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Public Service: Judith Westmoreland

Jackson County CASA

Another attorney’s broken foot proved to be Judith Westmoreland’s foot in the door to Kansas City’s legal community when she arrived without a job in 2013.

Westmoreland, a staff attorney at Jackson County CASA, is a native of Austin, Texas, and attended law school at South Texas College of Law in Houston.westmoreland-judith-002

She came to Kansas City with no legal job lined up and few contacts other than one particularly well-placed one – University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law Dean Ellen Suni, a friend of a friend.

Westmoreland said Suni called her with a question – Mira Mdivani, of the Mdivani Corporate Immigration Law Firm in Overland Park, Kansas, had broken her foot and needed a chauffeur. Would Westmoreland be interested in being her driver?

She was.

“So I basically shadowed Mira in the Kansas City legal community for two months, and she introduced me to everyone because she’s an adjunct professor and it was CLE season, the end of the school year,” Westmoreland said.

After the chauffeur gig, she went on to do pro bono work for Legal Aid of Western Missouri’s domestic-violence unit in Warrensburg during her first summer in town. Mdivani’s firm hired her a short time later.

Her practice at Mdivani’s firm included providing legal representation to corporations. She found she particularly enjoyed working in the firm’s pro bono practice, which helps immigrant victims of domestic violence achieve legal status.

“I hated everything that I got paid for, and I loved everything that I didn’t,” she said. “I have a huge heart for working with people who don’t have a voice for themselves.”

Westmoreland eventually left Mdivani’s firm to work for Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault, where she worked in the area of sexual-violence prevention education and wrote the program the group uses for youth-led prevention efforts.

She returned to the legal world in 2016 when she joined Jackson County CASA as staff attorney/guardian ad litem. In that role, she works as part of a three-person team with a layperson volunteer and a case supervisor to advocate for children in abuse and neglect cases.

The work allows her to be a voice for children, whose experiences or knowledge often are dismissed by adults and whose needs can be overlooked in the legal system.

She said what keeps her going, even in the face of difficult cases, is knowing the work needs to be done.

“I didn’t grow up like the kids I represent,” she said. “I have two parents who loved me and believed in me and told me that I could do and be anything I wanted in this world, who would support me no matter what happened.”

As a result, Westmoreland said she believes she has a duty to give back.

“If I was raised to have the brain structure that is healthy and coping skills that are healthy and a brain that allows me to fight and come up with arguments, then I have a responsibility to be that voice for the children who don’t have that.”