Spirit of Justice Award Winners 2014
Erwin O. Switzer, a Principal with Greensfelder, Hemker & Gale, P.C., has served enthusiastically on many boards over the years as a way to effect positive change in the community. He has served on the St. Louis Housing Authority Board, where he helped restore out of troubled status; the St. Louis Library Board where he helped guide major branch renovations including the master renovation of the Central Library downtown and improved the affirmative action policy for the Library; as a member of the Board of Directors of Paraquad, where his interest in improving access for the disabled began and led to how absentee ballots of disabled voters were more accurately counted; and on the Board of Commissioners for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, where he oversaw the transition from state to local control and hired the current police chief.
In addition, earlier in his career, he involved himself in cases as an Assistant Attorney General for then-Attorney General Jay Nixon to stop fraudulent credit card charges made to consumers, retrieving monies paid by the elderly to unscrupulous home improvement contractors, and promoting accessibility for the disabled in housing.
Whether his role was as a pro bono attorney, a member of the Attorney General’s office, on the board of a government or private organization, or as a member of his law firm, Switzer has continually identified areas of legal justice that he believed should be met and taken on personal responsibility to make that happen. He is deeply vested in many St. Louis institutions and his own particular neighborhood as a good citizen.
Lt. Shawn Dace, as the Commander of the Public Housing Unit of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, works each day to set an example not only for the public he serves as a police officer, but as a father of three (two boys and a girl). He believes it’s so much easier to be nice than to “go out of your way” to be mean. For many years now, Dace has helped provide security at BAMSL’s annual Motion for Kids holiday party that gives children whose family has been impacted by the criminal justice system a special day of fun in the Edward Jones Dome with St. Louis Rams players and cheerleaders and gifts to take home. At these parties, it is not unusual to see the Lieutenant engaging with the children, giving hugs, striking up conversations, and letting them know that the police are their friends too. He extends this off-duty work with his participation in the Police Athletic League (PAL) and the St. Louis Nites Adult Basketball League (in conjunction with Parks and Recreation) to provide athletic and role model mentoring to inner city youth. He sees his job as one to not only enforce the law, but also to be a positive example and a goodwill ambassador to everyone he encounters.
His command regularly provides monthly community service programs in the Public Housing Units with workshops on domestic abuse, how to prevent burglaries and other crimes; all while getting to know the residents, building relationships and their trust. Over coffee or a soft drink, his officers get to know those they serve better.
Lt. Dace has received numerous Chief’s Letters of Commendation and Captain’s Letters of Commendation, has been the District Five Officer of the Year, received the 2007 Heritage House Award for work with children of divorced or separated parents, and the St. Louis Public Schools Community Education Centers Award for two years. He has worked as a District Five Officer, an Area 2 Narcotics Enforcement Detective, a Central Patrol Detective, a Mobile Reserve Officer, a SWAT Team Sniper/Officer, and a North Patrol Gun and Gang Supervisor (Sergeant) in addition to his current assignment as the Commander of the Housing Authority Unit.
Senator Jamilah Nasheed, Missouri District 5, believes affordable housing is a key ingredient to building strong communities. She knows that when vacant houses exist that crime cannot be very far behind. So she became an enthusiastic supporter of SB731, a bill recently passed into law in Missouri that gives the City of St. Louis’ Counselor’s Office Problem Properties Unit and BAMSL’s Volunteer Lawyers for City Neighborhoods a faster and more effective way to go after nuisance properties and absentee landlords with unmaintained buildings. She has also worked with Mayor Slay to demolish some derelict buildings that had attracted crime and used low income housing tax credits to attract new construction in several neighborhoods in her district.
Nasheed is a strong advocate for better education as well, saying that “social promotions” have to end and high quality and early education opportunities have to take their place – for all children. On the education front, she has worked to make Missouri’s Department of Education’s A+ Scholarships available to students in unaccredited school districts so as not to further handicap those that work hard and want to finish school. She set up “Fresh Start,” a program that encourages school dropouts to return to school and graduate. That program now claims several hundred graduates each year who would not have finished their high school educations otherwise.
