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15th annual Lawfest to offer free legal services in St. Petersburg

Registration for the event is available online. The clinic will run from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
Theresa "Momma Tee" Lassiter jokes around with then-St. Petersburg city council member Bill Foster, while visiting him at his law office in 2007. Lassiter was visiting to get some fliers copied for the 2007 Lawfest Workshop (CARRIE PRATT | TIMES Archive)
Theresa "Momma Tee" Lassiter jokes around with then-St. Petersburg city council member Bill Foster, while visiting him at his law office in 2007. Lassiter was visiting to get some fliers copied for the 2007 Lawfest Workshop (CARRIE PRATT | TIMES Archive) [ PRATT | St. Petersburg Times ]
Published Nov. 10, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG — It started as a two-person effort at a St. Petersburg diner in the early 2000s.

Grassroots organizer Theresa “Momma Tee” Lassiter saw a need for legal services in her community. So she recruited the help of attorney and then-city council member Bill Foster.

Once a month, the two would snag a table at Shirley’s Soul Food at the intersection of 18th Avenue S and 34th Street. Lassiter would bring in people from the neighborhood seeking legal advice. Foster would offer his expertise. The only requirement was that those seeking guidance bought a meal from Shirley’s.

From there, Lassiter launched an annual Lawfest, bringing together dozens of attorneys to help those in need sort through legal affairs, get their records expunged or have their rights restored.

Lassiter, a zealous activist who frequently advocated for her community at city council meetings, died in 2018. But the St. Petersburg NAACP and a handful of other organizations are honoring her memory by hosting the 15th Annual Community Lawfest & Resource Fair this Saturday.

“It has always been a goal to bring it back because it helped so many people,” said community organizer Jabaar Edmond.

Roughly 30 lawyers are scheduled to attend, he said.

Attorneys will be available to help people apply to have their criminal records expunged or sealed. Those who have served prison time will be able to speak with experts who can help them apply to get their rights restored, such as the right to serve on a jury and the right to vote, if not already restored under Amendment 4.

Additionally, lawyers will also be available onsite to help people with family law matters, such as divorce papers and probate law, which includes things like wills and deeds for homes.

The event will run from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg, 2333 34th Street S. Both breakfast and lunch will be served for free and registration is available online.

“We want to ensure that those who do not have the resources at their hands have an opportunity to connect to attorneys and judges and other community resources,” said Esther Matthews, president of the St. Petersburg NAACP.

So far, 300 people have registered for the event, though more could possibly attend, Matthews said.

Additional sponsors and partners for the event include the Community Development and Training Center, Inc, the Florida Justice Center, radio station 99 Jams, the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition Center, the Fred G. Minnis Bar Association, 2-1-1 Tampa Bay Cares, the St. Petersburg Police Department and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.

Foster, who helped Lassiter lay the groundwork for the Lawfest, is planning to volunteer at the event this weekend. The first Lawfest was held at the old St. Petersburg College Midtown campus, he said. But it soon outgrew that location and the event moved to recreation centers, then the Pinellas Technical College, Foster said.

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Lassiter got a judge involved with the Lawfest, Foster said, and made sure that prominent legal figures attended, such as then-Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe and former Public Defender Bob Dillinger. She always made sure there was food at the events — including cake — and raised money for catering.

“She was the heart and soul,” Foster said. “She was Lawfest.”