The incoming chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association plans to make public education a top priority for the city’s legal community.
William P. Fedullo will officially take the post on Jan. 1. In an attempt to increase opportunities for the city’s public school students, he intends to create a task force to advocate for more education funding and urge local law firms to forge mentoring relationships with Philadelphia public schools. Through tese mentoring relationships, he said, the legal community will help students by donating materials and guiding them toward employment possibilities.
“We care about the livability of our city,” Fedullo said. “We care about everybody having the same equal opportunity and having the school as the refuge for each child.”
The Philadelphia School District’s ongoing budget turmoil propelled him to make education the driving facet of his chancellorship, Fedullo said. His resolution will be especially poignant throughout 2014, Fedullo says, because it will be the 60th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court case that ruled racial segregation of students violated the 14th Amendment’s “equal protection” provision.
“Are we living up to the ideals of Brown v. Board of Education? Are we providing the same opportunities for all of our students throughout the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and especially in Philadelphia? That’s my question,” Fedullo said. “Nobody’s proving to me that we are.”
Since introducing the idea at the bar association luncheon in early December, Fedullo said he’s been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the legal community.
“The response has been really heartening,” he said. “We have an embarrassment of riches as far as people who are volunteering.”
Fedullo practices law with Rosen, Schafer & DiMeo LLP, where he focuses on medical malpractice and other personal-injury cases. He’s been vice chancellor of the association for the past year.
Founded in 1802, Philadelphia’s bar association is the oldest in the nation. It has 13,000 members.
Fedullo was born and raised in the city, where his mother was a secretary in the Philadelphia School District for more than 20 years. Through law school, Fedullo worked as a substitute teacher in the district and his wife later taught at William Penn High School.
“One of the reasons you become a lawyer is because you want to help people,” he said. “It’s pretty simple, and this is a way to really help.”
Fedullo will hold the chancellorship through the end of 2014, but he expects education to remain a focus of the bar for years to come. He says he’s already discussed long-term plans with the next three chancellors who already have been elected.
Among other initiatives, Fedullo aims to reform the review process of the Commission on Judicial Retention and Selection. This body rates candidates for judgeships in Philadelphia for Municipal and Common Pleas Court. Right now the commission rates judges as either “recommended” or “not recommended,” without any contextual rationale. Fedullo wants to explore the idea of adding that context while creating a “highly recommended” designation.
Education, though, will be his top priority.
“We have to do it. We can’t just sit back and say, ‘Isn’t that a shame?’ And wish somebody would do something about it,” said Fedullo. “We’re lawyers and we’re Philadelphia lawyers and we need to be in the forefront.”