Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : November 2006


Family Comes First

~All year long, BCBA helps those in need~

Few from Baltimore County could forget the Rita Fisher case of the late 1990s, in which nine-year-old Rita Fisher died due to negligence and abuse at the hands of her mother, Mary Utley, her older sister, Rose Mary Fisher, and Rose’s boyfriend, Frank E. Scarpola, Jr. The case held a great deal of significance for many reasons. One major result was the state’s highest court setting the precedent that child abuse can form the foundation for a felony murder conviction; though another, often overlooked, component of the case’s aftermath occurred in 2000.

Jim Gentry, a state’s attorney who helped prosecute the case, developed a trust fund for Rita’s other older sister, Georgia Fisher, who was abused in the same manner as Rita and whose testimony against Utley, Rose and Scarpola led to the conviction of the three offenders. In order to raise funds for then 15-year-old Georgia, Gentry turned to fellow members of the Baltimore County Bar Association (BCBA) for assistance, and his considerate peers embraced the cause with open arms. This was no rare occurrence, however, as the BCBA has built itself a reputation for generosity over the last two decades.

“You have to keep your eyes open and say ‘Hey, someone else is in need; I can help,’” notes BCBA President Debra Schubert. “What are we here for if we aren’t helping those in need?”

That mindset was shared by the Young Lawyers Committee (YLC) in 1982 when they began the BCBA’s main fundraising enterprise, the Annual Bull & Oyster Roast, honoring the memory of  colleague Jeffrey Himmelstein, an Assistant State’s Attorney for Baltimore County who succumbed to cancer the previous year. More than a thousand people attended the first year’s roast, the proceeds of which went to establishing the Jeffery Himmelstein Scholarship Fund at the University of Baltimore School of Law. The scholarship was fully funded following the 1985 Bull Roast.

Since then, the BCBA has continued its annual fundraiser, held in early March, and donated a majority of its proceeds to many organizations over the years, including the aforementioned Georgia Fisher Fund, Cystic Fibrosis, Towson YMCA, the Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and the American Lung Association. This year, however, the BCBA has taken its charitable actions a step further by adopting the Family Crisis Center – a non profit organization that provides aid for family members who have suffered family violence and other family-related conflicts – for the entire year.

“We weren’t sure the impact we were having at those larger charities,” says Doris Barnes, BCBA Executive Director. “We wanted to turn [our program] a little bit and feel like we were having more of a direct impact. [With the Family Crisis Center,] we are putting backpacks in kid’s hands – we are putting school supplies where they need them.”

The localized effort has helped members and donators put a face to a cause. Barnes, in just her second year with the BCBA, has been extremely active in collecting funds for the Center. She has been a staple at the Center with truckloads of clothing and personal items, not to mention rallying donations from members at events like BCBA’s Annual Golf Outing on September 28, in which Barnes sold 50/50 raffle tickets for the Bull Roast; the $540 raised went directly to the Center.

“Five-hundred-forty dollars is a lot of money for that charity,” notes Barnes. “That can buy school shoes for probably every kid in there.”

Aside from the donations, the BCBA has made less-tangible offerings to the residents at the Center, such as legal guidance and a voice to the bench via the Bar members. Throughout the year, attorneys will go to the Center for about two hours and speak on different topics, including protection orders, child support, landlord/tenant issues, legal issues and domestic violence, in an attempt to answer as many of the resident’s questions as possible.

“I think this is a really good partnership for [the Center] and us,” says Barnes. “I think it’s brought to the attention of our members the needs right here in Baltimore County. [The Center] is a 35-bed, 90-day facility for victims of domestic violence that, basically, very few people knew existed.”

The mastermind behind this entire operation, Barnes was one of “the few people” who knew about the Center, and when her friend Lisa Muscara was named the Center’s Assistant Director, Barnes got the ball rolling. In fact, many of the charities that the BCBA has benefited over the years have been due to a specific tie or relation between a member and that organization (i.e., Gentry and the Georgia Fisher Fund). After all, who can you turn to in your hour of need if not your friends?



Publications : Bar Bulletin: November 2006