We are deeply saddened to announce that our beloved founder, friend, and mentor Randy Berg has died after a battle with ALS. Randy co-founded the Florida Justice Institute (FJI) in 1978 and served as its Executive Director for 41 years until his retirement in 2019. During that time, he was a mentor, friend, colleague, leader, and confidant to the many lawyers, paralegals, law students, and clients who passed through FJI’s doors. He was a deeply inspiring figure who devoted his life to helping people facing oppression, hardship, and loss. He was a tireless advocate for poor and disenfranchised Floridians, and he passionately believed that everyone deserved justice—no matter who you were or what was in your background.
That spirit is reflected in the many accomplishments he achieved throughout his career. He began with a statewide case about Florida’s failure to maintain safe and sanitary jails, which resulted in the improvement of every jail in the state, so that people awaiting trial could be treated with dignity and respect. Recognizing the enormous need for recruiting lawyers to help the many clients who could not afford them, he established a pro bono program called the Public Interest Law Bank, which was later renamed Put Something Back, which still operates today. He published five editions of the Older Floridians Handbook, a guide to programs, benefits, and services available to older people living in Florida. He helped create the nation’s first Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (IOLTA) program, shepherding the process through trips to the Florida and United States Supreme Courts, the IRS, and various state bar associations. Randy’s work resulted in the establishment of IOLTA programs in every state, which have raised over $3.5 billion to fund legal services for the poor.
Randy represented countless incarcerated people and their families in civil rights cases, winning victory after victory and establishing landmark precedents that are still relied on decades later. His efforts brought widespread change to the prison system for people with disabilities, people in need of medical and mental health care, people in solitary confinement, people who had been subjected to degrading and abusive treatment, and family members wishing to maintain contact with their loved ones. He represented victims of housing discrimination, helping to ensure that they were allowed to live in the home of their choice, regardless of their race, national origin, or abilities. And he helped ensure the fairness of the electoral process through various voting and election-related cases.
Randy never shied away from a righteous cause because it was unpopular. In 41 years, his moral compass never wavered—if he saw injustice, he would fight it. Combining a brilliant legal mind with a compassionate approach to lawyering, his efforts have improved the lives of thousands of people throughout the state of Florida.
Randy’s compassionate spirit was reflected not just in his work on behalf of clients, but also in his caring attitude toward his staff. He was a true leader, always knowing when guidance was needed and when to send us out on our own. He believed in and trusted the people working with him and he thoroughly valued their opinions. He was a dear friend to all of us. The FJI team is truly a family because of Randy.
Randy was a true giant of the civil rights world, and the legal community at large. We’ll never forget what he’s done for us, for his clients, and for the community. We will never be able to replace him, but we can strive to carry on his legacy. He’ll be deeply missed.
A memorial service for Randy will be held on Wednesday, April 24 at 4pm at St. Philips Episcopal Church, 1121 Andalusia Ave, Coral Gables, Florida. Randy’s family has asked that, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Florida Justice Institute.