Lincoln’s Human Rights Commission director takes job as ACLU Nebraska legal director | Local Government

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Mindy Rush Chipman, director of the Lincoln Human Rights Commission for the past three years, is the new legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska.

Rush Chipman, who started her new job Monday, said the advocacy work of the ACLU is a perfect fit.

“Really, my strengths and passion lie in coming back into the nonprofit legal advocacy and legal service realm,” she said.

City Attorney Yohance Christie is acting as interim director as the city searches for a new director.

Before Rush Chipman came to the Lincoln Commission on Human Rights she had a private legal practice in rural Nebraska, and worked for Legal Aid of Nebraska and for the Immigration Legal Center. The ACLU means she can again focus on advocacy and address issues statewide.

“All those experiences I’ve had are culminating at the ACLU,” she said. “I really loved working for the city of Lincoln but it was city-focused.”

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ACLU of Nebraska interim Executive Director Maria Funk said she and others who were on a search committee for the next legal director were struck by what a great fit Rush Chipman’s skills are for the job. 

Mindy Rush Chipman

Mindy Rush Chipman 

“Mindy has a sterling reputation in Nebraska’s legal and advocacy communities for a reason,” Funk said. “People know her as an effective attorney who is passionate about equity and access to justice.”

Rush Chipman is leaving at a time when the commission’s been in the spotlight since the City Council passed a controversial ordinance that updates Title 11 of the city code. 

Among other changes to the ordinance that deals with equity issues and spells out the responsibilities of the commission, it expands the definition of sex to include sexual orientation and gender expression. A successful referendum petition means the City Council must now decide whether to rescind the ordinance or let voters decide.

Rush Chipman said those issues didn’t play into her decision to leave, although being able to be a vocal advocate at the ACLU for anti-discrimination efforts will be a “welcome relief.” Although the commission investigates complaints of discrimination it must remain neutral, she said.

“Now, being in the nonprofit realm, I feel like it will allow me to be a better advocate for the community,” she said.

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The seeds of Rush Chipman’s legal career were planted when she landed a job as a correctional officer at the Nebraska Department of Corrections’ diagnostic and evaluation unit when she was 19. Later, she worked in the prison library.

She said the work really opened her eyes to the issues people face once they are sentenced.

“Once I started working at the law library I had more questions than I had answers,” she said. “I transitioned into corrections thinking it would provide me more financial security, but what it did was change the trajectory of my plans.”

While she worked for the Department of Corrections she earned a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies from Doane College. She went on to get her law degree from the Nebraska College of Law in 2007 and a master’s in library science and information from the University of Missouri in 2009.

Rush Chipman, who graduated from Lincoln High School at the age of 16, did legal research for attorneys while she earned her undergraduate degree and then she and her family — a husband and four kids — moved to a small town near Nebraska City where she opened a private practice.

She worked on all sorts of cases, from family and juvenile law to criminal defense and estate and probate work.

“I found that my most rewarding work as a solo practitioner usually ended up being for clients who couldn’t afford legal representation,” she said.

That led her to Legal Aid of Nebraska and the Immigration Legal Center. At the Immigration Legal Center, she worked with clients experiencing discrimination in several aspects of their lives, which made the transition to the Lincoln Commission on Human Rights seem natural.

Much of her work at the commission involved trying to intervene early to help prevent discrimination from happening and raising awareness about what people can do if they do experience it, she said.

Once the pandemic hit, many law proceedings were put on hold — but not evictions. Rush Chipman and Ryan Sullivan, an NU law professor, began showing up at the courthouse to offer free legal advice to tenants facing eviction. With the help of federal aid money it grew into the Tenant Assistance Program.

The ACLU of Nebraska’s legal work covers a wide range of constitutional issues, including the criminal legal system, free expression, immigrants’ rights, LGBTQ equality, open government, racial justice, reproductive freedom, students’ rights and voting rights.

That’s where Rush Chipman’s passion lies.

“When Nebraskans think about who is out there protecting their rights and freedoms, they think about the ACLU,” she said. “I am looking forward to doing everything I can to raise awareness of legal issues affecting our community and effectuate change.”

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