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Clinic News

Clinic News

The First Amendment Clinic is engaged in a variety of cases and projects advancing the interests of free speech and freedom of the press, often resulting in victories for local journalists and media outlets. Below are some recent stories that highlight the Clinic's work.

July 7, 2020

First Amendment Clinic Law clinic helps NYTimes win access to COVID-19 data on race

Lawsuit against CDC yields new information about pandemic's effects

A Cornell Law School clinic focused on freedom of the press has played a crucial role in revealing how Black and Latino people have been disproportionally affected by the coronavirus.

The First Amendment Clinic, working on behalf of its client, The New York Times, helped secure the release of previously unseen data that provides the most detailed look yet at nearly 1.5 million American coronavirus patients.

Using this data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Times published a front-page story in its July 6 edition that examines the significant racial inequities in infection rates in more than half the U.S. population – the most extensive survey to date.

The data, from 974 counties across the country, shows that Black and Latino people have been even more disproportionately affected by the coronavirus than previously known, regardless of age or geographic location. A similar disparity affects Native American people in certain parts of the country. Asian American people are also disproportionately impacted.

“This is a great success for information access on an issue of vital public importance at a time of public crisis,” said Cortelyou Kenney, associate director of the clinic. “But there is little to celebrate here. The data shows in stark terms what we already expected: that there is a troubling disparity in the impact this disease has had on people of color.

“The Times report, and the documents that underly it, demonstrate the urgent need for a robust public effort to protect our most vulnerable communities,” Kenney said.

The clinic and the Times filed a Freedom of Information Act request on April 14 seeking the quick release of demographic data on infected patients from the CDC. When the agency failed to respond within the 10-day statutorily-mandated time frame, the Times – with the clinic as co-counsel – filed suit May 13 in the Southern District of New York demanding the documents. The agency agreed to release the data in June as part of early litigation negotiations.

However, the report indicates significant gaps in the data, which may require more litigation or negotiation, Kenney said

“This is exactly the type of work the First Amendment Clinic looks to do for media outlets large and small,” said Mark Jackson, the clinic’s director. “Helping great journalists gain access and information to enable them to report on issues of vital concern to their readers is at the heart of our mission.”

Along with Kenney and Jackson, the clinic team includes teaching fellow Tyler Valeska and students Daniel Geller, Michael Mills, Alyssa Morones, Melissa Muse, Rob Ward and Anna Whistler. Students Sam Aber and Joel Sati also provided assistance to the effort.

The clinic is engaged in a variety of cases and projects advancing access to information and the interests of free speech, freedom of the press and transparency. Its work extends across disciplines, impacting journalists, researchers, human rights advocates, political advocates and others targeted because of their protected expression.

 

June 16, 2020

Trial Court Denies TRO in First Amendment Win for Local Geneva News Outlet

Cornell Clinic and Greenberg Traurig Team Up to Defend The Geneva Believer

Cornell Law School’s First Amendment Clinic and co-counsel Greenberg Traurig, LLP scored a victory last Thursday for citizen journalist Jim Meaney and his blog The Geneva Believer.  A New York judge denied a construction company’s extraordinary request for a temporary restraining order requiring that ten articles be removed from the local government-focused blog.

In a June 11, 2020 order denying the TRO, the trial court expressly affirmed that a take down order would violate the First Amendment. 

“Fighting for the right of citizen journalist Jim Meaney to report on a matter of significant public concern—how a local government conducts its business dealings—is the most recent example of the crucial work that our Local Journalism Project is doing to defend local newsgatherers,” said First Amendment Clinic Director Mark Jackson.  “Rulings like this one benefit all reporters by protecting them from efforts to stifle speech at the heart of the First Amendment’s protections.” 

Mr. Meaney is represented by Cornell Clinic Associate Director Cortelyou Kenney, Jackson, and teaching fellow Tyler Valeska, along with co-counsel Michael Grygiel of Greenberg Traurig.  Cornell Clinic student members Corby Burger, Michael Mapp, and Rob Ward also contributed to the successful opposition to the TRO.

The Geneva Believer covers local government issues in Geneva, New York.  In several articles, Mr. Meaney raised questions about construction contracts that Massa Construction Inc. had with the City of Geneva, including potential conflicts of interest of certain City Council members.  After Mr. Meaney received a cease-and-desist letter from Massa accusing him of defaming the company, he reached out to the Cornell Clinic for help.  Before the Clinic could even respond, Massa filed a defamation complaint against Meaney in state court.

When the Clinic and Grygiel requested Massa withdraw the suit on the bases of defective pleading and New York’s anti-SLAPP protections, Massa filed an amended complaint and a motion for a temporary restraining order.

