Deborah Dorfman is the Executive Director of Disability Rights Connecticut (DRCT). She has 30 years of experience litigating individual and class actions, as well other systemic reform cases, in the areas of disability and related law, with a particular focus on legal issues pertaining to people with intellectual and/or mental health disabilities, including juvenile justice, access to Medicaid and state-funded services and other public benefits, Olmstead and other disability discrimination, special education, prison and jail conditions, abuse and neglect, fair housing, civil commitment, and forensic mental health, among other issues.
Prior to coming to Connecticut, Deborah served as a managing attorney for the Everett Field Office of the Northwest Justice Project (NJP), headquartered in Seattle, Washington, where she and her colleagues established a statewide, free special education legal clinic for low-income families with students with disabilities. There she also provided legal representation to individuals with disabilities on issues concerning housing discrimination and access to Medicaid-covered services.
Before working at NJP she was a senior attorney at the Center for Public Representation (CPR) in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she provided technical legal assistance to the national Protection and Advocacy network. Along with her colleagues at CPR, she also co-counseled class action litigation with Disability Rights Texas and a private firm in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice to advocate for community services for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) in, or at risk of admission to, Texas’ nursing facilities. She also co-counseled with the CPR’s Legal Director, the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program, and a private firm to successfully advocate for the development of home-based services for children with mental health disabilities and autism. In her positions as the managing attorney for the Los Angeles regional office of Disability Rights California, deputy director of the Disability Rights Legal Center, and legal director for Disability Rights Washington, she participated in numerous successful class action and other systemic reform litigation for children with intellectual disabilities in the juvenile justice system, for individuals with co-occurring intellectual and psychiatric disabilities inappropriately detained in state psychiatric hospitals, for individuals diagnosed with mental illnesses in forensic mental health facilities, jails, and prison, and for individuals with I/DD receiving community-based Medicaid services.
Since beginning her career at the Mental Health Advocacy Project in 1992 in San Jose, California, Deborah has remained a passionate and committed advocate for individuals with disabilities, teaching mental health law at St. John’s University School of Law and New York Law School, and publishing articles on legal issues pertaining to forensic mental health services, involuntary medication, and civil commitment in several scholarly journals. Deborah is a graduate of New York Law School, New York University, and the University of California at Berkeley.