|Bridging the Justice Gap with Jazz4Justice|
by Ed and Maura Burke Weiner, Jazz4Justice Founders, and Shannon Gunn, Jazz4Justice Program Manager
In the Fall of 2001, attorney and past Virginia State Bar President Edward L. Weiner attended a jazz recital at George Mason University School of Music in Fairfax, Virginia. He was impressed by the music, but distressed by the small audience. Ed saw an opportunity for the Fairfax Bar Association and its charitable arm, the Fairfax Law Foundation, to partner with George Mason University to “convert” a scheduled fall or spring band concert into a fundraiser for George Mason’s jazz program and the Fairfax Bar’s pro bono legal initiatives. The first Annual Jazz4Justice Concert was held in November 2002.
Since then more than 44 Annual Jazz4Justice concerts have been organized at universities in Virginia -- with more in the planning stages. To date, J4J concerts have:
Jazz4Justice has won awards from the ABA, the Virginia State Bar and several local bars.
Funds are raised through sponsorships from the local legal and business communities, as well as from ticket sales. Proceeds are shared to support music scholarships and access to justice programs within the local community.
Antonio Garcia, Director of Jazz Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University (now in their fifth year of J4J concerts) says, “Justice for all is a never-ending quest, and pro bono legal work is a critical part of that journey. While many music genres could be a match, jazz is ideal because of its ongoing link to social justice”. University of Virginia’s Director of Jazz Performance, John D’earth states, “Partnering the UVA Jazz Ensemble with Jazz4Justice was a serendipitous opportunity to join this quintessentially American music of joyful freedom with community action on the ground”.
Beyond fundraising, Jazz4Justice offers an opportunity for students to learn a priceless lesson. “The students see firsthand how they can participate in the community and touch others in a substantive way,” states Jim Carroll, George Mason Jazz Ensemble Director. GMU is entering its 17th year of Jazz4Justice concerts.
The George Mason University Jazz Ensemble: 17th
This “increased awareness” was demonstrated at a recent Jazz4Justice concert at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia. After the concert, two student members of the jazz ensemble approached Ed and said, “Mr. Weiner, we really appreciate this opportunity to perform in this year’s Jazz4Justice. We’d like to donate to the cause”, then handed him $25. Ed beams, “They ‘got it!’”
Why Jazz4Justice: The Justice Gap
Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, Jr. said:
“Equal justice under law is not merely a caption on the facade of the Supreme Court building, it is perhaps the most inspiring ideal of our society. It is one of the ends for which our entire legal system exists...it is fundamental that justice should be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status.”
The chasm between the civil legal needs of low-income Americans and the resources available to meet those needs is known as the “Justice Gap.” According to the Legal Services Corporation’s 2017 Justice Gap Report, 86% of the civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal help.
Today, over 1 million Virginians (1 in 8) are eligible for Legal Aid. Nationwide, approximately 63 million Americans (1 in 5) are eligible. John Whitfield, Executive Director of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Legal Services, says it’s easy to become “so habituated to this condition that we’ve become inured to the injustice of it.”
Jazz4Justice Founder, Maura Burke Weiner indicates that “by helping to build Jazz4Justice partnerships between their local bars, Legal Aids and university (or high school) jazz programs, attorneys are working to close the justice gap, as well as increase public awareness of the disparities in access to legal services.”
Jazz4Justice also helps to bridge the gap between universities and their local communities. Each university and local bar Jazz4Justice partnership has added their own unique voice to the J4J model. Kelly Rossum, Associate Professor and Jazz Ensemble Director at Christopher Newport University (now in its seventh year of J4J concerts), suggests “treating Jazz4Justice like a lead sheet with each of us adding our own improvisations.”
Jazz4Justice: How It Works
Creating a collaborative partnership between the bar and the local university jazz program has proven to be an essential part of the roadmap leading to J4J success.
With assistance from the team at Jazz4Justice Foundation, each Jazz4Justice location develops a J4J Planning Committee, which includes representatives from the local bar, Legal Aid, university jazz program, local law firms, and the business community. The Committee coordinates all aspects of the planning of the concerts, including: marketing/publicity and ticket sales, and sponsorship development. Through planning 44 concerts, Jazz4Justice Foundation has developed a “playbook”, which allows each Committee to add their local touch, without having to “reinvent the wheel”.
In addition to fabulous music, good attendance and funds raised, Jazz4Justice concerts have included:
Ann Kloeckner, Executive Director of Legal Aid Works in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a beneficiary of Jazz4Justice at the University of Mary Washington and now in its fifth year of J4J concerts, recently wrote of local Jazz4Justice sponsors, “I know how important this cause is… I promise that we will work hard to nurture… jazz and justice for all in the Fredericksburg region. Our event grew from 300 to 500 attendees in just one year. That tells me the Jazz4Justice ‘has legs!’ Because of your vision, domestic violence victims will be protected, homeless people will be helped, and vulnerable people in poverty will have their rights protected.”
Jazz4Justice is a case of win / win.
Jazz4Justice Foundation continues to expand in Virginia and across the U.S. If your bar is interested, please visit www.jazz4justice.com for more information, and contact Shannon Gunn, J4J Program Manager at email@example.com or Ed Weiner, J4J Founder, at (703) 273-9500.
Edward L. Weiner, Esq.
Edward "Ed" L. Weiner is the founding partner of Weiner, Spivey & Miller, PLC, and a Past President of the Virginia State Bar and the Fairfax Bar Association. He has over 37 years of proven successful performance representing plaintiffs who have been seriously injured, and focuses his practice on personal injury and medical malpractice.
Maura Burke Weiner
In addition to working with local Jazz4Justice Planning Committees in developing new J4J concerts, Maura is President of JuryMatters, Inc., a confidential, virtual jury service, which provides civil and criminal trial attorneys insight into how local juries will view their cases. She sits on the Board of the Fairfax Law Foundation and the Virginia State Bar’s Diversity Conference.
In addition her work as Program Manager for Jazz4Justice, Shannon is also a busy jazz musician (trombone). She founded and manages DC’s premiere all-women jazz orchestra, Shannon Gunn and the Bullettes. They have had celebrated performances at the Kennedy Center, Castleton Theatre House, DC Jazz Festival, and other East Coast locations.
 Legal Services Corporation. 2017. The Justice Gap: Measuring the Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-income Americans. Prepared by NORC at the University of Chicago for Legal Services Corporation. Washington, DC.
 John Whitfield, Whitfield: Locked out of our civil justice system, The Roanoke Times, April 19, 2018, http://www.roanoke.com/opinion/commentary/whitfield-locked-out-of-our-civil-justice-system/article_6dd8ea2d-5b3e-5587-9fe2-8b29587f695e.html (last visited May 5, 2018).