2007 Recipients

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Where presented : 
Exemplar Award Dinner
Recipient(s) name: 
William C. McNeill, Legal Aid Society - Employment Law Center, and Dennis R. Murphy, Legal Aid Society (New York, NY)
Reason for selection of recipient(s): 

For nearly 40 years, William C. McNeill, III has litigated civil rights and employment cases designed to advance the rights of minorities and marginalized communities in the workplace. Since 1988, he has handled employment cases at the Legal Aid Society - Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC) where he is the managing attorney and director of the Racial Equality Program. McNeill provides key legal guidance, strategic advice and oversight for a staff of 32, including 13 attorneys who handle a docket of public interest cases on core issues affecting low-wage and marginalized workers, such as immigration and national origin, gender equity, language-based discrimination, disability, domestic violence, sexual orientation and family leave. He initiated the Racial Equality Program, which addresses critical issues affecting people of color, particularly racially discriminatory employment practices and policies. Recognizing the critical intersections of race and gender that invariably occur in exclusionary workplaces, McNeill has established two initiatives addressing affirmative action and “non-traditional” employment, which have tackled the obstacles faced by women and minorities attempting to enter or move up in blue-collar occupational areas that are predominantly Caucasian and male, such as the trades, the construction industry and fire and police departments. 

In the landmark case, Fontaine Davis, et al. v. City and County of San Francisco, McNeill worked for nearly a decade with a broad coalition of groups to integrate the city’s fire department. The consent decree from this case led to increased opportunity for people of color and women in hiring and promotions and the appointment of the first African-American chief in the city’s history. More recently, Morgan v. Amtrak took him and co-counsel to the Supreme Court, where they received a decision that in cases involving hostile work environment claims, all relevant evidence can be heard by a jury, no matter when the events took place. Ultimately, the jury found in Mr. Morgan’s favor that he was discriminated against in job opportunities, subjected to racial slurs and was retaliated against when he protested the treatment. Currently McNeill is preparing to litigate 76 individual cases in Southern Mississippi on behalf of African-American shipyard workers who have endured decades of discriminatory employment practices and a hostile work environment at the state’s largest private employer, Northrup Grumman. 

He has received two honors from the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. for his litigation work combating employment discrimination. 

Dennis R. Murphy is the director of training for the criminal practice at the Legal Aid Society, New York, NY. Previously, he worked and practiced law in Washington, D.C. (as chief of indigent defense services for the U.S. Department of Justice in the 1970’s, a federal prosecutor and clinical law professor) in Tucson, Arizona (as a private criminal defense attorney and public defender for eleven years), and, since 1996, in New York City (where he was attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Division, a capital defense lawyer for the New York State Capital Defender Office for seven years and a senior trial lawyer for the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan). As a mental health advocate, he has particular expertise in clients with disabilities, especially serious mental illnesses.

Murphy has devoted substantial energy to teaching and mentoring law students and lawyers dedicated to working with indigent clients. In 1981, he was hired by former Kutak-Dodds winner Steve Bright as a supervising attorney at D.C. Law Students in Court and took over as executive director when Steve became director of the Southern Center for Human Rights. He has taught, lectured, or testified on legal or mental health and the law subjects in schools (high school, community college, university, law school, medical school, and business school), before legal groups (including NLADA and the National Defender Investigator Association) and state legislatures. 

Murphy has been engaged in state and national scope indigent defense matters throughout his career. In the beginning of his career in Washington, he worked closely with the National College of Criminal Defense Lawyers, NLADA and other groups, promoting defense system improvement and pretrial justice. He worked closely with NLADA in the creation of seven statewide appellate defender offices and with NLADA’s Training Directors Council in the preparation of model training for defender offices. Through the Spangenberg Group, Murphy has been a consultant to public defender organizations and communities experiencing difficulties in the funding and delivery of quality legal representation to the indigent accused and assisted in related impact litigation. In 2006, he worked closely with national defense leaders in the initial design of intensive training for capital defenders. He has been on the boards of state and national organizations, including as a founding member of the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the Pretrial Services Resource Center and the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys.