Hometown: Littleton, COLaw School: University of Denver Sturm College of LawLive in: Denver, COWorks at: Colorado Juvenile Defender Center and Elie Zwiebel LawPractice Areas(s): Intersection of education law and juvenile defenseCBA Member Since: 2013
Elie Zwiebel helps students obtain educational resources, defends students against discriminatory actions in school systems, and supports holistic juvenile defense.
Why did you become a lawyer?
When I was a teacher, I saw how the regular injustices of school discipline, law enforcement referral, and economic inequity devastated the lives of my students and their families. I went to law school to become a more robust ally and advocate.
What is one of the most positive experiences you’ve had as a lawyer?
On October 6, 2016, I received a call from a colleague who worked with me when we were both students in the DU Civil Rights Clinic. We had worked together to petition President Obama to grant clemency to two individuals serving life sentences for low-level, nonviolent drug offenses—they had both spent over 10 years in federal prison under draconian, regressive, and antiquated mandatory sentencing laws. The two of us spoke with the US pardon attorney moments later: Both of our clients would receive clemency—one would be home within six months, the other within three years. I broke down in tears of joy. I have the privilege of regularly seeing and sharing in joy with one of these former clients, who now lives in the Denver area. He is thriving at work, in his community, and as a father.
Outside of the law, what are your hobbies?
I enjoy gardening (bonsais, vegetables, and native and pollinator-attracting flowers), vermicomposting, cooking, training the best dog ever, hiking in national parks with my partner, and getting together with friends for trivia.
What organizations are you involved in?
The Colorado Juvenile Defender Center, LYRIC (Learn Your Rights in the Community), Colorado Attorneys Against Police Violence, the Colorado Criminal Defense Institute, AUL Denver, and the National Lawyers Guild.
If you weren’t a lawyer, you’d be?
What are you favorite Denver restaurants?
Breakfast King for breakfast, El Five for brunch, Vinh Xuong for lunch, Safta for dinner, Sweet Action for dessert, and Our Mutual Friend for drinks.
What’s the most random job you’ve ever had?
Geriatric cheetah and baby baboon caretaker.
What’s your favorite board game?
Either “Bob Ross: The Art of Chill” or “Wingspan.”
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
What’s the greatest challenge you face in your practice?
Access to justice. I do all I can to make my services as affordable as possible and to provide as much pro bono representation as possible. Still, the demand for free or cheap legal advocacy to fight the school-to-prison pipeline far exceeds the supply. I regularly struggle with the angst, anguish, and anxiety of having to advise clients about the limits on their claims and the market forces that do not necessarily have anything to do with the strength of a claim or the law, and of having to decline representation because I am at capacity. My greatest challenge is that of my clients: There are not enough resources available to help the people who need the most support, and the avenues for them to vindicate their rights are too narrow if not completely foreclosed.