Members of the Greater Miami legal community joined the local ACLU chapter Friday evening to honor the Pottinger Team, including Miami Law Professor Stephen J. Schnably. Schnably was co-counsel for the ACLU, along with Benjamin Waxman, JD ’83, in Pottinger v. City of Miami. The Pottinger consent decree, in place since 1998, protects the right of homeless individuals to not be arrested simply for being homeless. The Pottinger team successfully defended the decree against a recent effort by the City of Miami to eliminate its core protections for most homeless people.
“I’m honored to receive the award,” said Professor Schnably, “but more important has been the privilege to work with such a dedicated and outstanding team. The Pottinger decree won’t solve the problem of homelessness. But it ensures that individuals experiencing homelessness are treated with the dignity and respect due everyone.” Professor Schnably teaches property, constitutional law, international human rights law, and comparative constitutional law.
The 2014 C. Clyde Atkins Civil Liberties Award was named for the federal judge who presided over the trial in Pottinger and issued Pottinger’s landmark holding. The award was shared by lead attorney Benjamin Waxman, Schnably, and other participating attorneys Valerie Jonas, Maria Kayanan, JD ’80, Arthur Rosenberg, JD ’78, and Dante Trevisani; Miami Coalition for the Homeless advisors Terry Coble and Bobbie Ibbara; and named plaintiffs Carole Patman and David Peery.
Daniella Levine Cava, a longtime member of the civil liberties group, introduced the honorees and presented the awards. Jeffrey Hearne, chair of the Greater Miami Chapter Legal Panel and Director of Miami Law’s Tenants’ Rights Clinic, issued an invitation to the many young attorneys in attendance to cooperate on local ACLU cases.
Waxman, a board member of the ACLU Miami Chapter, spoke with passion, acknowledging the contributions of each Pottinger Team member.
In 1998, U.S. District Judge Federico Moreno, JD ’78, approved the original Pottinger consent decree after a decade of litigation and mediation between the ACLU and the City of Miami. It prohibits police from arresting homeless individuals who commit “life-sustaining conduct” misdemeanors when there is no available shelter bed within the city. It also prohibits police and other city officials from destroying property arbitrarily.
In 2013, the city asked Judge Moreno for sweeping changes to the consent decree. The ACLU of Florida Greater Miami Chapter opposed the changes, again led by Waxman. Though slightly revised, the consent decree’s core protections are preserved, and with enhanced access by plaintiffs’ counsel to compliance records.
For more information on the Pottinger case, see "Pottinger lawsuit: Core protections remain in place as local homeless settlement gets altered," by Dante Trevisani, in The Flame Online.