Casey Smith

The Project

Casey (she/her/hers) will mount the first nationwide affirmative effort to mitigate the criminal and immigration consequences of attempting to cast a ballot.

After recent elections, many states, including North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas, have prosecuted dozens of people for allegedly casting ballots while ineligible to do so. As a result, many people, especially people of color, face extreme consequences like incarceration and deportation for casting ballots while not knowing they were disenfranchised. For example, current ACLU clients Ms. Crystal Mason and Mr. Hervis Rogers face multi-year prison sentences for allegedly trying to vote when Texas considered them ineligible under its felon disenfranchisement laws. This growing wave of unjust voter prosecution creates fear and suppresses voter turnout among minority communities.

Fellowship Plans

Casey will contribute to the defense of individuals wrongfully prosecuted for voting. She will build capacity among defense and immigration lawyers to represent people charged with voting unlawfully. Casey will also file impact litigation to challenge statutes that impose harsh penalties upon people who try to vote not realizing they are ineligible to do so.

Prosecuting people of color for voting is a tool of racist voter suppression dating back to Jim Crow, and it has resurged recently, as politicians seek to support unfounded allegations of widespread voter fraud. Having worked with clients affected by this unjust practice, I am driven to ensure that no one is prosecuted, incarcerated, or deported for trying to participate in politics.

Casey Smith /
2022 Equal Justice Works Fellow

The Project

Rita provides legal aid to low-income families of children and adolescent patients at Mount Sinai Hospital Pediatric Associates in East Harlem to address social and legal determinants of poor health.

Rita’s project brings together NYLAG’s LegalHealth division and the Mount Sinai Medical-Legal Partnership (MSMLP) Pediatric Program to support low-income children by providing civil legal services embedded in the hospital. MLPs connect medical and legal services by screening for needs at medical appointments. Legal intervention on issues children face, such as uninhabitable housing, has the compounded effect of improving health as well as living conditions.

Rita has an unwavering interest in providing legal services in a medical setting. She previously worked in a pediatric clinic in New Haven, Connecticut, developing experiences she can transfer to MSMLP.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

In the past year, Rita has:

  • Provided legal services to 56 clients on issues related to education, housing, immigration, and benefits
  • Assisted client in obtaining Early Intervention feeding therapy services for her two-year-old child
  • Assisted client in re-entering and asserting remaining family member grievance to live in her apartment
  • Provided two trainings to pro bono attorneys at Bloomberg and Proskauer and spoke on a panel about health disparities and medical-legal partnerships for Bloomberg and Proskauer
  • Met with 8 organizations, including the Planning and Estates Law Project, Adolescent Health Center, East Harlem Health Outreach Project, Yale New Haven Hospital Pediatric Medical-Legal Partnership, and the Yale Law School Medical-Legal Partnership
  • Created a slide deck on pro bono referral process for SSI/SSD training and updating an existing LegalHealth training on environmental and housing conditions that affect health

Next Steps

In the next six months, Rita plans to:

  • Hold clinics and conduct weekly client intakes
  • Further develop pro bono project with Bloomberg and Proskauer
  • Develop further experience in immigration cases
  • Develop training resources for medical professionals to refer patients to pediatric programs

Media

Spotlight on Equal Justice Works Fellow Rita Gilles

Addressing Disparities in Health and Health Care during the COVID-19 Pandemic