Speakers and Dialogue Leaders: Michael Perlin
Michael Perlin—An internationally-recognized expert on mental disability law, Michael L. Perlin has devoted his career to championing legal rights for people with mental disabilities. A prolific author of 20 books and nearly 200 scholarly articles on all aspects of mental disability law, Professor Perlin says that his ninth book, The Hidden Prejudice: Mental Disability on Trial (2000), “represents my lifetime work.” The book is an attempt to educate society about how the fear of persons with mental illness creates a hidden bias against them that prevents equal justice, a form of discrimination he calls “sanism.”
In his book and his other work, he speaks out against “sanism,” which he defines as “the irrational prejudice that causes, and is reflected in, prevailing social attitudes toward persons with mental disabilities.”
A teacher-lawyer-advocate who advises mental health professionals, hospitals, advocates, activists, lawyers, and governments, Professor Perlin has worked directly on mental disability cases as a deputy public defender and as director of the Division of Mental Health Advocacy in the New Jersey Department of the Public Advocate. He has witnessed the complexities and frustrations facing both judges and attorneys with such cases.
Professor Perlin travels around the globe to speak out about the legal rights of people with mental disabilities. In conjunction with Mental Disability Rights International, a U.S.-based human rights advocacy organization, he has presented mental disability training workshops in Hungary, Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Bulgaria, and Uruguay. As part of his work with the Justice Action Center, he is working with advocates from Japan, Australia and the Pacific Rim to create an Asia/Oceania Disability Rights Tribunal. He currently works with the American Bar Association's Rule of Law Office to provide training for inexperienced criminal defense lawyers in China. Most recently, he was named a Fulbright Senior Specialist, and in that role, taught International Human Rights and Mental Disability Law, to the Global Law Program at the University of Haifa in Israel.
In 2002, he helped organize a symposium at New York Law School on “International Human Rights Law and the Institutional Treatment of Persons with Mental Disabilities: The Case of Hungary.” It was the first such U.S. gathering, bringing together prominent activists, advocates, and attorneys to look at the application of international human rights law to improve the treatment of people with mental disabilities.
His multivolume treatise, Mental Disability Law: Civil and Criminal (Lexis Law Publishing, 1998–2003), which was first published in 1989 by Michie, won the 1990 Walter Jeffords Writing Prize; the five-volume second edition of that treatise won the Otto Walter Writing Award in 2003 and is the indispensable authority for legal practitioners. A seven-volume third edition is currently in preparation. Another book, The Jurisprudence of the Insanity Defense (Carolina Academic Press, 1994), won the Manfred Guttmacher Award of the American Psychiatric Association and the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law as the best book of the year in law and forensic psychiatry in 1994–95. He was given the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law's Amicus Award in 1998.
Since he joined the faculty in 1984, Professor Perlin has helped build the course offering in his legal specialty at New York Law School to such an extent that it now leads the nation in mental disability law curricula. He created and teaches the first online courses on mental disability law, offered to students here, at other U.S.-based law schools, as well as in Japan and in Nicaragua. There are currently twelve courses in the online program, and more will be added in the immediate future. He also was instrumental in the creation of the new online Masters of Arts program in mental disability law studies that NYLS launched in January 2009.
Professor Perlin has many other passions outside the law, including the clarinet, fishing, and the music of Bob Dylan.