Accomplished civil rights attorney Richard Fields died on April 13, 2013, after being struck by a vehicle in Memphis, Tennessee. Children’s Rights joins a host of human rights advocates who mourn his loss.
A native of Modesto, California, Fields came to Memphis in 1969 with the “Teacher Corps,” and received his law degree from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. The Commercial Appeal describes “a brilliant if eccentric crusader” who committed himself fully to many civil rights causes:
He was an attorney in the desegregation case that led to a controversial and landmark 1972 ruling requiring the busing of students in Memphis City Schools. He also represented plaintiffs in a decades-long lawsuit to desegregate Shelby County Schools.
In 1994 Mr. Fields sued Memphis Housing Authority on behalf of public housing tenants, alleging it had reneged on its federal mandate to provide decent, safe and sanitary housing, because of excessive vacancies, poor maintenance and substandard living conditions. And after the deaths of several inmates in the county jail, he took part in a lawsuit alleging that the county didn’t properly supervise prisoners.
Children’s Rights came to know Mr. Fields through its landmark case currently known as Brian A v. Haslam. He was part of the team of Tennessee firms and attorneys from across the state that filed this class action in May of 2000, after local child welfare advocates expressed urgent need to reform the state’s overburdened and mismanaged child welfare system.
“Richard was bright, passionate and a key strategic ally,” said Ira Lustbader, associate director of Children’s Rights. “He was right there on our team from the very beginning of our reform campaign for foster kids in Tennessee. His commitment to abused and neglected children was strong and unwavering.”
The federal complaint, filed on behalf of more than 9,000 children in the custody of Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services (DCS), charged the state with violating the constitutional rights of children and causing them irreparable harm. The case, which was settled in 2001, has resulted in significant improvements for kids, such as the phasing out of inappropriate emergency shelters and large institutions for children, a dramatic increase in children cared for by foster families, and keeping siblings in foster care together.
“We were so fortunate to have Richard as one of our local partners who fought to protect the rights of these vulnerable kids,” said Lustbader. “He will be sorely missed.”