Bar News - June 12, 2009
Richard Cohen: Disabilities Rights’ Champion
Boston College Law School recently awarded Richard A. Cohen the Daniel G. Holland Lifetime Achievement Award for his service to people with disabilities.
A graduate of Boston College Law School, Cohen spent the first 12 years of his career providing legal services to the poor, primarily with New Hampshire Legal Assistance.
In addition to litigating public assistance and housing cases, he was lead counsel in Garrity vs. Gallen, a case recently named by New Hampshire Magazine as one of the most important class-action lawsuits in New Hampshire’s history. Garrity, also known as the Laconia State School lawsuit, ultimately led to the closing of the state school, making New Hampshire the first state in the nation to a run a completely community-based system of services for persons with developmental disabilities.
Cohen has been the executive director of the New Hampshire Disabilities Rights Center (DRC), since 2002, where he works with people with disabilities, their families, and with legislators and government officials to seek policy solutions to problems faced by people with disabilities. He first joined the DRC in the late 1990s, as its policy specialist.
From 1998-2003, he was a member of an oversight panel monitoring New Hampshire’s compliance with the Eric L. Settlement Agreement requiring changes to the Division of Children Youth and Families’ (DCYF) child protection responsibilities. He was also appointed chair of the Governor’s Commission on Area Agencies by Governor Lynch in 2005.
Cohen’s career has included serving as court monitor in Minnesota overseeing deinstitutionalization of residents with developmental disabilities in six institutions, court monitor over the Boston Public Schools, overseeing compliance with a court order requiring Boston to improve its special education services, and working as director of investigations for the Department of Mental Retardation in Massachusetts.
Under his leadership, the Disabilities Rights Center has expanded its longstanding advocacy and litigation role to include investigations into abuse and neglect of individuals with disabilities, enhanced policy work, and greater community education and outreach.