of Michigan Law School, where he was a member of the Order of the Coif and an Articles Editor on the Michigan Law Review.  He clerked for three federal judges:  David Tatel of the D.C. Circuit, Thelton Henderson of the Northern District of California, and Constance Baker Motley of the Southern District of New York.  Eric taught a course in election law at Cardozo Law School from 2005 through 2015, and he was named a “Super Lawyer” for civil rights and business litigation each year from 2009 through 2018.

Eric has represented prisoners in numerous cases during his career, mostly individual damages actions for alleged physical abuse by corrections officers.  He currently represents a class of approximately 500 pre-trial detainees in Parker v. City of New York, which involves unconstitutional placement in solitary confinement (the case settled and is now in the settlement administration phase).  Eric also represented the Estate of John McAllister, who committed suicide at Downstate Correctional Facility in 2016.  That case, which recently settled for $1.6 million, will be addressed as part of his presentation today.


Hon. James L. Cott became a United States Magistrate Judge for the Southern District of New York in March, 2010.  Immediately prior to his appointment to the bench, Magistrate Judge Cott served as the Chief of the Civil Division in the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York from 2003 to 2010.  A graduate of Harvard College and Northeastern University School of Law, Judge Cott has also served as a law clerk to the late Vincent L. Broderick, United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York, and for 13 years was an Assistant United States Attorney in the Civil Division of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York, serving as Chief of the Office's Civil Rights Unit from 1991 to 1996 and as a Deputy Chief of the Civil Division from 1996 to 2000.  From 2001 to 2003, Judge Cott was the Associate Director of Litigation at the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund.  Judge Cott has taught at New York University School of Law and at Fordham Law School, and participates annually in the Practising Law Institute's course on Current Developments in Federal Civil Practice.  He has also co-taught a master class on constitutional law at the Academy for Teachers, and participates annually in the Second Circuit’s Teachers Summer Institute on Civic Education.


Katie Rosenfeld is a partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP (“ECBA”), where she maintains a diverse civil rights practice. Since 2002, Katie has represented prisoners and their families in actions challenging excessive force, terrible medical care, disability discrimination, shackling, solitary confinement, and other prisoners’ rights issues. While at ECBA, Katie served as co-counsel in the Nunez v. City of New York (S.D.N.Y.) class action litigation with the Legal Aid Society, a case which secured broad injunctive reform to reduce excessive force by correction officers on Rikers Island, and $3.5 million in damages for individual plaintiffs.

Katie is currently representing a family in Oklahoma whose 21-year old son died of untreated appendicitis in prison after he was denied any medical attention for many days, as well as several individuals in the New York State DOCCS system who were beaten by officers and suffered serious injuries.

From 2014 to 2017, Katie served as the Legal Director of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (“NYLPI”), where she led the organization’s advocacy work. At NYLPI, Katie filed a federal civil rights action against Orange County on behalf of two immigrant detainees with serious mental illnesses, challenging the jail’s practices of releasing people on the street without any medication or mental health discharge planning. She also worked on a challenge to the NYPD’s arrest practices for people who use wheelchairs, and the inaccessibility of courthouse bathrooms for prisoners with disabilities.

Prior to her role at NYLPI, Katie was a partner at Emery Celli, where for a decade she litigated a wide variety of civil rights and commercial cases in federal and state courts. After clerking for the Honorable Dean D. Pregerson in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, her first job was at Koob & Magoolaghan, where she litigated prisoners’ rights cases around New York State. She is a graduate of the University of Chicago and Yale Law School.


Michael Cassidy is the Managing Attorney of the Plattsburgh Office of Prisoners' Legal Services of New York (PLS), as well as the statewide PLS Litigation Coordinator.  He has litigated and supervised numerous prison cases in both state and federal courts.  These have included cases involving excessive force, as well as deliberate indifference claims involving failure to protect and denial of medical care.  He has also litigated and handled exhaustion issues under the PLRA, religious rights claims, retaliation claims, and various types of challenges to solitary confinement, including many state and federal procedural due process claims involving prison disciplinary issues.  

