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


Spotlight on Equal Justice Works Fellow Rita Gilles

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

The Inspiration

The Project

Schools across the country rely on punitive school climate strategies – in-school police presence and high rates of arrest and suspension – which are ineffective, harm students and exacerbate inequities along lines of race and disability For example, in 2016, law enforcement in NYC, executed 1,263 arrests and issued 907 summonses against students in schools. In the 2015-16 school year, suspensions led to children missing a minimum of 316,104 days of school, the equivalent of 1,756 school years. The disparities are stark. Black and Latinx youth make up 67.6 percent of the total student population, but account for 92 percent of arrests. While students with disabilities are 18.7 percent of the student population, they are 42.7 percent of all those students receiving long-term suspensions.

Fellowship Highlights

In the past two years, Katherine has:

  • Published a groundbreaking report with Urban Youth Collaborative that estimates the fiscal impact of NYC’s school-to-prison pipeline and presented a youth-led “Young People’s School Justice Agenda”
  • Launched a partnership with the Suspension Representation Project and Proskauer Rose LLP to provide suspension representation and provided training for associates
  • Supported Leaders Igniting Transformation (LIT) in launching a campaign to transform Milwaukee’s approach to school discipline and published a report with LIT on that campaign.
  • Worked with more than twenty youth of color organizing groups and more than twenty national networks and allies to publish a Youth Demand petition which centers racial justice in school safety solutions.
  • Worked with sponsor, Proskauer Rose LLP, on legal research to support the project.
  • Convened youth from thirteen organizations to consider collective action and began planning a regional campaign to attack the school-to-prison pipeline.


The $746 Million A Year School-to-Prison Pipeline

Arresting and suspending students costs city millions each year, report says

New York City Schools’ discriminatory and damaging school-to-prison pipeline

Instan se elimine la presencia policial en escuelas de NY

Youth Leaders and Pols Urge New York City to Yank the NYPD Out of Public Schools

From Failure to Freedom

Milwaukee School Discipline Guidelines Disproportionately Target Black and Latinx Students

Black Students in Milwaukee Are Demanding Changes to Racist Discipline in Public Schools

Youth of Color Demand Racial Justice in Gun Reform During #NationalSchoolWalkout

The Project

Lauren served undocumented LGBTQ+ survivors of hate violence in New York City by improving access to holistic legal services to combat alienation from legal systems.

Incidents of hate violence against LGBTQ+ communities have dramatically increased over the past several years and are coterminous with increased violence against immigrants. Undocumented LGBTQ+ survivors of hate violence live at a critical nexus of underserved communities and are at a high risk of estrangement from legal systems. This further marginalizes LGBTQ+ immigrants, thereby exacerbating the effects of violence. Lauren’s project increased access to holistic legal services through outreach and direct representation to combat the effects of violence experienced by undocumented LGBTQ+ hate violence survivors.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Lauren:

  • Trained over 150 pro bono attorneys on working with LGBTQ+ and HIV-affected immigrant survivors of hate violence;
  • Counseled or represented over LGBTQ+ immigrant survivors of hate violence in immigration and related matters on over 150 cases;
  • Conducted outreach and intakes through community partners in over 20 clinics to provide information on rights surrounding immigration to community members;
  • Presented to over 400 people on various presentations and trainings related to working with LGBTQ+ and HIV-affected immigrant survivors of hate violence; and
  • Developed materials on best practices for working with LGBTQ+ immigrant survivors of hate violence.

Next Steps

Fellowing her Fellowship, Lauren has remained at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, where she continues to serve LGBTQ+ and HIV-affected survivors of violence.


Demanding Withdrawal of Proposed DHS Rule Harmful to LGBTQ and HIV-Affected Asylum Seekers

Bloomberg and Proskauer team up with Equal Justice Works to sponsor fellowship serving LGBTQ+ survivors of hate violence in NYC

Bloomberg LP and Proskauer Serve LGBTQ Immigrant Survivors of Hate Violence