Skip to Full Menu

Providing information, education, and training to build knowledge, develop skills, and change attitudes that will lead to increased independence, productivity, self determination, integration and inclusion (IPSII) for people with developmental disabilities and their families.

Bill Bronston and Friends: Conference at Staten Island

Produced by Dr. David Goode

Produced in 2005
Click the CC button to view captioning

Gene Eisner: As a result of all of this publicity that was coming out, Bill and some other folks decided that we should have a convening of a lot of experts in the field out at Willowbrook. And so on one Saturday all day we had…

Bill Bronston MD: Monastery on Staten Island

Gene Eisner: In the monastery.

Bill Bronston MD: We invited all the lawyers on the Eastern Seaboard that had been involved in class action lawsuits. All the top professionals who had been involved in normalization and human rights and [Inaudible] in developmental disabilities and all the parents that we could possibly find that were already part of a massive movement that Diana and her husband and a dozen other key families had spearheaded. Because all the stuff that was going on with me it was just a part of the catalyst. It was really a mass movement that was led by some workers, many, many, many parents.

Key lawyers that had been already contemplating a lawsuit but couldn't really quite put it together quite right. So at this particular monastery meeting was an event to bring together all the lawyers because all the cases were bogged down. They were bogged down in Massachusetts. They were bogged down in Tom [Gilhool's] state, what was that? Alabama, Pennhurst, all of them. And I wanted to find out what the hell was going on, why the lawyers were having so much trouble. Why the states were beating us in causing the delays when what we needed was immediate relief. Immediate relief from the situation. And so this was a war council to bring together all the top litigators in order to decide how we were going to bust them once and for all and use the Willowbrook case as the hammer.

Gene Eisner: We had lawyers from the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Legal Aid Society. By the way the Legal Aid Societies back in those days were able to do class action lawsuits. They've been cut back severely since then just to do defense work pretty much. They still do a little bit of affirmative work. But it was then that it was decided that a class action would be filed jointly by NYCLU and Legal Aid and move for an injunction to shut Willowbrook down. And fortunate… The lawsuit was filed and fortunately we drew a fabulous judge.

Orrin Judd was the federal judge. But he died during the course of the case, but he rendered an initial decision finding that the place was a violation of first(sic) and fourteenth amendment rights.

Ronnie Cohn: And John Bartels followed him, was on the case through the finding of the permanent injunction in '93, and he died at the age of 99, still actively involved in the case.

©2017 The Minnesota Governor's Council on Developmental Disabilities
 370 Centennial Office Building  658 Cedar Street   St. Paul, Minnesota 55155 
Phone: 651.296.4018   Toll-free number: 877.348.0505   MN Relay Service: 800.627.3529 OR 711   Fax: 651.297.7200 
Email: admin.dd@state.mn.us   View Privacy Policy   An Equal Opportunity Employer 

The GCDD is funded under the provisions of P.L. 106-402. The federal law also provides funding to the Minnesota Disability Law Center,the state Protection and Advocacy System, and to the Institute on Community Integration, the state University Center for Excellence. The Minnesota network of programs works to increase the IPSII of people with developmental disabilities and families into community life.