Today we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. On August 28, 1963, more than 200,000 people gathered on the National Mall, along with the millions more who watched on television, to hear the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. deliver his "I Have a Dream" speech. Yet 50 years later, our country remains tragically divided.
Perhaps, the election of our first Black president tells the world that quantum leaps have been made by us to close the racial divide. But as a civil rights attorney in Florida for more than 20 years, I continue to see very little change in the number of African-American lawyers, judges, and jurors.
For example, according to the 2012 United States Census, Miami-Dade has an African-American population of nearly 20 percent. Yet, currently there are no African-American judges sitting in the family division of Miami's 11th Judicial Circuit; only three out of 28 judges are African-American on the civil circuit court bench. And according to the Florida Bar, as of 2007, only 6.7 percent of the 990 judges in Florida are African-American.
I have employed Black lawyers before; currently no one on my staff is Black. One reason may be that so few law students and lawyers are Black. This may be because Florida's overcrowded law schools are failing to admit Black students. In 2004-2005, the overall population in Florida law schools was 6,605, and only 8.75 percent were African-American.
One notable exception is Florida's newest law school, Florida A&M University College of Law, with an enrollment of 45.9 percent African-American full-time students, and 33.9 percent Black part-time students in 2005-2006. But that school graduated its first class in 2005. The scarcity of Black law students elsewhere may reflect the reversal of hard-won segregation laws that have affected our public schools. The UCLA Civil Rights Project recently reported that Black students today are just as segregated from White students as they were during Reverend King's speech, and that one out of every six Black students attends a high-poverty, or a de facto "apartheid school," with no white students, fewer resources, and under-qualified teachers.
Fewer Black law students graduating from law schools result in fewer Black lawyers. According to the 2006 Florida Bar fee statement, of the nearly 55,000 lawyers licensed in Florida, only 1,767 are Black. And in a recent survey by Economics and Law Office Management, only three percent of lawyers in our country are African-American.
Currently my law firm is not representing a single Black client in a cruise ship accident, theme park incident, or medical malpractice case. Is it by design, or are fewer Black people going on cruises, visiting Walt Disney World, or having artificial hips implanted?
Rarely do I try a personal injury or medical malpractice trial when an African-American juror is not stricken by the defense, often under a ridiculous pretext because of some purported myth that Black jurors are more likely to award bigger verdicts to victims.
As lawyers we are responsible for being the catalysts for justice. For Reverend's King's dream to come true, we as a society need to start by motivating and helping more people of color to become lawyers. Lawyers today can do something, such as participating in events like the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust's Ethical Governance Day on October 22, 2013. The event gives lawyers an opportunity to speak to public high school seniors about the law, public service, justice and ethics; and hopefully inspire the change Reverend King spoke of -- one day and one person at a time.