group of people standing in an ornate room, smiling.

Left to right: Teresa Cappiello '24, Professor Judith Olin '85, Madeline Hoestermann '25, Assemblymember Monica Wallace '94, Jahna Mott '25, Bryana Becker '25, and Andrew Stewart '24.

Bringing their cause to Albany

Democracy, it’s said, is a participation sport. As the academic year drew to a close, a handful of UB School of Law clinical students had an opportunity to participate in making it work.

The occasion was the Legislative Day of Action, an advocacy effort sponsored by the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The law school’s Family Violence and Women’s Rights Clinic is a member of that coalition, and its director, Clinical Professor Judith Olin ’85, accompanied five students to Albany for a long day of learning and activism.

The May 7 event was the third time Olin has taken students to the state capital for this annual event.       

“It’s a really cool experience for these students to see government at work,” Olin says. “You see how democracy is supposed to function. A lot of students have never had the opportunity to experience that, and it’s really thrilling.”

The day began with a meeting of coalition partners in the grand Concourse of the state Capitol complex. Among the speakers was Jacqueline Franchetti, a Long Island woman whose 2-year-old daughter, Kyra, was murdered by Franchetti’s former husband. She was advocating for the passage of “Kyra’s Law,” which would require judges to be trained in handling child custody cases involving abuse allegations and would mandate an initial safety hearing for children potentially at risk in such cases.

“Her presentation was very powerful,” Olin says, “to lose a child and then go on to advocate for getting this law passed. It was very inspiring.” The proposed legislation, she says, has particular impact for the Family Violence and Women’s Rights clinic, whose student attorneys represent domestic violence survivors in child custody cases.

The UB Law advocates then marched to the Capitol itself for scheduled meetings with State Senator Sean Ryan and Assemblymember Monica Wallace ’94, sitting with the lawmakers to advocate for legislation of importance to domestic violence survivors. They also had an impromptu meeting with Assemblymember Angelo Morinello, whose 145th District is centered in Niagara County.

young man wearing suit and red tie, smiling.

Andrew Stewart ’24

In addition, the group was introduced on the floor of the Assembly and watched the legislative body in action—“a very rich and rewarding experience,” Olin says.

One of the student advocates was Andrew Stewart ’24, who says the trip to Albany was his last official act as a UB Law student.

“We had a pretty substantive amount of time” with the legislators, Stewart says. “And they were very engaged, discussing the finer points of the legislation, pushing back and posing alternatives, thinking about the larger considerations. They all showed they not only cared about the subject but were trying to work out the full implications of the proposed legislation, what sort of other impacts it may have.

“To me, it felt like a natural type of advocacy,” Stewart says. “I went to advocate for domestic violence issues that I cared about. It made me appreciate that others might have very specific issues, and it made me think more deeply about the whole democratic process.”

woman outside in front of a large sculpture that says "I *heart* N Y".

Prof. Kim Diana Connolly

The law students’ effort was not the only piece of advocacy by UB Law community members this spring.

On May 14, Professor Kim Diana Connolly, vice dean for innovation, interdisciplinarity, and community impact, and director of the Community Engagement Legal Clinic, joined other members of the New York Unemployment Insurance Coalition, a group of non-profit advocates supporting reform of the unemployment insurance system, for a lobby day in Albany.

The coalition has petitioned lawmakers to correct what they call the unfair recovery of mistaken overpayments of unemployment benefits. Connolly and other members of the coalition met with legislators and staff members about the work that students in her clinic have been doing post-COVID on behalf of school bus drivers and similar workers statewide who have faced inequitable treatment with unjust results.