The Civil Liberties & Transparency Clinic defends free speech, privacy, and other individual rights while pressing for greater transparency and accountability in government.
The clinic conducts litigation and policy advocacy to achieve systemic improvements in the law and to support investigative work and accountability efforts by client organizations at the local, national, and international level.
Jonathan Manes, Director of the Civil Liberties and Transparency Clinic
University at Buffalo
School of Law
507 O'Brian Hall, North Campus
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
Police actions have been under increased scrutiny across the nation. Student attorneys in the Civil Liberties and Transparency Clinic, on behalf of the community-based Police Advisory Board, presented on a discussion paper they prepared for the Board before the Buffalo City Council Police Oversight Committee.
The paper analyzed the Buffalo Police Department’s draft policy. #UBLawResponds students offered policy options meant to ensure that body cameras in Buffalo are effective tools for transparency, accountability, and improved police-community relations.
The Department of Defense operates a website that allows open, anonymous access to sensitive information about millions of veterans and service members. Through the website, anyone can obtain Social Security Number/name matches, dates of prior service and future call-up to active duty, among other information. The clinic represents Tom Barden, a retired Air Force Master Sergeant, and the Vietnam Veterans of America in a major federal data privacy lawsuit that seeks to reform the DoD website and to protect veterans against identity theft, frauds, and other abuses of their private data.
The Erie County Sheriff’s Office has repeatedly concealed suicide attempts by prisoners in its custody, mislabeling such incidents as mere “inmate disturbances” or “manipulative gestures” and thereby avoiding its legal obligation to report to the New York State Commission of Correction. Nearly two dozen inmates have died in the Sheriff’s custody since 2006, many by their own hand. We represent the National Lawyers Guild Buffalo Chapter in a Freedom of Information lawsuit to force the Sheriff to produce basic documents that would reveal the scope of the problem and whether it continues to this day
Everyone has the right to see how justice is being carried out in our courtrooms. Both the First Amendment and the common law protect every person’s right to attend court and to read documents filed in cases. Too often, however, courts improperly seal documents – or even entire cases – without considering the public’s right of access. As a result, important controversies and decisions may be shielded from public scrutiny. The clinic is working with the Knight First Amendment Institute and NYCLU to reform court secrecy practices by entrenching transparency protections in the rules of procedure that govern court proceedings on the ground.
In response to our proposal and research, the federal District Court for the Northern District of New York overhauled its rules governing sealing in civil cases, effective January 1, 2018. We plan to build on this early success and expand the scope of this work.
The military has used open-air burn pits to dispose of all manner of hazardous waste on bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, producing toxic clouds of thick, black smoke that envelope surrounding areas. Service members who worked and lived in the shadow of the burn pits are returning home with severe debilitating illnesses but are often denied treatment or disability benefits they have earned through their service. Civilians who live near U.S. bases are likewise getting sick. The clinic is representing Amnesty International USA in a major Freedom of Information campaign to obtain basic information necessary to hold the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs accountable for this emerging crisis, which many describe as this generation’s Agent Orange.