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.”
In the days after the early December slayings of a mother and daughter on Rugby Avenue, the man charged with their murders attempted to sell their stolen car, and a television belonging to the victims was found inside his Barracks West apartment, according to information provided to C-VILLE by
The University of Virginia released more than 100 pages of correspondence with Rolling Stone on December 19, and the name “Jackie,” the source for an alleged gang rape at a fraternity, was never mentioned by Sabrina Rubin Erdely or Rolling Stone fact-checker Elisabeth Garber-Paul. UVA
Dominion’s plans for a 550-mile natural gas pipeline through Virginia are marching ahead, and with the release of the company’s first reports to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), anti-pipeline activists in Nelson County are finding more reasons to rally opposition to the
The following opinion piece by Jeffrey C. Fracher, Ph.D. and Bruce R. Williamson, Jr. ran in C-VILLE’s December 17 issue. The recent controversy over the Rolling Stone article does nothing to change the fact that the Sexual Misconduct Board (SMB) at the University of Virginia is a system
Longtime local reviewer Barbara Rich did not mince words, even in death. “She did not ‘pass,’ she died,” reads her obituary, which did not note how old she was. Rich, who died December 8, wrote for most publications in town, and in the 1990s was a theater critic for C-VILLE Weekly. Her most
Albemarle High grad Riley M. Cole, 22, died Thursday afternoon, December 11, on Route 20 in Buckingham on his way home from his first semester at Longwood University, according to his obituary. Virginia State Police say Cole was traveling north in a 1997 Infiniti when he ran off the road,
Charlottesville’s Local Energy Alliance Program (LEAP) announced this week that it’s entering the “voluntary carbon market,” and will be selling carbon credits generated by energy-saving weatherization projects to individuals and companies that want to buy their way to a smaller carbon
Days after hundreds of mourners gathered at events in Earlysville and Charlottesville to remember slain mother and daughter Robin and Mani Aldridge, friends of the man accused in their murders are struggling with their own shock and disbelief. “He’s not a violent person,” said Jasmine Speller,
In the horrific tale of a 2012 gang rape at UVA in Rolling Stone last month, aside from the alleged rapists, probably no one came off worse than the three callous friends of Jackie, who urged her not to report the alleged sexual assault and warned her it could affect her social status. Those
City Market came one step closer to a permanent home by 2017 after City Council unanimously approved a permit for Market Plaza on December 1. The nine-story, L-shaped structure and plaza will occupy the parking lot used by City Market since 1993 and now owned by developer Keith Woodard. Market
Pulitzer Prize-winning book reviewer Jonathan Yardley bowed out this week after 33 years as a critic with The Washington Post. On his list of 30 favorite books, he included local author Henry Wiencek’s The Hairstons. Published in 2000, the nonfiction account of a Virginia family’s white and
An allegedly out-of-control 4-year-old prompted a call to the Greene County Sheriff’s Office in October, according to a report by Hawes Spencer on WVTF radio. The child apparently raised a ruckus in a pre-K classroom at Nathanael Greene Elementary School in Stanardsville when he allegedly threw
As owner of the Charlottesville Parking Center, Mark Brown acknowledges right off the bat that his push to eliminate free street parking downtown raises an obvious question about whether he has the most to gain from such a move. Brown became the downtown parking czar in August when he bought
Two new witnesses have come forward in the case of former Food Lion manager Mark Weiner to dispute the story of the young woman who claimed he abducted her. The woman, Chelsea Steiniger, testified Weiner incapacitated her with a mysterious chemical, then took her to an abandoned house on
Again and again in the national debate over UVA’s handling of campus sexual assault that followed Rolling Stone’s explosive and discredited story about an alleged gang rape, news outlets—including this one—have stated that the University has never expelled a student over accusations of sexual
It’s a Wednesday night, and in the basement of a converted home at 315 10th St. NE in Charlottesville’s Martha Jefferson neighborhood, seven HIV-positive men are sharing Subway sandwiches and soda and talking about viral loads. Actually, they’re talking about all kinds of things: growing up as
UPDATE, 1pm Tuesday, December 9: Seventeen-year-old Mani Aldridge knew the man who is charged with the murder of her and her mother in their Rugby Avenue home, Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo said at a December 9 press conference. “We have no reason to believe this is a random act,” he
At a press conference three days after a mother and daughter were found beaten to death inside their burned Rugby Avenue home, Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo asked for the public’s assistance in tracking down the person or persons who killed 58-year-old Robin Christine Aldridge and
As criticism of shortcomings in its reporting of an alleged 2012 gang rape at UVA reached a fever pitch, Rolling Stone magazine’s managing editor today issued a mea culpa, saying the publication now has doubts about the account given by Jackie, the 20-year-old University student whose story
As the controversy over UVA’s handling of sexual assault cases continues to build, some alums are expressing their frustration over what they see as a lack of leadership at the school and even calling publicly for the resignation of President Teresa Sullivan and replacement of the Board of