UNC Center for Civil Rights loses right to sue

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A center founded at the University of North Carolina to help the poor and disenfranchised has lost its ability to file lawsuits. (WTVD)

A center founded at the University of North Carolina to help the poor and disenfranchised has lost its ability to file lawsuits.

The UNC Board of Governors voted Friday to strip the UNC Center for Civil Rights of its ability to litigate on behalf of an individual against another person, entity, or government.

The vote passed 24-3 with one abstention, disappointing Chancellor Carol Folt.

"I am disappointed in the vote of the UNC Board of Governors today regarding the Center for Civil Rights," Folt said in a new release. "I believe that the University and the people who testified on behalf of the Center made a compelling case about why the Center is so important to the people of our state. I am proud of the Center, its history and all who worked so hard to answer the board's questions and provide important facts about how the Center serves the needs of our citizens."

Some say the move will cause the 16-year-old litigating powerhouse founded by Julius Chambers to close.

But some on the UNC System Board has said the center should just focus on research.

Board member Steve Long said students shouldn't be litigating against counties, cities, and towns. Long said it's too costly, and told the board earlier this year that one of the Center's cases cost Brunswick County nearly $1 million in legal fees.

"I think that's outside of the university's mission," Long said at a meeting in March. "We should be advising cities and counties. If they are doing something wrong, we need to tell them about it. We should not be suing them."

Mark Dorosin, managing lawyer at the Center disagreed.

"Any city and county can avoid the cost by stopping the discriminating activities that they are engaged in," Dorosin said.

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Dorosin said the Center sued Brunswick County for trying to put a landfill in a poor neighborhood.

Folt said going forward, they will focus on strengthening their commitment to educating future civil rights lawyers.

"We now must determine a path forward for the Center and reconfirm our commitment to educating the next generation of civil rights lawyers and providing assistance to the poor and disadvantaged in North Carolina. I will work with other University leaders, stakeholders and the school of law to explore all options and develop a course of action that allows us to continue this vitally important work while adhering to the new policy adopted by the Board of Governors today. The School of Law is one of not only the University's strongest assets, but it is one of our state's, training generations of students who continue on in service to the state, the nation and the world. That tradition of excellence and service is the core of the school's identity and it defines our greater purpose."
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