He received his Juris doctor, cum laude, from Vermont Law School in 1991 and his B.A. in Political Science from the University of Vermont in 1987. He served as a staff attorney at PLS from 1991-1996 and Managing Attorney for Litigation from 1996-1998.  He engaged in private practice in Burlington, Vermont and Portland, Maine from 1998-2002, before returning to the PLS as the Plattsburgh Office Managing Attorney.  Since 2017 he has also served as the statewide Litigation Coordinator for PLS, which has offices in Albany, Ithaca, Buffalo, and Plattsburgh.

He is admitted to the state bars of New York, Vermont and Maine.  He is also admitted to practice in the United States District Courts for the District of Vermont, the District of Maine, the Northern District of New York, and the Western District of New York, as well as the United States Courts of Appeals for the First, Second, and D.C. Circuits.


Miyhosi Benton is a Senior Associate at the Women & Justice Project (WJP), a non-profit organization that advances the leadership and narrative power of women directly impacted by incarceration to transform the criminal justice system. Miyhosi plays a lead role in creating and carrying out WJP’s storytelling, advocacy, organizing and culture change work, and she serves as a lead spokesperson for the organization in the public and the press.  Miyhosi has presented on women and mass incarceration in a wide variety of public forums and national conferences, and has been featured in such publications as Huffington Post, The Nation, and Al Jazeera America.  Prior to joining WJP in April 2016, Miyhosi worked at the Osborne Association’s NY Initiative for Children of Incarcerated Parents, and at Hour Children, a reentry program that supports families uniting after incarceration.  Miyhosi was a leader in the successful campaign to pass the 2015 Anti-Shackling law banning the barbaric practice of shackling incarcerated pregnant women in New York State, the most progressive law of its kind in the nation.  Miyhosi resides in Long Island City with her two children, and is pursuing her bachelor’s degree in Communications.  Miyhosi is a recipient of the 2015 Susan B. Anthony Award from the National Organization for Women–NYC and the 2016 Hour Children Mother of the Year Award.


Peggy Cross-Goldenberg holds a B.A. in history and political science from Duke University and a J.D. from Columbia Law School, where she was a Kent Scholar and served as an articles editor on the Columbia Law Review.  Ms. Cross-Goldenberg clerked for the Honorable Lewis A. Kaplan of the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York, and for the Honorable William A. Fletcher of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Before joining the Federal Defenders in 2007, Ms. Cross-Goldenberg was an associate at Stillman, Friedman & Shechtman and a staff attorney in the Manhattan office of the Criminal Defense Division of the Legal Aid Society.  She is a lecturer-in-law at Columbia Law School, where she teaches Professional Responsibility in Criminal Law.


Philip Desgranges is a senior staff attorney at the New York Civil Liberties Union, where he focuses on statewide civil rights and civil liberties impact litigation.  He is lead counsel in V.W. v. Conway, No. 9:16-CV-1150, 2017 WL 696808, a case challenging the solitary confinement of 16- and 17-year-old juveniles in a Syracuse jail, and counsel in Peoples v. Annucci, No. 1:11-CV-2694, a case challenging the use of solitary confinement in New York’s prison system.  Desgranges is also the Chair of the Civil Rights Committee of the New York City Bar Association, and is a member of the City Bar’s Task Force on Mass Incarceration.

Prior to joining the NYCLU, Desgranges was an associate at Goodwin Procter LLP, where he litigated commercial matters and a wide range of pro bono matters, including a death penalty appeal.  He previously worked as a public defender at The Bronx Defenders, where he represented indigent clients at all stages of criminal proceedings, including trying cases to verdict.

Desgranges graduated cum laude from Boston University in 2006, and he graduated from New York University School of Law in 2009.


