From the Memoirs of Alvin Dorfman: Civil Rights Lawsuits, part 5: Disabled person’s rights in public

An earlier lawsuit involving a tenant dispute and prejudice of a different sort came to me in June, 1983, when Miriam K. Lurie, a 79-year-old widow confined to a wheelchair because of a neurological disorder, consulted me about a threat of eviction from her co-op building. She had been living at 1 Kensington Gate in the Village of Kensington, Long Island, since the building had been built fourteen years earlier. It faced Middle Neck Road, a major north-south artery on the Great Neck peninsula, and had a circular driveway with an adjacent sidewalk and canopy.  Since taking ill, Mrs. Lurie would occasionally sit outside the front entrance of the building in her wheelchair, accompanied by her African-American attendant (who wore a white uniform), for perhaps fifteen minutes at a time, just to get some fresh air.  Although her wheelchair in no way impeded pedestrian or vehicular traffic, the building manager had told my client that she could no longer sit there because other tenants had complained that her presence there “made the building look like a nursing home.”  She next received a letter from the co-op’s attorney, threatening her with eviction if she continued her practice of sitting in front of the building.  That’s when Mrs. Lurie and her son asked to see me.

They were people of means, and the case was a matter of principle for them.  Mrs. Lurie’s father-in-law had published the Yiddish language newspaper Der Tog (The Day) which I remembered my father reading every day.  Her deceased husband, who had owned a very successful real estate mortgage business, had been the founder and first president of Temple Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Great Neck, and Mrs. Lurie was a past president of that synagogue’s sisterhood. The clients were not anxious to start a lawsuit, but wanted to receive a letter telling them it was alright for Mrs. Lurie to continue to enjoy the fresh air in front of her building. Not only were we unable to secure such a letter, but the co-op added another claim and threatened her with the imminent commencement of eviction proceedings.

The co-op asserted that my client’s wheelchair fell under the rubric of “velocipedes,” which the house rules prohibited from the elevator, public halls, passageways, and any common areas in the building.  Such a claim was not only unreasonable but cruel and insensitive.  If a wheelchair was to be barred from the building, that should have been specifically set forth in the lease, which it wasn’t. Clearly, however, the co-op intended to act quickly, so we decided to seek a temporary restraining order and injunction to prevent the co-op from moving forward with eviction proceedings.  We also knew that the news media could prove helpful to us, so I sent them copies of the summons and complaint, along with 8×10 glossy photographs depicting my client in her wheelchair with her attendant beside her, all of which they published.  The co-op made a motion to dismiss our complaint, but the court ruled in our favor.  As a practical matter, this concluded the eviction.  Never did the co-op’s attorneys seek an additional hearing.

Mrs. Lurie’s son-in-law then wished to pursue the personal injury aspect of the case. As part of our original filings, we had asked for money damages for the mental and emotional harm done to this plaintiff.  The theory of our case was that the co-op had itself violated their proprietary lease guarantee to tenants of “quiet enjoyment” of their apartments and the building’s premises, and that the actions of the co-op also violated the disability provisions of the New York State Human Rights Law.  Actually, the law was not clear and we found no cases as precedent, although an analogous case had just been brought by the New York State Attorney General against the owners of an apartment building that contained a medical office where HIV/AIDS patients were being treated and tenants were ignorantly afraid of catching the disease.  When I called the Attorney General’s office to see if they had any more information that might prove helpful in my case, I was told theirs also was a case of “first impression” and that they, too, were trying to “make law.”

Mrs. Lurie had never seen a physician, psychiatrist, or psychologist in connection with her claimed injuries, and therefore our case was weak.  When the case was about to be called for trial, I received a call from a claims adjuster for the co-op’s insurance company. I had never spoken to him or heard his name, so it startled me that he said he wanted to settle the case.  Knowing that my case was weak, I could not understand his motives, but when I asked him why he was so intent on settling, he simply said, “You just listen to me; we gotta settle this.”

