The National Legal Aid and Defender Association presented the 2008 Kutak-Dodds Civil Prize to Community Justice Project attorney Charles Elsesser.
The following is the award presentation by the NLADA:
"For most of the last 33 years, Charles Elsesser has tirelessly worked as an advocate for low-income people covering a wide swath of legal issues, from affordable housing to welfare. As the senior litigation attorney with Florida Legal Services, Inc., he principally engages in the representation of community organizations in complex and class action litigation in federal court involving housing and disaster-related issues, as well as naturalization and public benefits.
After earning his law degree from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pa. in 1971, Elsesser joined California Rural Legal Assistance as a staff attorney representing clients on a range of litigation issues, including government benefits, healthcare and housing. From 1974 to 1984, he served as senior counsel and directing attorney at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and in 1984, he opened a private law office and primarily dealt with civil rights litigation. From 1986 to 1989, he returned to the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles as director of litigation, where he had oversight for all major litigation in the program. And, for the three years following, Elsesser worked in government as an expert on affordable housing, both on the Senate Rules Committee of the California State Senate and then for the city of Santa Monica. In 1992, he joined Legal Services of Greater Miami as senior attorney, where he worked on litigation related to affordable housing and homelessness. Since 1997, he has served as senior litigation attorney with Florida Legal Services, Inc., where he represents community organizations in complex and class action litigation in federal court involving housing and disaster-related issues, as well as naturalization and public benefits.
He has worked on a number of issues vital to the welfare of his clients during his career. He has helped people going through the trauma of hurricane recovery multiple times, including following Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and then again in 2004 when Florida received more significant hurricane damage. In 2005, he authored a disaster recovery manual for legal services practitioners and flew to the Gulf Coast to train legal services lawyers in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana following Hurricane Katrina. Elsesser also played a leading role in a series of successful class action challenges to Federal immigration authorities’ refusal to timely process naturalization applications, to fairly consider the applications of disabled persons and immigration authorities’ refusal to grant fee waiver requests for the poorest of the applicants."