Tuesday, December 12, 2017
News Roundup

Undocumented immigrant asks Florida Supreme Court for chance to practice law

TAMPA — He came to the United States as a fourth-grader who spoke only Spanish. He needed a year to learn English, then refused to let anything slow him down again.

He became the 2004 valedictorian at Armwood High School in Seffner, an anthropology major at New College, a law student at Florida State University. He passed the bar exam last year on his first try.

But when he applied for admission to the Florida Bar, José Godínez-Samperio was stopped in his tracks.

The Florida Board of Bar Examiners refused to consider his application, instead asking the Florida Supreme Court to settle a question:

Are undocumented immigrants eligible for admission to the Bar?

The decision will be closely watched in Florida, where the board has required applicants to produce proof of citizenship or immigration status since 2008.

Godínez-Samperio, 25, said he knew admission would be difficult. But he thought he should try.

"I knew if I didn't try, I'd always have a 'no,' " he said. "And if I tried, I'd at least have a 'maybe.' "

His legal team argues the board is abiding by an "unwise" policy that was not properly adopted in the first place. They say that Florida has a long history of helping immigrants in similar situations, such as creating a special avenue for Bar admission to Cuban-Americans educated in Cuban law schools.

Former FSU president Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, taught Godínez-Samperio in law school and now represents him in the Supreme Court case. D'Alemberte said it's important to note that he ended up with the undocumented status through no fault of his own.

He came with his parents to the United States and made the best of his situation, D'Alemberte said.

"Why are you going to keep a kid like that out of the Bar?" said D'Alemberte, a former state legislator and past president of the American Bar Association.

Officials with the Board of Bar Examiners — a separate agency from the Florida Bar — did not return a phone call Wednesday. The Florida Bar has not taken a position on the matter, a spokeswoman said.

Godínez-Samperio's said his parents were professionals in Mexico — his mother was a dentist, his father a veterinarian — but could not afford to feed their two children.

So they came to the United States 16 years ago on tourist visas and never left. They settled into rural Hillsborough, his father taking a job milking cows on a dairy farm and his mother working at a sliding-glass door manufacturer.

Neither speaks English, though Godínez-Samperio remembers they sat with him after school every night — his father coming in with mud on his boots, his mother covered in dust — and helped with science and math homework.

Because he is undocumented, Godínez-Samperio can't get a drivers license.

He can't legally work, which meant he never bothered to run for student government at New College because the positions were paid. He could not obtain a Bright Futures scholarship or college loans, so he sought private foundation scholarships to pay his way.

Ask him what he does for fun, and he mentions only the camping trips he used to take with the Boy Scouts. He shared a dorm room with two other students and studied most weekends.

In law school, D'Alemberte remembers him as the student who always sat near the front of the class, always participated, always stopped by the office or dropped an email to get a point clarified.

Said Godínez-Samperio: "I didn't have the privilege of being an average student."

He has not tried to hide his status. Last year, he testified to a state legislative committee that was voting on an immigration proposal.

"I am undocumented, unapologetic and unafraid," he said then.

Godínez-Samperio lacks legal standing to apply for citizenship and is someone who would have benefitted from the Dream Act, a decades-old proposal to allow undocumented children to obtain permanent residency by enrolling in college or serving in the military.

The Obama administration last year said it would be more lenient in the cases of certain undocumented immigrants, including those who arrived in the country as children.

In a recent high-profile case, a North Miami Senior High School valedictorian threatened with deportation learned Wednesday she will be able to stay in the United States for two more years.

Godínez-Samperio said his experience shaped his goal of becoming an immigration lawyer, something he has dreamed of since high school. What he could do if he did get his credentials is unclear, however, given that federal law forbids him from working for pay. His attorneys point out that he could provide pro bono legal services or could practice in other countries.

And if the court issues an opinion against him? He said he doesn't know what he'll do. He said he hopes to put a personal spin on an issue more often debated in impersonal terms.

