Overcoming Barriers

first_img Overcoming Barriers student from pursuing a career in the law Jan Pudlow Senior Editor With his hand resting on Justice Fred Lewis’s elbow, Scott Greenblatt steps into the Florida Supreme Court Robing Room.“There are seven doors and each one holds a robe,” Lewis explains. “There’s a little seating area and a coffee bar. Now we’re going to walk straight across to my locker. Would you like to try on my robe?”While Karly, a black Lab guide dog, stretches out patiently at his feet, Greenblatt slips on the robe with Lewis’ name embroidered inside the neckline in green thread.“How does it feel?” Justice Lewis asks.“I feel silly. Like an imposter!” laughs Greenblatt, a 29-year-old third-year law student at Florida State University, who lost his sight after a car wreck in Miami Beach a dozen years ago.Next, up a few steps and through a curtain into the empty courtroom, where Greenblatt seizes the thrill of sitting in Chief Justice Barbara Pariente’s middle seat, and Karly is allowed to hop up in Justice Charles Wells’ chair to pose for a picture.Then it’s upstairs to Lewis’ chambers, with the justice describing everything along the way, from law books lining the hallways to the historic photographs hanging on the walls.“So we’re going to get to work,” Lewis says, draping their jackets on the backs of a pair of chairs, and bringing a bowl of fresh water for Karly to lap. “This isn’t a social visit.”Indeed, Lewis put Greenblatt through the paces, dissecting a half dozen pending cases on whether the court has jurisdiction, asking the law student his opinions. Woven into that legal give-and-take was plenty of talk about how a blind law student overcomes barriers to pursue his education and how a justice transcended his West Virginia coal-mining family roots to reach the pinnacle of his profession, learning how to balance family life with a legal career along the way.It was Florida Disability Mentoring Day on October 19, part of a national effort to promote career development for students and job seekers with disabilities through hands-on experiences.Once Justice Lewis offered to participate, he was paired up with Greenblatt, through Matt Dietz, a Miami disability lawyer working with the Disability Independence Group, and a recommendation from Paolo Annino, one of Greenblatt’s professors at FSU’s Children’s Advocacy Center.“This young man is going to be a great lawyer one day. And he just needs an opportunity for someone to share with him, to give him some motivation, to show him there are people who care and want him to succeed,” Justice Lewis said. “All too often, we don’t recognize the capabilities, and we look too much on the incapacities.”Justice Lewis knows all too well.His 20-year-old daughter, Lindsay, who has had a metabolic disorder that attacks her nervous system since she was very young, is blind except for a tiny pinpoint of light.“We need to look to what they can accomplish, not what stands in the way,” Justice Lewis said. “If I can be a source of encouragement, that’s what I hope to do.” Supreme Give and Take Mission accomplished.“Justice Lewis certainly gave me a bit of an emotional boost and helped encourage me to believe in my ability to make a difference as a practicing attorney,” Greenblatt said.Just getting the invitation to spend the afternoon with a real live justice, Greenblatt admitted, made him feel “daunted to hell.”“I got even more scared when I got the case list he wanted me to read.”What Greenblatt couldn’t remember, Justice Lewis patiently provided in summing up the legal issues. the end of the afternoon, Greenblatt was asking Lewis probing questions about his career choices that caused the justice to remark with a hearty laugh: “You’re getting me to bleed my soul to you, Scott!”“Here’s a personal question I have, if you don’t mind answering: How did you decide to become a justice?” Greenblatt asked.“It was my daughter, who is sick,” Lewis answered. “When she was really small and having all of those problems, we went all over the country trying to find answers. I saw a lot of very sick kids, a lot of kids in distress. Through that process, you see things differently; you perceive life in a different context. I committed myself that I needed to be more than just for my clients. That’s totally how it happened. She was so sick. You were in a crisis for a long time, and she’s in a crisis, as well.“She stabilized. And once she stabilized, I was able to do some other things I had committed and promised that I would do.”A week later, Greenblatt deemed Disability Mentoring Day a “tremendous experience.” “Even more than talking over the cases, it was so refreshing and an honor to talk with Justice Lewis about his life experiences and motivations behind his decision to sit behind the bench rather than stand in front of it making arguments. Through his stories, I got to see who the man behind the robe was, and my respect for him grew substantially because I thought I could understand who he really is.”The guided tour of the court was an incredible VIP opportunity, too.“I’m sure that even without my sight I got to see more of the Supreme Court than almost anyone else who comes through the building,” Greenblatt said.