Cesar Perales to step down as head of LatinoJustice

For immediate release: Nov. 19, 2010

Contact: John Garcia (212) 739-7513 or 917-673-9095

Cesar Perales, President and General Counsel of LatinoJustice PRLDEF, announced today that he will be leaving the organization once a successor is identified.

After founding the civil rights group as the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund in 1972 with two other lawyers, and then leaving for several posts in public office, Cesar returned in 2003 to help revive the organization when it was in peril of closing. Seven years later, Cesar leaves LatinoJustice PRLDEF in a position that is financially healthy and with its high standing restored in the eyes of its constituents, the foundation world and its civil rights peers.

“It is no exaggeration to describe Cesar as one of the giants in the struggle for civil rights in the modern era,” said David Arroyo, Chairman of the Board. “We owe him a great debt of gratitude for paving the way for our successes, both personal and professional. His legacy will endure for decades to come.”

The board has developed a comprehensive planning process to identify Cesar’s successor and will be seeking national candidates as soon as possible.

“We owe it to the organization and the community it serves to conduct the most rigorous search possible and identify the very best candidates,” noted Will Malpica, Chair of the Transition Committee. “We have carefully prepared for this moment and today the organization is in its best shape ever – we have a very good story to tell.”

Cesar will be staying at LatinoJustice PRLDEF through the transition process.

During the past few years LatinoJustice PRLDEF has recaptured a successful past that includes landmark litigation in education rights, Latino voting rights, workers rights and immigration issues. Two years ago, Sonia Sotomayor, once a board member, was named to the Supreme Court, crowning the founders’ stated goal of creating leaders in the legal community.

More recently, the organization has also been on the forefront of litigation to stop local anti-immigration legislation, winning a landmark case that prevented Hazleton, Pennsylvania from enforcing a law that targeted Latinos. LatinoJustice PRLDEF is also involved in the case to stop Arizona’s SB1070 anti-immigration law.

One of LatinoJustice PRLDEF’s goals from the start has been to create new Latino leaders. Cesar feels his leaving creates just the opportunity he and the founders envisioned when they started PRLDEF.

“It’s a perfect time for the next generation of leaders to take over at LatinoJustice and a perfect time for me to seek out new adventures,” Cesar said. “Our finances are very strong right now, our legal team is involved in many cases critical to our community and our education department is preparing many young people to come into the profession. I am very confident that LatinoJustice PRLDFEF is perfectly poised to continue on its steady path.”

The son of a Puerto Rican father and a Dominican mother, Cesar grew up in New York City. He first considered becoming a lawyer as a child, after his father's business declared bankruptcy. Cesar went on to earn a bachelor’s degree from City College in 1962 and graduated from Fordham Law School in 1965.

Upon graduating from Fordham, Cesar worked at the legal unit for a Ford Foundation-funded program on the Lower East Side of New York called Mobilization for Youth. In 1968, when the federal government began to open neighborhood legal services programs as part of the War on Poverty, Cesar, at 27 years old, was selected to establish the first Brooklyn Legal Services Office.

His experiences working in New York’s Puerto Rican neighborhoods allowed him to also assume the role of legal advocate for New York’s Latino community. In April 1969, he represented the students who took over his alma mater, the City College of New York, to demand the admission of more minority students. In January, 1970, he represented the Young Lords Organization when they took control of a church to provide community services to poor community in El Barrio. Perales negotiated the early morning non-violent arrest of over 100 members the Young Lords who refused to leave the church.

In 1972, Cesar, along with two Puerto Rican lawyers Jorge Batista and Victor Marrero, raised enough seed money to open the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, a legal organization modeled on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Cesar served as the first Executive Director and Marrero was Chairman of the Board.

In 1974, the consent decree issued in PRLDEF’s suit Aspira v. New York City Board of Education became central to the United States’ establishment of bilingual education programs in schools across the country. And, in several lawsuits against the New York Civil Service Commission, New York Police Department and New York Sanitation Commission, PRLDEF was able to get the courts to strike down numerous civil service requirements that kept Latinos from public employment and eliminated barriers to government benefits for non-English speaking applicants.

During his career, Cesar served in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare; as an Assistant Secretary for Human Services; as Commissioner of the New York State Department of Social Services; and as Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services for New York City. He also served as Senior Vice President at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.

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