Miami Law Alumni Impact Disadvantaged Youths Through HANDY

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Evan Goldman, JD ’99, Ernst Pirre-Louis, and Suzanne Driscoll, JD '89

Evan Goldman, JD ’99, Ernst Pirre-Louis, and Suzanne Driscoll, JD '89 Full Size Photo

Evan J. Goldman thought he would stay inside the Washington D.C. Beltway for his entire career. The West Palm Beach native had graduated with a degree in political science from American University. He stayed to work on elections and campaigns and was working for the political action committee NARAL Pro-Choice America.

At age 28, Goldman decided it was time to come home and make a difference in his own community. “I wanted to be part of something exceptional and on the move,” Goldman said in an interview. “I came to Miami Law because of the diversity – not only of the student body and the professors, but the community-at-large.”

At Miami Law, Goldman would find that at the Children & Youth Law Clinic.

“The clinic changed the trajectory of not only my law school experience but my career as well,” he said. “The clinic, under the direction of Professor [Bernard] Perlmutter, allowed me to pave a non-traditional path; one that was uniquely suited to my talents and abilities.”

In his 2L and 3L years, Goldman – bringing his D.C. experience with policy – would be called upon to draft legislation to extend the jurisdiction of the juvenile courts over youth in foster care from age 18 to 21. He would secure bill sponsors and shepherd the legislation through the process.

Goldman, J.D.‘99, then spent eleven years at the Children’s Services Council of Broward County as a policy advocate for children and families.

“It was, in essence, a dream come true for me,” he said. “Every day I got to fight, not in the courtroom, but in the halls of Congress and the Florida legislature. The CSC funds over a hundred child-serving agencies making positive change, but HANDY (Helping Abused Neglected Disadvantaged Youth), I felt, was always the most impactful on the policy front.”

Goldman said the work of the 501(c)(3) non-profit that has been serving the needs of more than 45,000 Broward County children in the dependency system for thirty years was reminiscent his time at Miami Law.

“The work reminded me of my time at the clinic with Professor Perlmutter. I had been a mentor in the HANDY LIFE (Life skills, Independent living, Foundation building, and Education and employment) program for ten years, so it was a natural progression for me,” he said.

He would take over as CEO of the organization and oversee all programming at sites in Fort Lauderdale, Lauderdale Lakes, and Pompano Beach. The HANDY Scholars provides funding and case management for 116 young people in foster care, kinship or relative care, and non-relative care who attend one of 17 universities in Florida as well as Howard University and Texas Christian University out of state.

Goldman would cross paths with another Miami Law alum and double ‘Cane: Suzanne Driscoll, J.D.‘89, a partner at Shutts & Bowen LLP and native Pennsylvanian, whose love of detective stories as a girl fed her desire to become a lawyer.

“When I was little, I read all the mystery detective books – Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys – and I would watch all the old law shows,” she said in an interview. “I always knew that that is what I was going to do; I was going to be a famous trial lawyer.

‘Well, I am a civil litigator.”

At Miami Law, Driscoll participated in the clinical program and became a certified legal intern in the Public Defender’s Office. She would stay there for five years before going into private practice; she began mentoring and was the mock trial coach at Fort Lauderdale High School.

“It’s a Law Magnet Program – and amazing program,” she said. “During the eight years I was there, one of the local judges asked me to get involved with HANDY, so I started a mock trial program for them. So many of the kids in the program are required to go to court as part of the dependency system and it is a frightening experience for them. We thought it would be good to familiarize them with the court, the process, the personnel – it would dispel some of the fears and make them more comfortable when they went to court. It has turned into one of our most loved programs. We do it annually, partnering with lawyers and judges. It culminates in a real trial that one of the judge’s hosts at the Broward County Courthouse.”

Both Goldman and Driscoll credit the litigation skills they learned at Miami Law to build the mock trial program. And both have deep roots at UM. Driscoll’s mother was on the faculty at the Maurice Gusman Concert Hall.

“She ran the Hall,” Driscoll said. “While I was getting my undergraduate degree, she was getting her Master’s; then when I was in law school, she was working on her Ph.D. We have wonderful family history at the U.”

Goldman’s mother also attended UM as an undergraduate student.

Driscoll is Interim Vice Chair at HANDY, and co-chaired the 30th Anniversary Scholars Breakfast, which recognized the 2015 college graduates. 68% of HANDY’s college students graduate, compared to 3% of similar populations nationally. Also, 95% graduate from high school and all of those enroll in college or technical school.

Ernst Pirre-Louis is one of HANDY’s success stories and a hopeful Miami Law student. The shy 23-year-old Haitian-American grew up in foster care when his mother could no longer shoulder the responsibility of six children. He connected with HANDY at the age of 12.

“HANDY was family for me,” he said. “At that age, I didn’t want to go to college; I was probably going to end up doing something on the streets like most kids in my family and most kids in my neighborhood.

“Through HANDY I went to Tallahassee to the House of Representatives to serve as a messenger for a week. I met Ari Porth [former member of the Florida House of Representatives and currently Broward Circuit Court Judge]. He had me co-sponsor a bill, go to meetings with him and take notes. What I realized is that Tallahassee is where all the laws are made that affect kids like me in foster care,” he said. “Then I wanted to go to college and I promised myself I would come back to Tallahassee.”

That same year he went to Washington, D.C. with HANDY and met Congressman Alcee Hastings and Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz. He was, in essence, “inspired.”

That year Pirre-Louis pulled up his high school grades and set goals, including college, and ultimately Miami Law. He graduated from Florida State University in May with degrees in Political Science with a concentration is English and Criminology with a concentration in statistics. He is now studying for the LSAT and wants to practice family law.

“I want to eventually live in Washington and start something there. But first I have to get through Miami,” he said.

HANDY was able to reunite Ernst with three of his brothers and sisters in foster care. His younger brother, a saxophone player, is now in his first semester at the University of North Florida, thanks to HANDY.

HANDY sends two adults with each student starting college, so each arrives with a “mom” and “dad,” like most of the other freshmen. The “parents” perform all the usual tasks – store runs to pick up sheets and towels, a supply of dorm emergency food, forgotten items and such.

“And we always make their bed before we leave,” said Goldman, “like all the other parents.”

“To my knowledge, there is no other program like this,” Goldman said. “And it is a huge source of pride for me that it is run by two UM Law alums.”