“The trial court’s decision reaffirms longstanding Supreme Court precedent recognizing that orders such as the one requested by Massa are a classic example of an unconstitutional prior restraint,” said Grygiel. “Unless the case is voluntarily dismissed, we will be filing a motion to dismiss the complaint in the coming weeks. New York’s anti-SLAPP law protects people like Mr. Meaney from the chilling effect of suits brought to restrict or censor their reporting and commentary.”  Grygiel co-chairs Greenberg’s National Media and Entertainment Litigation Group.

Massa has filed a notice of appeal of the trial court’s decision to the Appellate Division.

The Cornell First Amendment Clinic is engaged in a variety of cases and projects advancing the interests of free speech and freedom of the press.  Its recently launched Local Journalism Project addresses the increasing void in legal representation facing newsgatherers and media outlets that would otherwise be precluded from engaging in expensive litigation to defend their rights and ability to do their jobs.  The Clinic’s work extends across disciplines, impacting journalists, researchers, human rights advocates, political advocates, and other individuals targeted based on their expression.

 


The Clinic is hiring!

NYC-Based Local Journalism Attorney

Founded in 1887, Cornell Law School is a top-tier law school, currently ranked 13th by U.S. News & World Report. We offer a 3-year JD program for about 200 students per class, a one-year LLM program for about 90 students from countries throughout the world, and a doctoral (JSD) program for about 2-3 new students per year. Cornell Law School has 41 tenured and tenure-track faculty, including 20 with chaired faculty positions; and 15 clinical professors in the legal research and writing program and in clinics at the local, national, and international level. Our faculty is consistently ranked among the top in the country for scholarly productivity and influence, and has pre-eminence in many areas, including empirical legal studies, international and comparative law, and robust doctrinal scholarship in core fields. Our school is committed to being recognized as the leader among law schools at combining inspiring theoretical, doctrinal, and experiential teaching with cutting-edge scholarship in a supportive, intellectually rich community, so that our graduates can achieve excellence in all facets of the legal profession.

This is a satellite position of the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic based out of Manhattan and generously funded by the Charles H. Revson Foundation. Reporting to the Clinic’s Director, Mark Jackson, and the Managing Attorney of the Clinic’s Local Journalism Project (LJP), Heather Murray, the LJP Attorney will have primary responsibility for developing and managing a New York Metropolitan Area based project dedicated to providing legal services to support local journalism.  The LJP Attorney will work independently to create a docket of new matters and to partner with New York City law firms and non-profits to represent the interests of media outlets that could not otherwise afford representation. The LJP Attorney will be tasked with affirmative outreach to media outlets, building and sustaining relationships with these outlets, and providing representation to aid investigative journalists to perform their watchdog function. The LJP Attorney will have a working and collaborative relationship with the Ithaca-based Clinic staff attorneys, but will have no formal teaching responsibilities.  When appropriate, the LJP Attorney will work with students from the Cornell Law School First Amendment Clinic on active matters, to help these students become familiar with legal issues related to media in the New York Metropolitan Area, and to otherwise aid in their professional development.

This position is ideal for a candidate who is eager to use their prior litigation and press backgrounds to help support and sustain local journalism in the New York Metropolitan Area.  It calls for someone entrepreneurial, who is willing to help shape a new model for the delivery of the Clinic’s important services.

Responsibilities

  • Help create a docket of matters based in the New York Metropolitan Area, including by working with local media outlets to identify cases and issues that warrant the Clinic’s attention, collaborating with other attorneys and advocacy groups to enhance the impact of the Clinic work, researching legal and factual questions, drafting research memos, working with clients and witnesses, drafting legal papers, presenting oral argument and counseling and training media clients.
  • Travel as required for litigation, conferences, speaking engagements and trips to Ithaca.

Minimum Qualifications

The LJP Attorney must have a J.D. or equivalent, be admitted to the New York bar, and have a minimum of three years of relevant experience as a lawyer.  Applicants should have excellent communication skills, both oral and written; excellent analytical skills; and the temperament to develop and work effectively with a network of media clients, outside lawyers and advocacy organizations.  Applicants should also have the skills necessary to supervise and mentor law students and work collaboratively in a team-based environment. The applicant must also be a “self-starter” and have the ability to operate on their own, with light supervision.

Preferred Qualifications

Preference will be given to candidates  who have experience representing the media; supervising other lawyers or law students; have strong relationships with organizations that the Clinic is likely to partner with—media enterprises, journalists, and free speech and other civil liberties organizations, and who speak a relevant foreign language.

Application process:

Please apply via AJO at the following link: