Empowering Change: Brian FitzPatrick’s Impactful Work with NYLPI

November 28, 2023

Disability Justice, Health Justice, Legislative, Media Coverage, News, Pro Bono Clearinghouse

Empowering Big Change: Brian FitzPatrick

Brian FitzPatrick is a retired attorney who has been volunteering with New York Lawyers for the Public Interest for the past four years. He sat down with us to talk about his career and his experience doing cutting-edge litigation with NYLPI’s Disability Justice team.

Tell me about you – if I opened a Wikipedia page about “Brian FitzPatrick” what would the bio at the top say?

I was born in Saint Paul, Minnesota and attended the University of Hawaii on an athletic scholarship. Following college, I did blue-collar work as a merchant seaman in the Pacific and Far East. When I was 30 years old, I attended Antioch School of Law in Washington, D.C., a public interest law school. I intended on becoming a public interest lawyer or doing a substantial amount of pro bono work while in private practice. 

Following law school, I clerked for Judge Steffen Graae in the D.C. Superior Court. Then, I came to New York to clerk for Judge Edward Neaher in the E.D.N.Y.  Subsequently, I worked for large and smaller firms, mostly doing commercial litigation. I also did white collar, whistle blower, personal injury, and bankruptcy cases. I enjoyed it all. 

During my practice years, I also got an LL.M. from NYU. For over 30 years, I have been co-author with D.C. trial judges of an evidence treatise used in that jurisdiction. A second, related evidence book has just been published. 

Against that background, I had done some public interest work during my years of full-time practice. However, I certainly didn’t do the amount that I had intended on doing when I enrolled at Antioch. 

You connected with NYLPI about four years ago after you had retired. How did you first learn about us?  

I’d been in NYC for over 35 years. I knew of NYLPI right from the beginning. If you were doing litigation in NYC, you knew NYLPI. And you knew that NYLPI did high-profile, difference-making litigation. You also knew that NYLPI was highly regarded for the quality of its legal work. So, this organization immediately came to mind when I decided, “Ok, you’ve got free time now: do more pro bono work.”

What are the personal benefits of doing pro bono work as someone who is retired?

I think a lot of attorneys would like to have done more pro bono work but it can be difficult. You have the demands of private practice and trying to raise a family. You seem unceasingly pressed for time. 

However, when you retire from full-time practice, there’s no reason you can’t do public interest work if you want. And there are great benefits. You have the opportunity to continue to use the professional skills and knowledge you’ve accumulated over decades of hard work. Moreover, you can use your skills and knowledge in trying to make significant differences in the community you live in. This can be energizing, engaging, and gratifying.

You’ve been working in the disability justice space now for several years. What are your big takeaways?

I am so impressed by the smartness, skills, and level of commitment that I have seen with the lawyers in NYLPI’s Disability Justice program. I would extend that to the lawyers with the private firms who’ve partnered with NYLPI.  They have done a tremendous amount of work. And they have shared NYLPI’s mission: whatever injustice is being done to this City’s disability community, address it and get the problem fixed and/or have the responsible party held accountable – as quickly as possible. 

Do any specific highlights from this work come to mind?

I worked on the Success Academy litigation, which arose from an investigation by the New York Times revealing that a principal at one of the Success Academy charter schools had compiled what he called a “got-to-go list.” On that list were five kids, ages six and younger, who had disabilities. To all appearances, the principal wanted to push out those kids with disabilities because they didn’t perform as well as other kids. It was outrageous. 

NYLPI partnered with Advocates for Justice and Stroock & Stroock & Lavin. Our team defeated a motion to dismiss and then obtained much helpful discovery. The team also made critical new law.  In the end, Success Academy effectively surrendered, tendering an offer that was quite attractive to our clients and which they accepted. 

In civil litigation, you seldom get a complete win. But the Success Academy case was unquestionably a total victory, and very satisfying.

You are currently working on another case – the lawsuit against the MTA to remedy dangerous gaps between the subway cars and the platforms. Anything you would like to share about that case?

The gap case is, by any measure, a big case. I had worked on big cases in private practice, but this is a big case – plus. With 472 stations, NYC’s subway system is the nation’s largest. 

The gaps between the train platforms and the train entrances have been a recognized problem for a long time. Yet, the responsible governmental entities have not meaningfully addressed the problem. Further, the gaps are especially dangerous for the disabled, most notably those with visual and mobility impairments. 

The objective of the class action on behalf of people with disabilities in NYC, which we are co-counseling with Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello PC, is to get all of the subway system’s hazardous gap conditions fixed as soon as possible. 

What do you wish more New Yorkers would recognize about the rights of persons with disabilities in our city?

To put it in lay terms, persons with disabilities want to participate to the extent they can in the same activities as able-bodied people do. I don’t think it’s more complicated than that.

If you had to give an elevator pitch about what NYLPI does, what would you say?

NYLPI works on critical, cutting-edge, public-benefitting litigation focused on this City and the people in it – all of them. If such work is important to you, then donate to NYLPI and/or volunteer with NYLPI.

Stay Connected

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and opportunities to take action from our team.

Thanks! We’ll be in touch soon!

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!