We started negotiating, and eventually settled for $19,500. Had my case been dismissed in the Mineola Supreme Court I would have had nowhere else to go with it, so any sort of settlement was a victory of sorts.  After the settlement, I got back to the claims person and asked him, out of curiosity, why he had been so anxious to settle a case that really didn’t look like much of a threat to the insurance company, and he told me a most interesting tale.  He referred me back to a case I once handled for an African-American woman who had been referred to me by the Nassau County Commission on Human Rights. She had been looking for an apartment for herself and her husband in Farmingdale, and when she visited one apartment that had been advertised she had been told that it was already rented.  She didn’t believe it and went to the Human Rights Commission, and they tested whether or not the apartment was still available by sending a white applicant to the apartment.  This white tester was offered the apartment — whereupon the Commission referred the client to me.

As it turned out, I settled the matter in less than fifteen minutes, and didn’t charge the client because it was a civil rights matter.  I don’t believe I even created a file for the case: I simply phoned the building manager, who happened to be the daughter of the owner of the building, and told her that I was representing the African-American woman to whom she had lied about the apartment no longer being available. I told the building manager that she had half an hour to offer that apartment to my client or else call her lawyer. Within a few minutes, she called back and said the apartment was available for my client, who moved in with her husband —and I never gave the case any more thought.

I was beginning to get the creeps when the insurance adjuster brought this case up, but he quickly explained that he was the husband of that applicant for the apartment, and that he and his wife were still living there.  What a small world! It just shows that you never know how such a case will turn out.  In fact, I could never figure out what the co-op’s lawyers had been thinking when they brought the case against Mrs. Lurie in the first place.  The co-op’s law firm was heavily connected with the Nassau County Republican Party and should have read the riot act to their clients, telling them how foolish their position was and advising them to cut their losses ahead of time.

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From the Memoirs of Alvin Dorfman: Civil Rights Lawsuits, part 4: Town of Oyster Bay immigrant raid

Racism was at the heart of another memorable case I handled, in the Town of Oyster Bay, this time directed against Mexican immigrants. On the evening of November 15, 1996, the Town of Oyster Bay raided a group of commercial office buildings in Hicksville that had been used for many years as residential facilities after the landlord had been unable to rent them profitably as commercial properties. The government came out in full force for the raid: There were at least two dozen policemen and a number of Town of Oyster Bay employees, including the superintendent of the Division of Buildings and the chief deputy town attorney.

They claimed that the tenants, primarily Mexican immigrants, had not objected to the raid and had welcomed them into their apartments. In fact, the tenants later told me that the Nassau police had pushed open locked doors and given the tenants no alternative but to submit for fear of the consequences were they to do otherwise. The raid confirmed that these buildings were being used illegally as residential properties, and the tenants were ordered to leave immediately. It was claimed, as well, that certain conditions in the building, such as fire hazards, made it dangerous for the tenants to remain.

In December, I attended a Christmas party hosted by the Central American Refugee Committee (Carecen), for which I was the treasurer and had been a board member for at least ten years. A staff attorney told me that Carecen had been asked to provide attorneys for the ousted tenants, and although she had skills in the area of immigration, she had no experience handling general litigation and had not been able to find an attorney willing to undertake representation of these tenants. So I offered my services pro bono.

It seemed to me that more was going on in this case than met the eye. In the ordinary course of events, the Town would have brought a lawsuit in the Nassau County District Court against the landlord without even naming the tenants in the lawsuit. After all, the tenants were there at the behest of the landlord, and he had been taking their illegal rent and security deposits for years. The history of the premises revealed that multiple violations had been issued and multiple lawsuits had been brought against the landlord in the Nassau County District Court, but these matters had all been treated as if they were of no particular moment, with repeated adjournments and a minimal settlement of $2,000. These buildings could have been worth millions of dollars, and it seemed to me that the landlord was now trying to get rid of the tenants so he could conclude some sort of deal, but was also trying to avoid a landlord/tenant proceeding in the District Court, where all sorts of time-consuming defenses could have been made. Was the Town doing the dirty work of the landlord in bringing this Nassau Supreme Court lawsuit and ousting the tenants?

I retained my brother, a licensed professional engineer with a specialty in structural engineering, to investigate the buildings pro bono. He concluded they were all structurally sound. Any needed repairs could be done at once and would entail minimal costs. From an engineering point of view, there was no reason to have evicted the tenants. We therefore asserted in our papers, among other things, that the Town of Oyster Bay was doing the dirty business of a private landlord and had acted in an unacceptable, immoral, and racist manner. What we also had in our favor was the fact that the case was to be tried just two days before Christmas and had received enough publicity to ensure media coverage. No judge wanted to be the one to keep these tenants homeless at this time of year. To make sure everyone would be fully aware of the timing of the proceeding, I had a few priests in clerical garb and a few nuns who supported the tenants attend the hearing. The only thing I was missing was a nursing mother or two.