Civil rights attorney Julia Yoo fights on behalf of people whose Constitutional rights have been violated by wrongful arrest, illegal searches or the use of excessive force. Julia has specialized in representing women prisoners and women who have been victims of sexual abuse.

Upon graduation from law school in 1998, Julia Yoo founded the Law Center for Women Prisoners, a nonprofit organization designed to assist and advocate for incarcerated women. The Law Center, in partnership with externship programs through the University of Colorado law school, provided legal assistance to hundreds of incarcerated women for a variety of issues from prisons failure to provide adequate medical care to termination of parental rights.

In 2000, Julia began litigating on behalf of incarcerated people for violation of their Constitutional rights under the Eighth Amendment. She has filed suits against private and public prisons for failure to provide appropriate and timely medical care and for sexual assault committed by prison staff.  Julia has won cases on behalf of a woman who was left to miscarry her baby in her cell; a woman sexually harassed by her parole officer; women who were sexually abused by their alcohol and drug counselor in a private prison; a woman raped in a janitor’s closet by a corrections officer; and teenagers who were sexually assaulted by guards in a juvenile facility. 

In 2003, Julia joined Gene Iredale and began litigating on behalf of people whose Constitutional rights have been violated by wrongful arrest or the use of excessive force, as well as wrongful death.   Since joining Iredale and Yoo, Julia has handled a series of high profile cases including the case of a minor who was shot in the leg by an off-duty police officer; a college student left in a DEA holding cell for four days with no food or water; an inmate at the San Diego County Jail who died from methamphetamine overdose; a schizophrenic inmate who died from overconsumption of water; a couple who were Tasered and pepper sprayed for calling 911 and requesting a sergeant during a traffic stop; and an emotionally distraught man who was tasered and shot with a bean bag for refusing to come out of a bath tub.   

Julia has given lectures and presentations across the country on the rights of incarcerated people and police misuse of force. Julia serves as the Vice President of the National Police Accountability Project, the largest civil rights attorneys organization in the country. Julia is the recipient of the 2016 American Constitution Society’s Roberto Alvarez award.  Julia has been recognized by Bestlawyers in America and Super Lawyers.


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.


Jaya Vasandani is the Co-Director and Co-Founder of the Women & Justice Project, a non-profit organization that advances the leadership and narrative power of women directly impacted by incarceration to transform the criminal justice system. From 2004-2015, Jaya served as a senior staff person at the Women in Prison Project (WIPP) of the Correctional Association of NY. At WIPP, Jaya helped manage all aspects of the Project, including leading WIPP’s coalition and community organizing work, carrying out advocacy campaigns, implementing legislative reform efforts, and facilitating prison monitoring visits. Jaya speaks publicly to a wide variety of audiences and press. Prior to joining the Correctional Association, Jaya worked on a range of women’s rights issues at the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund (now Legal Momentum) and the Center for Women Policy Studies, in Washington, DC. Jaya received her law degree from the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and received her Bachelors in Foreign Service from Georgetown University.


Rachel Meeropol is a Senior Staff Attorney and the Associate Director of Legal Training and Education at the Center for Constitutional Rights (“CCR”), where she has worked since 2002.  Rachel represents federal prisoners in restrictive Communication Management Units, California prisoners held for decades in solitary confinement, and animal rights activists targeted as “terrorists” for non-violent protest activities. Rachel is also lead counsel on Ziglar v. Abbasi, a class action lawsuit against high-level federal officials for the post-911 detention and abuse of Muslim non-citizens, which she argued in the Supreme Court in 2016. Rachel has co-edited and written two editions of the Jailhouse Lawyers Handbook, a do-it-yourself litigation manual for prisoners distributed free by CCR and the National Lawyers Guild, and was the contributing editor of “America’s Disappeared: Secret Imprisonment, Detainees, and the War on Terror,” published in 2005 by Seven Stories Press. Rachel completed her undergraduate degree at Wesleyan University, and graduated from NYU School of Law in 2002.