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FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) – In celebration of International Women’s Day, the female pioneers of Broward’s legal community were recognized for their groundbreaking contributions.
At the Broward County Courthouse on Friday, there was a special ceremony to honor the women who did it first. From from the first Director of Coast to Coast Legal Aid, to first black female President of the Young Lawyers Division of the Florida Bar Board of Directors to first the woman to sit as a judge on Florida’s circuit court.
How the women rose up the ranks is different for each of them but their stories are all the same in at least one respect.
Breaking ground isn’t easy.
“I was looking for something to do on a temporary basis and I was told that I could be a receptionist at a law firm,” said Barbara Prager, founding executive director of Coast to Coast Legal Aid of South Florida.
“When I was in law school, during interviews the person interviewing me would comment on my looks, how pretty or I have nice legs,” said Judge Michele Towbin-Singer.
“I applied after I’d been practicing civil law for a long time but the application was to the all-male, all white committee and I could never get out of the committee,” said Retired Judge Miette Burnstein.
Burstein was the first female circuit court judge, then the first woman Chief Judge of the 17th Judicial Circuit of Florida.
“Every woman, every professional woman can think of an experience, a thousand experiences, where they belittled you, diminished your status,” she said.
To be the first woman is no doubt a tough hill to climb, to be the first black woman could be more like overtaking a mountain. Juliet Roulhac is the first black woman on the Board of Trustees for the University of Florida, a gubernatorial appointment.
“It is so important to me to represent the best of who I am, to reflect on those who are part of my community, so that means both as a black woman, as a black person, and as a woman,” she said.
The women who attended the Friday ceremony recognized the perseverance and bravery of those who made inroads for them and their own accomplishments.
“I can, I will,” said Burnstein.
The women also got a look at what it means to become a trailblazer.
“It’s long, long overdue and I enjoy being at the forefront but I wish the forefront had come sooner,” said Burnstein.
International Women’s Day has been celebrated for more than 100 years. This year’s theme is #balanceisbetter.