I was right that the presiding judge, Judge Bucaria, didn’t want to look like a son-of-a-bitch during the Christmas season. He said, in effect, “Fellas, let’s make a deal.” In addition, the town attorney seemed to be aware of my reputation as someone who was willing to take on the issue of racism, which other lawyers were often afraid to mention, and he seemed nervous. Everyone was ready to find a way to settle the case.

Of the initial hundred or so tenants, only about thirty or forty remained, the rest having returned to Mexico, probably because they were undocumented. We couldn’t ask the court to allow these people to live on the premises indefinitely, so we worked out a deal that allowed them to stay there for another two months, rent- and utilities-free. They were to be forgiven any back rent due and reimbursed any security monies they had paid. This seemed to us a victory.

One of the buildings was unaffected by the settlement because it had been in use as a residential facility for more than thirty years and had been “grandfathered in” to the zoning code. I never really found out what happened with this building, but I suspect nothing much. It probably remained a residential facility or, possibly the landlord paid the tenants off so that he could use it for whatever other purpose he had in mind.

Several months later, at the Carecen annual fundraiser, I was given an award as the “Pro Bono Attorney of the Year.” It might sound corny, but it meant a lot to me. This case had given me a sense of accomplishment, of having done the right thing. At the party, everyone bought fundraising raffles with half the money going to Carecen and half to the winner of the raffle drawing. As luck would have it, I won the drawing — but business was good at the time and it was my pleasure to donate the money back to the organization.

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From the Memoirs of Alvin Dorfman: Civil Rights Lawsuits, part 3: Moxey Rigby Housing

In 1987, the leadership of the Tenants’ Council Association along with some individual tenants from the Moxey A.Rigby apartments, a low-income housing project of 100 apartments in three six-story buildings in Freeport, came to see me. The 310 residents, most of them Black, were up in arms. There had been a series of violent incidents, including assaults, shootings, and stabbings of the residents in their apartments, in the common areas of the buildings, and in the areas adjacent to the apartment complex. There was a regular drug business being carried on in their buildings. The tenants and their families were in morbid fear for their lives and wanted to know if anything could be done from a legal standpoint. If they were a white constituency, they believed, the Village and its police would be falling all over themselves to provide security. Could we force the Village to care as much about these defenseless African Americans?

My visit to the First Precinct in Baldwin confirmed the tenants’ sense of the enormity of the violence to which they were subjected; the Moxey A. Rigby Apartment Complex was in competition with an address in Hempstead for the questionable honor of being the most dangerous and lawless area in all of Nassau County! I prepared and served a complaint that stated, among other things, that if the court didn’t come to the tenants’ assistance they would be doomed to continued victimization and fear for their lives, health and safety. We explicitly stated that were it not for the fact that the tenants were Black, the Freeport Housing Authority would have taken appropriate ameliorative actions. The proceeding was brought pursuant to the New York State Real Property Actions and Proceedings Law, and we asked the court to appoint an administrator with the power to receive the rent and apply it, or a portion thereof, for security purposes. Pending further consideration, the court ordered my office to collect rents and to keep appropriate books. Fortunately, my wife came to the rescue and became the bookkeeper for this rent strike.

As soon as all of this made the newspapers, the Freeport Human Relations Commission sent me a letter signed by its executive director, in which he said, “whether they are consciously thinking in terms of race or not,” my statement of complaint was racist. “It is disappointing, however,” he added, “that a person of your standing in the community, with your knowledge of Freeport and of what has been accomplished here over many years, vis a vis race relations, should by such remarks cheapen what is undoubtedly a serious problem — not racism but drug dealing. In doing so, you did a serious disservice to the Freeport Community.” It should be noted that the chairman of this commission was my rabbi, and that, in fact some of the members of the Human Relations Commission were Black. These people had been in such a hurry that they hadn’t even contacted me first to find out the facts of the case.

