Abigail Turner, litigation director at Charlottesville’s Legal Aid Justice Center, has been awarded two major prizes for her work in legal advocacy. (Photo credit: John Robinson)
There’s a story Abigail Turner likes to tell about her early days working as a civil rights attorney in 1970s Alabama.
Her co-counsel on the prisoners’ rights case her legal aid organization was litigating couldn’t make a meeting, so she went alone. The local attorney was on time, but the state’s attorney came barrelling into the meeting a half hour late and asked where her male colleague was.
“The local attorney said, ‘Sit down and shut up. You’ll learn soon enough she’s running this case,’” Turner said.
That sounds like his colleague, said Alex R. Gulotta, executive director of Charlottesville’s Legal Aid Justice Center, where Turner has worked since 2006 and currently serves as litigation director. “She speaks relatively softly and carries a big, big stick,” Gulotta said.
Last month, as she started to plan for the final chapter of her career, Turner was doubly honored with two important awards: the Virginia Legal Aid Award, given by the Virginia State Bar’s Access to Legal Services Committee, and the 2012 Kutak-Dodds Prize for civil legal services, a prestigious national award bestowed upon one legal aid attorney in the country each year. Fitting recognition, her colleagues felt, for someone whose devotion to her calling has spanned five decades.
The groundwork for a career in civil rights was laid early for Turner. When she arrived at Auburn University in the early ’60s, she faced a different world than she’d seen growing up in relatively progressive northern Alabama. The injustices she saw as a civil rights activist had a profound impact on her. After college, she worked for the U.S. Department of Labor on welfare reform. But she became frustrated, she said, at what she saw as built-in inequities in Nixon-era reforms.
“I was restless,” she said. So at 28, she headed to law school at George Washington University. Two years after graduating, she returned to her native Alabama in the late 1970s, where a second wave of key civil rights battles were under way.
Since then, Turner’s career has taken her to legal services organizations in New England and the upper Midwest. In 2006, she decided to return to Virginia, where she’d lived while working in D.C., to join the Legal Aid Justice Center. It was time, she felt, to turn her efforts back to the inequality she said is still entrenched in the South.
“I find Virginia very challenging, because I think there are so many vestiges of slavery in our public policy that still need work,” Turner said.
In six years, she’s tackled those problems and others head on. She’s lobbied to get the state to address problems in the juvenile justice system, and she’s drawn national media attention to mental illness among prisoners in solitary confinement at Virginia’s state prisons. She continues to work with the Department of Corrections locally, too, advocating for prisoners’ access to legal documents at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.
Turner said the pair of awards she received are a testament to the work of everyone at LAJC, and an affirmation of the importance of the issues they’re addressing.
“It’s about the teamwork we’ve done here, and the blood, sweat and tears—mostly blood and sweat—we’ve spent in an effort to look at systemic issues and change things,” she said.
At 68, Turner has an eye on retirement. She’s looking forward to more time in her garden in Ivy. But she has no plans to give up legal work. There’s too much left to be done, she said.
The resources to combat inequality exist, she said. It’s about prioritizing. “Our per capita income is one of the highest in the country. I don’t see Virginia’s problems as an inability to fund programs for adequate education and health care to support all our citizens, particularly children. It’s a matter of will.”
