Chapter 1: Early Career
07:54:54:03 - 07:55:28:03
Lisa: Ok, well begin our interview. My name is Lisa Sonneborn and Im interviewing Judy Gran at Temple University on February 22, 2012. Also present is our videographer, Aggie Ibrahimi Bazaz and Judy do we have your permission to begin our interview?
Lisa: Thank you. Welcome. Judy I wanted to ask you when and where you were born?
Judy: I was born in Roanoke, Virginia in, on May 19, 1943.
Lisa: Thank you. And what is your profession?
Judy: Im a lawyer. 07:55:29:06 - 07:56:26:25
Judy: Im a lawyer.
Lisa: Before you began working in your profession had you ever met a person with a disability?
Judy: I had met um actually quite a few people with disabilities in Egypt, where I lived for five years before I started law school and I actually visited several programs for people with disabilities while I lived there. I visited shelter workshops and residential arrangements and so forth and there were a lot people with disabilities just living with their families. And actually people with disabilities are somewhat more valued in societies like Egypt then they were at the time in Western industrial societies.
07:56:27:07 - 07:57:49:18
Lisa: And how was that evident Judy?
Judy: Well for example in the villages in the countryside when a person with very significant disabilities is born hes often given the name Barack which means blessed, blessing and it is considered a blessing from God to have a child with significant disabilities. And more pragmatically, I guess, because a lot of people, there was a very high incidence of blindness in Egypt at the time because of a parasite that infects people in the water, when they work in the water and because people were spending a lot of time growing cotton, which required them to wade in the water, a lot of people developed blindness as result of this parasite and so many very eminent people who were leaders in the society were blind and that was really not in some ways considered a disability but just a condition.
07:57:50:27 - 07:54:15:06
Lisa: So, Judy, why did you choose a career in law?
Judy: Well the most immediate cause was that I was working on a Doctorate in Political Science and I did my research in Egypt under conditions that were very difficult because there was a war going on at the time and there were no diplomatic relations between Egypt and the United States and there was not technology available to copy documents, let alone computers to keep records on so it was very difficult and I had a lot of hand written notes and records that Id collected and as we were coming home from Egypt we stopped in England and all of my notes were stolen so I had to make other plans. And I decided that this was a sign that I was meant to go to law school because that was something I had really wanted to do back when I decided to go to graduate school instead. So I did and it turned out to be a very good choice.
07:59:16:07 - 07:59:32:03
Lisa: What kind of law did you to practice when you made the decision to go to law school?
Judy: Civil rights in some form. I was pretty sure about that and those were the course I took in law school to the extent that I could.
07:59:34:02 - 08:00:11:07
Lisa: You spent, I believe, 25 years as a Staff Attorney for the Public Interest Law Center, well 25 years, your career at the Public Interest Law Center spanned 25 years some as a Staff Attorney, some as the Director for their Disabilities Project.
Judy: Yes, 25 years as an attorney and I also spent a couple of years working there before I finished law school, before I was admitted to the Bar, including a year as an intern at the Temple Institute on Disabilities. 08:00:13:18 – 08:04:59:00
Lisa: And what was it about the Public Interest Law Center that attracted you?
Judy: Well another fortuitous circumstance, before we moved to Philadelphia I was planning to go to law school at Temple, my husband was coming here to take a teaching job at Temple and some people we knew in Austin, Texas, where we were living at the time, told me that I really must get in touch with Tom Gilhool who was a great Civil Rights lawyer, one of the leaders in the field and so as it turned out Tom gave some talks at the law school, which I attended and then I responded to a job announcement when I was at the end of my first year in law school and started working at the Law Center and I was completely blown away by the work that, that Tom and his colleague, Frank Laski, who was Director of the Disabilities Project at the time, Tom was chief council of the Law Center, but the work that they were doing on behalf of people with disabilities was just tremendously exciting and ground breaking and immensely substantive.
I think what really distinguished their work from the work of many other public interest organizations at the time was that it really focused on getting real material changes in social structures, governmental structures, service delivery systems, things that really, really benefited people and responded to what people wanted, they werent just procedural changes as in so many of the cases that I had read in law school. And they were working on the, what was called the Part Two Implementation Case. This was a second phase of the original PARC versus Commonwealth, Right to Education Case and it was brought on behalf of children with the most significant disabilities in Philadelphia, in the School District of Philadelphia and it was brought as an implementation proceeding within the PARC Case. And it resulted in another agreement to create a different type of educational program for those students. They had been receiving very, very meaningless, age inappropriate instruction in very segregated classes and in many cases in Philadelphia, in separate schools for kids with profound disabilities so this, that proceeding really brought about a major change in the way services were provided to those students.
It was incredibly exciting and I attended the trial, which lasted about a week, after which the case settled and the leading experts in the field all testified and Judge Becker presided over the case, Judge Edward Becker whom Im sure youve heard about and his role in many of the cases on behalf of people with disabilities and Judge Becker knew more than most special education teachers about special education and he was very engaged. It was a very exciting trial and had a great result. And at the same time Tom and Frank were working on the Pennhurst litigation, which the orders had come down, as you know, in 1977 and 78 and then there was a proceeding in the court of appeals and by the time I joined the Law Center it was in the Supreme Court for the first time. The Supreme Court had granted cert and Tom and Frank were working on the brief in the Supreme Court after which it was argued. So it was just a tremendously exciting time and I was completely hooked on this work.
08:04:59:24 - 08:05:35:29
Lisa: Im sure you were. It seems almost a revolutionary time in many ways. Very exciting.
Judy: It was. It was. I cant exaggerate how revolutionary it was. I mean remember that Pennsylvania really had no community service system at all for people with disabilities until the early '70s and it was only gradually developing throughout the '70s and it really serve people with the most significant disabilities until the implementation phase of Pennhurst.
About Judith Gran
Born: Virginia, 1943.
Community Collaborative, Institutions, Pennhurst, PILCOP, Raphael Oberti, Right to Education, Self-advocacy