October 24, 2014 at 1:55 pm EST | by Lateefah Williams
Dedication to public service inspired my AG run
Lateefah Williams, gay news, Washington Blade

Lateefah Williams (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

People run for public office for a number of reasons. For me, it’s personal.

My family has first-hand experience with the impact that the legal system can make in protecting vulnerable residents. My grandmother, Ora Lee Williams, was a single mother of seven when she decided to fight back against a D.C. store that targeted low-income residents with predatory contracts in the landmark Williams v. Walker-Thomas Furniture Company case.

In that case, my grandmother purchased several items of furniture from Walker Thomas Furniture Company to furnish her apartment. She paid for the items on time for years. When she missed one payment, the furniture company repossessed all of the items, despite the fact that she had paid enough over the years to cover the cost of most of the individual items. With the help of pro-bono attorneys, my grandmother fought back against these predatory practices and the case established a legal ruling against “unconscionable contracts,” particularly when the parties are of “unequal bargaining power.”

My passion for using the government and the legal system to address community needs was inspired by my grandmother and nurtured by my parents, who both graduated from D.C. Public Schools. My mother graduated from Ballou High School in Southeast and my father, who grew up in the Clay Terrace and Kenilworth public housing communities, graduated from Phelps Vocational High School in Northeast. They worked extremely hard to put themselves through Federal City College (now UDC) and spent their entire careers in public service—my father retired from D.C. Public Schools and my mother retired from the federal government. I learned the importance of public service and social justice at a young age and my family’s experiences instilled in me a belief that public service is a noble calling.

In running for Attorney General, I want to fight on behalf of all of the Ora Lee Williams’ here in D.C. who are still struggling to be heard. That’s why after my own journey took me from Oxon Hill High School through Georgetown Law, I decided to dedicate my career and civic activities to public service. My diverse array of experience gives me a unique insight into the legal issues the District faces. I have done litigation work on behalf of working class clients, advocated for labor interests, and served as counsel to the Prince George’s County State Senate Delegation. I also spent a few years working on nonprofit tax law issues designed to clarify the IRS rules on voter engagement so smaller nonprofits could understand the level of political engagement that is permitted under the law without having to incur the expense of hiring legal counsel.

I am undeniably a grassroots activist. In fact, I’m so identified with my work on behalf of LGBT rights, labor rights, and other social justice issues, that many people have erroneously assumed that I do not have traditional legal experience. I have been licensed to practice law for 11 years. I worked for a couple small law firms as a full-time litigation associate for several years. During that time, I represented dozens of working class clients in court in a variety of matters, including family law, insurance defense, and personal injury. At one of the firms, I had the privilege to work under and learn how to practice law in a manner that serves the community from David C. Simmons, who is now the chief administrative law judge for the D.C. Commission of Human Rights. Since then, I have represented clients in court intermittently since transitioning from a litigation attorney to a public policy and legislative attorney. I am currently representing a client in an employment law matter.

I have also done pro bono cases for Whitman-Walker Clinic, representing HIV-positive immigrants and I have served as a volunteer voter protection field attorney for the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights.

Between my cases representing those who cannot afford to have a voice in today’s legal system, I’ve spent my time volunteering and advocating in the D.C. grassroots community by holding leadership positions in numerous Democratic organizations. I previously served as the president of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club and the National Committeewoman for the D.C. Young Democrats. Currently, I am the recording secretary for the Ward 5 Democrats, the legislative committee chair for the D.C. Federation of Democratic Women, and the 2nd Vice President for the Metropolitan Women’s Democratic Club. I am also a board member for the Wanda Alston Foundation, which provides housing to homeless LGBTQ youth. As a result of my community advocacy, I’ve had the opportunity to build relationships across various D.C. demographics and fight for issues that impact all DC communities.

I am proud of my strong D.C. grassroots advocacy background. As the only candidate with a grassroots background combined with years of public service experience in litigation, public policy and legislative law, I plan to take my experience serving diverse D.C. communities in the trenches to the Attorney General’s office and continue to fight for the rights of all D.C. residents.

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