Acclaimed lawyer for Holocaust survivors to speak at UCSC

UC Hastings professor to present lecture on campus April 7

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Morris Ratner

UC Santa Cruz will present a lecture by UC Hastings College of the Law Professor Morris Ratner titled "A Monument Man in the Courtroom: Litigating the Holocaust," on Monday, April 7, at 7 p.m., at UCSC’s University Center. 

Admission is free and open to the public, with pre-registration encouraged to ensure a seat in the case of a sold-out event.

Ratner is best known for prosecuting Holocaust-era private law claims against Swiss, German, Austrian, and French entities that profited from Nazi atrocities. These organizations profited by retaining dormant bank accounts, failing to pay on life insurance policies, and benefitting from the use of slave labor.

Ratner’s litigation resulted in a series of settlements that, together, yielded payments in excess of $8 billion to victims of Nazi persecution.

Many of Ratner’s clients were young children during the Nazi era who had little knowledge of their family’s assets, and no idea how to pursue a case or even from whom to seek justice. They had relied since World War II on government-to-government negotiations to address their claims, without ever realizing that they could also pursue claims on their own behalf.

The Holocaust-era litigation that Ratner pursued opened a new, private path to justice. An 18th century statute--the Alien Torts Claims Act--provided the jurisdictional hook that allowed Ratner and his colleagues to pursue their claims in U.S. courts, although subsequent case law has made that strategy more difficult today.

Using his Holocaust litigation as a lens, Ratner said his UCSC lecture will also explore the topics of “what ‘justice’ means for victims of major atrocities like the Holocaust, the role of private litigation in advancing social causes, and the ability of individual advocates to prevail on behalf of victims in seemingly lost causes.”

Ratner’s discussion of “social justice lawyering” also will address the extent “it matters whether social cause lawyers are members of the groups whose interests they seek to advance. For example, did it matter whether the lawyers in the Holocaust cases were--like the victims--Jewish, Gay, or Romani?”

Ratner joined the UC Hastings Faculty in 2012, after teaching at Harvard Law School for several years, where he taught, among other subjects, a course called “Holocaust Litigation.” An expert in civil procedure, legal ethics, and law practice management, Ratner’s research at Hastings explores ethical, procedural, and organizational questions that arise in multi-party actions, including class actions and multidistrict litigations.

Before Harvard, Ratner worked as a litigator at the San Francisco-based plaintiffs’ firm Lieff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, LLP, where he was a partner for 10 years. During that time he prosecuted product liability, mass personal injury, consumer, and human rights actions.  

Ratner’s talk is the inaugural lecture in the UC Hastings Social Justice Speakers Series to be given by Hastings faculty at UCSC.  The next lecturer in the series will be UC Hastings Academic Dean Beth Hillman who will speak on “Sexual Assault in the Military” in Fall 2014.  Hillman served on an independent panel authorized by Congress to evaluate the practice of retaining prosecutorial discretion with command officers in sexual assault cases in the military. 

The Social Justice Speakers Series is a product of the UCSC-UC Hastings collaboration that also features the “3+3 B.A./J.D.” Program.  That accelerated program enables UCSC students to complete the B.A. and J.D. degrees in six, rather than the usual seven, years by attending both UCSC and UC Hastings College of the Law.

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UCSC presents Morris Ratner in a lecture titled "A Monument Man in the Courtroom: Litigating the Holocaust" on Monday, April 7, at 7 p.m., at the University Center on the UCSC campus. Admission is free and open to the public, with pre-registration encouraged to ensure a seat in the event of a sold out event. For more information, call (831) 459-1780 or email ihr@ucsc.edu.

This event is co-sponsored by UCSC’s Legal Studies program, Institute for Humanities Research, Politics Department, Jewish Studies program, Neufeld Levin Holocaust Chair Endowment, the Santa Cruz County Bar Association, and the Santa Cruz Women's Lawyers' Association. Note: This activity is approved for one hour of MCLE credit for California attorneys