Home » Community Lawyer's Office celebrates 20th anniversary

Community Lawyer's Office celebrates 20th anniversary

WINSTED — Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and former gubernatorial candidate Bill Curry were among the 175 guests who filled the dining room at the Crystal Peak banquet facility Saturday, Oct. 10, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Community Lawyer’s Office in Winsted.

At the center of the festivities was Community Lawyer Charlene LaVoie, who has run the office for 19 of its 20 years and has been vocal regarding hundreds of community issues along the way. Blumenthal sang LaVoie’s praises, calling her office a model for civic involvement.

“There is no better advocate for ordinary, regular working people than the community lawyer and I’m very proud to be an admirer, a supporter and a friend,” Blumenthal said in an interview with The Winsted Journal prior to the evening’s dinner and program. “The community lawyer project really has provided a national model for community advocacy.”

Blumenthal acknowledged that the election of a Democratic president and Congress has resulted in a more favorable attitude toward community advocacy, but that there continue to be many entrenched corporate interests in Washington and across the country.

“Many of our foes are deeply entrenched economic interests and corporations that are much more interested in self-interest than public interest,” he said.

In his remarks to a left-leaning crowd of supporters, Blumenthal noted that he sued almost every department of government under the Bush administration, including the Department of Defense. He added that his work is far from complete.

“Wall Street is coming back even stronger in Washington than before,” Blumenthal said. “We are about to learn how a country stands up to those interests or does not. The Community Lawyer’s Office sends a message that there is an office that is willing to stand up and speak out and fight for the people.”

LaVoie said her main focus has been to make sure people are educated about their own rights and powers as citizens.

“While the objective of our work is to put ourselves out of business, it’s more important than ever that people are civically educated,” she said. “We don’t even teach civics in school any more. How do we teach citizens how to live in a democracy?”

The Community Lawyer’s Office is funded by the Shafeek Nader Trust for the Community Interest, which was organized by Ralph Nader after the death of his older brother. Shafeek Nader was a longtime community activist in Winsted who died of prostate cancer in 1986.

In the years since the Community Lawyer’s Office opened in 1989, LaVoie has worked on issues ranging from freedom of information and defending the town meeting form of government to opposing corporate interests and teaching students about community activism. While Saturday night’s event was organized to honor LaVoie’s work, she acknowledged her critics in a scrapbook of press clips, which included a letter describing her as a paid lobbyist for the Nader family.

But Winsted Selectman Candy Perez reasoned that it would be difficult to paint the Community Lawyer’s Office as a self-interested institution.

“I think the Community Lawyer’s Office has provided citizens a place to go to ensure openness in government,” she said. “To deal with complex issues like charter reform, we need people to watch out for the community, and Charlene does that.”

The attorney general summed up the spirit of the evening in the conclusion of his speech, encouraging LaVoie to continue her work.

“I speak to you from the heart when I say thank you for all you have done for the past 20 years,” he said. “I look forward to coming back in 20 years to celebrate with you again.”

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