Success Stories

Faculty Focus: Professor Randolph McLaughlin

A Force of Justice

Professor, Civil Rights Attorney, Precedent Setter, Social Justice Advocate. Randolph McLaughlin has been a stalwart on the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University faculty since 1988, teaching civil procedure, torts, and labor law. He also co-chairs the Civil Rights Practice Group of Manhattan’s Newman Ferrara LLP, along with his wife Debra Cohen, an adjunct faculty member at the Law School and Haub Law graduate. Prior to all this, McLaughlin made a name for himself as a civil rights activist and at­torney, pioneering new legal strategies to address incidents of racism, voting rights litigation, and more. Now, some of the very cases and individuals that he represented are at the forefront of a feature film and forthcoming documentary. We sat down with Professor McLaughlin to discuss the influential impact he has had throughout his career and what the future may hold for civil rights attorneys.

A landmark case you handled, which set a legal precedent for today’s court battles on racial violence, is the subject of a forthcoming documentary. The film highlights a racist attack that took place in the home state of the Ku Klux Klan, and showcases the role your strategy has played in decades of civil court victories. After Klansmen shot and injured five Black women in 1980 Chattanooga, Tennessee, the women were able to take the KKK to federal court using the long-forgotten Enforcement Act of 1871. Also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act, it was enacted to curb KKK violence after the Civil War. The documentary, some of which was filmed at Haub Law, is scheduled for release this year. Can you tell us about how you developed your strategy in this case?

Four African-American women were out on a Saturday night in 1980 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, when three Klansmen shot at them. More than 100 shotgun pellets were found in one woman’s legs. Two of the Klansmen were acquitted of all charges. One of them, who basically confessed, was convicted of simple as­sault, served nine months of a sentence and got out on good behavior. At the time I was at the Center for Constitutional Rights, which was part of the National Anti-Klan Network, so we sued the Klansmen.

I was an African-American history major, and I remembered reading about Klan violence and Reconstruction, so we looked back at those periods and found this 1871 law, called the Ku Klux Klan Act, which was passed to give a federal cause of action to victims of Klan violence. We dusted it off and waited for the right opportunity, and sure enough we didn't have to wait too long. We filed a suit as both a class action for all the Black residents of Chattanooga, and as a damages action for the five women. We tried the case and won—got over half a million dollars and a judgment. It was the first case using that statute to get a money judgment against the Klan.

I don't think winning a case like that is much of a long shot anymore. Law tends to reflect society. Judges aren't like some guru living on top of a moun­tain somewhere, they're reading the same stories, they walk the same streets, they watch the same TV shows we watch. And I think with the Black Lives Matter efforts across the country after the death of George Floyd, and then top that off with the January 6 attempted coup at the Capitol, judges have to real­ize if they don't step in, then this can happen again.

After the 2020 election, the NAACP used the Act in a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump and the Republican National Committee for system­atically trying to disenfranchise Black voters. Also, Representative Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, has more recently sued Trump, his former attorney Rudy Giuliani, and two far-right militia groups under the law, alleging they conspired to prevent law­makers from certifying President Joe Biden's victory by inciting and participating in the January 6 insurrection.

A feature film that premiered nationwide last September, The Killing of Kenneth Chamberlain, is based on the true story of a case that you and your wife, Professor Debra Cohen, have worked on for more than 10 years. In 2011, Kenneth Chamberlain, an elderly African American veteran with bipolar disorder, was killed by police officers sent to check on him after his medical alert device was mistakenly activated. The film recounts the police’s forceful response to this non-threatening situation and provides a view of the reform needed in policing tactics and our justice system. Where does that case stand now?

 This film provides a great opportunity not only to bring the case into national focus, but to highlight how police respond to calls, how they police in African-American communities, and how they are trained for situations involving people in a mental health crisis. What was done was a text book case of what not to do if their intention was to provide assistance.

When the police arrived, Mr. Chamberlain was sleeping in his bed, and he made more than 60 at­tempts to explain that he didn’t call for help, did not need help and didn’t want to open his door. When we heard the audio recording, we were shocked at the inhumanity demonstrated by law enforcement.

Debra and I were asked to join the case by col­leagues and fellow Haub Law alumni Mayo Bartlett and Wali Muhammad in 2012. A $21 million civil rights lawsuit was filed in federal court against the City of White Plains and several police officers. The legal fight for justice has spanned over the past 10 years, with a case currently still pending in federal district court in White Plains. Less than one year into legal proceed­ings, a grand jury declined to vote for an indictment, causing an uproar in the community and among social justice advocates. Another letdown came in 2017, when the district court dismissed most of the claims contained in the lawsuit and excused several of the original defendants, including police officers.

Following four-years of litigation, including a trial, in 2020, the Second Circuit US Court of Appeals re­stored claims of unlawful entry and excessive force. We are now preparing for trial and hope that with the need for police reform gaining traction across the country, justice for Chamberlain can finally be achieved.

