by Nancy Kinnally
March 10, 2015
As soon as planes were allowed to fly again in the aftermath of 9/11, Larry Stewart boarded one of the first flights out of Miami bound for New York.
He was on his way to launch what became the largest pro bono program in U.S. history, in which 1,100 attorneys from all over the United States and six foreign countries represented 1,700 families in obtaining settlements, primarily through the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund established by the U.S. Congress.
A past president and member of the executive committee of what was then called the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, Stewart had been asked to set up the organization that came to be known as Trial Lawyers Care Inc.
“We had no money, no staff, no experience, no idea what we were going to do,” Stewart said.
And yet, in two and a half years, under Stewart’s leadership as president and CEO, Trial Lawyers Care recovered $2.5 billion on behalf of 9/11 victims.
“Every penny went to the families,” Stewart said.
Stewart, who has lived in South Florida for more than 50 years with his wife, Pat, received a number of national and statewide awards for his work with Trial Lawyers Care, including a pro bono award from the National Law Journal and The Florida Bar’s 2002 Kirk Hass Humanitarian Award.
Since that time, the Stewarts have become increasingly aware of a growing justice gap in the United States, and they have done something about it by making three gifts of $10,000 each to The Florida Bar Foundation in the last two years.
“We’ve been concerned for quite a while about the growing gulf between the haves and the have-nots, and I think the country is going in the wrong direction in that regard,” Stewart said.
“We’re all supposed to have the same rights in this country. But if you don’t have access to justice, those rights are kind of meaningless. They vanish. Or they can’t be enforced.
“So, access to justice then becomes one of the things that is driving this gulf between the haves and the have-nots. It’s way beyond a huge problem.”
Pat Stewart said their gifts are a way of “paying it forward” on an issue about which they are passionate.
Furthermore, Larry Stewart sees the Foundation’s work as helping protect a core American belief.
“This whole thing about the American dream is disappearing for so many people,” he said, adding that he would be pleased to see others stepping forward to provide opportunity and access to justice through similar support of The Florida Bar Foundation.
“I didn’t make these gifts to encourage other people, but if that’s the effect of it, that would be wonderful,” he said.
Senior Judge Emerson R. Thompson Jr., the Foundation’s president, thanked the Stewarts for their donations.
“People often state what their values are, but what they say may or may not conform to what they do. If you see the work Larry and Pat Stewart perform, it is obvious what their values are,” Thompson said. “With the volunteer work they have done after the events of 9/11 and these donations, we note that their values are to serve and help those in need who cannot help themselves. On behalf of The Florida Bar Foundation, I applaud the Stewarts for continuing to serve and to help.”