March 27, 2003
Before David Webber came along, the rights of those with HIV/AIDS in Philadelphia were much different: paramedics sometimes refused to help AIDS patients into their ambulances; Rite-Aid was giving the names of Pennsylvanians on AIDS drugs to their employers; and funeral homes regularly denied services to those who died of AIDS. Tonight, Webber is the guest of honor at the 15th anniversary fund-raiser for the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania.
In a time before the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act, fear of HIV transmission gripped the country. Hired by the AIDS Task Force after having worked pro bono, Webber felt uneasy taking his 25 percent fee from the clients' judgments. "Their compensation wasn't much, and they needed it to live. I was afraid taking my fee would compromise their quality of life," said Webber.
Webber then founded the AIDS Law Project as a nonprofit, independent legal firm solely dedicated to providing free legal services for HIV/AIDS cases. Supported by government funds, private foundations and individual donors, the project was the first agency of its kind.
"In Pennsylvania, the project was a critical resource," said Kandee Ferree, president of the National AIDS Fund in Washington, D.C. "We had no funds for legal help, and pro bono service was hard to come by. Access was also a problem, if you lived in a rural area. David changed all that," Ferree noted.
The project today has a staff of 14 and has represented 20,000 clients. "While the legal climate has improved dramatically for people with HIV, discrimination still exists ... The ignorance is still out there," said project Executive Director Ronda Goldfein. Raising awareness motivated Webber, now in private practice, to accept tonight's recognition. "If it helps promote the cause," said Webber, "I'm glad to be there." For information about tonight's event, telephone 215-587-9902.