Maryland Legal Aid Director Wins a “Denny”
Joseph, center, stands with Legal Aid Bureau Board President Warren Oliveri, right, and José Padilla, NLADA Board President and executive director of California Rural Legal Assistance. During its annual conference last month, the National Legal Aid and Defender Association honored Wilhelm H. Joseph, Jr., executive director of the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau, with its 2008 Denison Ray Award in recognition of his exceptional service to the legal aid community throughout his “legendary” career. A native of Trinidad and Tobago, Joseph witnessed rampant inequality in the Jim Crow South as a scholarship student at a Mississippi state college during the civil rights era. The experience pushed him towards leadership positions in the civil rights movement and earned him national prominence—prominence that led the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. Senate to investigate deporting him. It was these experiences that led him to a career fighting to ensure equal justice for all, first at North Mississippi Rural Legal Services, then at Legal Services for New York City, and now at the Maryland program, which he has led since 1996. During that time, he has expanded the program’s annual budget from $8 million to $22 million, and has made the organization a flagship of the legal aid community. Joseph was nominated for the award by the staff of the Legal Aid Bureau, “who wrote eloquently of [his] work on behalf of equal justice,” said NLADA President Jo-Ann Wallace in a letter to Joseph. The “Denny” is named after a career legal aid activist who led programs in Missouri, Maine, North Carolina and New York.