Drawn to justice, Steve Zeidman, Professor and Director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at CUNY Law, trains aspiring lawyers to be defenders of human rights and social justice. Alongside the Immigrant & Refugee Rights Clinic, directed by Professor Ramzi Kassem, Zeidman assists with CUNY CLEAR (Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility) which helps the unmet legal needs of Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and other communities in the New York City area that are particularly affected by national security and counterterrorism policies and practices.
How/why did you become involved in your line of work? I went to law school to become a Public Defender. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to articulate the how or why I felt compelled to follow that path, but, although I can’t put it into words, that initial motivation has stayed with me decades later even as I moved from practice to teaching.
Tell us a little bit about your present work, the Cliffs Notes version of your day to day and what is at stake. I teach at CUNY Law School, NY’s only law school devoted to preparing students to be social justice lawyers. Currently, we’re doing our small part assisting incarcerated people seeking parole or clemency from the Governor, as well as representing those serving time in the modern day torture of solitary confinement. At stake in every case is freedom in one form or another.
What do you find most fulling about your work? Working with remarkable men and women who have endured hardships beyond most people’s comprehension.
What is your proudest achievement with this work and what is your greatest challenge? Achievement? Doing my small part to make (some) of the powers that be take notice that there are countless folks in prison for no reason other than this country’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for relentless punishment. Challenge? Making more of the powers that be take notice and then take actually do something about it. While there appears to be national acknowledgement of the crisis of mass incarceration, nothing will change without a serious movement to decarcerate through parole and clemency.
What do you hope changes or improves (or continues!) in your field in the future?My hope is that the devotion to punishment that defines American criminal justice gives way to more enlightened approaches that recognize, encourage and reward redemption and the capacity for change.
Who would you nominate for this list? Hmmm. From Brooklyn? Well he’s not exactly from Brooklyn but he makes it a better place – the guy who all through the winter drives his truck filled with vegetables five hours from his farm to the greenmarket on Cortelyou Road.