Two dozen Miami Law faculty and alumni will be recognized next week for their donations of legal expertise to the Ensuring Equal Justice Pro Bono Initiative. The program, developed by Public Defender Carlos J. Martinez, JD '90, creates a pipeline between the legal community and clients who need an attorney.
The breakfast ceremony will take place on Oct. 14 at the downtown Miami office of Greenberg Traurig. Almost 100 attorneys will be recognized at the event, at which Justice R. Fred Lewis, JD '72, will be the guest speaker.
"We needed some help from the outside," Martinez said in an interview, referring to the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida, which processes about 100,000 cases a year. He emphasized that while in many cases pro bono volunteers cannot replace actual legal representation, they do help to relieve the workload. Through EEJI, attorneys have donated more than 3,000 work hours on cases, often when the public defender's office lacks sufficient resources to process them.
When assigning volunteers, Sarah Wood Borak, the EEJI coordinator, identifies who might best be suited to a particular client. She said that the lawyers typically make time to hold several meetings prior to trial and have the resources to interview multiple potential witnesses. "It's very important because they provide an enhanced access to justice," she said.
Wood Borak said that Professor Rebecca Sharpless and Supervising Attorney Farrin Anello of Miami Law provided advice to clients regarding the immigration consequences of their criminal cases. "They filled a gap by providing their legal expertise," Wood Borak said.
Marni Lennon, Miami Law's assistant dean for public interest and pro bono, will be among those honored at the Oct. 14 breakfast. Recently, the Law School Division of the American Bar Association recognized the HOPE Public Interest Resource Center, which Lennon also directs, with the National Achievement Award in Public Interest.
"I've been very happy throughout the years as I've seen the HOPE program develop into what it is today," said Martinez, who served as president of the Society of Bar and Gavel while in law school and was inducted into the University of Miami Iron Arrow Honor Society. He had learned the importance of giving while being raised in a Catholic church in which his mother was a receptionist and his father a janitor. "When I came to UM," he said, "I followed that same focus in terms of helping those who have less than we do."