BY JURRY TAALIB-DEEN
Journal Staff Writer
Approximately, 500 people attended the 17th annual Access to Justice Award ceremony and dinner, held on Wednesday, April 20 at The Pinnacle, 1772 Indian Wood Circle., Maumee, Ohio. Awards are given to those in the legal community who help indigent individuals with various legal services.
In addition, the event is a fundraiser that benefits organizations that provide free legal services to those in need. Those organizations are Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, ABLE, and The Toledo Bar Association’s Pro Bono Program.
Margaret Lockhart, co-chair of the Steering Committee who plans the event told The Toledo Journal that recipients of the award are nominated by attorneys and others within the legal community. Then, a committee selects the most deserving from the list of nominees.
Those honorees were Mike Hampton, receiving the Community Advocacy Award for his volunteer service with the Reentry Coalition of Northwest Ohio, who assist former incarcerated individuals acclimate within society, Rochelle Abou-Arraj, attorney, received the Public Interest law Award for her service as a volunteer Court Appointed Special Advocate, CASA, who advocates for abused and neglected children, and Michael Todak, attorney, and Judge Connie Zemmelman received the Distinguished Service Award for their work in legal aid in Northwest Ohio.
Mike Hampton told The Toledo Journal that when he received the call he would be honored at the ceremony he thought it as a joke because, although he works with the Reentry Program, he’s an ex-con, and the award is usually given to attorneys and judges.
“With the fact I’m an ex-con, but yet, I’m still being recognized by such a great body of wonderful people, is truly an honor,” he said.
Judge Zemmelman said, “It’s amazing and exciting. I feel honored to be receiving the award. I’ve been working with people in need of equal justice more entire legal career, so to be honored is so wonderful.”
In addition to recognizing the honorees, Wil Haygood, author of the book, turned movie, “The Butler,” was the keynote speaker. Mr. Haygood talked about his new book, “Showdown: Thurgood Marshal and the Supreme Court nomination that changed America,” as well as talking about the importance of all people receiving access to equal justice.
He briefly talked with The Toledo Journal about the importance of more African Americans being on the Supreme Court.
“They’re not enough African Americans on The Supreme Court. There are stunning legal minds within our community that could be nominated for the position. I would like to see an African American woman,” he said.
In addition, being that all of the Justices attended Harvard, or Yale, Mr. Haygood said he would like to see Justices reflect the majority of the population, and see nominees who have attended other schools.
“Thurgood Marshal graduated from Howard University and was one of our country’s greatest legal minds, so it is very possible to select a very competent Justice who attended another university,” Mr. Haygood said.