Cooley and Children’s Advocates Group Secure Victory for New York Foster Children

The Legal Aid Society’s Juvenile Rights Practice, pro bono counsel from Cooley LLP, Lawyers for Children and the Children’s Law Center of New York secured a victory for children’s advocacy on August 12 by persuading a federal judge to reject a settlement on behalf of New York foster children.

Cooley, JRP and the other children’s law offices (referred to as the Children’s Advocates) opposed a class-wide settlement in Elisa W, et al. v. The City of New York, et al., a putative civil rights class action filed in the United States Federal District Court for the Southern District. The suit was filed by the Public Advocate for the City of New York and 19 named plaintiff children by A Better Childhood and Cravath, Swaine & Moore LLP.

The proposed class-wide settlement reached between plaintiffs’ counsel and New York State in just 12 days would have effectively prevented children in foster care from bringing any impact litigation against the state for seven years.

Cooley filed a motion to intervene on behalf of the Children’s Advocates, and worked with JRP and others to prepare written objections to the settlement that explained why the benefits of the proposed consent decree were illusory, and why the seven-year covenant not to sue was both unprecedented and unfair.

A fairness hearing followed on August 5 in which Lisa Freeman, director of JRP’s Special Litigation and Law Reform Unit, testified on behalf of the Children Advocates. On Friday, Federal Judge Laura Taylor Swain issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order reflecting the concerns raised by the Children Advocates group declining to approve the settlement or certify the class.