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A Life in Service of Others
June 30th, 2011 Posted by

Last week, the department celebrated John Wodatch’s 42 years as a career civil rights lawyer for the federal government. Wodatch, who is retiring today, is a disability rights pioneer who has been instrumental in crafting federal disability rights laws and enforcing those laws.

Wodatch began his civil rights career in 1969 at the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, where he worked on almost every aspect of civil rights: he worked to desegregate schools in the South; he worked to desegregate the blood supply in hospitals; he helped in efforts to bring African-Americans into trade unions in Philadelphia; he helped draft the Title IX regulations that have opened so many doors of educational opportunity for girls and women; and he worked to ensure that individuals whose first language was not English could access critical social services.

His first foray into advancing opportunities for individuals with disabilities was in 1973, when he helped to create and implement the first comprehensive regulations on disability discrimination in federal programs, the regulations implementing Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. He joined the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division in 1980 to lead the Department’s oversight of Section 504, and quickly found himself defending the statute, as the Reagan Administration had made clear its intention to repeal Section 504. He found an ally in Vice President George H.W. Bush, and a new regulatory framework for the law was negotiated.

When it came time for the Americans with Disabilities Act, John was a principal architect.

But passage of the landmark law in 1990 was just the beginning. Wodatch was asked to lead the new unit that would enforce the ADA, and he and his team were tasked with drafting the rules that would implement the law.

At the event celebrating John’s career, former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh recalled how in 1991, Wodatch and the newly created Disability Rights Section of the Civil Rights Division had worked tirelessly to draft the regulations to implement the newly enacted Americans with Disabilities Act, completing the intensive and technical process in just a year. A grand event was to be held in the Justice Department’s historic Great Hall to sign the new regulations. But the team encountered a problem when they realized the Great Hall was not accessible. Staff quickly went to work, installing wheelchair ramps and other features to make the majestic space ready to host individuals with disabilities. Two decades later, those who visit the Great Hall still benefit from the features that were added to make it accessible.

Following implementation of the ADA, Wodatch spent more than two decades as Chief of the Disability Rights Section, leading the Justice Department’s enforcement of the ADA and breaking down barriers in all areas of life for persons with disabilities. His fingerprints are on every ADA enforcement action taken by the Department, every piece of technical assistance, every outreach program, and every new rule or regulation issued since the ADA’s passage.

Wodatch said this of his career at DOJ:

“I have spent the last 20 years on the ADA with the intent of vigorously enforcing the new law, guiding its development, and creating the Disability Rights Section as the best disability rights law firm in the country. We have helped reshape this county, opening doors and opportunities, integrating persons with disabilities into everyday American life.”

Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez said this of Wodatch:

“He was a founding parent of the disability rights movement. John embodies the best that this government has to give.”

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Sam Bagenstos called working with and learning from Wodatch “one of the great privileges” of his life, and stated:

“This city and this democracy really depend on dedicated, committed career civil servants. That is John Wodatch.”

Wodatch leaves a legacy of commitment and service that spans more than four decades. He has left an indelible mark on the Civil Rights Division, the Justice Department, and the entire nation. He has made the nation a better place for individuals with disabilities.

POSTED IN: Civil Rights Division  |  PERMALINK
Another Victory for the Affordable Care Act
June 29th, 2011 Posted by

Today the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s ruling in the Thomas More Law Center v. Obama case dismissing the challenge to the Affordable Care Act – upholding the law as constitutional.  Tracy Schmaler, Deputy Director of the Office of Public Affairs released the following statement:

“We welcome the Sixth Circuit’s ruling today dismissing this challenge to the Affordable Care Act and its finding that Congress acted within its authority in passing this landmark health care reform law.  We will continue to vigorously defend the health care reform statute in any litigation challenging it.  Throughout history, there have been similar challenges to other landmark legislation such as the Social Security Act, the Civil Rights Act, and the Voting Rights Act, and all of those challenges failed.  We believe these challenges to health reform will also fail.”

 For more information on defending the Affordable Care Act, visit justice.gov/healthcare.

Anti-Violence Strategy Month: Celebrating the Fight Against Crime and Recidivism
June 29th, 2011 Posted by

 The Justice Department commemorated Anti-Violence Strategy month in June, with events across the nation, to spotlight and unveil effective strategies and initiatives to combat violence.  Attorney General Eric Holder spoke to Cleveland Defending Childhood Initiative team members at a violent crime prevention event sponsored by Stand Together Against Neighborhood Crime Everyday on June 28, 2011.

At the event, Attorney General Holder stated:

“Whether you work to shape policy; to examine and identify the most pressing local public safety challenges; to develop and implement successful prevention, intervention, and reentry programs; to reach out to young people and families who are in need and at risk; or to advance enforcement efforts and policing strategies – your contributions are essential.”

Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli kicked off the month in Roanoke, Va., on June 9, 2011, at a roundtable discussion with community partners and U.S. Attorney Tim Heaphy of the Western District of Virginia.  Perrelli highlighted the department’s continued commitment to crime prevention initiatives and prisoner re-entry support programs as a means of reducing recidivism rates and crimes committed by youth, noting:

“At the Department of Justice, we are investing in more effective enforcement strategies, but we are also investing in communities across the country in proven strategies for preventing crime, in particular for reaching vulnerable young people before they commit crimes or when they begin going down the wrong path, and we are also investing in providing a transition for individuals coming out of prison, what we call reentry, because if we can reduce the recidivism rate, we can also reduce crime. ”

On June 17, 2011, Assistant Attorney General Laurie Robinson of the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) reinforced the department’s support of gang prevention programs and acknowledged the role gangs play in perpetuating violent crime among youth.  Speaking at the grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony of the Greenville Neighborhood Center in Charlotte, N.C., Robinson offered her support of the center, a new neighborhood facility for a group called Gang of One. Operated by the Mecklenburg County, N.C., Police Department, in partnership with local agencies, citizens and law enforcement, and funded partially by OJP grants, Gang of One helps to prevent youth from joining gangs in the Charlotte-metro area.

On June 16, 2011, Principal Deputy Attorney General Mary Lou Leary observed a Project Safe Neighborhood Probation and Parole Reentry Education Program session in Oklahoma City with U.S. Attorney Sandy Coats at which several federal, local agency partners and social service providers spoke on prisoner re-entry and post-incarceration/probation and parole services.  Principal Deputy Attorney General Leary also joined U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman for an anti-violence strategy event at the Project Safe Neighborhood Anti-Gang Training Conference in New Brunswick, N.J.

Other U.S. Attorneys will be hosting Anti-Violence strategy events across the country in their communities and Indian country with federal, state, local and tribal partners. Find your local U.S. Attorney office for more information on events in your community.

A Message from the Special Master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund
June 21st, 2011 Posted by

Today Sheila L. Birnbaum, the Special Master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund sent the following email outlining her priorities for administering the fund. She also announced the posting of draft rules on regulations.gov. Read the email below. For more information on the fund, visit justice.gov/vcf

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Dear Friend,

When I was appointed to serve as Special Master for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, I set two initial priorities. First, I would meet with the men and women who would be most affected by the VCF, so that we could construct a program that best meets their needs and interests. Second, I wanted to publish proposed rules to govern the VCF as soon as possible, in draft form, so that there would be ample time for others to review them and give me comments on them, before I have to finalize the rules and open the VCF later this year.

Over the past month, I have received invaluable input from the many individuals I have met with, and I hope to meet with many more over the coming months. Today, I have published my proposed rules, and would like to invite the public to comment on them.

The rules, and a process for commenting on them, are available at: http://www.regulations.gov/#!documentDetail;D=DOJ-CIV-2011-0017-0001

Among other things, the new regulations propose a process by which claimants from the first VCF can amend their claims to reflect new injuries, and also provide for the VCF to cover additional diseases as scientific knowledge evolves.

My goal is for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund to be fair, transparent, and easy to navigate. In order to achieve that goal, I intend to build on the strong foundation that was established by Special Master Kenneth Feinberg in the first iteration of the Victim Compensation Fund and listen carefully to the views and concerns expressed by those who will be most affected by the program. Given the Victim Compensation Fund’s success in its previous iteration, I propose to implement the original processes where I can and to propose additional or different procedures where the Zadroga Act requires a different approach.

At the outset, I would highlight some key principles that will guide my effort to create a process that is fair, transparent, and easy to navigate. First, I intend to make decisions based on the best scientific and medical evidence that is available. The Zadroga Act requires the Special Master to make a number of decisions about who is eligible to bring a claim, based on the nature of the individual’s injuries, how it was caused, and whether the individual was present in an area where there was a demonstrable risk of physical harm resulting from the crashes.

In order to make these determinations in a fair manner, I intend to look to the evidence that scientists and medical professionals rely on in exercising their best professional judgment. I also intend for the Victim Compensation Fund to keep pace with the evolving science and to ensure that as we learn more about conditions that may have been caused by the crashes or related debris-removal efforts, we are able to compensate claimants accordingly.

Second, Congress has appropriated a capped amount – $2.775 billion payable over a period of years – for this program. Only $875 million may be spent in the first five years of the program with the remainder being paid out in the sixth year. It is important therefore to assure that funds are targeted to the payment of eligible claims and to avoid procedures or guidelines that will dilute those payments.

Funds used to process ineligible claims or for unnecessary administrative costs result in fewer funds available to pay intended and deserving claimants. In implementing the program, I intend to initiate procedures that will permit efficiency without sacrificing fairness, and to seek ways to minimize administrative expenses, thereby maximizing the amount available for distribution to eligible claimants.

Third, it is exceedingly important, in my view, to fully investigate the facts and circumstances surrounding the response, clean-up and debris removal activities necessitated by the attacks and the injuries that have resulted from these activities.

To achieve these goals over the next several months, I will hold meetings with interested parties to explain the Victim Compensation Fund and the proposed regulations, to hear your thoughts, and to answer as many questions as I can.

