michele-samaroo_web.jpgThe late Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. was a well-known and well-respected judge in South Florida who continues to inspire young lawyers to achieve great success in their professional careers.

Just 10 days after Ferguson succumbed to leukemia in June 2003, the general membership of the Black Lawyers Association voted unanimously to rename itself the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Bar Association in honor of the first African-American judge appointed to the 11th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida and the first African-American to serve in the Florida Third District Court of Appeal. Judge Ferguson was also nominated by President Bill Clinton to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida on October 25, 1993, to the seat that was vacated by William Marcellin Hoeveler.

Although Judge Ferguson died five years ago, his legacy continues as the baton of providing much-needed legal services to the community was passed to the new board members of the Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr. Bar Association at its installation luncheon on Wednesday, July 16.

The board members for the 2008-2009 tenure were selected by majority vote from paying members of the organization in a general election held on June 26, three weeks prior to induction.

Michele Samaroo, the newly inducted president who succeeds Christina McKinnon, said, “I’d like to make sure that we continue to be present in the community and do more community service for its members.”

She added: “We will continue to make sure that our lawyers are the best possible lawyers they can be, just as [Ferguson] was, and that we try to be active in terms of civil and political rights and serve the community in the same way he did.”

The organization advocates for the inclusion of people of color in every aspect of the legal profession, seeks to increase their enrollment and graduation from law school while it seeks to protect the civil and human rights of all people.

The other installed officers are: Vice President Jennifer Ellis, Treasurer Alexander Rundlet, Secretary Racole Henry, and board members Michael Wasserman and Chad Noel.

McKinnon said, “I think [Samaroo] is a confident attorney. She has served on the board for the past year and has been the most active member as she served as my right-hand person. I am pleased to hand the gavel over to her.”

The organization has various committees that are geared towards assisting the community. Its pro bono committee provides free legal services to those unable to afford to pay for a lawyer, and its professional development committee helps the organization’s lawyers to hone their legal skills to help ensure the availability of quality legal representation to the community.

Christopher Benjamin is the president-elect who will succeed Michele Samaroo at the end of her tenure. He said, “Ferguson was a judge of the people and he was very concerned with the plight of the common person and that’s what the association is about.”

When asked what he has planned for his tenure which will take effect during the 2009-2010 period, he said, “I’m a very grassroots person by nature so my concern is to make sure that we properly take up the issues of the common person and make sure that they’re represented and that their rights are not violated.”

The Wilkie D. Ferguson Jr., United States Courthouse was constructed in downtown Miami in 2005, and dedicated on Feb. 23, 2007.


Photo by Khary Bruyning. Michele Samaroo-President