"I'm an immigrant," he said, "and I don't think a lot of people see the human face."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Jodie Tillman can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374.

Comments
Space heater likely cause of early-morning home fire in Valrico

Space heater likely cause of early-morning home fire in Valrico

VALRICO ó A space heater is believed to be the cause of a home fire in Valrico on Tuesday morning.It took firefighters about 20 minutes to control the fire in a mobile home on Pierce Christie Drive, according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.The ca...
Updated: 1 hour ago
French group to take over Westfield malls for $15.7 billion

French group to take over Westfield malls for $15.7 billion

PARIS ó French real estate company Unibail-Rodamco has agreed to buy Australia-based shopping mall operator Westfield Corporation for $15.7 billion in cash and shares.The companies would together have 104 shopping centers in 13 countries that bring i...
Updated: 1 hour ago
The Daystarter: Find out Politifactís 2017 Lie of the Year; Alabama voters go to the polls; arraignment for accused Seminole Heights killer; Yankees may hasten Raysí dismantling

The Daystarter: Find out Politifactís 2017 Lie of the Year; Alabama voters go to the polls; arraignment for accused Seminole Heights killer; Yankees may hasten Raysí dismantling

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.10News WTSPThe latest 7-day forecastē Low temperatures continue this morning but itíll be pretty nice by the afternoon. Itíll be in the high 40s overnight and then start to rea...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Obama, Biden and Trump make late pushes in Alabama Senate race

Obama, Biden and Trump make late pushes in Alabama Senate race

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. ó National political leaders, a Hollywood actress and a retired basketball star made last-ditch efforts to woo voters in the Alabama Senate race Monday, as the candidates gave their final arguments in a pivotal special election that ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Romano: Come to Madeira Beach for the sand, sun and scorn

Romano: Come to Madeira Beach for the sand, sun and scorn

Forgive the folks in Madeira Beach for not yet updating the FAQs portion of their website. They’ve been quite busy lately, which might explain why three of the five commissioners listed are no longer in office. Or maybe it’s just a nod t...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Forecast: Warm breezes across Tampa Bay ahead of fluctuating conditions

Forecast: Warm breezes across Tampa Bay ahead of fluctuating conditions

Chilly, windy, colder, sunny, warmer, rainy. 10News WTSP Feels-like temperatures around the Tampa Bay area This week’s inconsistent weather conditions will at least keep things interesting across the Tampa Bay area, even if it makes it d...
Updated: 1 hour ago

Tampa forum focuses on reforming Floridaís juvenile justice system

TAMPA ó Changing the way Florida treats juvenile offenders was the focus of Monday nightís public forum on criminal justice reform."We send more children to adult prison than any other state," said Raymer Maguire IV, manager of the ACLUís Florida Cam...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Jury selection in trial of Clearwater man charged with motherís death begins today

Jury selection in trial of Clearwater man charged with motherís death begins today

Jury selection is expected to begin Tuesday morning in the case of a 61-year-old man charged with beating his elderly mother to death.Daniel Edward Richards of Clearwater is charged with second-degree murder. He is representing himself during the tri...
Published: 12/12/17
Kathy Fountain, from anchor chair to therapistís chair

Kathy Fountain, from anchor chair to therapistís chair

A knowledgeable voice and familiar face beamed into Tampa Bay homes when Kathy Fountain delivered the 5 oíclock news and chatted with talk show guests on WTVT-Ch. 13. She created some news of her own as co-anchor of the first female team in the Tampa...
Published: 12/12/17
Medical field accounts for 7 of 10 highest-paying jobs

Medical field accounts for 7 of 10 highest-paying jobs

The nationís highest-paying jobs donít quite track with the fastest-growing jobs in Florida. According to a new study released today by California-based CareerCast, the highest-paying jobs are largely in the medical field and require post-graduate de...
Published: 12/12/17