By Gabrielle Davis
Special to the News
The Florida Bar Foundation recently announced its 2011-13 class of Equal Justice Works Fellows, who will embark this fall on two-year fellowships through which they will implement innovative projects at Foundation-funded legal aid organizations.
In addition to addressing the civil legal needs of the poor in Florida, the EJW Fellowship Program enriches Florida’s legal assistance community through the enthusiasm of individual Fellows, who renew and enliven a host program’s legal advocacy.
This year’s class — Vanessa Coe, alumna of Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad Law Center; Betsy Havens, alumna of University of Miami School of Law; and Franco Torres, alumnus of Boston University School of Law — will be tackling immigration and migrant workers’ rights and healthcare for disadvantaged children at legal aid organizations in Lake Worth, Miami, and Tallahassee.
The EJW Fellowship Program was established and is operated by Washington, D.C.–based Equal Justice Works, which provides partial funding.
Since 1999, The Florida Bar Foundation has provided matching funds for 65 Florida Equal Justice Works Fellows.
The Foundation’s funding partners, The Florida Bar and the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, also provide matching funds for the fellowship.
Through its Legal Assistance for the Poor (LAP) grant program, The Florida Bar Foundation provided $199,000 in matching grants to Foundation-funded legal aid organizations to host the 2011-13 fellows.
The EJW Fellowship Program is often an experience that cements the Fellows’ desires to practice public interest law. More than 30 percent of Florida Equal Justice Fellows become legal aid attorneys, often continuing the work of their projects.
Katherine DeBriere, 2008-10 EJW Fellow, has had a passion to work on the behalf of the developmentally disabled since she was a child. But she found her niche — working to prevent the unnecessary incarceration of the developmentally disabled — during her EJW fellowship at Florida Institutional Legal Services (FILS).
“With the Foundation’s support, I was able to jumpstart a legal career working on issues that I care about the most,” said DeBriere, who continues to work on her project as a full-time legal aid attorney for FILS and Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. “I can honestly say that I love what I do, and because of the Foundation, I have the opportunity to do it every day.”
Sharon Caserta, 2006-2008 EJW Fellow, and Cara Dobrev, a 2002-2004 EJW Fellow, are also examples of Foundation-funded EJW Fellows continuing their careers in public interest law. Caserta, a full-time legal aid attorney with Jacksonville Area Legal Aid, provides legal advocacy for the deaf/hard-of-hearing and blind citizens of Florida and has created a handbook for Florida attorneys called, “Providing Effective Communication for Clients who are Deaf, Hard of Hearing, or Deaf/Blind.”
Dobrev is the litigation director for the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association’s Guardian ad Litem and Transitions programs.
Gabrielle Davis is the communications coordinator for The Florida Bar Foundation and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.