1978-1982 - All New Jersey hearings were done before an impartial hearing officer.
I won 99% of them, parents from surrounding counties hearing of the work and
asking for representation. In 1981, a school board attorney, Stanley Turitz, became
angry about losing a hotly contested case, A.G. v. Ridgefield Park Board of
. He accused me of practicing law without a license in order to stop the
hearing. He demanded the issue of my representation be briefed. I contacted Dr.
Bateman for help, briefed the question, and the hearing continued to decision. It
was during this period that I saw written communications between the Bergen
County Superintendent of Schools, the New Jersey Commissioner of Education, the
Attorney General’s Office and the Ridgefield Park Superintendent. They agreed that
I had to be stopped, was entirely too disruptive to the State, and cost districts too
much money. They did not know why an attorney could not win a case from me.
1982 - Stanley Turitz appealed the A.G. case to the Superior Court of New Jersey. Parents
of the child asked me to represent him in the appeal, preferring me to an attorney.
The final result was that the judge, Sherwin Lester, let me represent the parent,
assigning a guardian ad litem for the child. The day I crossed the bar to sit before
Judge Lester on behalf of the parent, the local press quoted me, “History
was made today.”
Parent Wants "Advocate" Instead of Lawyer(714K PDF)
1982 - TPIC had grown to become a national organization. As a result, its name was
changed to the Parent Information Center of New Jersey (PIC).
PIC was the leading special education organization in America. In June of 2007 the corporation dissolved as a result of the national assault against it, including the 2006 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Arlington v. Murphy. That decision deprived PIC of its primary source of funding making it impossible for PIC to continue its mission of providing representation for families with few resources and politically volatile issues that other practitioners and organizations refused to represent. Though the corporation no longer exists, many of its consultants continue the mission and the model of PIC in their private practices. New families continue to discover the importance of the "Each One, Teach One" philosophy, and the importance of knowing and applying the law to meet their individual needs. Therefore, a new PIC for the future is always a possibility.
The archives for the organization can be accessed through this link: PICarchives 77-07
1982 - B.M. on behalf of her infant child, A.M., et als. v. New Jersey State Board of
Education, et als, Docket No. C-4564-81
, Chancery Division, Middlesex County,
Superior Court of New Jersey. As the result of a federal lawsuit against New
Jersey’s system of due process, all due process hearings were to be heard within
the Office of Administrative Law (OAL) and not the Department of Education.
Five of my cases were awaiting decision, but the federal ruling seemed to require
all special education cases be reheard within the OAL. Five families I represented
filed a class action lawsuit against the State, demanding that their hearings be
allowed to go to decision with the impartial hearing officer. School districts were
convinced that if I was forced to represent parents before a “real judge” I would
fail. The five families won their class action. All five also won their cases.
1983 - R.B. v. West Paterson Board of Education; Passaic County Vocational School,
(Robert Brindisi v. Passaic Valley Regional High School and Passaic County Technical and Vocational High School, EHLR 505:192, 6/24/83)
. This was my first case at the OAL and the nation’s first test case
on the rights of disabled students preparing for employment after
graduation. R.B had epilepsy and was not permitted entry into the vocational
school because of it. The Director of OAL, Stephen LeFelt, was assigned to hear
the case. This was my first experience within the more formal structure of an
administrative law court and an administrative law judge. It was also the first time
I faced two attorneys at the same time, representing two different boards of
education as respondents. Reporters covered every day of the hearing. It ended
with the student having a grand mal seizure in the courtroom before he testified.
But he won his case and I gained instant celebrity. From that time on I refused
more cases than I took, the most difficult referred to me by lawyers and major
law firms. LRP published the R.B. decision, but printed no name for the parent’s
representative, making it appear the parent appeared pro se. I wrote LRP to
inquire. They replied that no name had been provided to them for the parent’s
representative when the case was submitted for publication. I learned later that
every OAL case I did in New Jersey was reported to the federal government as
having the parents appear pro se at their hearing.
Throughout the period from 1977 through the mid-80s, I never received payment
for any of the work done. Many parents were unable to afford even the
photocopying of exhibits or payment for materials required in preparing and
presenting due process cases. Ray and I paid a minimum of $6,000 a year for the
costs of the work, that amount increasing each year. When I sought funding from
the federal government and various agencies in New Jersey, all refused. However,
those who were funded to do the work, sent me all of their cases when a hearing
was required. I learned that New Jersey had distributed my name on a list as a
possible representative to every parent who filed for due process. Since I was the
only person who actually took cases for parents who could not pay, I was deluged
with pleas for help. Many years later I learned that my work permitted New Jersey
to assure the federal government that it provided free or low cost legal
representation for parents when it filed its Annual State Plan. During the next five
years, I often appeared at OAL five days a week on five different cases.