Twenty-six years ago, you and your wife Debra handled the case of Charles Campbell, who was killed by an off duty New York City police officer at a deli in Dobbs Ferry, New York. The officer was convicted of second-degree murder in a criminal trial. You and Debra successfully tried the subsequent civil case before US District Judge Constance Baker Motley, a civil rights icon, with the help of Pace students. How do you view working with students in such cases?

I went into teaching in order to expose students to the value and rewards of civil rights practice. While I am a full-time law professor, I also maintain a selec­tive civil rights caseload. Whenever possible I involve students in that work. My students have served as active members of a trial team, participating in the writing of briefs and sitting in the courtroom with the other attorneys. I involve the students in all aspects of the case and share with them my strategies as we pursue justice for our clients.

 How did you get your start in civil rights law?

Racism didn’t directly affect me that much growing up in New York City, but I was fascinated by the law. By age 10, I was reading law books. William Kunstler was a hero to me. In high school, the Chicago Seven trial was all over the news. It was the binding and gagging of Black Panther Bobby Seale in the court­room that made me say, this is wrong, I’ve got to get involved.

During my second year at Harvard Law School, legendary defense attorney William Kunstler came to speak. He’s saying things like, “I need black lawyers to get involved in this kind of work with us because we can’t do it on our own.” He’s up there on the stage with Black Panthers and Native American activists, and there I am. I was a really shy kid. But after the lecture I worked my way up and said, “I’ve followed your career since I was a kid and I want to do what you do.”

He looked at me and said, “Here’s my card. Look me up when you get back to New York.” And I did.

How did you build a civil rights law practice?

Lucas A. Ferrara, the co-founder of Newman Ferrara in Manhattan, had been practicing real estate law for more than 25 years, he wanted to expand the work of the firm into the civil rights field.

The firm asked Debra and me to co-chair the civil rights practice group at the firm. When I brought up the controversial nature of some of their cases, they said, “We love controversy. Bring it on.”

It’s been a happy marriage. Lucas and Jon Newman have both assisted us in our civil rights cas­es, and their insight has been invaluable. Ultimately, if you can create a workable business model, then the good work can expand. There’s more than enough injustice to go around.

For victims, the legal process itself can be a kind of therapy. When I see a client who first comes to us really almost in post-traumatic stress, they can’t get through a conversation without crying. Within a few months, they’re giving it back to us, saying, “Well, what about this?” and “I want to do this.” They are starting to feel empowered and engaged, and the hopelessness is dissipated. Whether we win or lose the case, they feel at least a small amount of closure.

 How did you begin practicing law with your wife?

Debra was 39, a former salesperson and marketer, when she applied to Haub Law in 1995. She was inter­ested in civil rights law, and the school’s catalog listed me as a social justice lawyer. She signed up for my class. A few weeks into the class, I announced I had a new civil rights case and needed interns, and Debra sent me her résumé.

At the end of our interview, she stopped at the door and asked me if I had heard about a case involving the shooting of an African-American man, Charles Campbell, in a deli parking lot in Dobbs Ferry. By that time the family of the victim had already contacted me about representation. She said that she lived there and every weekend she joined family and friends of the man who was shot to demonstrate at the deli and to keep visibility on the case and pressure the district attorney to prosecute the police officer who shot him. After she graduated, I hired her, and that’s how it began. We worked together on the Campbell case. In 2001, we were married, and we hung a shingle in the Bronx not long after.

What do you see as some of the challenges facing civil rights lawyers today?

Frankly, the Supreme Court. With the six conservative judges in the majority we could face an onslaught of reversals in the civil and constitutional rights fields. Most notably, the landmark decision in Roe v. Wade is under attack and could be reversed this year. With the respect to voting rights, the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder, gutted Section 5 (preclearance provision) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and now the Court is primed to eliminate Section 2 of that Act that has been critical in securing minority representation at all levels of gov­ernment. In the police reform area, the Supreme Court seems reluctant to reverse decisions such as Graham v. Connor that set a very high burden on plaintiffs in po­lice misconduct cases. So the future is not bright in the Supreme Court—for now. But that does not mean that there is nothing for us to do today. The struggle con­tinues. The forces of justice have been fighting in this country since 1619 to achieve equal rights and justice. At the same time, the opponents of freedom are just as active now as they have been since the founding of this country. The question for each of us, as lawyers, is where do you stand on the barricades—with the people or the enemies of the people.

Learn more about Professor McLaughlin.

Megan Gaddy '23

Inspired by a Lifelong Connection to Nature

This past summer, Megan Gaddy ’23, worked as a law clerk with the Department of Justice in the Environment and Natural Resources Division, specifically in the Environmental Enforcement Section.  For Megan, this was an ideal opportunity as she finishes her studies at Haub Law, pursuing the Advanced Certificate in Environmental Law. Megan notes that, “Through my experience this past summer, I was able to witness a truly collaborative work environment. Significantly, I also got a glimpse into the breadth of issues involved in litigating environmental cases from start to finish.”

