Sections rally to support disabled lawyer

first_imgSections rally to support disabled lawyer February 15, 2006 Regular News Sections rally to support disabled lawyercenter_img ‘I just want to work and pursue a career, and I will not stop until that is a reality’ Jan Pudlow Senior Editor The plight of Aaron Bates, the young lawyer with muscular dystrophy featured on the front page of the January 15 News, caught the attention of many attending the Bar Midyear Meeting in Miami who want to help.His dilemma: The personal care attendant — to help him dress and bathe and get in and out of his motorized wheelchair — was provided by the state Division of Vocational Rehabilitation throughout his education, but stopped once he landed a job as an assistant state attorney in the Fifth Judicial Circuit. Therefore, even though 25-year-old Bates wants to work, he could not accept the $40,000-a-year job and had to return home to live with his parents in Alabama.“This strikes me as absurd,” Tony Musto, a Hallandale attorney, told executive council members of both the Criminal Law Section and Government Lawyer Section. “The Bar should not stand by and let this happen.”Florida Supreme Court Clerk Thomas Hall, chair of the Appellate Law Section, added his support.“I definitely agree with Tony that the Government Lawyer Section should take the lead. Here is a guy who wants to be a public servant and he is prohibited from doing so.”Musto wants to raise money to help Bates hire the personal care attendant, estimated at $35,000 a year, while efforts are made to change legislation to make him eligible for benefits, so that he can go to work.David Rothman, a member of the Bar Board of Governors, called the idea “a great thing to do,” and offered to help bring the issue before the board at its February 17 meeting in Tallahassee.Matt Dietz, who specializes in disability law, also put out a plea in an e-mail to members of Bar leadership and fellow Equal Opportunities Law Section members, saying, “This is wrong on so many different levels, and we need to do something about it. On a human level, we, as a society, made a promise to this young man that if he did the work and received the education, and got the job, he would be able to live like everybody else, and not be condemned to institutionalization and poverty solely because of his disability.”On an economic level, Dietz said, it is much less expensive to provide a personal care attendant “than to pay all the benefits of a nonproductive, unemployed person with significant health needs. In the long run, he will eventually make enough money to become self-sufficient, and he will contribute to society as a whole.”At both the Criminal Law and Government Lawyer executive council meetings, most lawyers were sympathetic, but several expressed concern about setting a precedent and wondered how they would help the next similarly situated individual.“I think it’s a real injustice,” said George Tragos of the Criminal Law Section Executive Council. “But I’m opposed to us becoming a social services agency.”He said he supported any help that could be given to Bates’ cause, “short of giving money,” and members voted to send a letter to the Board of Governors.In the meantime, Bar staff members are monitoring legislative efforts in both the House and Senate Health Care committees to amend F.S. §413.402 to allow individuals such as Bates to qualify for personal care attendants, a benefit currently available only for those who suffered a spinal cord injury.Bates, who has been very involved with legislative staff on drafting a change in the law, said he is grateful for the Bar’s efforts to help.“Being attorneys, people naturally assume that if anyone’s rights are being dutifully protected, an attorney’s rights are. In my case, however, you see that certain social barriers trump even the brightest minds or renowned professions,” Bates said.“It is important that the legal system, and society in general, reward hard work and perseverance. I was always led to believe that it did, but have found that it does not necessarily pay dividends immediately. I am hopeful that with the influence and reputation of The Florida Bar, and help of fellow attorneys, the illogical barrier I ran into can be removed. Whatever the solution may be, I just want to work and pursue a career, and I will not stop until that is a reality.”last_img read more

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