Georgetown University Law Center plans to drop its funding of the Citizens Communications Center at the end of this school year, a decision that has been protested by supporters of the public-interest communications law practice.
Citizens was founded in the late 1960s as an independent law firm representing viewers' and listeners' interests in broadcasting cases, said Wilhelmina Reuben Cooke, the center's senior attorney.
The center merged in 1981 with Georgetown's Institute for Public Representation, which litigates cases for clients while providing law students with training in public interest law. Citizens supported itself and some of the institute's costs with money from the Ford Foundation and attorneys' fees until last fall, when its funding ran out, Cooke said.
The law school and the institute have supported the center this year but have not budgeted any funds for next year. The teaching/litigation program, including a position for one full-time attorney specializing in communications law, costs less than $100,000 a year, Cooke said.
The institute includes three senior attorneys and five fellows, who are recent law school graduates enrolled in master's degree programs.
The law center dean could not be reached for comment, but he is expected to meet this week with representatives of Citizens to discuss the matter.
"Citizens fills a vital role in representing the interests of those members of our society who would otherwise be unrepresented or underepresented in the debate" over telecommunications public policy, said Samuel A. Simon, president of the Telecommunications Research & Action Center, a major client of Citizens.
It would be "a great tragedy . . . for the quality of public debate if Citizen's voice were to be silenced," Simon said in a letter to the chairman of the board of Georgetown's Institute for Public Representation.
Citizens has been active in cases involving minority ownership of broadcast media, employment of women and minorities by broadcasters, children's television, telephone service and telecommunications issues, said Cooke, a 16-year veteran of Citizens.