Megan applied to Haub Law with a laser focus on the environmental law program. With an eye towards nature from a young age, Megan knew her passions were with the environment. “Every summer, my parents sent me to Nature Camp and let me play outside to my heart’s content. It was through these experiences that I felt a calling to try to mend the disconnect I saw between man and nature. Over time, I witnessed the small patches of prairie lands and forests that I once played in as a child in Illinois being swallowed up by massive cornfields. Every day on my way to school, I passed the chemical processing plant where my dad worked fill the sky with grey, sulfur fumes. I knew that I wanted to work to change this and I felt Haub Law was a place that could set me on that path.”

The summer after Megan’s 1L year, she participated in the DC Summer Externship Program. Due to the pandemic, she was remote and was able to be placed outside of the DC area. “I worked for a wonderful non-profit organization on the Navajo Nation called Indian Country Grassroots Support.” During her 2L year, Megan had the opportunity to work in the Honorable Cathy Seibel's chambers in the SDNY through the Federal Judicial Honors Program. Now, a 3L Megan is capping off her Haub Law experience as a student intern with Pace's Environmental Litigation Clinic.

“I have loved my time at Haub Law. I love the small, tight-knit culture of the School, especially within the environmental law community. Having come from a massive university with over 40,000 students, I love signing up for a class and being able to recognize almost every name on the roster. I hope that my career path leads me to a position that aligns with the protective, justice-centered values I developed as a child. Whether that is a position in government or at a non-profit, I am open to wherever that path leads me and feel Haub Law has prepared me well.”

Catherine Gonzalez '15

An Advocate for Immigrant Rights

Catherine Gonzalez (née Peña ) ‘15 began navigating the immigration system from an early age as an immigrant child. Born in San Jose de las Matas, a small town in the Dominican Republic, Catherine remained there until she was nine. Catherine recalls, “It was all I knew, and once I immigrated I was separated from my mother and from the only family I knew. I found myself in a big, strange world in New York City, with a new and strange language to match. Despite those struggles, immigrating offered me invaluable opportunities. This early exposure to immigration introduced me to the bureaucracies of the American immigration system—from consulates to individual immigration officers. As I pursued higher education, I decided I wanted to become a lawyer because I wanted to help the people of my community. I am proud to say I am now the first and only lawyer in my family.”  

Once she was in college, Catherine pursued internships with lawyers and sought to learn all she could to forge a path for herself in the law. “I gravitated towards immigrant rights issues. I volunteered at an Immigrant Rights Law Clinic in college and worked with a criminal defense attorney who worked as assigned counsel on state and federal cases.” Once she was at Haub Law, Catherine volunteered anywhere she could to gain additional experience with immigration law and in trial advocacy, having several impactful experiences along the way. “One of the most impactful professors I had the privilege of meeting and working with at Pace was Professor Louis Fasulo. Professor Fasulo and The Advocacy Program – its academic curriculum as well as the moot court and mock trial competitions – were integral to helping me hone the skills I now use daily as a public defender. I am eternally grateful to Loretta Musial, Professor Fasulo, and The Advocacy Program at Pace for teaching, guiding, and supporting me. It is in large part thanks to all of them that I wake up every day to do work I love and am passionate about,” noted Catherine.

After she graduated from Haub Law, Catherine began her legal career in the Criminal Defense Practice at Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS), representing clients against criminal charges. It was there she found herself gravitating towards cases that resonated with her, often those that involved immigration-related issues. Today, Catherine is a Supervising Immigration Attorney & Policy Counsel in the Criminal Defense Practice at Brooklyn Defender Services. “I witnessed how the criminal legal system funnels people into the immigration deportation system, which led me to join BDS’s Padilla Team where I advise clients and attorneys about the immigration consequences of criminal and family court cases and represent non-citizens fighting to remain in the US.”

Recently, Haub Law’s Trial Advocacy Program at the 2022 Gavel Gala honored Catherine with the Rising Star Award. “I feel so honored to have been selected to receive the Rising Star Award. When I was a little girl, newly arrived in the United States, I began to dream of becoming a lawyer. Based on what I saw on television, I imagined myself standing in a courtroom, vehemently defending the rights of people during some of the most challenging times in their lives. Years later, working at Brooklyn Defender Services I feel incredibly privileged. There, as a public defender, I have been able to work towards accomplishing this dream of being an advocate for the people in my community. I really wake up every day with that same goal I envisioned years ago – unapologetically committed to ensuring that people's most basic rights are protected. Receiving the Rising Star Award serves as an affirmation for all of the hard work and sacrifices that were integral to achieving my goals and dreams.”

Aaliyah Smith ’23

Daughter of immigrants. Bilingual first-generation American. Justice Seeker.

