April 27, 2006
Vol. 25 No. 15

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    Law students become advocates for blind, visually impaired at Lighthouse’s Kane legal aid clinic

    By Rob McManamy
    News Office

    Law School students Christine Graham (at left in photo above) and Jonathan Byrer began volunteering this spring at the Arthur and Esther Kane Legal Clinic at the Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired, doing pro bono legal work. The clinic provides those who are blind or visually impaired with advice about their legal rights and the recourse they have available to them. Retired Cook County Circuit Court Judge Nicholas Pomaro (below) serves as director of the legal clinic at the Chicago Lighthouse. Graham and Byrer assist Pomaro with legal research for cases that often deal with alleged discrimination.


    Discrimination can come in many subtle forms, and often, what is not seen may be just as revealing as what is. With that in mind, the Law School this spring has joined forces with the 100-year-old Chicago Lighthouse for People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired to help its members fight discrimination through the courts.

    The vehicle is a new legal aid clinic named for Chicago alumnus Arthur Kane, (Law, ‘39), who is as renowned for his philanthropy as he is for founding Kane, Doy & Harrington. Last fall, Kane made a planned gift to the Lighthouse to help start the clinic.

    “Many students are interested in pro bono legal work while enrolled here,” said Mark Heyrman, Clinical Professor in the Mandel Legal Aid Clinic and Faculty Director of Clinical Programs for the Law School. “[We] are particularly proud that our students are now working at the new Arthur and Esther Kane Legal Clinic at the Chicago Lighthouse because it is funded in part through Mr. Kane. His past generosity enabled the construction of the Kane Center for Clinical Legal Education, the home of all of the Law School’s clinical programs.”

    Now in his late 80s, Kane had been drawn to the Lighthouse in recent years when his wife, Esther, required treatment as a result of macular degeneration. “After I became familiar with the Lighthouse and saw for myself the marvelous programs it offers, I knew right away that the agency and the people it served were most deserving of our support,” Kane said.

    He also acknowledged that he was intrigued by the concept of a legal clinic designed specifically for the needs of clients who are blind or visually impaired.

    “It’s unfortunate, but we still have a way to go to stamp out discrimination against individuals who are blind or have other disabilities,” he observed. “By offering a forum in which blind people can learn about their rights and discover what legal recourse they have, the Lighthouse is providing a much-needed service.”

    As part of the new partnership, the Law School has begun providing students to assist retired Cook County Circuit Court Judge Nicholas Pomaro, 67, who directs the Arthur and Esther Kane Legal Clinic at the Chicago Lighthouse. Pomaro, himself, has been blind since age 6.

    “I’m delighted to be able to enlist the support of outstanding students from one of the world’s top law schools,” said Pomaro. The first two University Law School students to work with him are Christine Graham and Jonathon Byrer, both second-years. They perform legal research and other needed tasks regarding alleged discrimination in housing, education, employment, transportation and other areas.

    “We had received numerous inquiries from people with visual impairments claiming to be victims of discrimination,” recalled Pomaro. While such discrimination may be leveled without intentional malice, the results are just as negative: not getting a job, being denied a loan or being prevented access to public transportation. “People who are blind or visually impaired have enough to cope with and don’t need the added burden of financial difficulties stemming from fighting discrimination,” said Pomaro.

    Graham, a native of Plano, Texas, and a graduate of Vanderbilt University, already serves as program director for the American Constitution Society and works as a legal research assistant. “Volunteering at the Lighthouse exposes me to the legal issues involved with blindness and not-for-profit organizations,” she said. “I also am eager to work with Judge Pomaro. Not only does he effectively solve legal problems, he serves as an inspiration to his clients and volunteers.”

    Graham’s classmate Byrer grew up in Odon, Ind., and graduated from the University of Notre Dame. Citing as his inspiration a late uncle who suffered from muscular dystrophy, Byrer already has been very active in community service. But the Lighthouse clinic allows him to put his legal training to immediate good use.

    “I recognized a perfect opportunity to make a difference to the greater Chicago community,” he said. “By using my own skills and experiences in the service of others, I feel that I will learn important lessons about a lawyer’s true place in his community, lessons that cannot be taught in the confines of the classroom.”

    For additional information on the Arthur and Esther Kane Legal Clinic at the Chicago Lighthouse, contact Pomaro at (312) 666-1331 or nicholas.pomaro@chicagolighthouse.org.