Harriet McBryde Johnson: A Tribute

In June 1999, while I was studying for the South Carolina Bar Exam, an event occurred many miles away that would significantly impact my life. The United States Supreme Court decided Olmstead v. LC on June 22, 1999. (If you’re not familiar with this landmark decision, please read it or about it)

I know, you’re wondering “What does this have to do with Harriet?”

Read on.

My first job out of law school was at Protection and Advocacy for People with Disabilities, Inc. (P&A) as the PAIMI attorney. Most of my time was spent in mental health institutions working on civil rights for people with serious mental illness. And then in January 2000, I was asked to work to implement the Olmstead decision in South Carolina.

That’s when Harriet entered my life.

I’d heard about Harriet. Much. She was tenacious. She was a force to be reckoned with. But I’d not yet met her. Harriet was a board member at P&A and at one time had worked there. Now she was a successful attorney in Charleston. I couldn’t wait to meet this woman who struck fear in some and awe in others.

And then she came to a meeting. A small woman with a long braid in a big wheelchair. We exchanged greetings and the meeting started. We discussed the usual stuff. And then she spoke. Wow. She didn’t yell. She didn’t rant. She spoke. With feeling. With knowledge. With personal conviction. Harriet won me over.

Over the next several years, I would work with Harriet on some projects, even give joint presentations. I read her books. Her short stories. I brought her to tears once with a personal story. (I didn’t mean to do that) We lunched together. Then we no longer lunched together because of special diet restrictions.

I told her I admired her. She questioned me “why? Because I’m in a chair and I do things?” I stammered and stumbled all over my words. I wish I’d been able to answer her appropriately that I admired her simply because she inspired me to be a better person. A better attorney.

Harriet didn’t relinquish much. And she didn’t turn away from a fight. She was a great woman and a great attorney.

July 8, 2009 would have been Harriet’s 52nd birthday.

And July 8, 2009 there will be a concert in Charleston to benefit the Harriet McBryde Johnson scholarship. Details below from SCWLA:

Music will focus on Latin music and protest songs.  Leah Suarez and Lindsay Holler will be the featured performers.  The event is July 8th at 7 pm at Circular Church, 150 Meeting Street, Charleston, South Carolina.  The suggested donation is $10.00. 

If you cannot attend, but would like to send a contribution:
Checks should be written to:  USC Educational Foundation, Memo line “Harriet M. Johnson Scholarship”  

Mailed to:   Office of Development USC, School of Law 701 S. Main Street Columbia, SC 29208   For more information, contact Susan Dunn at 830-1571, skingdunn@aol.com.

-RFW

Friday Wrap 5.29.09

All the week’s “atj” newsworthy items wrapped up

Friday Wrap Friday Wrap

Texas – Texas Access to Justice Commission and Foundation Recognize Major Contributors to Texas Legal Aid

Chicago, Illinois – ABA Invites Obama to it Annual Meeting

Washington, D.C. – 2nd ABA National Conference on Employment of Lawyers with Disabilities (Hurry for the EARLY BIRD special because after June 1st the registration increases)

United States Supreme Court – President Obama nominates Judge Sonia Sotomayor for the U.S. Supreme Court (For more news links, click here. For blog coverage, click here.)

Brooklyn, New York – A Call for Pro Bono at Boro Hall

Lexington, Kentucky – Interview with a True Change Agent

Nashville, Tennessee – New Legal Advice Clinic to Help with Debt Issues

Richmond, Virginia – LINC Recognizes Outstanding Volunteers

Public Justice Center – Donor Inspires Us with $10,000 Gift 

Ventura County, California – New County Program Helping Low-Income Families Adopt

 Winston-Salem, North Carolina – Practical Paralegalism: Paying it Forward

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Credit Card Reforms Could Help Statements

Fairfield, Connecticut – Hard Times Force People Into Family Court “Solo”

Honolulu, Hawaii – Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher Supports Access to Justice Commission

Australia – Pro Bono Work Good for Law Students

New York, New York – Pro Bono Recruitment Drive

San Diego, California – Law Made Public: Legal Research Class for the Self-Represented Litigant

-RFW

Happy Birthday Gideon v. Wainwright

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On March 18, 1963 the United States Supreme Court decided Gideon v. Wainwright. This landmark case held that the right of an indigent defendant in a criminal trial to have the assistance of counsel is a fundamental right essential to a fair trial, and petitioner’s trial and conviction without the assistance of counsel violated the Fourteenth Amendment.

From the opinion:

[A]ny person haled into court, who is too poor to hire a lawyer, cannot be assured a fair trial unless counsel is provided for him. This seems to us to be an obvious truth. . . . From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law. This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.

Although this case relates to the criminal court system, there are efforts for similar protections for individuals in the civil court system. These efforts are often referred to as Civil Gideon.

The American Bar Association adopted a resolution in 2006 for Civil Gideon in instances when “basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody, as determined by each jurisdiction.”

Isn’t that a lovely birthday wish?

Happy Birthday Gideon v. Wainwright!

-RFW