I responded the same day I received the letter and, in a frankly aggressive manner, argued that the Commission had abdicated its obligations and responsibilities and was trying “to isolate and, by trial in absentia in deference to some higher authority, condemn a single person of standing in the community.” I pointed out that I had been involved in the struggle for racial equality in Freeport for thirty years while persons of “standing” in the community had been absent or reluctant to take a stand. I strongly resented being made a scapegoat, and pointed out that the existence of crime (drug dealing) didn’t mean that racism was not involved. Next I received a phone call from the director saying that they would withdraw their letter if I did the same. Obviously they were ashamed of what they had done.

Mayor Dorothy Storm soon sent a letter to the Tenants’ Council, many individual tenants, the attorney for the Freeport Housing Authority, and some public officials calling for a meeting to seek “reconciliation in the community.” The letter was not sent to me, but I gave the mayor and her office the benefit of the doubt because I couldn’t believe that anyone with half a brain would see it as proper to deal with my clients and have them discuss the issues of a pending lawsuit in the presence of the Housing Authority’s lawyer but without their own counsel. When I showed up for the meeting, however, I discovered that my non-receipt of the letter was no mistake: The mayor and the Village attorney asked me to leave! En masse, my clients got up and left with me, refusing to participate in the meeting without their lawyer. It felt like I was in the deep South, with Black people were being told they couldn’t have their lawyer represent them. There is no doubt in my mind that if these tenants had been white, no one would have had the chutzpah even to suggest this.

Just before my clients and I were about to leave the building, Assemblywoman Earlene Hill showed up, and when I told her what was happening she went into the meeting with the aim of “straightening things out.” Within a few minutes, my clients and I were invited back in, but the meeting really proved to be worthless. Nothing much happened.

In very short order, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development made an application to have the case removed from the Nassau District Court to the Eastern District Federal Court in Brooklyn, and the case was assigned to Judge Jack Weinstein who, of course, had been my law professor and sponsor into the New York State Bar. The Housing Authority made a motion to dismiss, but it was denied. Judge Weinstein ordered that some discovery take place (documents exchanged and sworn testimony taken) so that the court could make a more informed judgment as to whether to dismiss, whether in fact it was the court’s job to order security protection in a housing project.

I don’t recall if Judge Weinstein suggested it, or if I simply decided that I should retain the services of an attorney more experienced than I in federal civil rights matters, but through my friend at Hofstra Law School, David Kadane, I secured the assistance of Professor Leon Friedman, a constitutional law authority. We went over the case, and Professor Friedman prepared a succinct amended complaint covering the areas I already expounded upon and adding that the failure to provide security for the tenants at the Moxey Rigby Apartments was a violation of the Civil Rights Law and the Constitution of the United States. Our hope was to extract a settlement offer from the Housing Authority and the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), because we were afraid that if we pushed Judge Weinstein to make a decision as to whether there was any legal merit to our lawsuit we would end up losing the case. Even though our legal position may not have been as strong as we liked, the bad publicity for the respondents proved most helpful, and the Housing Authority and HUD were anxious to cut a deal.

They and the Village of Freeport came up with the money to pay for security, and on April 9, 1992, Leon Friedman and I appeared before a magistrate, advised him of the conditions of the proposed settlement, and agreed to a dismissal of the lawsuit. The clients were energized, having seen what unity and “militancy” could accomplish, and a number of significant improvements were actually made: the Village police provided the apartment complex with a patrol from 8:00 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon, and a Muslim group was retained to provide security from 4:00 in the afternoon until midnight. Although the apartments didn’t have ’round-the-clock security, the situation was a hell of a lot better than it had been before. In addition, the tenants retained a former Freeport police officer, Julius Pearce, as an advisor.

The locks on the doors leading into the buildings, the intercom system, and the doors leading to the roofs were among items repaired, and the tenants began to breathe more easily in the new secure atmosphere. The Moxey Rigby Apartments were soon no longer in competition for the “honor” of being the number one crime area in Nassau County. We might have lost the battle in that we agreed to a dismissal of the lawsuit, but we won the war by substantially increasing security for our clients.

