Politicos, law firm back environmental scholarships

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 to fighting on behalf of the Florida environment.

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. Former Gov. Buddy MacKay (JD 61) and his wife Anne mingled in the crowd Feb. 12. MacKay, who was Rumberger’s UF Law classmate, was one of several prominent figures lending their names to the goal of raising $300,000 for  environmental law scholarships. Others included 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 spearheaded the drive to endow the E. Thom Rumberger Everglades Foundation Fellowship Program.


Thom Rumberger

“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), Vivek Babbar (3L) and LL.M. candidate 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 Brevard County, is working on a Conservation Clinic project securing permits to salvage tires damaging endangered corals off the coast of Fort Lauderdale. Babbar, from Lake Mary, works with UF Law Conservation Clinic clients drafting legislation for a noticed general permit for oyster reef restoration. He participated in UF Law’s three-week course about 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.

“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.”

Top contributors to the fellowship include Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell, the Everglades Foundation and Paul Tudor Jones, founder of Tudor Investment Corporation and chairman of the Everglades  Foundation.

“Much of the Everglades policy of the past 25 years has been decided in the courts,” Jones said in an email. “Many of her triumphs came on the broad shoulders of her finest legal advocate, Thom Rumberger, which is why this fellowship in honor of this great man and our dear friend is so  appropriate.”

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.