Rosemary Furman, the secretary whose do-it-yourself legal forms made her a popular heroine, was granted clemency today from a 30-day jail term for contempt of court after refusing to stop dispensing legal advice without a license.
"I'm relieved," Furman said after the unanimous vote by Gov. Robert Graham and the six-member Florida Cabinet. "I can go home and sleep in my own bed, among my plants and books, in my own home."
She said she would continue working with poor people with legal troubles, although she had to close her Jacksonville office as a condition of her sentence.
Attorney Alan Morrison of Washington said he would work with Furman on a constitutional amendment defining "practice of law" to make it easier for people in civil cases to do without an attorney's services.
The Jacksonville woman's fight with the legal establishment dates to 1976, when her Northside Legal Services put together packets of court forms for simple wills, uncontested divorces, name changes and adoptions.
The Florida Bar got a court order to make her stop the practice, contending that she was advising clients, not just helping them fill out forms.
Furman said she only wanted to help battered women, abandoned spouses, homeless children and other poor people handle custody or property matters without paying an attorney. She said she sold her paper-work packets for about $50 each.
State Bar President Gerald Richman told Graham and the Cabinet that Furman had defied the courts and was making about the same profit with her packets as a lawyer earns. He said she also gave bad advice to some clients.
"She is no friend of the poor," Richman said. "She defied the law. She injured people and she gave bad advice. The issue is whether or not you want unlicensed people performing surgery, though it may be cheaper; inspecting buildings, though it may be cheaper."
After her fight was aired on CBS News' "60 Minutes," thousands of people rallied around her cause.
The state Supreme Court reduced her 120-day contempt-of-court sentence to 30 days. The U.S. Supreme Court last month refused to review her conviction, and Graham then proposed executive clemency.
Furman's fight has led to reforms.
Her clients won the right in federal court on Nov. 15 to continue with class-action litigation against the bar and the state Supreme Court on the rights of the public to seek access to the courts without lawyers.
The state Supreme Court earlier this year allowed court clerks to provide standard forms for simple, uncontested divorces.