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From the Memoirs of Alvin Dorfman: Civil Rights Lawsuits, part 2: Long Beach Pennysaver

In the summer of 1982, upset that the Long Beach-Island Park edition of the Pennysaver was not being distributed in the predominantly Black community bounded by Reynolds Channel, Long Beach Boulevard, Park Avenue, and Park Place in Long Beach, some black clients of mine asked me if I thought a lawsuit would be appropriate. For a few weeks, I thought about it, and concluded that a legal attempt should be made to end this invidious discrimination. My clients and I met to select plaintiffs for the case. We chose a black minister of the Soul Stirring Church of God in Christ, located on Park Place; a white person living in the targeted area; and a child along with her father, who were Black residents of the targeted area. We named the Pennysaver Corporation and its two officers as defendants. In our complaint, we alleged that though the Pennysaver advertised that it went to every single home and business in Long Beach and Island Park, this was obviously not the case, and that the sole reason for the boycott of the subject community was that the residents were predominantly Black. Such a commercial boycott and blacklisting of the plaintiffs and the class they represented was, we alleged, motivated by race and was thus a violation of the New York State Constitution, the New York Human Rights Law, and a section of the Federal Civil Rights Law.

From the very start, the defendants treated our lawsuit with imperiousness and contempt, as if to ask what right “these people” had to seek out lawyers and complain to and seek redress from the courts. They seemed to think they could run my office off the case. Two officers of the Pennysaver Corporation, possibly sent by their lawyers, went to the home of the church minister and interrogated him for almost thirty minutes, asking him how he had come to my offices and whether he had come to me or I to him. They must have thought that if I had solicited this case, I would somehow be in trouble. I hadn’t solicited the case, but even if I had, it seemed to me that the law made solicitation of a civil rights case absolutely kosher, and that the bar was not interested in taking action to prevent it. Moreover, I was not charging my clients anything for bringing this lawsuit; it was just another labor of love, an opportunity to fight for what seemed to me only right. In any case, barging into a plaintiff’s home without the consent of their lawyers is completely unacceptable. These successful businessmen surely had lawyers, only a phone call away, who knew this quite well. Had my clients been white, I am sure that this visit to the plaintiffs in an attempt to intimidate me would never have taken place.

Before answering the complaint, the defendants chose to file a motion to dismiss, claiming that the exclusion of the Black area in Long Beach was not racially motivated but was based purely upon business reasons. They asserted this with generalities, never really explaining their non-racial economic reasons for the boycott. We strenuously opposed their motion and, instead, asked for summary judgment on behalf of the plaintiffs. Both their motion to dismiss and ours for summary judgment were denied, and Judge Vincent R. Balletta of the Nassau County Supreme Court wrote that the complaint was sufficient on its face to set forth a cause of action alleging a violation of the plaintiffs’ human rights under the Human Rights Law of New York State. It took a certain amount of guts for the judge to write this decision, and I applaud him for it.

The defendants appealed to the NYS Appellate Division, consisting of four judges, one of whom, Judge Thompson, was Black. In those years, Black judges were a rarity, and there was a good chance they had been chosen because of their willingness to “tow the line.” Judge Thompson fulfilled those expectations and then some: He was our “Clarence Thomas” and his views could have been expressed by any white rightwing, racist judge. He referred to the defendants’ arguments as unchallenged and “thoroughly convincing,” and was not even bothered by the white Pennysaver officers’ unannounced visits to the Reverend’s home. Judge Thompson reminded me of a Black judge in federal court who, having suffered from segregation and discrimination during the Second World War, looked me straight in the eye and essentially said words to this effect: “Young man, if I was willing to accept the racism heaped upon me and my fellow Black soldiers in World War II, then what are these people complaining about in this bug-bite case?”

Luckily the three white judges saw the racism in the case and wouldn’t let it go by the boards. Judge Balletta’s decision was affirmed, and everything else then fell into place. Discovery was to go forward and hearings were to be completed in preparation for a trial, but the defendants wanted to settle, if for no other reason than to avoid the continued negative publicity. I always had it in the back of my mind that the courts might decide that the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights prevented a lawsuit like ours, and we could have lost the trial for any other number of reasons, so we decided to accept the settlement offer: The Pennysaver would pay $10,000 in attorneys’ fees and within thirty days would begin to distribute the Pennysaver throughout the entire City of Long Beach, including the Black community. The attorneys’ fees didn’t begin to cover the hundreds of hours I and an associate had put in on this case, but I felt more than compensated by the joy of having successfully processed a case representing a tiny step in the direction of racial equality.  It might sound corny, but whenever I represented people for human rights or anti-war positions, I would become elated with a successful result.

