CHAPEL HILL — The University of North Carolina Law School’s Center for Civil Rights is cutting ties with the university system.
Center lawyers Mark Dorosin and Elizabeth Haddix, who were fired Nov. 30, have filed paperwork moving the organization from under the UNC umbrella. The new center, renamed after famed civil rights lawyer Julius L. Chambers, is a nonprofit law firm. It will continue to accept law school interns, Haddix said.
For months, controversy has swirled around the center. In mid-November, the North Carolina State Bar issued a “letter of caution” calling the center’s law practice illegal.
State law prohibits corporations “other than law firms and certain tax-exempt corporations, from providing legal services to other persons, firms, or corporations,” wrote Alan Hicks, chairman of the bar’s Authorized Practice Committee.
“The university is not a corporation authorized to practice law under those statutes. The center, as a constituent of the university and not a separate entity, is likewise not a corporation authorized to provide legal services.”
Two months earlier, the UNC Board of Governors voted to ban the center from filing lawsuits. For more than 15 years, the CCR offered internships to UNC law students, allowing them to work cases for low-income and minority clients. It filed lawsuits against cities, counties, and even school boards, using law students and outside attorneys.
A state organization should not be allowed to sue other state entities, board members said.
The CCR wrongly operated as though it were a legal clinic governed by the American Bar Association, said Board of Governors member Steve Long. Academic centers are not ABA legal clinics, and therefore should not litigate, he said.
Long, a Republican, engineered the proposal that blocked the center from legal activity, stirring the ire of the center’s liberal supporters.
The board’s decision was politically motivated, Dorosin has repeatedly stated.
Politics played no role in the litigation ban, Long told Carolina Journal during multiple interviews. The board supports the center’s capacity to litigate — as long as it isn’t affiliated with UNC, he said.
The Chambers center will retain clients it acquired while at UNC, Haddix told Spectrum News Dec. 3. It will accept law interns from universities across North Carolina.
“Despite the fact that we’re not at UNC anymore, we’re still in the struggle. We’re still committed to the work,” Dorosin told Spectrum News.
Kari Travis is a staff writer for Carolina Journal.