Aaliyah Smith’s mother immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic and her father from Honduras. Aaliyah started her journey to law school because as a first-generation American and first-generation higher education student she wanted to give back to her Latin community. “I had enough of watching family, friends, and members of my community face life-altering events with inadequate legal resources. I had enough of seeing the waves of helplessness as the tides of injustice and inequality took their course. So, I wanted to do more to provide for my community and help them confront the challenges they may face in the legal world. Growing up in a predominately Latin/minority neighborhood in the South Bronx, you see the works of poor resources, corruption, discrimination, and more from a young age. But in what can seem like a shadow of darkness, there are always advocates working to be a beacon of light in confronting injustice. At its core, the law field is advocacy. The legal profession provides access to a variety of possibilities to give back to the community, including advocating for victims, defending the validity of convictions, offering defendants access to resources, and so much more. A career in law gives you the tools to be the change you want to see.”

Soon after coming to Haub Law, Aaliyah became involved with the Latin American Law Student Association. “I wanted to find a community and a support group. In joining LALSA, I knew would be surrounded by people with similar backgrounds, and goals or at least have some sort of commonality with them.  When I went to the first general board meeting in my 1L year, I saw how the e-board and members treated each other like family, it was a very warm feeling and I wanted to be a part of that. I became a 1L rep, then public relations coordinator, and now president. I can confidently say that the friendships and connections I made through LALSA were God-sent; I don’t know how I would have made it through law school without my LALSA family”.

This past summer, Aaliyah interned at the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office within the Special Prosecutions Unit. For Aaliyah, this experience solidified her desire to work in the field of public interest law. “I learned the importance of communication and interconnectivity. The law is interdependent, there is always a cross-section between different areas of law happening in one case. My time in WCDA over the summer and as a student attorney with the Criminal Justice Defense Clinic has shown me the necessity of both sides. The Prosecutor as the Representative of the State and the Defense Attorney as the Voice of the Innocent until Proven Guilty. I have come to appreciate both sides of the courtroom. As a prosecutor you wear so many hats, you are an investigator, a researcher, an advocate for the victim, and more. As a defense attorney, you ensure the system does its intended purpose: to bring actual justice; not to put blame on a face or justify harsh punishment. Defense attorneys make sure that the person behind “the defendant” is seen and humanized as so much more than a label. Both Defense attorneys and Prosecutors are integral in bringing about a better and more just system. I honestly would love to work on either side post-graduation because of how necessary each side is.”

Samantha Lopez '24

On the Right Path

The child of immigrants from Peru, Samantha Lopez’s parents are her inspiration for pursuing a degree in law. Now that she is at Pace, Samantha appreciates the close-knit community and guidance of her professors. “Professor Merton has been extremely helpful and has provided me with a lot of guidance. She is definitely an inspiration and role model. I would love to eventually participate as a student attorney in the Immigration Justice Clinic.”

With a passion for immigration law, Samantha’s experience as a Summer Legal Intern with Sanctuary for Families as part of their Immigration Intervention Project was exactly the type of summer experience she hoped for when she began her law school journey. “I was able to gain a better understanding of the legal immigration process and work directly with clients as I wrote an asylum brief, drafted a client’s affidavit, and filed N-600 forms. Meeting with the clients and being able to talk with them (mostly in Spanish) was an amazing experience that really cemented that I am on the right path.”

Now, a 2L at Haub Law, Samantha is secretary of the Latin American Law Student Association and the Pace Immigration Law Society. “I wanted to join LALSA because I believe when going through something difficult, such as law school, one needs a strong support system to help you through it. Knowing that members of LALSA typically come from similar backgrounds and have had similar experiences as I have had has made going through law school as a first generation law student a far better experience. I am also glad to have joined an organization with such an extensive alumni network that provides support.”

Faculty Focus

Professor Emily Gold Waldman

Emily Waldman is a Professor & the Associate Dean for Faculty Development at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University. She joined Haub Law in 2006 and teaches Constitutional Law, Civil Procedure, Law & Education, and Employment Law. Most recently, Professor Waldman co-authored the book “Menstruation Matters: Challenging the Law’s Silence on Periods,” with Professor Bridget Crawford. Learn more about her recent book, advice on clerkships, and more in this Q&A.

Can you tell us about your recently published book?

The book that Professor Crawford and I wrote, “Menstruation Matters: Challenging the Law’s Silence on Periods,” looks at all of the different ways that the law intersects with menstruation.  It grew out of several different articles that we wrote.

The first article that we wrote looked at the sales tax on menstrual products—in particular, that in many states, certain products are tax-exempt yet menstrual products are not.  This is known as the “tampon tax.” Interestingly, this has changed a lot even since we wrote the article in 2018—more and more states have been classifying menstrual products as tax-exempt, in response to political campaigns and pressure.  Our article looked at the argument that it's actually unconstitutional to tax menstrual products when other comparable unisex necessities like bandaids are tax-exempt—that it’s a form of sex discrimination, since menstrual products are so closely linked to the female reproductive system.

