ALSC’s first Volunteer of the Month for 2019 is the amazing Sam Fortier! Sam has truly made a difference in the lives of ALSC’s clients through his long and passionate pro bono career. We are so appreciative to have Sam’s expertise and dedicated advocacy for our clients! Read on for Sam’s interview with ALSC:
Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?
I first began volunteering in 1983. I enjoy meeting folks and I especially enjoy not having to worry about billing people, especially folks who can’t pay but need a lawyer. Then, a few years ago, I learned that ALSC provides malpractice coverage for volunteer lawyers on a case by case basis, and that made all the difference. I also know a number of people who cannot afford lawyers. I refer them to ALSC, telling them to tell Nikole or Laura that I will represent them. It is a good feeling when the call comes in from ALSC that so and so has been referred to me.
What are some of your experiences at ALSC that have made a positive difference in the lives of others and the community?
One of my first cases involved a young man with muscular dystrophy who wanted to raise his infant daughter. For some reason, she had been placed out of state in Colorado with a foster family, apparently for adoption. We were successful in establishing my client’s (fundamental) right to raise his daughter. Although my client died a few years ago, his daughter grew into a healthy, productive young woman, nourished by her father’s love.
For a number of years, I volunteered with ALSC and Alaska Native Justice Center for triage at Brother Francis Shelter and met some remarkable people who had enormous problems with just locating help. I hope I made a difference with some of those lives. One of my proudest accomplishments was teaming up with ALSC to win, after many years, an allotment case in Katmai National Park. We also shined a bright light on the horrible treatment of the family over a number of generations.
How do you think your experiences with ALSC will benefit you in the future?
Without question, the experiences are unlike any that most lawyers worrying about billable hours can imagine. For a lot of folks, life has been pretty tough. I think I have learned more from the pro bono work I do about simply surviving and appreciating life in all its textures.
What do you do when you are not volunteering with ALSC?
I am a grandfather of a 9-year old girl. My wife, Dagmar, and I have been married for 34 glorious years and we have practiced together for 33 years.
Although I cannot dance a step, I am president of the Alaska Classical Ballet Academy, where my granddaughter has learned to dance beautifully. I was raised in Anchorage and Fairbanks. I became a VISTA after college with the assistance of Governor Egan, in the days when Nixon was killing the old Office of Economic Opportunity. Serving in Vista was almost as good as being an ALSC volunteer.