Gay Parolee Released Thanks to Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic’s Work


Posted on August 29th, 2009 by Katherine Franke

The Gender and Sexuality Law Blog covered a case our Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic was handling back in May having to do with a man who applied for and was denied parole by the Massachusetts  Parole Board because he was gay.  See post here.

This week, the Parole Board granted Bruce Wilburn’s parole application.   See details below.

Massachusetts Parole Board Grants Parole to Openly Gay Inmate After New Hearing Following the Settlement of a Sexual Orientation Discrimination Suit

Major Victory for Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic

The Massachusetts Parole Board granted parole to Bruce Wilborn, an openly gay inmate who had previously sued the board for harassing him and treating his parole application skeptically because he is gay. Mr. Wilborn settled his lawsuit last April in exchange for a new parole hearing, which took place in May. (The decision, which was signed by the board’s executive director on Aug.18, was released to Mr. Wilborn’s counsel yesterday.)

In October of 2008, Federal District Court Judge Patti Saris rejected the parole board’s effort to dismiss Mr. Wilborn’s sexual orientation discrimination claims. That decision, in turn, adopted a federal magistrate’s ruling, which held that “federal anti-discrimination guarantees apply to parole decisions.”  Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic and the law firm McDermott Will & Emery LLP serve as counsel for Mr. Wilborn.

Mr. Wilborn is expected to return to his family in the fall.

“The board’s grant of parole reinforces that an inmate’s sexual orientation should not be the basis for denying parole,” said Suzanne B. Goldberg, director of the Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic and a Clinical Professor of Law. “Earlier decisions in the case have shown that parole boards may not single out gay applicants and deny them fair and equal treatment. We are pleased that the law has now been followed in this case.”

“Mr. Wilborn fought for his right to receive a fair hearing,” added Mollie Kornreich, one of the students who represented Mr. Wilborn. “This is a gratifying outcome after that struggle.”

“I am thrilled that Mr. Wilborn has gotten the outcome he deserves. He has been a model inmate and an ideal candidate for parole,” said fellow student, Abram Seaman. “By granting Mr. Wilborn parole, the board is simultaneously giving a new start to a deserving man and establishing that treating a gay applicant’s sexual orientation as a negative factor for parole is both improper and irrelevant.”

Mr. Wilborn is represented by Neal Minahan and Lisa Linsky of McDermott Will & Emery LLP. Clinic students Mollie Kornreich ‘09, Keren Zwick ‘09, Abram Seaman ‘10, Adam Pulver ‘08, Amos Blackman ‘08, Simrin Parmar ’08, and Katherine Harris ‘09 have all worked on the case. Ms. Kornreich and Ms. Zwick argued against the dismissal of Mr. Wilborn’s case before Judge Saris, and Mr. Pulver argued against dismissal before Magistrate Judge Judith Dein.

To contact the students: Abram Seaman at abram.seaman@law.columbia.edu.

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