Then we also did an article about whether Title IX requires schools to provide menstrual products to students who can't afford them, and also dealt with other aspects of how schools address menstruation. Throughout our research and writing, we saw that there are a lot of other aspects to address like workplace issues, environmental issues, and more.

What was exciting about the book, as compared to our articles, was that we were able to tell on-the-ground stories about who is working in the “menstrual advocacy” space right now?  How did they come to the topic? How did they connect with each other? What legal and political strategies did they use to try to effectuate legal change? We were able to also explore many cultural issues surrounding menstruation—in particular, the longstanding silence and stigma that accompanies menstruation. So while our book does look at the law and analyze the law, we also bring these issues to life.

You mentioned discussing with individuals how they came to this topic; what was it that sparked your interest?

It really is a very specific story. What happened was that Professor Crawford, who teaches tax law and feminist legal theory, was working on an article about the tampon tax.  She presented her work at a faculty colloquium, and mentioned that constitutional challenges were being brought against the tampon tax, on the idea that it violated the Equal Protection clause. And my ears pricked up, since so much of my scholarship and teaching is focused on constitutional law. And I was thinking immediately, well, what is the exact argument that they are making?  I could see that it raised some complicated constitutional questions.

And so I emailed Professor Crawford and I asked more about what the theory exactly was.  We decided to meet and talk more about the issue. After doing that, we decided to write an article about it. I was hooked right away because it’s a super-interesting legal issue that has very real world consequences.

I'm always interested in issues that cut across a lot of different areas, especially areas of con law, education, law, and employment law.  Menstruation is one of those areas that does that. There are constitutional aspects to it with equal protection, there are employment aspects to it in terms of accommodations and discrimination, and there are education law implications in terms of what happens in schools.

What got you interested in the more general fields of law and education, employment law, and constitutional law?

To me, they’re all just so interesting on both the intellectual and human-relations levels. I loved those topics from the time I was in law school. I tend to be very interested in legal issues that involve people in their everyday life. And if you think about it, you know when you're a kid, where do you go every day? You go to school. And then, when you’re an adult, where do you go? Every day you go to work. So both of those contexts to me are endlessly fascinating.

For example, think about public school teachers' free speech rights – that's a con law issue, but it is also an employment law and education law issue. I love seeing those connections and that some of the cases I teach in one class may also come up in another class.

Do you have any advice for students who are interested in these specific fields?

The first thing is to take all of the relevant coursework that you can, and also related classes. For example, administrative law touches on all of these things. I'm also a big proponent of clerking, getting experience with a judge, if you can, and whether you clerk for a state judge or a federal judge, you are very likely to see these areas come up. Also, make sure you follow the areas you are interested in - follow them in the newspaper, follow the Supreme Court, and more.

Do you have any advice for students interested in clerking?

I did two clerkships.  First, I clerked for a federal district judge, Bill Young, right out of law school, in Boston.  Then I worked at a law firm for a couple of years, and then I clerked for a judge on the Second Circuit, Robert Katzmann.  So my advice is to definitely pursue it if it's something that's interesting to you. It's a fabulous experience. It’s a good idea to cast a really broad net in terms of where you apply, and to apply to both federal and state clerkships.

If you are geographically flexible, that is extremely helpful. Don't just limit yourself to the New York metro area unless you have to for personal reasons. Also, while you are at Haub Law, if you have the opportunity, apply to participate in the Federal Judicial Honors Program and one of the law reviews as well.

So outside of academics, what do you spend most of your time focused on?

My kids! They keep me busy - I have a daughter who is 13 and my son is 8. I spend a lot of time with them, hanging out with them, driving them to their activities, helping them with their homework.

Learn more about Professor Waldman.

Mandi Bruns '24

Philip Foglia Summer Legal Intern at the NYC Office of the Inspector General

This past summer, 2L Mandi Bruns had the honor of being selected as the inaugural Philip Foglia Summer Legal Intern at the NYC Office of the Inspector General’s Office. The Philip Foglia Summer Legal Internship was created in honor of dedicated Haub Law alumnus Philip Foglia who passed away in 2020.  Mandi Bruns applied for the internship to further her interest in government investigations. “This internship opportunity really appealed to me. I worked on government investigation matters while working as a legal assistant at a law firm for many years. I am also inspired by Phil Foglia's commitment to fighting organized crime and public corruption, as well as his notorious devotion to community.”

This summer, at the Office of the Inspector General, Mandi had the opportunity to conduct legal research, write memos, attend interviews, discuss ongoing investigations with investigative counsel, and more. “I learned to value the impact that legal research can have on an active investigation.” While there were many highlights, Mandi notes that one that really sticks out to her was having the opportunity to speak with the Inspector General, Lucy Lang, about her experience doing defense versus prosecution work in the City. “I came into law school laser focused on doing defense work, but it was really rewarding getting the perspective of former prosecutors and how they feel they can ensure a fair process throughout the criminal justice system. The IG leads an office with a mentorship mentality. Everyone was fantastic at involving me in their work and explaining the process of an investigation. I came out of the internship learning so much, from how an investigation begins to how it can end in recommending charges to a prosecutor. I hope that I made both the Foglia family and Pace community proud.”

