With the advent of COVID-19 and the global rise of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, the Georgia State Law community spent the summer leading the way toward justice.
At Georgia State Law, we often say that lawyers are problem solvers, and as our community and the world faced a global pandemic and civil unrest, students, faculty and alumni used their expertise to help people. Faculty spent hundreds of hours mastering how to teach online. Students participated in virtual externships, social justice demonstrations and hundreds of hours of pro bono legal work with organizations in Georgia and beyond. In addition, College of Law graduates touch every corner of the state’s legal community, from the capitol to rural courts. Here’s a look at how some of our faculty, students and alumni are making a difference when people need it most.
Andrea Curcio, Professor of Law For almost 20 years, Curcio has been researching bar licensing processes. Given the global pandemic and public health issues, she and a team of scholars have proposed alternative licensing processes including an emergency pandemic diploma privilege. For states uncomfortable with that option, during the pandemic, they advocate: (1) licensure based upon successful completion of seven to nine hours of clinical courses; or (2) a period of supervised practice culminating in a supervisor’s affidavit attesting to the work performed and the new lawyer’s competent performance of that work. They suggest these approaches are at least as valid as this year’s bar exam in protecting the public and assessing whether graduates are prepared to represent clients.
Erin Fuse Brown, director of the Center for Law, Health & Society and Professor of Law Fuse Brown’s research on medical bills has expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some patients have reported receiving medical bills upwards of $1 million post hospitalization. Fuse Brown asks, at a time when so many are losing their jobs, should access to COVID-19 testing and treatment be attached to an employer-provided insurance plan? With the Supreme Court slated to hear the Affordable Care Act case this fall, this question is more important than ever.
Timothy D. Lytton, Associate Dean for Research & Faculty Development, Distinguished University Professor and Professor of Law Lytton has focused much of his scholarship during the pandemic on the liability for transmission. He published “Businesses that Reopen Unsafely Should be Subject to Tort Liability” in the Regulatory Review and “Why Offering Business Immunity from Coronavirus is a Bad Idea” in The Conversation and was quoted in several major publications including the New York Times and BBC News.
“The threat of civil lawsuits for negligence provides a powerful incentive to business owners to take reasonable precautions to prevent transmission of the virus.”
Tiffany Williams Roberts (J.D. ’08), Deputy Director of the National Institute for Teaching Ethics & Professionalism and Adjunct Professor When protests emerged across the state following the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks, Roberts grew concerned about the use of military force against people who were exercising their First Amendment Rights. She was also concerned that protesters who were arrested might have trouble paying bail, since many people lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Over the summer, she collaborated with JUST Georgia and the Southern Center for Human Rights to defend protesters and train attorneys on how to approach civil rights cases.
Eric Segall, Ashe Family Professor of Law The pandemic’s impact on religious freedom was the focus of Eric Segall’s article, “Forced Closing of Houses of Worship During the Coronavirus: Both Legal and Right.” In it, Segall argues that exempting churches, synagogues and mosques from the generally applicable quarantine recommendations is a mistake and a misreading of the Constitution. He says, “Not only is it perfectly legal during this crisis under both state and federal law, it is obviously the right thing to do for the American people.”
Laura James (J.D. ’21) James has been working at CNN since 2015 and began as a part-time student at Georgia State College of Law in 2017. As a content producer, James is responsible for working with CNN affiliates around the United States to gather content, source live coverage and pitch stories to each show team at the network. Shortly after the pandemic began, she had to get quickly get comfortable working from home while still turning out content on both the COVID-19 pandemic and unrest from social justice issues in order to keep viewers informed. James was enrolled in Public Health Law during the spring semester, which she says allowed her to better understand how the pandemic was playing out and made her more comfortable while gathering pertinent content for coverage.
Eli Cohen (J.D. ’20) Cohen is an officer in the National Guard. On April 6, he was called to lead a chemical unit tasked with disinfecting nursing homes and long-term care facilities. Their mission shifted later in the month to start running Coronavirus test sites.
Che Johnson Long (J.D. ’21) Long has been working as a community organizer for the last 15 years, with a focus on redirecting funds from prisons to prevention programs. She is the Director of Decarceration with the Racial Justice Action Center, and this summer, they organized demonstrations after an unarmed Black man, Rayshard Brooks, was killed by Atlanta police officers. She supported the protest by coordinating security, which includes teaming up with legal observers.
Long believes that civil disobedience is an important tool of law, and “it’s our job as law scholars to point out when laws are unjust.”
Yasamine Jalinouszadeh, (J.D./M.S.H.A ’21) Jalinouszadeh assisted in the Georgia Health Policy Center’s Medicaid Policy and Business Team, Health Reform Work Group, and Health in All Policies team with legal research. She compiled and created a working summary and analysis of the CARES Act, which serves to provide economic aid and relief for COVID-19. Jalinouszadeh was also a Corps member with the Systemic Justice Project where she served on a committee for Systemic Racism in Healthcare. Her research focused on healthcare disparities and how COVID-19 has disproportionately affected people of color and the inaccessibility of healthcare to this demographic. The committee’s goal was to serve and spread awareness of legal rights that may protect these individuals and policies that affect the problems.
Chandra Burns (J.D. ’17) VP of Human Resources, Aveanna Healthcare Burns has touched almost every area of the healthcare system over the last six months. She helped design a pay program in order to continue to pay nurses when they are unable to work and developed a resource and fast-track program to allow nurses with reduced hours to apply for enhanced unemployment, all while monitoring legal alerts in 24 different states that impact employees. She has also been working to provide care to medically fragile children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I feel like every day it’s a new law or new guidance, but it’s nothing compared to the battle being fought by our nurses and therapists on the front lines,” Burns said. “My team just works to keep them out there to care for those kiddos who need it.”
Lindsey Churchill (J.D. ’91), VP and Associate General Counsel, InterContinental Hotels Group Churchill has advised business areas on operational and legal risks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This touches every area from difference in international regulations for hotel operations to enhanced cleaning and force majeure clauses in event contracts. “It’s going to be along recovery process for the hotel industry,” said Churchill. “Guests need to know that when you go to a Holiday Inn, for example, standards don’t differ wildly.”
Megan Douglas (J.D. ’12), Assistant Professor, Morehouse School of Medicine Douglas’ legal research team at Morehouse School of Medicine was awarded a $40 million grant to fight COVID-19 in racial and ethnic minority, socially vulnerable and rural communities by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. They are working with Google, the CDC Foundation and several other organizations to create a virtual platform that will track the racial and ethnic disparities being amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic. Douglas is also involved in research conducted by the National Center for Primary Care studying the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on racial and ethnic minority communities in Georgia and across the U.S.
Kym Sorrells (J.D. ’96), County Attorney, Jefferson County Attorney’s Office Sorrells has worked closely with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office to interpret the state’s Stay-at-Home and Safer at Home Orders, and she has drafted many local public health orders. Within Jefferson County, Sorrells has helped allocate more than $100 million of CARES Act funding. She has also created variance requests to allow certain businesses to open, while leading enforcement efforts relating to public health orders.
Written by Alex Resnak, Kelundra Smith and Mara Thompson