Curtis-Liman Clinical Fellowship Established to Honor Denny Curtis ’66

The Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest Law and the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School announce the creation of a new clinical fellowship, to begin in 2020, in honor of Clinical Professor Emeritus of Law Denny Curtis ’66, co-founder of the Law School’s clinical program. The fellowship is made possible through the generosity of Alan Bersin ’74 and Lisa Foster, who made the gift in recognition of Bersin’s upcoming 45th class reunion.

The gift provides four years of funding for a clinical fellow who will work with members of Yale’s clinical faculty and with the Liman Center. The fellow will focus on policy reform through litigation and administrative and legislative initiatives related to criminal law and immigration.

“This generous and remarkable gift marks the innovations of Yale’s clinical program in the early 1970s and the remarkable graduates that it has produced,” said Arthur Liman Professor of Law Judith Resnik.

Bersin, who graduated from Harvard University and was a Rhodes Scholar before coming to Yale Law School, is now a Policy Consultant at Covington & Burling. He has served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California, the head of San Diego’s School District, the California Secretary of Education, Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and as Assistant Secretary in the Office of Policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. From 2012 to 2015, Bersin served as Vice President of INTERPOL for the Americas Region and as a lead Member of the INTERPOL Executive Committee.

Foster was a state court judge for a decade in San Diego before becoming the Director of the Office of Access to Justice in the U.S. Department of Justice in the Obama Administration, where she led the Department's efforts on fines, fees, and bail reform, as well as on access to counsel and legal assistance in civil and tribal courts. She is a founder and co-director of the Fines and Fees Justice Center, which aims to end the harsh and discriminatory impact of fines and fees imposed in the justice system. Foster is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Stanford University.

Bersin was a student when Denny Curtis joined Stephen Wizner and Daniel Freed ’51 in creating one of the first clinical programs in the United States that was devoted to putting students at the forefront of providing direct legal services to those in great need. Curtis taught and worked with students representing individuals imprisoned at Danbury Federal Correctional Institution. Wizner pioneered a program representing individuals with mental illness held at Connecticut Valley Hospital.

In the 1980s, when at the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, Denny Curtis started a prison project providing legal representation to federal prisoners at Terminal Island and to women at the California Institute for Women at Frontera. Upon returning to Yale in 1997, he founded a new clinic working with the state disciplinary office to sanction lawyers who had failed their clients. Curtis has written on clinical education, sentencing reform, and legal ethics, and he has mentored countless numbers of students, many of whom have become his lifelong friends.

In 2009, Yale Law School celebrated 40 years of clinical education with a colloquium that honored Curtis and others who led the clinical legal education movement. Vicki Jackson ’75, Curtis’s former student and now the Thurgood Marshall Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, remarked, “Each client, for Denny — what he showed us, what he taught us — was a person, a human being. But this was not just true about clients. It was true about students. It was true about the clerks in the court. It was true about almost any person around him.”

The Curtis-Liman Clinical Fellow will work under the supervision of Clinical Professor Fiona Doherty ’99 and others teaching the Criminal Justice Clinic (CJC) and the Advanced Sentencing Clinic. The Fellow will also work with Lucas Guttentag, a regular visiting lecturer at Yale Law School who has developed a research project to understand what changes have been made to policies in immigration and what reforms are needed.

The Curtis-Liman Clinical Fellow will also participate in the Liman Center, begun in 1997 to promote access to justice and the fair treatment of individuals and groups seeking to participate in the legal system. Through research projects, teaching, fellowship funding, and colloquia, the Liman Center supports efforts to bring about a more just legal system, even as that aspiration remains elusive. As of 2019, the Liman Center has funded 143 Liman Law Fellows at more than 100 host organizations, and more than 400 Liman Summer Fellows from eight colleges and universities. The Liman Center includes Arthur Liman Professor of Law Judith Resnik; Liman Director Anna VanCleave; Senior Liman Fellows in Residence (currently Laura Fernandez ’02, Ali Harrington ’14, and Jonathan Petkun ’19); Senior Liman Fellow Affiliate Jamelia Morgan ’13 (an associate professor at the University of Connecticut School of Law); and Elizabeth Keane, the Liman Center Coordinator and senior staff member.