Politicos, law firm throw weight behind UF Law environmental scholarships

Published: February 25th, 2013

Category: News

Former Gov. Buddy MacKay (JD 61), center, and his wife Anne speak Feb. 12 to UF Levin College of Law Professor Jon Mills (JD 72), UF Law students Vivek Babbar (3L), LL.M. candidate Alexis Segal and Chelsea Sims (3L) during a fundraiser for a UF Law environmental fellowship. The fundraiser was held at Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell in downtown Orlando. (Photo by Richard Goldstein)

By Richard Goldstein

At the behest of a who’s who of Florida politicians, the foyer of Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell in downtown Orlando was packed with 70 people for an evening fundraiser.

The crowd gathered on behalf of UF Law students and in honor of the “defender of the Everglades.” Friends and colleagues said Thom Rumberger devoted much of his career fighting on behalf of the Florida environment.

Former Gov. Buddy MacKay (JD 61) and his wife Anne mingled in the crowd Feb. 12, and MacKay, who was Rumberger’ UF Law schoolmate, was just one of several prominent figures lending their names to the goal of raising $300,000 for environmental law scholarships. Others include former Gov. Charlie Crist, former Attorney General Bill McCollum (JD 68), former Comptroller and gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

The law firm and UF Law are spearheading the drive to endow the E. Thom Rumberger Everglades Foundation Fellowship Program.

“This fellowship celebrates three of Thom’s favorite passions: The Everglades, the University of Florida Law School and the law itself,” Frank Sheppard, managing partner of Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, told the crowd.

Jon Mills (JD 72), a UF Law professor and director of the Center for Governmental Responsibility, worked with Rumberger on landmark environmental and constitutional cases.

“We’re going to have a permanent legacy of students who represent the kind of principled commitment and integrity that Thom Rumberger represented,” Mills said. “So exhibits one, two and three, please step forward.”

UF Law students Chelsea Sims (3L), Vivic Babar (3L) and LL.M. student Alexis Segal squeezed to the front of the room. These are the type of students who will benefit from the fellowship, Mills said.

Sims, from Bevard County, is working on a Conservation Clinic project securing permits to salvage tires damaging endangered corals off the coast of Fort Lauderdale.

Babar, from Lake Mary, works with UF Law Conservation Clinic clients drafting legislation for a noticed general permit for oyster reef restoration and who participated in UF Law’s three-week course on South Florida ecosystems in the Everglades.

Segal is seeking an LL.M. in environmental and land use law. She launched the Biscayne Bay Waterkeeper in January 2011. It’s a nonprofit devoted to protecting, conserving and enhancing the water quality of Biscayne Bay and its surrounding watershed. Segal is a Climate Institute Fellow who works with the UF Law Conservation Clinic to assist a Bahamian nonprofit to establish a marine reserve zone and research facility in Long Island, Bahamas.

“What this fellowship will do is create the opportunity for students to work in the public interest areas, Everglades restoration in particular … in order to build a career,” explained UF Law Dean Robert Jerry. “I promise you that we will use your investment in this fellowship most wisely and the future returns on this investment will be wonderful.”

Eric Eikenberg, executive director of the Everglades Foundation, noted Rumberger’s long involvement with environmental conservation and encouraged everyone in the room to call elected representatives on behalf of pro-Everglades environmental policy.

“We need to ensure that in these tight budget times the commitment to conservation remains strong,” Eikenberg said.

Debbie Rumberger called the scholarship an apt send off for her late husband.

“This is such a fitting legacy for him and on behalf of the family,” she said. “I want to thank you from the bottom of our heart.”

To donate to the E. Thom Rumberger Everglades Foundation Fellowship Program go to www.uff.ufl.edu/appeals/Rumberger.