In the end, the committee refused to recommend funding for the law library.
The library has tried to raise money. Beginning August 1, staff began soliciting donations. The 11th Judicial Circuit Historical Society, a group of judges and lawyers led by Circuit Court Judge Scott Silverman, auctioned antique mug shots of Al Capone. A handful of law firms bought them. Then, on September 11, they dolled up the walls of the library with cloth, played music, and offered dinner at $100 a head. But the monthlong drive raised only $85,000.
An additional $50,000 has been pledged, according to Lyle Shapiro, an attorney spearheading the fundraising.
"[That money is] not something we can look to every year and it's not enough," says Freeman, who guesses the first thing to go will be members of the staff. "We'll survive this year," she adds. "But next year...."
In the meantime, Miami's poor keep filing in with questions in Kreyol, Spanish, and all manner of broken English. The library staff has done things like pull photocopies from a giant binder and explain how a packet of forms will get a baby out of the Dominican Republic, or help couples nix failed marriages quickly and cheaply. Some of the visitors are simply crazy — hoping to sue creation for everything under the sun. Eccentrics have used the library as a foothold and a safety net.
Tom Luongo, a boyish-looking New Englander, came to the library six months ago, after being laid off as a Volkswagen importer. He shows up every day, dressed in business attire, and furiously researches probate law. He's working to establish a business. "All the sources are right there in the library — tax code, legal documents, estate planning information," he says.
During his time here, he has befriended Johanna Propiglia, the library director, who is the last stop for every lost soul who walks through the courthouse doors. In a way, she is the county's den mother. On a recent day, Propiglia sits among a pile of grant applications and petitions. Her eyes betray a sullen desperation. "For us it's just [a fight] to stay alive," she says sadly. "And it just isn't looking good."
Even if the library closes, there might he hope. The University of Miami is considering moving its expanding law school downtown. And according to UM spokesperson Barbara Gutierrez, it's "open to anyone from the public who wants to do legal research."