“There’s an element of public service that you learn in law school. And ethical rules say you should spend time each year ensuring access to justice. It’s inherent in what we do,” Attorney Rebecca M. Lecaroz of Bedford reflected.
“For me,” she continued, “having seen the effects on various communities really upped the stakes for me.”
Lecaroz recently accepted an Adams Pro Bono Publico Award from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court for her “exceptional dedication to providing pro bono legal services.” She is a partner with the Boston law firm Brown Rudnick.
Lecaroz was recognized for her leadership in a successful federal voting rights lawsuit on behalf of community organizations representing Black and Latino/a residents challenging Worcester’s method of electing its School Committee.
A business litigator and trial attorney, Lecaroz has represented clients all over the country involved in intellectual property rights, defamation, trade secrets misappropriation, commercial contracts, real estate, and employment. Her clients include software developers, transportation service providers, construction contractors, life science companies, and apparel manufacturers.
Her role in the successful challenge to Worcester’s school committee districts began in late spring 2020, three months into the Covid-19 pandemic, Lecaroz related. “I was sitting at home watching Black Lives Matter protests and knew I wanted to do more to help.”
Partnering with Lawyers for Civil Rights, Lecaroz and her firm took on what was a voting rights case. Worcester’s system elected School Committee members at large, which means a white majority can control all of the seats. This was “almost presumptively unconstitutional” under the 14th and 15th Amendments and the Voting Rights Act, she said.
“There had been a similar case in Lowell a few years ago” and community groups in Worcester recognized the possible precedent, she said. “We worked with some of the community organizations like Worcester Interface and the Worcester chapter of the NAACP. We were able to connect with a number of other residents interested in becoming plaintiffs.”
Representing eight individual and two organizational plaintiffs, “we sued the city to change their electoral system – the way it is structured – so it comports with the Voting Rights Act,” Lecaroz said.
After a few months of litigation, the city agreed to settle, she reported. There was a consent decree, and “we devised the framework for the new electoral system with districts for School Committee voting instead of at large. And at least two are required to be majority-minority.”
New maps were confirmed over the summer; that required action by the Legislature. The whole process took about a year and a half.
“Overall, it seemed like the city was open to change in a positive direction. Following on the heels of Lowell, we are hoping to have a snowball effect. We would love to see Worcester update its electoral system for city council,” she said.
“As part of the consent decree, we were awarded attorneys’ fees. We put those fees toward donations to local community organizations in Worcester working with the affected communities on educational issues,” Lecaroz noted. “We also established a Brown Rudnick Civil Rights Summer Fellowship at Lawyers for Civil Rights
, to provide a stipend for a law student who wants to work on civil rights issues, but who might not otherwise be able to afford to take an unpaid position.”
Lecaroz is working on another pro bono project that is requiring more patience. She is trying to help an Afghan-American resident who, during the war, served as an interpreter for the U.S. military.
He escaped from the country before the American withdrawal, but his family remains. “We helped him file humanitarian parole applications for family members,” Lecaroz said, but the cases are pending as the immigration system is processing so many of these petitions. “It’s obviously very stressful, very hard on him, but so far his family has been safe.”
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of other opportunities. “Last week we filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court on the Moore vs. Harper case” in which the high court will decide whether the North Carolina Supreme Court has the power to strike down the legislature’s gerrymandered congressional map. She said the firm represents the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research, founded and led by the scholar Ibram X. Kendi.
“There is lots of work still to do, and I look forward to being able to continue contributing to these initiatives throughout my career,” Lecaroz declared.