A Student Services Moving and Storage truck became the latest victim of the 14th Street bridge and its unyielding 10-foot clearance. The truck heading westbound on University Avenue was jammed under the bridge around 8:45am Thursday. A woman who answered the phone at Student Services says no
The day before this story went to press, 444 local properties were listed on popular short-term rental site Airbnb. The amount of lodging tax collected by Charlottesville? Very little. To be fair, some of those listings are in Albemarle County, and the numbers available on the website vary from
Albemarle County Police announced increased enforcement on the James River this summer, including cops in kayaks, and C-VILLE immediately asked the question on the minds of potential tubers: If I have a beer while floating down the James, am I going to be busted? “My police officers
Since University of Virginia President Teresa Sullivan was fired—and reinstated—in 2012, there have been calls for change in both how the Board of Visitors is governed and who is on the board. With Governor Terry McAuliffe’s last round of five appointees, critics say there’s still too little
In politics, as in life, there are weeks that simply take your breath away. Weeks where things move so quickly, and with such unexpected force, that it feels like the laws of physics have been suspended, and that time is suddenly moving at twice its normal speed. So it was last week, when the
Thursday night, a K9 from the Charlottesville Police Department was accidentally released from the back of a patrol car on the 700 block of Prospect Avenue where it bit a 13-year-old girl several times, breaking the skin and requiring stitches, according to Captain Gary Pleasants. “The dog was
Albemarle Circuit Court Judge Cheryl Higgins rebuffed the arguments of Jesse Matthew’s attorney that she recuse herself from Matthew’s capital murder trial for the slaying of University of Virginia student Hannah Graham because she has a daughter who was a second-year student at UVA
Though the health of the Rivanna River watershed has consistently failed to meet one of five Virginia water quality standards, a new report shows that its conditions are improving. According to David Hannah, the executive director of StreamWatch—a local nonprofit that assesses watershed health
The mixed-use residential complex going up on West Main and 10th streets now has an official name: Uncommon. And the developers have a description of the type of people they hope will live there. “Uncommoners are trendsetters who don’t try too hard,” the development’s website says, but this hip
Students, faculty, and supporters of Sweet Briar College are breathing a sigh of relief that the home of the Vixens will stay afloat for at least another year. Following months of uncertainty over the future of the women’s liberal arts college after President James F. Jones announced in March
Power. We know it when we feel it. Sometimes it’s a server who dawdles while taking our order when we’re starving. Or, on a grander scale, it’s the people who hire and fire, who make the decisions that affect people’s lives, both for good or ill, and in at least a couple of cases, even […]
Charlottesville Commonwealth’s Attorney Dave Chapman spent nearly three hours June 17 presenting almost every scrap of information about Virginia Alcoholic Beverage Control agents’ March 18 takedown of UVA student Martese Johnson that left him with 10 stitches on his forehead. The prosecutor,
The man accused of killing Robin and Mani Aldridge is now charged with capital murder in the commission of a robbery and robbing a residence. On June 18, Gene Everett Washington and his attorney appeared in Charlottesville Circuit Court to learn the additional charges. Investigators believe
When C-VILLE reported last week about how much money was raised and spent in the June 9 Democratic primary, “Big money: Dede Smith voted out in high-dollars primary,” the article didn’t make clear that the numbers used were from a May 27 filing and the final numbers won’t be in until July 15.
“I felt utterly helpless,” she said. “I feared this was to be the end of my life.” A rapt Fairfax courtroom gave the woman attacked by Jesse L. Matthew Jr. a chance to convey the terror he inflicted, testimony that could play a role in putting Matthew behind bars for
The Rotunda is the central structure of University of Virginia’s present and past. It’s a neoclassical architectural masterpiece designed by the founder, Thomas Jefferson, that has become so revered that the UN named it a World Heritage Site. And now, as part of a $52-million
Albemarle Republicans are giddy to have a candidate for commonwealth’s attorney, and several dozen of them, including Supervisor Ken Boyd and former supe Rodney Thomas, gathered in front of the Albemarle Circuit Court June 10 for Robert Tracci’s campaign kickoff. “Have you
Within two minutes, charges for public drunkenness and obstruction of justice against UVA student Martese Johnson were dropped Friday morning, and supporters in the courtroom burst into applause—followed by an order from the judge for quiet in the courtroom. Charlottesville Commonwealth’s
Lake Anna has shown great hospitality to an unwanted guest for over two decades. Hydrilla, an aquatic weed not to be confused with the mythological nine-headed marsh serpent Hydra, has festered in its waters since 1990. The bad news (for some) is it’s spreading again. The good news (for all) is
On the third day of his Fairfax trial, where Jesse Matthew is on trial for a 2005 attempted murder, sexual assault and abduction, he entered an Alford plea. Matthew also faces charges in Albemarle for the murder of UVA student Hannah Graham last fall. The plea came after the prosecution called