The RI Lawyers Weekly blog notes that the Providence County Superior Court class action lawsuit by the ACLU challenging the state’s Truancy Court is now heating up.
Lawyers for recently retired Family Court Chief Judge Jeremiah S. Jeremiah Jr. and five magistrates have asked a Superior Court judge to revoke the pro hac vice admission of two American Civil Liberties Union attorneys.
The lawyers whose admissions are being challenged are part of the legal team that has filed a class action challenging the state’s Truancy Court, which Jeremiah helped establish. The suit claims that the court’s closed-door punishment process violates the constitutional rights of children with special educational and medical needs, and their parents.
In their court filing, Olenn & Penza attorneys J. Renn Olenn and Michael B. Forte argue that New York-based ACLU staff attorneys Yelena Konanova and Deborah N. Archer “are willing to violate Rhode Island Rules of Professional Conduct and act with a complete disregard of the legal rights of the defendants.”
Konanova had stated that she should be admitted because the case involves “complex issues of law [in] which this attorney concentrates: large, systemic class-action litigation alleging constitutional violations.”
But, Jeremiah’s attorneys argue that Konanova, a Harvard Law graduate, was admitted to the New York bar only two years ago and spent a year clerking for a judge .
“[T]his may very well be the first case that she has ever attempted to file an appearance. This is hardly a showing that Mrs. Konanova is a ‘specialist’ in a ‘complex field of law,’” according to the defendants’ filing.
The defense also argued that comments made by Konanova and fellow ACLU staff attorney Robin Dahlberg in articles about the lawsuit that appeared in The Providence Journal, on the ACLU’s website and in Rhode Island Lawyers Weekly were meant to “pollute the perception of the public, and possible jury pool” and violated the Rules of Professional Conduct, which caution against making “extra judicial statements” to the media.
The plaintiffs have objected to the motion to revoke the admission. They say the Rules of Professional Conduct cited by the defendants are intended for cases involving a jury pool, and neither side in the case has requested a jury. The plaintiffs also cite the First Amendment rights of the attorneys to comment about the issues raised by the case and note that Jeremiah has granted numerous interviews defending the Truancy Court since the case was first filed.
Click here to read the defendants’ motion to revoke the pro hac vice admission and the plaintiffs’ response.