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Local civil rights pioneer and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Eva Paterson, is leaving her longtime post to head up a new organization called the Equal Justice Society. “It was time for a change. Last September was my 25th anniversary at the Lawyers’ Committee and it put things in perspective,” said Paterson, who joined the organization as her second job after graduating from Boalt Hall School of Law in 1975. But Paterson won’t be moving far away — the Equal Justice Society will rent space in the same downtown San Francisco building as the Lawyers’ Committee. “When they hire the new person I’ll have to give up my great view of the Bay Bridge; that’s one of the things that gave me pause,” she joked. A longtime advocate of affirmative action, Paterson has often cited herself as an example of the program’s successes. “Affirmative action gave me an opportunity — but I cracked the books, did the work, and passed the tests,” she told The Recorder before she received the ACLU of Northern California’s Earl Warren Civil Liberties Award last December. Paterson’s new organization — which is funded by the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Institute — will be dedicated to battling what Paterson views as a steadily advancing assault on civil rights and civil liberties. “There needs to be an organization working to blunt Ashcroft’s right-wing agenda,” she said. The idea for the new organization took shape in 2000 while Paterson and a group of lawyers, judges and academics gathered in the home of Santa Clara University School of Law professor Stephanie Wildman. Paterson said they talked about modeling a new organization on the Federalist Society, and after receiving a boost in interest during a 2001 conference on federalism at Harvard Law School, Paterson decided to start the new organization to act as a combination progressive think tank and legal activist forum. Deputy San Francisco City Attorney and co-chair of the Lawyers’ Committee, Kamala Harris, said she has mixed feelings about Paterson’s departure. “It’s certainly a loss to the Lawyers’ Committee, but it’s also the beginning of a new phase [for us]. She left a staff of attorneys who are exceptionally bright and incredibly dedicated and who are up to taking on the new phase and generation of the [organization],” Harris said. The Lawyers’ Committee has tapped Robert Rubin as its interim executive director and is advertising the vacancy on its Web site. “We will miss Eva but we’re confident we will find a worthy successor,” said Rubin, the committee’s legal director who runs the voting rights project. Rubin said neither he nor anyone else inside the committee is a candidate for the position. Paterson said that during her tenure at the Lawyers’ Committee her proudest achievement was an anti-discrimination lawsuit brought against the San Francisco Fire Department. The outcome helped open more employment opportunities for women and minorities, she said. In addition, Paterson co-founded A Safe Place, a shelter for battered women. Harris said that, in the bigger picture, Paterson’s move is a good thing for the greater civil rights community. “This won’t be the end. It’s a new beginning for the civil rights community.”

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