Lawyer's Expansive Dedication to Defense of Young People Honored

Nancy Ginsburg Receives Defender Association's Wilfred R. O'Connor Award

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY (07/24/2018) (readMedia)-- For wide-ranging, passionate advocacy for her young clients--and all young people in the juvenile and adult justice systems--Nancy Ginsburg received the Wilfred R. O'Connor Award on Monday night. Public defense lawyers gathered at the Annual Conference of the New York State Defenders Association (NYSDA) heard Ginsburg's work extolled as Susan C. Bryant, NYSDA's Acting Director, presented the award.

"Nancy embodies the client-centered representation that NYSDA works to ensure," Bryant said. "Her work at The Legal Aid Society over many years, and her generous sharing of knowledge at training events like this conference, have benefitted countless young people."

Attorney Alan Rosenthal of Syracuse, himself well-known for client-centered representation, wrote in support of Ginsburg's nomination for the award. He recalled meeting her about 20 years earlier when he was on a continuing legal education (CLE) panel with her; he observed her educating the audience about the needs of adolescents ensnared in the justice system. "Since that day I have watched Nancy provide committed and passionate services to the bar, bench, legislators and public on this subject," Rosenthal said. Ginsburg "has fought the battle for her clients on many fronts," he noted, appearing not only in "countless courtrooms" and "innumerable CLE programs," but also in efforts "to educate our legislators about the need for criminal justice reform for youth."

Director of the Adolescent Intervention and Diversion Project (AIDP) of The Legal Aid Society of New York, Criminal Practice from its inception, Ginsburg described that project and its successes in a 2014 article in the Cardozo Law Review. Both the data and the anecdotal stories of clients contained in the article show the value of "reimagining the role of defense counsel for adolescents in the adult criminal court system," which is the article's title and a summary of Ginsburg's approach.

But keeping kids out of adult court altogether has been a major focus of Ginsburg's work. "'There's a general understanding that teenagers and young adults make bad decisions that shouldn't prevent them from living their lives going forward,'" a 2017 blog post quoted Ginsburg as pointing out.

A message from Elsie Chandler, Senior Trial Attorney, Director of Youth Law Practice at the Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (NDS), lauded Ginsburg on behalf of Chandler and several of Chandler's NDS colleagues, current and past. It noted that "Nancy has campaigned, lobbied, and fought for a real raise the age law, one that includes all kids." As to New York's Raise the Age measures taking effect in October, their note said, "the law is as good as it is" due in large measure to Ginsburg's efforts. Ginsburg "is not only the person to go to on all questions of law and policy," relating to justice-involved youth, they added, "she is also the best person to be relied upon to interpret the law and its implications for the children who so many people have chosen to leave behind."

Logistical and legal questions abound as implementation of the new law approaches, and Ginsburg makes efforts to find and share answers. The Governor appointed her to his Raise the Age Implementation Task Force, and she has generously shared information and insights with other defenders. She presented "A Preliminary Roadmap of the Raise the Age Law" at NYSDA's Annual Conference last year and an update this year.

"While Nancy may be best known right now for her Raise the Age work," Bryant said, we honor her for that and for much more." Ginsburg was recognized for her zealous representation of thousands of children and adolescents in criminal, juvenile delinquency, child protective, foster care, and educational administrative proceedings, including as co-counsel in JG v Mills, a federal lawsuit addressing the school re-entry rights of youth involved in the justice system. For her willingness to be a part of working groups like the New York City School Justice Partnership Task Force, the New York City Council Gun Violence Task Force, and the Task Force on the Future of Probation in New York State. And, perhaps most of all, for her ability to inspire others; as Chandler wrote about Ginsburg: "Her courage, determination and love for the work is contagious."

The Wilfred R. O'Connor award is presented to a lawyer who has been in practice fifteen or more years, practices in the area of public defense, and exemplifies the client-centered sense of justice, persistence, and compassion that characterized O'Connor, a founding member and long-time President of NYSDA.