Child advocate: Wayne alum receives 'Award for Excellence'

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 By Kurt Anthony Krug

Legal News
 
When Glenn Metsch-Ampel went into the legal profession law, he didn’t aspire to work in a prestigious law firm.  
 
“Consequently, I entered law school committed to a career in public service, but with only a limited sense of how to build such a career of the options available to public interest lawyers,” recalled Metsch-Ampel. “My first break was being hired as a legal intern by Ron Reosti’s firm in Detroit, where I learned about employment discrimination and wrongful discharge litigation. At the time, Ron shared space with Ellis Boal, who was counsel to Teamsters for a Democratic Union. Both were active in the National Lawyers Guild. So, it was a great environment for an aspiring public interest lawyer.”
 
Metsch-Ampel, 54, lives in Montclair, N.J. with Randi, his wife of 22 years, and their two children. He received his undergraduate degree in psychology from Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, N.J. and his juris doctor from Wayne State University Law School. 
 
“I had a great experience at Wayne, where I enjoyed the challenging coursework and professors and particularly appreciated their trial advocacy and clinical programs,” he said. “I was also fortunate to connect with a number of dynamic, progressive fellow law students and to participate in what at that time was a robust school chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.”
 
He continued: “One particularly strong memory is helping to organize a debate between Wayne’s star constitutional law professor, Robert Sedler, and Detroit civil rights stalwart, Bill Goodman, on the then-pending nomination of Robert Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court. Another was (inviting) noted civil rights attorney Arthur Kinoy to speak, and having the opportunity to drive Arthur on the evening he arrived at (Goodman’s) home and to sit in while they shared stories of their involvement, along with Bill’s father, Ernest Goodman, in the civil rights struggles of the prior decades.”
 
Metsch-Ampel has been an attorney with Lawyers for Children (LFC) in New York City for 20 years, which has provided legal representation and social work services for children in foster care since 1984. For the last 13 years, Metsch-Ampel has been LFC’s deputy executive director.
 
Recently, he won the 2012 Kathryn A. McDonald Award for Excellence in Service to the New York City Family Court. The award is named after the late New York family court judge who began her career as a child advocate at the Legal Aid Society and was appointed to the bench in 1986. According to Metsch-Ampel, she was a tireless advocate for children’s rights and had an unwavering commitment to the dignity of the families who came before the court, especially at a time when the number of family court cases skyrocketed and budgets were cut.
 
“Winning this award was extremely humbling because it meant that I was nominated, advocated for, and selected by the people I most admire in my field and from whom I have learned the most in my area of practice,” said Metsch-Ampel. “It is awarded to those who have ‘dedicated their abilities and leadership skills throughout their careers to the Family Court and the population that it serves.’ And the award is presented by the Chief Judge of the State of New York, Jonathan Lippman, a man I greatly admire.”
 
To make this award even more special, Metsch-Ampel received it when his late mother, Sophie Ampel, was in hospice care. He didn’t attend the ceremony to be with his mother.
 
“My colleagues posted a video on YouTube so that I could share the experience,” he said. “My mother hugged me for one of the last times the night the award was given.”
 
It was his father, Bernie Ampel, a social worker, who guided him on his first step to public service.
 
“Somehow, my father’s approach to using therapy to improve people’s lives pointed me in the direction of public service, and probably has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve made my professional home at an organization that employs an interdisciplinary model that pairs attorneys and social workers,” explained Metsch-Ampel. 
 
“My mother’s warmth, nurturing, and encouragement was also a tremendous influence. My wife—who is the smartest, most compassionate and progressive person I know—was and remains a huge influence. And, of course, my first step into public interest work, when I volunteered and was eventually hired by Amnesty International prior to law school, had a profound effect on my future direction in life, thanks in large part to the executive director at that time, a tireless, visionary, charismatic ex-priest named Jack Healey.” 
 
Metsch-Ampel stated that every case at LFC is compelling because each offers the opportunity to be a child’s voice in proceedings that will impact their lives in profound ways. What all these young people had/have in common was the burning desire to be heard, to know someone was fighting for them to achieve an outcome that best reflected their wishes and needs.
 
“I’ll share something that I find fascinating about having made child advocacy my career. I always knew that my maternal grandmother died giving birth to my mother. But, I didn’t learn until I’d been doing this work for about a decade that my own mother had been placed into foster care as an infant and then returned to her biological father, who abused her in the most brutal ways imaginable,” explained Metsch-Ampel. 
 
“And yet, my mother broke the cycle of abuse and went on to be the most loving spouse and parent, as well as a surrogate or substitute mother to many children. As an advocate for children and youth whose families often face the direst poverty and the many challenges that poverty underlies, this taught me an invaluable lesson, which is to remember that there really is no ‘us’ and ‘them,’ there is only ‘us.’ My mother passed away on May 17 and I’ll always feel that my work is somehow in honor of the childhood experiences that my mother rose above.”

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