“If it weren’t for Disability Mentoring Day, I feel confident that I wouldn’t ever have the understanding of how the Supreme Court looks. And Justice Lewis made the tour even more special because of his particular sensitivity to my lack of sight. Justice Lewis made wandering the halls and offices of the Supreme Court a veritable picture come alive to me, with all of his descriptions of the architecture of the building and detailed depictions of the artistic design of each room. I’m sure that some of the picture has sadly already faded from my recollection, but I don’t believe I’ll ever lose the actual flavor of the experience.” Crash into Darkness Five days after his 17th birthday, Greenblatt lost his sight on July 16, 1993. He was driving a Jeep Cherokee in Miami Beach, with his girlfriend in the passenger’s seat, coming off a side street and trying to make it to the middle of four-lane Sixth Avenue.“I didn’t make it, but my car eventually did. Some guy in a Porsche came speeding around what was essentially a blind corner. He skidded for 80 feet and hit the front end of his Porsche into the driver’s side of my Jeep,” Greenblatt explained.“Basically, my car got pushed backwards. It keeled over onto the left side and pinned my head to the ground. My body came out of the truck enough that the very top of my head got pinned to the ground by the hood of the car to the street.. . . After the accident, there wasn’t a solid bone in my face. I was lucky enough that all of the top doctors were on call that night at Jackson Memorial Hospital. I had the head of neurosurgery; I had the head of maxio-facial reconstruction; and I had the head of optic neuropathy.”Justice Lewis remarked: “You’re a nice-looking young man. They did a helluva job, let me tell you what.”When Greenblatt woke up from a coma two and half months after the crash, Jennifer Catherine Marie Centeno — riding in the passenger’s seat and able to walk away from the accident — remained at his side, visiting him in the hospital every day after school.Now, Jen, a nursing student at Tallahassee Community College, is Greenblatt’s wife. They were married August 9, 2003.“There was never a moment where I thought about the situation as a decision to either stay with him or to leave him. I just dealt with it one day at a time,” Centeno said. “You don’t turn your back on someone you love.“As for how the accident affected me, there are no words to describe. I was 14 years old at the time, so you can just imagine the emotional maturity level of a teenager handling something like that very well. Not! The worst part of all is that I still remember the accident, in detail. I remember going to the hospital the following morning to see Scott in the ICU and not recognizing him at all. I remember not being able to speak to Scott for the first week because every time I opened my mouth I began to sob. I can go on forever about that, but I won’t. Let’s just say it’s 12 years later and I still have symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.”With plenty of support from his family and friends, she said, Greenblatt “adjusted rather quickly to being blind.“Scott has always been a trooper. I think it takes a lot of courage to wake up one day and find out you’re blind and still push on to live a somewhat normal life,” she said.“If I could say one thing to people about us, it is that we are a normal couple. We just get to take our dog into restaurants, stores, and malls.”She admires her husband’s courage to go to law school and dream big.“He’s doing great and he will do great things in his career,” she said. Anything Is Possible Greenblatt said he is leaning toward a career specializing in disability law. He had to fight through multiple hearings with the school district to be allowed to finish his senior year at his North Miami Beach Senior High School, rather than be transferred to a special needs school, so he thinks he’ll be good at empathizing with his clients’ struggles.Recently, through FSU’s Children’s Advocacy Center, he represented an 11-year-old child in special education classes in a juvenile delinquency case, did a good job and earned the respect of his client and his client’s mother, said Annino, his professor.“Scott is a very hardworking, diligent, and focused student,” said Annino. “The bottom line is he overcomes obstacles imposed, these constant physical obstacles we take for granted. Like little posties, those yellow Post-it Notes. People were constantly putting little posties on his files. No, that is not going to work.”As Greenblatt tells Justice Lewis, he thinks he wants to be a lawyer specializing in disability law “so that at the end of the day, I can go home and say, ‘You know, what I did today made a difference in someones life.’ Not just, ‘I am going to go earn some business an extra million dollars.’ I would rather do something that might affect a child’s life.”“Good for you! Be a strong advocate for kids,” Lewis said.“Anything is possible. You just have to believe in it. Some struggles are different than others. I am not going to tell you differently. I did not have the challenges that you are facing. I had some economic challenges and background issues that differed from some people. But you can play the hand that you have been dealt, as long as you stay true to those purposes, and that is to be the best lawyer you can be and the best person,” Justice Lewis said.“I admire you for what you are doing right now. I’ve got to tell you. You are an inspiration to a lot of people. You can do a lot of good things,” Lewis said. “Some day, I’d like to see you standing up there before us for an oral argument. It can be done. Disability won’t stop this November 15, 2005 Senior Editor Regular News Overcoming Barrierslast_img

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