I also look forward to reviewing your written comments about these proposed regulations, so that I can make the best decisions possible to refine the regulations and administer the program.

Yours,

Sheila

POSTED IN: Civil Division  |  PERMALINK
International Cooperation & Collaboration on Asset Forfeiture
June 21st, 2011 Posted by

It is becoming increasingly common for criminals to commit their crimes in one country and launder illicit proceeds in another.  Law enforcement partners from around the globe must work together to locate and forfeit the proceeds of these criminal activities, increasing the need for cooperation and collaboration.

To foster this cooperation and collaboration, forfeiture experts from the United States and Latin American countries are gathering in Lima, Peru, to discuss the use of asset forfeiture to fight international crime, including drug cartel operations in Latin America. The event is hosted by the Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Section in the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, in partnership with the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement (INL) of the U.S. Department of State and the Public Ministry-Fiscalia de la Nacion of Peru.

Many of the countries represented at the conference have successfully investigated and assisted in the restraint and forfeiture of criminal funds related to narcotics trafficking, fraud, smuggling and other serious crimes.  Speakers from Colombia, Mexico and the United States, as well as panelists from Peru, Paraguay, Brazil and Guatemala, will describe their experiences in using asset forfeiture as a tool in combating these types of crimes, including sharing successful investigative techniques and discussing current challenges.

U.S. Ambassador to Peru Rose M. Likins and U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Blanco from the Justice Department’s Criminal Division stressed in their opening remarks the importance of international cooperation, the need to understand national confiscation procedures throughout the region, and the importance of fostering international collaboration to effectively fight organized crime.  Peruvian Attorney General José Peláez Bardales also addressed the more than 60 attendees of the conference, which is scheduled to run from June 21 through June 23, 2011.

POSTED IN: Criminal Division  |  PERMALINK
Continuing the Dialogue: The National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women
June 20th, 2011 Posted by

The following post appears courtesy of Susan B. Carbon, Director, Office on Violence Against Women

An important second meeting of the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women brought the 15-member group together in earlier this month to begin developing concrete ideas for ways to address the tragic realities of teen dating violence and children exposed to violence in America and worldwide.

NAC members spent two days sharing their perspectives on these issues and listening to compelling presentations from within and outside government.  Personal presentations by six young women from the National Crittenton Foundation included their depictions of myriad forms of violence they had experienced, and then overcame, to establish healthy and positive life goals.  These stories of tragedy-turned-triumph were both inspiring and informative. 

A presentation by Dr. David Wolfe, a psychologist and author specializing in issues affecting children and youth, provided background to NAC members and public participants on some of the research being conducted on the prevention and intervention of youth violence.  Representatives from the Stalking Resource Center and the National Network to End Domestic Violence also shared a cutting-edge presentation on how technology has changed all the crimes, specifically stalking among our teens and pre-teens. 

Several federal partners gave updates on the related and innovative work currently underway within the Administration.  Tina Tchen, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff to First Lady Michelle Obama and Executive Director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, detailed the importance of these issues to the President and First Lady and described the critical work of the White House Council on Women and Girls. Lynn Rosenthal, the first-ever Advisor on Violence Against Women in the White House, shared some of the work being done in the White House on issues of youth violence.   Associate Attorney General Tom Perrelli engaged the NAC in a lively dialogue and challenged the members to “think big” in framing their recommendations.

Additional topical updates were presented on the Attorney General’s Defending Childhood Initiative; OVW’s Protective Parents Roundtable; The Office of Justice Programs’ Youth Violence Summit; the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ work on issues within the Administration on Children, Youth and Families; recent research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and the work of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools. 

In one of the more poignant moments of the meeting, 18-year-old NAC member and advocate Amber Johnson shared the poem, “Say Yes” by Andrea Gibson.   The theme of how hope is real and felt among people who give of themselves, and the difference that it makes to others, comes through in the excerpted lines below:

When two violins are placed in a room,
if a chord on one violin is struck,
the other violin will sound the note.
If this is your definition of hope, this is for you.
The ones who know how powerful we are,
who know we can sound the music in the people around us
simply by playing our own strings.

We at OVW are honored to have such an extraordinary group of experts serving on the NAC to address these critical issues and tirelessly working to end these crimes through research, advocacy and outreach. This group of individuals includes experts in domestic violence and sexual assault, from urban and rural communities, of all ages and different backgrounds.  Their diverse and unique perspectives will help guide how we begin to turn the tide for teens and children exposed to violence worldwide. We will continue to share updates as the NAC continues to meet and compile official recommendations for Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius.

The National Advisory Committee (NAC) is a federal advisory body chartered to provide guidance to the Department of Justice and Department of Health and Human Services on ways to help children and youth exposed to violence.  Its members are appointed by the Attorney General. The first meeting, held in January, 2011, brought this group together for initial introductions, presentations and small group discussions. 

More information is available at http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/nac.html.

 
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