She is currently working with the Mayor’s office on an initiative called “Ban the Box” that will remove the box on many employment applications, first with government jobs, that identifies applicants as having a prior criminal background. This, she says, exacerbates the situation by giving those who have served their time and paid their debt to society. By removing “the box” that identifies them as having served time, the door for legitimate employment would be opened and removes the temptation to return to crime as a last resort. She believes this program would be a great advance towards justice for St. Louis City citizens.
Representative Michael Colona was instrumental, along with Senator Nasheed, in moving SB731 through the Missouri House and helped to save it in this year’s veto override session. His 80th Missouri District includes a large part of South St. Louis and, as a lawyer who has practiced in the city housing court for eight years, has also dealt with many of the housing issues that SB731 will work to solve. Colona gets involved personally in his district, often walking door to door, to meet constituents and encourage them to become active in neighborhood organizations and other programs designed to help them maintain their owner-occupied homes. He also works to discourage absentee landlords from blighting their properties that can often negatively impact entire neighborhoods.
While making an effort to cultivate housing in his district, he has also focused on helping small businesses in his district. He says most businesses are not aware of the many tax incentive programs available to them to help them grow and be more profitable. He knows that as local businesses grow, it builds employment opportunities for his constituents – and that combination can create stronger, more vibrant neighborhoods. Colona is also interested in Medicaid expansion, a very misunderstood situation that will help many families in both rural and urban Missouri. And seeks to pass the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act. He believes that rural and urban Missouri voters share many of the same challenges, but urban centers like St. Louis and Kansas City can do more to help themselves by getting out and voting in every election.
Maurice B. Graham is a Partner at Gray Ritter & Graham PC. He is a staunch supporter of equal justice under the law, a fundraiser for legal services for the poor, and a long-time provider of pro bono legal services.
“Marcy,” as he likes to be called, is a Past-President of the Saint Louis Bar Foundation and the Missouri Bar Association. As Bar Foundation president he ushered the group to greater giving and support in our community through community service projects, grants and scholarships.
He has practiced law for over 50 years and from the start he has been concerned about the needs of others and the importance of the legal profession to meet those needs – especially for the poor and working poor. He recognizes the lack of equality in our society today as a “terrible thing.” He has been an energetic advocate of fairness, saying that inequality is inconsistent with everything our country was founded upon; and that fairness for everyone benefits everyone in our society and all communities. And, he cites the inscription over the U.S. Supreme Court building, “Equal Justice Under the Law” as a personal guideline.
While he modestly refuses to represent himself as doing anything extraordinary, and always gives credit to the entire legal profession in St. Louis for their generosity with pro bono services and support to great opportunities for others. Yet, he has always been one of the most steadfast and dependable and has always set the example for his peers.
Legal Services of Eastern Missouri (LSEM) provides free legal aid for civil cases to those who cannot afford a lawyer otherwise. Without their assistance, many people would not be able to properly fight injustice in their lives. LSEM, led by Executive Director Dan Glazier and Board President Tom Glick, serve literally thousands of low income population in 21 counties in eastern Missouri through a staff of attorneys and social workers, augmented by volunteer (pro bono) lawyers from all over the metropolitan area.
They help people with all types of civil legal problems and challenges in the areas of family law, housing, consumer, education, immigration, public benefits, income maintenance, and other problems specific to the elderly. Actions by an LSEM attorney can make the difference between a family keeping a roof over their head in a case of an unscrupulous landlord, or assuring that a special needs child receives the tailored education plan (IEP) guaranteed them by law but often skirted by some schools. LSEM regularly saves their clients from consumer fraud situations, and rescues them from domestic abuse environments. In the process, when clients must miss work because of a legal situation beyond their control, LSEM has often been able to save their jobs too!
A large part of the necessary funding for LSEM comes from the national Legal Services Corporation, but they also make solicitations independently and receive some grants, are a member agency of the United Way Campaign, and hold an annual Justice for All Ball as a fundraiser.
With these resources, LSEM fulfills an important role in delivering justice to those who could otherwise least afford it, but often need it the most.