1982-1984 - The FBI and the Committee on Education and Labor of the U.S. House of
Representatives investigated New Jersey’s misuse of federal funds in special
education. As the result of my work in the state, I was asked by the FBI to wear a
wire to help indict specific State officials, including Fred Burke, Commissioner of
Education, and Paul Winkler, Commissioner of Special Education. I participated
in the public hearings on these issues in both Washington, D.C., and Trenton, New
Jersey. The report, dated September 1983, was titled:
Subcommittee Staff Report on Investigation of New Jersey Department of Education in the Administration of Certain Programs Under The Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965
, Prepared by the Subcommittee on Elementary, Secondary, and Vocational Education of the Committee on Education and Labor, U.S. House of Representatives, Together With Views of Representative Marge Roukema From the State of New Jersey and Minority Staff Views.
As a result of my involvement with the investigation into New Jersey’s misuse of federal funds, a news blackout occurred directed at me and PIC. No State newspaper would print PIC meeting notices, newspersons not permitted to cover any story in which my name might appear.
1985 - I filed Arons v. New Jersey State Board of Education et als
in 1985, alleging
multiple violations of my constitutional rights. The basic relief sought was the right
to be paid for my work. The Honorable H. Lee Sarokin presided over the case. His
bench decision was never published but portends the dispute that still rages today -
representation for parents and the need to pay nonlawyers for their work.
This is the first time his first decision is publicly available.
Arons v NJ - Sarokin Bench Decision (5.2MB PDF)
New Jersey was horrified to learn that the case would go forward, and that I had
discovery rights for what officials thought were private documents. Through
discovery I learned about the political connections and corruption imbedded in the
state fabric of special education, not known during federal investigation.
Once that action was filed, many of the OAL judges reacted negatively, some
becoming overtly hostile both to me and the parents who sought me out. For the
first time I began loosing case after case, with personal attacks on and off the record
from certain judges who seemed to be assigned to me over and over again.
1987 - Sarokin’s District Court decision in Arons was issued. After extensive
depositions, discovery, briefs, and oral argument, Judge Sarokin held that the Court
had no authority to award me fees for my work, but that “Legislation seems
appropriate, and possibly necessary, to compensate those persons such as plaintiff,
who are providing a vital service to the handicapped which may not be available
otherwise.” Judge Sarokin inquired of the State about the news blackout. It was not
In what can only be Divine Providence, I was referred to David Vladeck at Public
Citizen Litigation Group after receiving the Sarokin decision in the mail. I was in
Mr. Vladeck’s office 24 hours after making the first call to him. Public Citizen
accepted my case and many subsequent cases. I will be, and families will be forever
in their debt.
Sarokin District Court Decision (5.3MB PDF)
1987-1990 - A New Jersey parent, Edward Heldman, moved to Minisink, New York with
his wife and son, a child I had represented in 1984 at OAL. The family could not
find representation in New York and, as a result, asked me to represent them in their
dispute with Minisink, a precedent setting case which Mr. Heldman later took to the
federal level. (Heldman ex rel. T.H. v. Sobol, 962F.2d 148); (2d Cir.1992)
. This case
introduced me to the peculiarities of the New York system of due process, as well as
the tightly controlled political structure around it.
1988 - The 3rd circuit ruling was published in Arons v. New Jersey Board of Education,
842 F.2d 58; (3rd Cir.1988), EHLR 559:358
. The Third Circuit held that I
could be paid as a consultant or expert, but that individual States controlled who
practiced law there. On August 12, 1988, Mr. Vladeck and Public Citizen filed an
appeal of the 3rd Circuit decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. It was not accepted.
This was to be the first of my three strikes at bat at the U.S. Supreme Court.
3rd Circuit Ruling (2.2MB PDF)
1989 - Following the 3rd Circuit decision, New Jersey attempted to pass a rule disallowing
nonlawyer representation at OAL. The proposed rule change was published in the
New Jersey Register, specifically naming me as the object of the new rule governing
representation in special education hearings. As a result, over 10,000 signatures and
letters were received by the State on the issue. Three public hearings were held in
different regions of the state. The only group who supported the proposed rule was
the Education Law Center. Everyone else, including Governor James Florio,
supported withdrawal of the proposed rule. An OAL judge, Beatrice Tylecki, was
assigned to write a decision based on input from the public hearings. Her decision
supported passing of the rule. It was later vacated when the State passed a specific
rule permitting nonlawyer representation in hearings, provided the representative had
special knowledge in special education.
Spec. Ed Champion Wins Lawyer's Rights (372K PDF)