Earthjustice today announced that Maria Hall of Arcadia, California, is the winner of this year’s Sutherland Fellowship. The fellowship is awarded each year to young lawyers, recently graduated from law school, who want to work in public-interest positions but cannot afford to because of law school debt and general financial hardship. Like two previous fellows, Ms. Hall works for Communities for a Better Environment.
The fellowship was created to honor the memory of Rick Sutherland, the third executive director of Earthjustice, who was committed to bringing into the legal profession — especially the environmental bar — people from all walks of life, all ethnic groups, all nationalities. The award carries a cash stipend of up to $12,000 a year for two years. It is financed in part by contributions from Earthjustice staff members.
Maria Hall grew up in Southern California in a working-class family. Upon graduation from high school she was accepted at UCLA, but for financial reasons attended community college and then California State University. It took her nine years to complete her undergraduate degree, having to work to support herself.
She then worked at a variety of nonprofit jobs until she met Gail Feuer, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, whose work inspired her to go to law school. She attended USC Law School, and in the summer of 2002 worked as an intern at CBE. Upon graduation in 2003, she was awarded a USC Public Interest Law Foundation fellowship to subsidize a year’s work as an attorney at CBE, a position that has been extended another year. She is determined to remain in nonprofit environmental law.
At present, she is pursuing several legal matters, most having to do with abating pollution that jeopardizes the health of residents in some of Southern California’s poorest neighborhoods. She speaks in particular of Huntington Park High School in Southeast Los Angeles, which sits across the street from several industrial facilities. Another local high school sits about 100 yards from a petroleum refinery. CBE is concerned that emissions from these facilities are harming children.
While CBE attorneys use traditional legal methods to fight polluters, such as litigating violations of the Clean Air Act, CEQA, and local air district rules, CBE also uses a community organizing model to educate and involve residents whose health is most at risk.
“At the high school, we’re working with the students, teaching them how to get information about polluters from government agencies, giving them tools to assess and tackle problems,” she says. “When these kids fight for a cleaner environment, they are fighting for their own health. They have asthma, allergies, and other health problems, and can’t play outdoor sports. They can see that pollution is worse in their neighborhoods than in other parts of Los Angeles. They want to do something about it. So do we.”
Earthjustice is happy to help in this small way. We congratulate Ms. Hall on her achievement and wish her the best.