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Vermont Law School Provides Pro Bono Aid to Katrina Victims

February 23, 2010

SOUTH ROYALTON, VT -- While attending the Association of American Law Schools' annual meeting in New Orleans in January, Johanna Dennis was so moved by the ongoing need for legal services more than four years after Hurricane Katrina that she decided to do something.

Dennis, an associate professor at Vermont Law School, is organizing a group of VLS students who will travel to New Orleans in May for a pro bono legal assistance and research project to benefit needy residents.

Dennis also is organizing a showing of the documentary, "Trouble the Water," at 5:30 p.m., Wed., March 3 in the Chase Community Center. The film, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature, explores the underlying issues that remained after the floodwaters receded -- failing public schools, record high levels of incarceration, poverty, structural racism and lack of government accountability.

Dennis said she and Stefanie Sidortsova, a writing specialist at the VLS Legal Writing Program, were moved to take action after viewing the documentary at the AALS meeting and touring the Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

"I felt guilty that I had been living in my own little world and haven't done something to help," Dennis said. "Like a lot of people, I didn't realize the extent of the continued devastation in people's lives."

Dennis and Sidortsova plan to take 12 to 15 students to New Orleans for two weeks. They will work with non-profit legal assistance groups on a range of legal issues, including real estate, health care, estate, education and gentrification. They also will use the experience as part of a larger academic research project to be completed in the summer or fall. Dennis said she hopes to make the New Orleans project into an annual summer endeavor for students.

CONTACT: John Cramer, Associate Director of Media Relations


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