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From the Memoirs of Alvin Dorfman: Civil Rights Lawsuits, part 1

As I became involved with the civil rights movement, then the peace movement and the left in general, my name was spread around, and I found that Black people and later Latinos would employ my legal services even if they were not sympathetic to my political views. I suspect that they felt that if I was daring or courageous enough to hold such views, I could be depended upon to give devoted and zealous service. I tried to keep away from formal left activities, even though that was where my mind and heart were.

I did become an active member of a local group called the Freeport Community Relations Council, which was a liberal organization seeking the end of segregation and racism. It had many prominent members, including George Jackson, a Hofstra University history professor, David Kadane, the attorney for Long Island Lighting Company, and Sheldon Ackley, a leader of the Ethical Culture Society. Freeport historically had a small black population cooped up in a poor section of the Village around Merrick Road near the Meadowbrook Parkway. The Freeport Village government and the community at large had done their best to prevent this black community from increasing in size. In contrast, the Freeport Community Relations Council sought to make Freeport a truly welcoming town for all people.

A Black family by the name of Crum was denied an apartment in Freeport, and there was no doubt in my mind that this denial was due to racism. A complaint was filed with the NY State human rights body, and this became my first civil rights case. The landlord was represented by a rightwing attorney connected with the Conservative Party. (He ran on the Republican and Conservative lines opposing Allard K. Lowenstein in the 1968 Congressional Race in what was then the Fifth Congressional District.) Hearings were conducted and positions were vigorously presented in the Crum case. Members of the Freeport Community Relations Council attended in force, and I worked hard in preparing and trying the case. Discrimination was found and the Crums got their apartment. I couldn’t have been happier.

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Replacing Guns With Prescription Pads Is Not the Answer

Defunding the Police: Replacing Guns With Prescription Pads Is Not the Answer

Study Finds SSRIs Associated with Increased Risk for Violent Crime

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U.S. Jews and the Balkan Situation

an article by Alvin Dorfman and Heather Cottin

First published in Jewish Currents – April, 1996

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In the news….

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May 17, 2020 · 10:31 pm

From the Memoirs of Alvin Dorfman – Part 8: Malverne School Busing (3)

In addition to the usual papers submitted in any lawsuit, I prepared a brief entitled “Media and Organizational Response” in which we argued that important members and constituencies of the community were supportive of the black community in this lawsuit, including all of the local clergy, the New York and Long Island daily newspapers, the local radio stations, the teachers’ unions, and the American Jewish Congress. An amicus brief from the American Jewish Congress would, we hoped, call attention to the fact that the head of the Board of Regents (in effect the immediate superior of the Commissioner of Education) was a prominent member of the AJC.

It was very difficult to figure out the school district’s position. On the one hand they were opposed to our application but, on the other hand, they made the same arguments we did, calling upon the Commissioner to support our request for the funding of intra-district busing as an “ordinary contingent expense.” Obviously the district was trying to appease its constituents while at the same time conceding that our arguments were correct.

The attorney for the school district was the former lawyer for the Commissioner of Education and had worked for the Education Commission for a number of years, having only left that office a few weeks before. His representation of the school district in this matter therefore seemed a clear conflict of interest. The attorney for the N.A.A.C.P., after consulting with me, requested his recusal but I don’t believe any action was taken on that request. But, in general, relations with the N.A.A.C.P. were not so amicable. The March 1978 issue of their Rockville Centre/Lakeview branch published a lead article asserting that they were pursuing legal action against the Malverne School District and that certain concerned citizens (my clients) were also pursuing legal action. In this article the N.A.A.C.P. claimed that they had tried to get along “amiably” with my clients but that we had never contacted their attorney or responded to any communications from their organization so that, because of our “aggravating” behavior, they had decided to go it alone. Not a word of this was true but the branch president of the N.A.A.C.P. refused to make a move to disavow this article without the consent of the Chairperson, and she was uncooperative.

