‘I didn’t know anyone was watching’: Wagner wins Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award

first_img April 1, 2002 Managing Editor Regular News ‘I didn’t know anyone was watching’ Wagner wins Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award Mark D. Killian Managing EditorIn 1950, a young lawyer defending a black man in Florida had the audacity to refer to his client as “mister,” an act that so outraged the justice of the peace the lawyer was cited for contempt and jailed.Instead of cowing him into accepting the social norms of the day, the incident ignited a passion for social justice within Maurice Wagner that burns to this day.For more than half a century, Wagner, 80, has been a crusader for civil rights by taking on the cause of those who do not have the financial resources to pay for legal representation.“The overriding theme of his career became the quest for equal rights and he is still working on it today,” said Chief Justice Charles Wells, who presented Wagner the 2002 Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award — the profession’s highest honor — during a special ceremony at the Supreme Court.“I started back in 1950 and here we are 52 years later,” said Wagner, in most likely the shortest acceptance speech in the history of the Simon Award. “I didn’t know anyone was watching.”Also honored during the ceremony March 14 was the Miami firm of Markowitz, Davis, Ringel & Trusty, which received the Chief Justice’s Law Firm Commendation, and the Jacksonville Bar Association, which won the court’s Voluntary Bar Association Pro Bono Service Award.A lawyer from each circuit also was honored with The Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Awards, and Lawrence H. Kolin received the Young Lawyers Division Legal Aid Public Service Award for his work as a guardian ad litem.Chief Justice Wells told the award recipients it is they “who are carrying out on a daily basis the promise that each of us who are lawyers have made — and that is the promise of justice for all.”Wells said since 1845 the Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized that the practice of law is a privilege that carries with it certain responsibilities and obligations, including providing access to the justice system to those who could otherwise not afford it.“Too often we read and hear statements disparaging our legal system in general and lawyers in particular,” the Chief Justice said. “Yet, despite an all too prevalent public perception to the contrary, you and I know that our profession is unselfish.”Wells noted that in 2000 Florida’s lawyers provided $1.2 million worth of pro bono work and contributed another $1.6 million in cash contributions to legal aid organizations. That, he said, is in addition to the “many more hours” of volunteer work lawyers provide in their communities.Bar President Terry Russell said the award recipients are role models for the profession because they lead by example.“Today is a day of celebration,” Russell said. “Today we honor special people; we honor lawyers that care. Lawyers who share a passion and commitment to access to justice for those less fortunate.” Simon Award One of Wagner’s earliest experiences as a law clerk in Miami was having the honor of actually working with Tobias Simon on a beach access case. Though they were unsuccessful in removing the barriers in that case, the experience was one Wagner said he never forgot. He attributes his work with Simon as part of his lifelong commitment to pro bono.Wagner’s wife, Fay, said her husband’s passion for helping others took root during the early days of the civil rights movement when he “saw injustice and wanted to correct it.” She said growing up poor also contributed to his calling to assist those less fortunate than himself.Jeffery Wagner, his son, said he takes on the causes of others because it is the right thing to do. “He has a great sense of right and wrong and pursues justice the right way,” he said.“In the last 20 years I really haven’t done anything except pro bono work,” Wagner said after the ceremony, adding that he is currently representing a small farmer trying to save his 10-acre orange grove. “I’m always available.”Admitted to The Florida Bar in 1950, Wagner settled in Volusia County, where he quickly became known as a advocate for minority clients without the financial resources to pay for legal representation. In the 1950s, Wagner represented anyone who came to him for assistance whether they could afford to pay for his services or not, including the late Mary McLeod Bethune and Bethune-Cookman College. Wagner worked closely with Bethune-Cookman faculty member Alvis Lee on civil rights matters.Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Wagner handled all of the NAACP local chapter organization and legal documentation, and worked with the organization in its efforts to release jailed civil rights protesters. In the 1960s, Wagner became a lifetime NAACP member and continues to serve the local NAACP.In 1957, Wagner represented a client in Brevard County who had lost her husband in a jailhouse fire because no staff was on the scene when the fire broke out. The man had no way to escape the flames and smoke. As a result of his efforts, Wagner was successful in changing Florida state law in a landmark stare decisis ruling. ( Hargrove v. Town of Cocoa Beach, 96 So. 2d 130).In addition to his pro bono work with various clients and the NAACP, Wagner has made himself available to Central Florida Legal Services’ pro bono endeavors in whatever capacity his services are needed. He has represented CFLS clients and provided brief advice at legal advice clinics since the CFLS Pro Bono Program began in 1966. He continues to meet with clients and provide brief services at the CFLS legal advice clinics in DeLand.Wagner said young lawyers should make time for pro bono work because “it will give them a lot of satisfaction that you don’t get when you get a fee.”Wagner also said he has no plans to rest on his laurels.“I’m going to do this right on,” he said. “I’m always on call and I’m glad to do it.”For more coverage of the award winners, please see the following articles: Law Firm Commendation Voluntary Bar Association Service Award President’s Service and YLD Service Awards ‘I didn’t know anyone was watching’: Wagner wins Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Awardlast_img read more


