Professor Karen Czapanskiy retires

Professor Karen Czapanskiy, a distinguished teacher, scholar, and activist for the rights of women and children, has retired after 39 years at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.   

A prolific scholar, Czapanskiy published 35 articles during her time at the law school, including her influential 1991 “Volunteers and Draftees: The Struggle for Parental Equality.” Czapanskiy taught in the classroom and the Clinical Law Program, specializing in recent years in family law and families raising disabled children.  

Rebecca Cumberbatch ’23, a former middle school English teacher, jumped at the chance to do an independent study with Czapanskiy to delve into a topic close to her heart—compensatory education services for kids with special needs who struggled due to pandemic school closures.  

“I would never have been able to do this without her, and I am so thankful for the opportunity she gave me,” says Cumberbatch, who furthered her work as an intern in Baltimore City Public Schools last summer. “I feel so much more prepared because of Professor Czapanskiy’s class and the time we spent chatting about schools and special education,” adds Cumberbatch. “Professor Czapanskiy loves teaching and makes the content so easy to understand.” 

From her earliest days at the law school, Czapanskiy provided opportunities for students who in turn made an impact on the community. In the 1980s she created a full-service clinic for women who had been abused by an intimate partner, guiding students as they represented clients in criminal cases and family law matters, and advocated for changes in state law before courts and the legislature. She and her students also staffed a clemency project for women imprisoned for killing an abusive partner.  

In 1994, Czapanskiy was a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Durban-Westville, South Africa, an experience that deeply influenced her work because, she says, “it reinforced for me the interface between poverty and gender.” On her return, she worked with clinic students, lawyers at the Homeless Persons Representation Project, and other faculty to help women faced with the impacts of welfare reform on them and their families. The welfare work led Czapanskiy to start paying attention to problems facing women raising children with disabilities. 

 “It was hard to miss the reality that the women who were the most vulnerable to impoverishment and not being able to get any help from the public benefits system were women who had disabled family members—children or older people in their households who they were trying to take care of while they were trying to earn a living,” Czapanskiy says. 

Czapanskiy’s impact also extends to the larger community. In the 1980s, she co-authored the report of the Maryland Joint Special Committee on Gender Bias in the Courts. She has held leadership positions in a variety of organizations of legal educators and scholars. At the local level, she served on the Eliminating Bias Committee of the Maryland Commission on Child Custody Decision-Making, the Montgomery County Charter Review Commission, and the Frederick County Commission for Women. Additionally, she was a consultant to the ACLU lawyers suing the State of Michigan over special education for children exposed to lead during the Flint Water crisis. She has written, consulted, and spoken on issues arising from secondary sales of structured settlements. Since 2002, she has been active in electoral politics at the local and national levels. 

Colleagues attest to the importance of Czapanskiy’s work. “I first met Karen Czapanskiy as a very young legal services lawyer, and Karen’s scholarly work and practice insights have been guiding me since the beginning of my career,” says Leigh Goodmark, co-director of the Maryland Carey Law Clinical Law Program. “It’s impossible to overstate the impact of Karen’s work in the family law community or the hole that her retirement will leave at Maryland Carey Law.” 

Czapanskiy’s choice to pursue a legal career was no surprise to her family. She remembers as a kid attending court with her attorney father, who immigrated from Ukraine at the age of 7. Czapanskiy’s dad was representing the landlord in a landlord-tenant case, but it was the folks on the other side that made a lasting impression. “I spent the day watching tenants get badly messed over and decided that, if they had had lawyers, things might have turned out differently,” remembers Czapanskiy. “That stuck with me.”  

Inspired to do public interest work, the Washington, D.C. native graduated from the University of California at Berkeley and the Georgetown University Law Center, after which she clerked for the Honorable Rita C. Davidson, the first woman appointed to an appellate bench in Maryland. Before joining the faculty, Czapanskiy did Freedom of Information Act work during the Carter administration at the U.S. Department of Justice and taught at the University of Hawaii Law School and the Washington College of Law.  

Czapanskiy may be retired, but she hasn’t slowed down much. In the past 15 years, her research has taken her into the realms of property, tax, constitutional law, and contracts as they intersect with the interests of women and of families with disabled children. Her next article addresses the constitutionality of denying paternal rights to men when a child is conceived as the result of rape or other coercion. As professor emerita, she is writing about lead water service pipes and the property issues that impede their repair, and she continues to work on special education issues.  

“A great pleasure in law is, every time I turn around, there is something new to learn, and I can never get bored,” says Czapanskiy. “That will continue whether or not I am in the classroom.” 

Besides continuing her scholarly pursuits, Czapanskiy enjoys riding her horses near where she lives in Frederick County. Dana, Karen’s spouse of more than 50 years, is working hard to raise trees, vegetables and flowers everywhere on their 20-acre property. They take breaks from their hobbies, cooking, baking, and political activities to travel to see their children and grandchild and to see more of the world.  


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