Farewell and Thank You
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Jonathan Smith, Executive Director

This is my last blog on legalaiddc.org and my last day at Legal Aid.   I have accepted a position in the Civil Rights Division at the Department of Justice.   I am excited about the new opportunity, but it is hard to leave my friends and work at Legal Aid.   I have been very proud to be part of the terrific team at Legal Aid and to be a member of the equal justice community.

I have tremendous admiration and confidence in the extraordinary people at Legal Aid.   There is great leadership at every level of the organization.   My departure will not affect the high quality and effective legal and policy work that our staff engages in every day.  Eric Angel, the Acting Executive Director, has been Legal Aid’s Legal Director for the last ten years and there is strong subject matter expertise in each of our practice areas and a shared vision for the work.  We have an effective Board and solid pro bono relationships.  All of which will ensure that the program remains strong through this transition.

This is a unique moment to join the Civil Rights Division.  In my new position, I will be the Chief of the Special Litigation Section.   The Section is charged with civil enforcement of federal civil rights statutes concerning conditions of institutional confinement prisons, jails, nursing homes, juvenile detention facilities, mental hospitals; conduct of law enforcement agencies; access to reproductive health facilities and to places of religious worship; and religious exercise of institutionalized persons.

As I make this transition, I have had the chance to reflect on my tenure at Legal Aid. It has been humbling and gratifying to work with so many effective and committed advocates.   Through our work together, thousands of District residents have found justice.  I have been honored to have contributed to efforts that have made the laws, administrative processes and judicial systems more just.

I am sobered, however, that poverty, income inequality and the resulting injustices grow unabated.   The boom years were not kind to people in poverty, bringing displacement from gentrification, a Darwinian job market and a frayed safety-net.  The Great Recession drove more people into poverty and increased the despair in poor communities.   There is no relief in sight.

There is a deep and unwavering commitment to achieving justice and ending inequality that is expressed in all the work Legal Aid does.   It is about ending poverty -- changing the circumstances -- not about just helping clients live within the systems that keep them poor.

While I move on to continue this work in another form, I will deeply miss my friends at Legal Aid, in the D.C. legal services community and all of you that I only communicate with through this blog.   Thank you for reading and for being a part of this community that strives to make justice real.

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