A member of Haub Law’s Class of 1980, Phil Foglia began his legal career at the Bronx DA’s Office. He was later a Special Assistant US Attorney in the SDNY, a partner at a private firm, the Executive VP of SEBCO, and in August 2019, he retired after a lengthy career with the Office of the New York Inspector General as Chief of Investigations and Special Deputy Inspector General. He was also very dedicated to charitable and community work, serving as the pro bono legal counsel for the Bronx Special Olympics and co-founding the Child Reach Foundation. He retired from the Ispector General’s office in 2019.

Mandi Bruns Lucy Lang
Inspector General, Lucy Lang with inaugural Philip Foglia Summer Legal Intern Mandi Bruns '24

Learn more about Phil Foglia and the Philip Foglia Summer Legal Internship at the NYC Office of the Inspector General’s Office in the 2022 Haub Law Alumni Magazine.

Elizabeth Dank '05

#LifeatTikTok

Elizabeth Dank ’05 recently embarked on a new journey in her career: Product Policy Manager for Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity on the Global Trust and Safety team at TikTok. Elizabeth has always loved to dig in to complex problems and has worked in the field of gender-based violence throughout her career in both legal and non-legal roles – crediting, in part, the Pace Women’s Justice Center for directly influencing the course of her career. Prior to her new role at TikTok, she spent time with the New York City Administration for Children's Services (ACS), in the Queens District Attorney’s Office in the Domestic Violence Unit, and eleven years with the New York City Mayor's Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV). Learn more about Elizabeth, her time at Haub Law, her career and current role at TikTok, what continues to inspire her career path, and more in this Alumni Q&A.

Let’s jump right in – you recently started a position at TikTok as a Product Policy Manager focused on Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity – what is your day-to-day like there?

Across the Trust and Safety Issue Policy team, we are developing and enforcing cutting-edge policies and practices aimed at keeping the platform safe and welcoming. I am working specifically on Adult Nudity and Sexual Activity and focusing on policies related to exploitation and abuse. It has been so interesting to translate my on-the-ground work in gender-based violence into a tech space. Unfortunately, the harms that can occur IRL can also happen in online communities and we are working hard to proactively prevent and address abuse and exploitation and provide support for survivors. It is a huge responsibility to know that the work we are doing will impact over 1 billion users across the globe.  

What is it like to work for a huge social media platform? 

 #LifeatTikTok is different than anything I have experienced professionally! I am so impressed by the focus on employee well-being, the transparency and communication from leadership and the ways our commitment to creativity and joy on the platform are endlessly woven into the workplace too. Not only am I passionate about the work I get to do here, I am also having fun!  

You have spent your career primarily focused combatting domestic violence and gender-based violence – thank you – I imagine at times that this can be very emotionally draining, what keeps you going and/or what have been the most fulfilling parts of your job? 

I have two little girls who inspire me daily. I hope that through my work I might have a small impact on making the world they grow up in safer and more equitable.  

Jumping back for a second, you started your legal career as an agency attorney with the New York City Administration for Children's Services (ACS) and then as an ADA in the Queens District Attorney’s Office in the Domestic Violence Unit – can you talk about those experiences? 

Starting my career in litigation roles provided me with invaluable experience and numerous transferable skills in public speaking, writing, analysis, negotiation, mediation, thinking on your feet - just to name a few! There is often a sink-or-swim approach to new hires in government litigation positions, which was terrifying at the time but really forced me to work hard and strengthen my skills every day.  

Working directly with families and survivors who experienced child abuse, domestic violence and sexual violence was both incredibly difficult and rewarding. The families I came into contact with through these positions left indelible impressions on me and motivated me to seek to improve NYC systems and remove barriers.  

On a personal level, while at these two agencies, I was fortunate to have incredibly supportive bosses and colleagues who became lifelong friends. And I will always be thankful to ACS, as they unknowingly paired me with an officemate who would, years later, become my husband!  

From the DA’s Office, you transitioned to the New York City Mayor's Office to End Domestic and Gender-Based Violence (ENDGBV), where you spent the last 11 years doing impactful work in a variety of roles, what was your day-to-day like there? 

No two days (or even hours!) were the same at ENDGBV and that was one of the things that made the work so interesting and engaging. It was such a privilege to work alongside my colleagues and our partners to develop, enhance and innovate the City's response to gender-based violence. We wrote novel legislation, developed critical policies, designed first-of-its-kind programming, and worked every day to strategically coordinate and align approaches across numerous City agencies to enhance support for survivors. My ENDGBV colleagues are some of the most passionate people I have met and it was incredible to work in an office that was so grounded and focused on a shared mission.  

