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Slavery is not just the shameful stuff of history books - not in Florida

The Palm Beach Post presents a three-part examination of slavery,
its costs and its effects - on the migrant workers, and on you

 

Robert A Williams - Director, Migrant Farmworker Justice Project Specializes in employment law involving migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Rob graduated with a BA in Economics, from the University of Michigan in 1971, and later received his JD from Harvard law School in 1975.  Rob was a staff attorney with Florida Rural Legal Services from 1975 - 1991, when he became Florida Rural Legal Services legislative and administrative advocate in Tallahassee. 

Gregory S. Schell - Managing Attorney Specializes in migrant and seasonal agricultural worker protection act and temporary foreign worker (H-2A) program.  Greg graduated from Harvard College, A.B. magna cum laude in Government in1976; and received his JD from Harvard Law School in 1979.  Greg was admitted to the Florida Bar 1979 and to the Maryland Bar in 1985 and is a member of the Southern, Northern, and Middle District of Florida.

Between 1988 and 1995, Greg served as Director of the Farmworker Employment Group at Florida Rural Legal Services, Inc. Greg also worked as the Managing Attorney for the Migrant Farmworker Division at Maryland Legal Aid Bureau from 1983 to 1988. He has been the recipient of multiple awards and recognitions for his outstanding work on behalf of farmworkers and has been at the center of significant litigation resulting in major victories for farmworkers and Farmworker advocates in the U.S. Greg speaks Haitian Creole. 

Victoria Mesa- Staff Attorney: Victoria is a Staff Attorney at MFJP since 2010, specializing in the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act, Temporary Foreign worker (H-2A) program and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Sexual Harassment and Retaliation charges). A native of Colombia, Victoria immigrated to the U.S. in 1992. She graduated from St. Thomas University School of Law in 2008, and also holds a Master of Laws (LL.M) in Intercultural Human Rights, cum laude. In 2002, Victoria earned her Bachelor's Degree in Political Science and International Relations from Florida International University, with a concentration in Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

While in Law school, Victoria co-founded the Public Interest Law Student Association, and was twice selected as a Florida Bar Foundation fellow at Americans for Immigrant Justice, providing legal support and representation to detained and non-detained immigrants in immigration proceedings. Prior to MFJP, Victoria worked for Oxfam America’s Make Trade Fair Campaign and later continued her policy work in support of small farmers and migrant workers ‘rights as a non-profit sector consultant. Victoria is a member of the Florida Bar and of the Southern, Northern, and Middle District of Florida. She is fluent in Spanish and French.

Karla Martinez- Staff Attorney: Karla joined MFJP as a Paralegal in October 2009 after serving a two-year year term as an AmeriCorps Team Member with Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. (ABLE) in Toledo, Ohio. Karla worked with the Migrant Farmworker and Immigrant Project.  While at ABLE, she assisted migrant farmworkers and immigrants in the processing family-based and other immigration-related petitions and represented individuals in immigration court proceedings.  Karla was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2012 and is a member of the Southern and Middle District of Florida.

Karla obtained her J.D. from the University of Iowa, College of Law in 2007.  She earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics and Latin American Studies from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2004. She is fluent in Spanish.

Vanessa Coe- Equal Justice Works Fellow: Vanessa joined MFJP in September 2011 as an Equal Justice Works Fellow. Her 2 year project focuses on providing legal assistance to low wage migrant workers who have either an H-2B or J-1 visa and who work in the hospitality, seafood, and carnival industry. H2-B workers and J-1 interns are often the victims of employment law violations. Frequently, staffing agencies or labor brokers do the recruitment for the American companies. The labor broker earns his fee by charging the workers a fee and then later by taking a percentage of the hourly rate of the new employees. The result is that the workers earn far less than minimum wage, work excessive overtime, pay high housing charges, resulting in leaving the worker in high debt. Vanessa works to represent H-2B workers and J-1 interns against the those benefiting from their work.

Vanessa obtained her J.D. from Nova Southeastern University, Shepard Broad College of Law in 2011. She obtained her B.A. from the University of Florida in 2007, majoring in Anthropology with a minor in French. She was the recipient of the PSLawNet Pro Bono Publico award for 2010. Vanessa was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2012. She is fluent in French.

Sol Couto- Office Manager: Sol began working for FLS in 2001 as the office manager, along with providing receptionist and general office support. Sol is also the Settlement Administrator for all lawsuits at MFJP. She is primarily engaged in locating, qualifying and registering eligible farm workers for settlement proceeds.   Prior to her work with FLS, she worked in the private sector for five years as a legal assistant and specialized in the area of Florida workers' compensation.  Sol is fluent in Spanish.

 

Welcome to the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project (MFJP).  Established by Florida Legal Services in 1996 and funded by the Florida Bar Foundation, the Migrant Farmworker Justice Project is committed to ensuring that the full range of legal advocacy is available to the 300,000 farmworkers who work in Florida’s fields and groves through innovation, law reform, legislative and administrative advocacy, and class actions.

Our work is directed at cases which 1) deal with a problem or grievance shared by a large number of farmworkers or about which farmworkers feel strongly; 2) enhance the ability of farmworkers to participate in solving their own problems; 3) increase community understanding of a problem or issue and advance the knowledge of the person served by the Project with respect to their legal rights and responsibilities; or 4) address a rule or practice that adversely affects a large number of farmworkers. Our staff includes some of the most experienced farmworker advocates in the country. In our short history, we have achieved some notable successes.