A Constitutional Right
Marilyn Morheuser’s last terrible year had wreaked havoc on the Education Law Center. Its staff was decimated, its finances were a shambles, and its case was approaching another critical juncture: the courtordered deadline for a new school-funding law was less than a year away. Despite her faults, Morheuser had been an extraordinary leader for ELC— dedicated, courageous, and profoundly committed to children. Even under ideal circumstances, replacing her would have been difficult, and ELC’s circumstances were far from ideal. The new executive director would have to accept months of job insecurity while wooing funders, rebuilding the organization, and mastering the complex Abbott litigation. The board feared no one would want the job. It was serendipity, ELC founder Paul Tractenberg reflected years later, that a few weeks after Morheuser’s death, they found the right person.
David Sciarra was another lapsed Catholic with a fierce sense of mission, but in other respects he was no Morheuser replica. Morheuser had been a child of the Depression, a midwesterner from a middle-class home, an activist who turned to the law in her forties and married herself to her cause. Sciarra was nearly thirty years younger, a blue-collar Jersey kid who went to law school soon after college and found time for family life. Morheuser’s charisma, commitment, and unusual life story had made her a compelling public figure, equal parts grandmotherly former nun and relentless crusader, a burnished icon of righteousness. Sciarra shared her passion for social justice and her tenacity in legal battle, but he cut a more familiar figure: the lawyer with a cause that engaged but did not
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Publication information: Book title: Other People's Children: The Battle for Justice and Equality in New Jersey's Schools. Contributors: Deborah Yaffe - Author. Publisher: Rutgers University Press. Place of publication: New Brunswick, NJ. Publication year: 2007. Page number: 249.
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