Did you always want to be a lawyer? 

Actually, no! I originally thought I might be a psychologist or a social worker. I even grappled with this during my first year of law school and wondered whether I had chosen the right path! I'm glad I persevered though as I've really enjoyed my career as a lawyer and believe that a legal education is transferable in so many beneficial ways.  

What was your path to law school and why Pace? 

During my junior year in college, I interned at a domestic violence shelter. Working closely with shelter staff and resident survivors, I was able to better understand both the barriers and resources that impacted survivors. This experience largely inspired me to go to law school and continue working to support survivors as an attorney. I chose Pace because of the excellent public interest program, immersive clinical and externship options and access to the legal community in NYC.  

What were some of your most impactful experiences during your time at Pace? 

Participating in the domestic violence clinic through the Pace Women's Justice Center directly influenced the course of my career. I believe strongly in the importance of clinical programming and highly recommend it to all new law students! I also had great domestic violence-related internships at community-based organizations and government agencies that helped to inform my career path. Rebecca Fialk was my clinical instructor and was fantastic at guiding me through my first client interviews and court appearances and motivating me to pursue litigation early in my career. I also had an excellent experience in trial advocacy with Robert Altchiler and found the skills I developed there so helpful in my first years as a litigator and in other roles throughout my career. One of the courses that stuck with me the most was the Prisoner's Rights class with Professor Michael Mushlin. It helped me to stay balanced and grounded as a prosecutor and inspired me to dig deeper into issues of sexual violence experienced by people in custody.

Do you have any advice for current or future law students?

If you are interested in the public sector, explore clinics, internships and volunteer opportunities across different agencies and organizations and be open to the different paths your legal career may take you. My career took many pivots and turns that I did not anticipate and it has been wonderful to continue to learn and grow in different ways with each position.  

What are some of your passions aside from the law? 

Outside of work, you can often find me exploring NYC, traveling with my family, going for a bike ride or baking with my kids.  

John Lettera '99

The Importance of Giving Back
CEO and Founder, Fairbridge Asset Management

John Lettera is a 1999 magna cum laude graduate of the Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University and served as the Managing Editor of Law Review. He is the CEO and Founder of Fairbridge Asset Management, for­merly RealFi Financial LLC. Fairbridge is a leading, technology driven, alterna­tive investment management firm with expertise in real estate credit strate­gies. Mr. Lettera’s involvement with the law school has been tremendous. He is a member of the Law School’s Board of Visitors and an Adjunct Professor at Haub Law. Most recently, he made a generous donation to the Law School which will serve as a five-year grant to name its Investor Rights Clinic after Fairbridge Asset Management—Fairbridge Investor Rights Clinic. He has also been an adjunct pro­fessor at the Law School since 2010, teaching courses in Real Estate Finance, Corporate Finance, and Venture Capital. Mr. Lettera has also supported the Law School through hiring many alumni over the years, generously sponsoring alumni events, and volunteering with the Center for Career and Professional Development. In 2013 and 2022, he received the Distinguished Service Award as part of the annual Law School Leadership Awards Dinner in recognition of his ongoing support.

How did you end up choosing Pace to pursue your legal education?

Pace was a perfect fit for me, as I wanted smaller class sizes and the chance to establish close relationships with other students and my professors. I wanted a col­laborative environment, and I relished the opportunity to engage with other students and work together to complete projects.

You have an interesting professional background, can you speak about that briefly?

I’ve been investing in real estate since 1990, and as an attorney, I’ve specialized in this area for over 23 years, so I have a lot of insight and experience in handling complex transactions—bridge loans, equity and debt financing and investing, acquisitions, etc. Unlike a lot of global bankers or financiers, I like to think outside of the box, more like an entrepreneur than a banker. I learned very early on that this type of investing is very legal intensive so law school was a natural progression and one that has served me very well.

What impact has your legal education at Pace had on your career?

Pace gave me the knowledge and foundation to get recruited to Milbank while also instilling in me the intellectual passion to venture out on my own. Being a part of Pace continuously reminds me that the practice of law is a profession besides being a business and as lawyers we can do good besides just doing well. Thanks to Pace, that commitment is firmly embedded in the culture of its students and in the future of the legal profession.

You are also an adjunct professor at Pace—how do you find that experience?

I always enjoyed classes taught by adjunct professors. I liked learning about their experiences firsthand; it al­lowed the students to view the world they want to en­ter through their lens. As an adjunct professor myself, I speak directly to how theories learned in class apply to real life applications and point out the pros and cons of different scenarios that students may not be able to anticipate at their current level. My love for learning fuels my passion for teaching. I am addicted to the challenge of how to get students even more engaged in learning. I can’t teach every student in the world, but I can make a difference for the ones I teach. Knowing that the impact I can have on their lives can stay with them throughout their years of schooling and beyond is incredibly inspiring.

