Jeanne LoCicero, longtime deputy legal director who has guided ACLU-NJ litigation in the Trump era, named next ACLU-NJ legal director
After 17 years of litigating some of New Jersey’s most significant civil rights cases, Ed Barocas is retiring from his position as legal director. Taking the reins as the next ACLU-NJ legal director is Jeanne LoCicero, who has guided ACLU-NJ litigation in the Trump era through her previous roles as deputy legal director and acting legal director.
“Ed leaves the legacy of a fairer, freer New Jersey and a stronger, more strategic, more vibrant ACLU-NJ,” said ACLU-NJ Executive Director Amol Sinha. “Ed steered civil liberties advocacy in New Jersey for almost 20 years, and he did it with brilliance and a creative spirit. Fortunately for New Jersey, no one is more capable of taking up where Ed left off than Jeanne LoCicero, who has been a leader in her own right at the affiliate and in the New Jersey legal community for more than a decade.”
Ed Barocas’ tenure as ACLU-NJ Legal Director started and ended at a time of civil liberties crisis. He started in May 2001, just months before the Sept. 11 attacks, and his retirement comes amid the chaos of the Trump administration. During that time, the legal department of the ACLU-NJ has grown from a two-person operation that relied mainly on pro bono attorneys to a full-time staff of eight. Under Barocas’ leadership, the organization has taken part in some of the most important litigation in New Jersey and has grown from an occasional participant at the New Jersey Supreme Court to the most frequent apart from government agencies.
Among the most significant cases and advocacy during Ed’s tenure as legal director were:
- Post 9/11 litigation seeking to end secret immigration detentions and secret deportation hearings, along with providing know-your-rights presentations to immigration detainees held in NJ jails.
- An early commitment to litigating access to public records cases under the Open Public Records Act to develop a vibrant and transparency-focused area of law.
- Briefs submitted to the New Jersey Supreme Court on behalf of numerous civil rights organizations in support of marriage equality, and before New Jersey recognized marriage or civil unions, along with a suit filed to secure the right of a lesbian couple to have both listed as parents on their child’s birth certificate.
- Several suits challenging police misconduct, including a case of a teenager arrested for recording the police on her cell phone and another where three Black children were searched and arrested while their three white friends were told to go home.
- A successful petition to the Department of Justice calling for an investigation and federal monitoring of the Newark Police to rein in civil rights violations.
- Lawsuits and advocacy stopping municipalities from imposing fees for free speech activities, which would have denied poor individuals and groups the right to be heard.
- An ongoing case that enjoined the state from providing more than $10 million of taxpayer funding to religious institutions that train clergy, provide education from a sectarian point of view, and engage in discrimination.
- A suit that stopped the Motor Vehicle Commission from unilaterally imposing REAL ID requirements.
“I’m proud of the hundreds of cases we’ve brought that have held the government accountable and protected people’s rights, and I’m equally proud of successful advocacy that has meant no one had to step foot in a courtroom,” said Barocas. “I’m humbled looking back at the last 17 years, knowing that we’ve strengthened civil rights and responded to urgent, emerging issues. Fighting for that progress has been one of the greatest honors of my life.”
Barocas continued: “I am comforted in knowing I leave behind a Legal Department that is incredibly strong. But it is only that strong because of the people that inhabit it, each and every one a dedicated, brilliant, and compassionate advocate. I can’t wait to see how the ACLU-NJ’s legal team continues making the organization’s advocacy even stronger under Jeanne’s leadership.”
In part because of Barocas’ legacy of growth within the legal team, the litigation and legal advocacy of the ACLU-NJ has continued seamlessly during the transition to the new leader of the legal department, Jeanne LoCicero.
LoCicero became deputy legal director of the ACLU-NJ in 2008, the first person to hold the role. She started at the ACLU-NJ as a staff attorney in 2004, after beginning her legal career as a legal fellow at the ACLU of Alabama and spending three years in private practice.
As ACLU-NJ deputy legal director and acting legal director, LoCicero has been lead attorney on some of the most urgent legal issues to surface in New Jersey. Post-Trump, LoCicero brought on additional attorneys to address the urgency of civil rights and liberties violations of immigrants.
Some of LoCicero’s most significant work includes:
- Immigrants in Detention: When LoCicero learned that an Afghan refugee with a special visa, reserved for people who have put their lives at risk by working for the U.S. government, was being denied entry at Newark Airport and possibly deported, she immediately took the case. Working together with ACLU-NJ lawyers and lawyers from Seton Hall’s Center for Social Justice, they filed a petition challenging his deportation just 10 hours later, working through the night. Fourteen months later, Abdul was finally free. Since that time, she has expanded the department’s work in representing immigrants in New Jersey detention facilities.
- Advocacy for Transgender People: LoCicero has led the ACLU-NJ’s efforts to protect the rights of transgender students and adults. She represented a client in becoming one of the first people to successfully petition the military for a name change on their official discharge papers, a central document for veterans.
- Prison and Jail Conditions: LoCicero has been involved in several cases involving the conditions of people who are incarcerated. Notably, she was co-counsel in a marathon case against the Passaic County, filed with Seton Hall Law Center for Social Justice and pro bono attorneys concerning egregiously unconstitutional conditions at Passaic County Jail, including massive overcrowding and dangerous extremes in temperatures. LoCicero shepherded the case from start to finish, from filing to settlement to monitoring. Ten years later, the jail has made dramatic changes because of the suit.
- Civil Union Discrimination: Working with pro bono counsel from Gibbons P.C., LoCicero represented a couple in their successful challenge to a discriminatory policy that kept them from having a civil union ceremony in the boardwalk pavilion in their hometown.
“As one of the smartest attorneys and most creative and kind people I’ve known, Ed has been an extraordinary mentor, and I feel grateful to have grown from his leadership for more than a decade,” said ACLU-NJ Legal Director Jeanne LoCicero. “In this pivotal moment, I am excited to build on all we’ve already accomplished together and honored to lead the talented members of the ACLU-NJ’s legal team who are working every day to make New Jersey a fairer, more just place.”