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Maazel, ’97: Building a Career in Civil Rights By Sandra Svoboda On the first day of his first job at a law firm, Ilann Maazel, ’97, had to build his own desk. The new civil rights law firm he joined in New York was ready for his skills— legal and carpentry—even if there wasn’t a spot for him to practice the former. Then, on his second day, he found himself at a state Supreme Court hearing involving the New York City Council and the mayor. “I’ve never looked back,” he says.
coUrteSy oF ilann maaZel
Maazel, who has continued to specialize in civil rights work, has been part of dozens of headline-making cases involving, to name a few, Martha Stewart, Friends of the High Line, and the NAACP. A partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, he has represented hundreds of disabled preschool children who successfully sued the New York City and state Departments of Education to receive special education services, and he served as co-counsel to prisoners in a case against the New York City prison system. He also was part of the team of lawyers that litigated the voting irregularities in Florida in the 2000 presidential election. Currently he’s the lead attorney for a group of Jewish families who are suing the Pine Bush Central School District in New York State for what he describes as prolonged, vicious, anti-Semitic harassment of children. “To me, every case is important because every client is important,” Maazel says. “But this case? It’s an awful case.”
Law Quadrangle • Spring 2014
The case hit the national spotlight after The New York Times published a lengthy article about it in November 2013. Five students in the district, located about 80 miles from New York City, complained of years of bullying and harassment. School officials, Maazel says, did nothing to stop the white-power chants, Hitler-like salutes, swastikas displayed on school property, and physical assaults. “It’s really disturbing. The children we’re representing really did not feel safe going to school every day,” Maazel says. Representing children is something the New Yorker has done since he was part of the Child Advocacy Law Clinic at Michigan Law. The mock trials and the real cases created what Maazel calls “an intense and important experience” that served him well. Maazel chose Ann Arbor, after all, because he knew the campus, the professors, and his fellow students would keep him focused on becoming a lawyer, a profession that was almost a novelty in his family of musicians. But music runs in his veins, too: He is a concert pianist who started a nonprofit organization between his undergraduate work at Harvard and his first year at Michigan Law. Called MELODY (Music Education, Listening and Outreach for District Youth), he taught children in Washington, D.C., group homes to play musical instruments. His father, Lorin Maazel, is a conductor, violinist, composer, and three-time Grammy winner. His mother, Israela Margalit, also is a concert pianist as well as a playwright and television writer. Still, Maazel had been fascinated with the law since high school and knew the legal profession would be his career. “It’s intellectual, and it’s challenging, and it’s fascinating, but I mostly wanted to help people,” he says. “I was really interested in social justice, and I had that corny sort of change-the-world feeling. Civil rights cases like Pine Bush can have enormous social impact. I feel fortunate to do this work; it’s a great opportunity, a lot of work, and it’s fun.” 64