You have been a generous supporter of Pace over the years—thank you. Why do you feel it is important to give back?

There are so many reasons including showing my ap­preciation for the education that Pace provided me and to give others a chance to have a similar experi­ence. Also, I compare my degree to having equity in a company; I have a personal interest in ensuring that Pace’s prestige grows. For my corporate finance stu­dents, it is like owning an investment where valuation changes based on reputation rather than earnings. The onus is on us, alumni, to bolster the reputation of our alma mater to protect and enhance our invest­ment over time. Giving back is also an opportunity for me to channel my passion and allow it to thrive on campus long after I’m gone. It is a way to invest back in areas I wish to see Pace flourish.

What are different ways, aside from financial, that you feel an alumni can and should support their law school?

Alumni often think that they are not ready to support Pace. This is usually on the premise that monetary contribution is the only way to give back. While finan­cial support is an important way to engage, contri­bution with your time can be an equally enriching experience, if not more. Volunteering to be mentors and guest speakers allows alums to stay current and engaged with bright minds of the future. Those inter­actions can lead to potentially hiring interns or future lawyers. Also, be sure to hire current and graduating students as this is the best way to promote Pace.

Over the years, I have hired countless students from Pace. Today, I am proud to say that several of my former students have top positions in my com­pany, including a partner with the asset management company, general counsel with the mortgage com­pany, counsel to the asset management company, and the list goes on. I also continue to support ex­ternship programs where several students work with my company for credits.

What advice would you have for a future or current law student?

I tell my students that the most crucial variable to your success in business is you. Experience has taught me that if we go to work every day on the internal, the external success we crave will undoubtedly show up along the way. The remarkable thing about working on ideas like inner passion and purpose is that your progress comes out so authentically in all manners of external interaction. When people can genuinely feel that you care about what you are engaged in, you are a persuasive salesperson, without actually trying to sell anything. It takes a lot of courage to work on the internal, but as Anais Nin so eloquently put it, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage”. Success, however you choose to define it, is a con­tinual work in progress. While many factors come into play when building a business, I believe that the most important ones have nothing to do with innovation, balance sheets, finance, or marketing. The most im­portant variable to your success in business is you. You are the author of your own life, and it’s never too late to replace the stories you tell yourself.

John Lettera Horace Anderson

Decnis Pimentel ‘23

You are the change you seek

Growing up in Harlem, New York, Haub Law student Decnis Pimentel experienced racial injustice first-hand. In part, these experiences led her to law school with the goal of pursuing a career in law to create change and have an impact on our system. “I am a huge believer in being the change you seek and pursuing a career in the law allows for the unique position of being able to help a range of individuals from all backgrounds regardless of their race or economic status. Lawyers have the ability to create change for the greater good of society and I look forward to having a career in law doing just that.”

Decnis is already breaking barriers in her own family. “I am a first-generation student in my family and will be the first lawyer in my entire family. I am Dominican and the oldest of three children. My mother is one of my biggest sources of power. Her resilience and the sacrifices she has made is one of the many reasons I am here today. I am proud of who I am and my background. I want to serve as an example for women of color and Latinas who come from similar backgrounds and show them that regardless of the stereotypes or labels society may want to place on you, you are in control of your own future and are capable of achieving anything you set your mind to.”

Currently, a resident assistant in Haub Law’s Dannat Hall, Decnis is also an active member of the Latin American Law Students Association and the Black Law Students Association. This past fall, she also interned with the Pace Women’s Justice Center. “It was a humbling and empowering experience. I learned a lot, both legal and life lessons.”

Decnis also feels fortunate to have experienced having Professor Randolph McLaughlin during her 1L year, who she notes has “inspired” her. “Taking Professor McLaughlin’s torts class during my 1L year and learning about his extensive career as a lawyer has inspired me and showed me that the work done as a lawyer really does have an impact and can create change in our system. He shared stories about his career, how he navigated being a black man who is a lawyer and the obstacles he faced throughout his career. Learning about his path and how he persevered motivated me to push through a very stressful 1L year.”

Decnis is pursuing an Advanced Certificate in Health Law and Policy while at Haub Law. So far, aside from her classes, her favorite thing about the Haub Law experience is the people. “Everyone here is extremely welcoming and willing to give a helping hand.”

When asked about her advice for others who may pursue a law degree, Decnis said, “trust yourself and have confidence in your potential. Bet on yourself. Do not compare your journey or story to the person next to you. You have gotten to the current place in your life because of your own talent, knowledge, and potential! You are the change you seek.”

As for the immediate future, Decnis is keeping her eye on the prize: graduate law school, pass the bar, and land a job in a law firm where she can create change. “I truly believe what I said, you are the change you seek, and I am confident that using the tools I have been given so far at Haub Law, I will fulfill my dream of graduating and having a positive impact on our system.”

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