All 30 Senators to Attend CRC Gbarnga Confab

first_imgThe Senate plenary on Tuesday unanimously agreed that all Senators attend the Constitution Review Commission (CRC) Conference scheduled to take place in Gbarnga, Bong County from March 29 to April 2.The Senate reached the decision after the Chairperson of the CRC, Madam Gloria Musu-Scott had presented a summary of the work of the Commission since it started in 2012.Madam Scott said over 500 people have been invited to attend the conference and informed lawmakers that several other equally important issues which were not highlighted in her briefing will be placed on the table for deliberation.The CRC boss started her briefing Tuesday by acknowledging contributions from donors and partners among them USAID, UNDP and the Liberian government, among others.According to Chairperson Scott, the process started in earnest in September, 2012 with the setting up of the administrative structure into various sub-committees.In April, 2013, said Madam Scott, the Commission decided to go public, starting with the outreach process, which she said was intended to tell Liberians about the Constitution. This was followed by the civil education aspect which commenced in February, 2014 and culminated in nation-wide public consultations.She said the Commission gave out forms during   visitations to the 73 electoral districts of the country, and in return received a total of 56,729 suggestions. Of that number, she said 34% of the responses came from women.Citizens’ NeedsOn the question of what Liberians stated on those forms as their needs, Madam Scott said the Commission observed that there are things   Liberians hold dear, things they believe the country can do for them; and likewise things they think they can do for their country.Reduce political partiesShe said the people are now concerned about social economic values accepting the fact that they have now received political rights, even to the point that they have asked under the section for elections that political parties be reduced to not more than four or not less than two.Elections: Independent board of commissioners and an elections courtFurthermore, she told the lawmakers that Liberians are suggesting that an independent and impartial board of commissioners be set up to guide the electoral process, that the board of commissioners be elected; and that the hearing of contested matters from elections should not be initially heard by the board of commissioners, but by an elections court.Access to justice: return of “sassay wood”In terms of access to justice, Madam Scott said the Liberian people have stated they do not have enough access to the Supreme Court, and to express that, they are asking for the return of “sassay wood,” which is ‘trial by ordeal.’Land ownershipIn the area of social economic rights, she said citizens observed that even though the country is wealthy, the population remains poor. They are therefore suggesting that in order to benefit from the wealth of the country, the customary or traditional people should own the land of their ancestry as a matter of Constitution.CurrencyOn the issue of currency of the country, she said citizens cried that the dual currency was keeping them poor, and suggested that all transactions in Liberia including the payment of salaries should be done in Liberian dollars. Foreign currencies, they said, should be in the banks for business transactions.Citizenship With regard to citizenship, she said the people of Liberia have said that the provisions for citizenship should remain as it is, which is arguably said to be the most racial in the world.Local government officials should be electedThey also suggested that their elected leaders should be accountable to them, especially those in the local government. Superintendents, district commissioners and city mayors should be elected and they as the electorate should have the right to remove them. They however, suggested that paramount chiefs should be elected according to the traditional protocol.Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)last_img read more