O’Toole to Retire after 35 Years at Nat’l Center for Youth Law

After more than three decades at the California-based National Center for Youth Law, John O’Toole announced today that he would retire this summer.

“While I still love my work, I want to leave while I’m healthy so that my wife Jean and I can enjoy ourselves and do the things we don’t have time for now,” said O’Toole, in a statement issued by NYCL today.

NCYL was founded in 1970, and O’Toole joined the staff in 1980. From that year until 1996 it was federally funded by the Legal Services Corporation. The funding was eliminated during the welfare reform deal.

The organization has straddled the line between assisting governments and taking them to court. One of its initial projects was assisting the Department of Justice to implement the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act of 1974.

It has also led or assisted in class-action lawsuits and other broad legal challenges against scores of juvenile justice departments, child welfare agencies and school systems. Its current portfolio includes:

  • A civil rights complaint against Dallas County Truancy Court for the way it prosecutes youth for the status offense.
  • Katie A. v Bonta, a long-running class action case regarding the provision of mental health services for youths who are either in or are at risk of entering foster care in California.
  • TR v Dreyfus, litigation in Washington State related to the placement of juvenile offenders into state mental institutions.

“We are larger and more effective than ever,” said O’Toole. Over the last four years our budget has doubled in size, and we have added several new exciting areas of work.”

The board, which is chaired by Georgetown Law professor Peter Edelman will conduct a national search for a successor and expects to choose by June, according to the statement.

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John Kelly
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John Kelly is editor-in-chief of The Chronicle of Social Change.