A few months after the initial papers were filed, members of the community and I attended a hearing in Albany before the Commissioner. As we set off by bus, the ten or so clergy—white, black, Jew, and Gentile—who stood by the bus, prayed for the success of our effort. I was so moved I almost cried. I must say that in all the human rights struggles I have participated, I have never witnessed such camaraderie and love.
In Albany we met with our local State Senator, asking for his support of our application. He took me off to the side and said words to the effect, “Alvin, you know I can’t do such a thing; it’s very controversial.” And when the Commissioner granted our application, ordering the school district to pay for busing all students living more than eight tenths of a mile from school, (calling it “an ordinary contingent expense”), He introduced legislation calling for the State to pick up the “transportation tab” for the integration of the school district, thereby making himself the hero of the white community. Obviously, he had no shame. If he had proposed this legislation in the first place the whole proceeding and controversy could have been avoided.

The community held a victory celebration and about four hundred people attended a wonderful dinner at the Freeport Yacht Club. My wife shared in my happiness, having also sacrificed for the cause, since I had put in hundreds and hundreds of hours on the case. Very few lawsuits that I handled seemed to work out so perfectly and to bring as much joy as this one. Representing the Lakeview Community was a two-way street. I believe I gave them zealous representation and, in turn, I had the wonderful feeling of having done an effective and devoted job.

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From the Memoirs of Alvin Dorfman – Part 7: Malverne School Busing (2)

I discovered that the New York State Chairperson of the N.A.A.C.P. was concerned that I might be taking some of the “glory” away from her organization so I called her to try to allay her fears. However, it didn’t take long for me to realize that her motives were not the same as mine; she was only concerned with how it would “look” if the Civil Liberties Union rather than the N.A.A.C.P. brought the action. I told her this wouldn’t be a problem, that I would be willing to handle the case in the name of the N.A.A.C.P. and the Civil Liberties Union. This didn’t seem to make things better and she told me she would think about my proposal. I told her that I was planning to file my papers the following Monday.

She had her lawyers work fast and they filed papers on the Friday before my scheduled filing. She was hoping to get the publicity out of this case at the expense of the Civil Liberties Union but, despite her best efforts, it didn’t work out that way. The N.A.A.C.P. papers were abysmal. They misstated the facts of the case and sought relief that made no sense. The attorney for the N.A.A.C.P. was quite bright but he wasn’t given adequate time to put together a decent set of papers. Had the NYS Commissioner of Education taken these papers seriously, they would have undermined the position of the black residents of the Malverne School District. But, as it turned out, the papers were so bad that the Commissioner decided to disregard the submission from the N.A.A.C.P. entirely. As a practical matter, their lawyer became completely dependent upon me to “lead the charge.”

Our initiating petition set forth the history of the school district and the racism of the white community in discontinuing the busing for the Lakeview students which, we argued, was part of the larger agreed-upon plan for racial integration. We claimed the black students suffered great hardships, having, for example, to cross wide avenues on their way to school, to walk across the Long Island Railroad tracks, and to walk in all kinds of inclement weather. The kids often arrived at school half frozen or wet and sometimes had to miss school altogether. At times they were dependent on getting to school by a private bus which wasn’t a bus at all but only a van in which up to twenty kids were crammed. Moreover, neither of the two elementary schools served lunch and there was no time for the black students to go back and forth to their homes for lunch. As a result, we claimed, by placing this intolerable burden of integration exclusively on the black community it was acting in an unacceptable, immoral, unlawful, and unconstitutional manner and was denying the black children the best of educational opportunities and the opportunity to develop to their full potential. In essence, their actions constituted a denial of equal educational opportunities.

It took a long time to figure out what relief we were actually going to ask for. Clearly, we would ask that the district be required to fund busing just the way the State did from 1967 to 1971. We called on the Commissioner of Education to find that the requested transportation constituted an “ordinary contingent expense” within the meaning of Section 202.3 of the Education law which would, in effect, require the district to provide the busing at the expense of the taxpayers of the district. We also decided to “scare the pants off” the larger white community.

If the Commissioner did not think he could force the local taxpayers to pay for the reinstitution of the original busing plan, we requested that the original Princeton Plan (as recommended by the Commissioner in 1963) to be reinstituted, i.e. that the Lakeview School be reopened and that the kids in the entire school district therefore attend all three schools. There was no doubt in our minds that this was the last thing in the world that the larger white community wanted. Alternately, we suggested they remedy the situation by reopening the Lakeview School and closing one of the two other schools so that the white kids would be “bussed into” the black neighborhood. We were sure the white community wouldn’t like that either.

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