Amid Controversy, HLS Students to Recognize New York Public Defender

Following controversy surrounding two Law School student groups’ recent decision to revoke an honor from Robin Steinberg, a New York City public defender, other students have begun planning to bring Steinberg to campus anyway, according to Rebecca N. Chapman, a third-year Law student involved in the planning.

Steinberg, the executive director of the non-profit public defense service the Bronx Defenders, was initially slated to be honored as part of International Women’s Day, an annual event at the Law School that celebrates women in the legal profession.  

The two groups that organize the event, the Women’s Law Association and the Law and International Development Society, rescinded the recognition in February amid controversy over Steinberg’s role in an inflammatory YouTube video titled “Hands Up.”

The video, which some say endorses violence against white police officers in retribution for the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown, features two attorneys from the Bronx Defenders. Steinberg came under criticism for not reviewing the lyrics of the video before allowing her employees to appear in it; following a New York City investigation, Steinberg, who does not appear in the video, was suspended from her job for 60 days without pay.

The decision to revoke Steinberg’s honor has prompted outcry from members of the Law School community. Now, there is action to bring her to campus in another capacity and honor her work as a public defender. On Feb. 19, more than 180 students, staff, and alumni of the Law School, including Chapman, signed a letter published in both The Crimson and the Harvard Law Record denouncing the decision to revoke Steinberg’s honor and extending their “own invitation to Ms. Steinberg to speak at HLS.”

According to Chapman, students have started taking steps to follow up, though she would not yet specify the details of Steinberg’s potential on-campus appearance.

Other groups of Law students and administrators also spoke publicly about the controversy. On Feb. 20, a group of alumnae released a letter criticizing the decision, and, on Feb. 24, members of the WLA spoke out against what they called the undemocratic decision-making process in an Op-Ed published in the Law Record. The leadership of the Women’s Law Association circulated a response to some of these criticisms to the entire Law School student body, according to Chapman. In the expanded response, the WLA cited influence from Law School administrators and concerns about inciting protests from police organizations as their reasons for not honoring Steinberg.

—Staff writer Andrew M. Duehren can be reached at andy.duehren@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @aduehren.

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