Pro Bono Lawyer Elizabeth Kasulis Padilla

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 30, 2005

Elizabeth Kasulis Padilla, 28, a McLean native who worked as a pro bono lawyer and legal services coordinator with the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project Inc., and who was a tireless volunteer with a number of organizations, died June 9 after being hit by a truck while riding her bicycle in a Brooklyn street a few blocks from where she lived.

Ms. Padilla was born in Washington and graduated in 1995 from McLean High School, where she was captain of the varsity basketball, soccer and field hockey teams. She received a bachelor's degree in Spanish and sociology from the University of Virginia in 1999. She took extra courses so she could earn a law degree and a master's degree in law from Cornell University in 2002. Her specialty was international human rights law.

After graduating from Cornell, Ms. Padilla spurned a six-figure starting salary with a Silicon Valley law firm to do poverty law. For two years she worked at the Family Center in New York, providing pro bono legal services to indigent persons suffering from terminal illnesses, primarily people living with HIV-AIDS. Much of her efforts involved arranging for the future care of their children.

She joined the Volunteer Lawyers Project in 2004.

Ms. Padilla worked as a volunteer for Human Rights Watch, taught English as a second language to Korean, Vietnamese and Spanish-speaking immigrant high school students and worked in a soup kitchen run by New York Cares, a volunteer organization.

Her volunteer endeavors were in keeping with a lifelong pattern. In high school, she was a candy striper at Inova Fairfax Hospital. As a college student, she was a volunteer firefighter in Charlottesville and in Ithaca, N.Y. Her father recalled that she enjoyed the physical challenge of the work, the intellectual stimulation of learning cardiopulmonary resuscitation and other skills, and the firefighters' camaraderie.

As a law student, she spent a summer in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where she worked in Mostar as a volunteer legal assistant for women, mostly widows, who were seeking to regain their houses and other property taken during the Serbian campaign of ethnic cleansing.

A cyclist, swimmer and marathoner, as well as a personal trainer, Ms. Padilla was a member of the Achilles Club, an organization that enables people with all sorts of disabilities to participate in mainstream athletics. She ran the New York City Marathon in 2004 as a partner with her friend Leo, who is blind. She also rode with him in a tandem-bike race in May.

Her father suggested that her zeal to serve was nurtured, at least in part, by her family background. Her grandfather was a Mexican immigrant. Some of her relatives are peasant farmers in Mexico, yet an uncle is the chief executive of Ford Motor Co. She understood that opportunity, not native intellect, was the deciding factor in an individual's success, her father said, and she worked to make sure that others had opportunities.

In the days since her death, she continues to serve as an inspiration for change. New York cyclists are leaving wreaths and messages at the site of her accident and are organizing and lobbying the city in her memory for stronger ordinances to protect bike riders.

When she wasn't helping others, Ms. Padilla enjoyed reading, languages, playing the piano and traveling. While studying at the University of Paris-Sorbonne in the summer of 2000, she organized a car caravan of fellow students to Spain, where she ran with the bulls at Pamplona.

Survivors include her husband of nearly two years, Tim Kasulis of Brooklyn; her parents, David and Kathy Padilla of McLean; and two sisters, Sara Padilla of Washington and Rebecca Padilla of Arlington.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company