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State bar honors attorney
William Botts of Rappahannock Legal Services receives prestigious award

Date published: 7/15/2005

By JESSICA ALLEN

Bill Botts got a call at 3:30 a.m. in 1986 that helped change the way obstetricians treated uninsured pregnant women in the Fredericksburg area.

Botts, an attorney with the Rappahannock Legal Services, listened to his client say that she was having contractions. She was at Mary Washington Hospital, but the doctors would not treat her.

He rushed to her aid. Botts soon learned that obstetricians with staff privileges at Mary Washington had passed a resolution stating that they would refer all indigent patients to the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond for childbirth.

High malpractice risks was one of the reasons the doctors cited.

Botts said the policy was a form of patient dumping. He filed a complaint against the hospital and later contacted federal and state investigators to review the situation.

Because of Bott's involvement, the hospital in 1987 agreed to stop the routine transfer of poor women to MCV for the delivery of their babies.

"The settlement was a win-win situation," he recalled. "Everybody started working together like the way it is today."

Cases such as these are one of the reasons why the 58-year-old Stafford County resident recently received the 2005 Legal Aid Award from the Virginia State Bar.

As the executive director of the Rappahannock Legal Services and senior attorney, Botts continues to represent the poor in all areas. His three main focus points are in housing, health and immigration, he said.

Helping the less fortunate has been his passion for the past 36 years.

Botts graduated from the University of Virginia in 1969 with a degree in aerospace engineering, but decided to go into a field that would help serve those in need.

After working two years with the Peace Corps-style program, VISTA--the precursor of today's AmeriCorps, he went to George Washington University Law School and afterward worked with legal aid services in Florida and Virginia.

Botts has been with Rappahannock Legal Services in Fredericksburg since 1979. The nonprofit organization, which receives some state and federal grants, provides free civil legal assistance to low-income families.

There are two other offices--one in Culpeper and another one in Tappahannock--with 11 staff members. There are six attorneys who work on about 1,800 cases a year. Botts has an open caseload of about 120 cases.

"I feel blessed that I am able to make a difference in the lives of people that society ignores and that they are grateful for it," he said.

Ellyn Hartzler, a homelessness prevention paralegal at Rappahannock Legal Services, said it's an honor to work with Botts.

"I can't tell you how much I appreciate that man," she said. "He works from the heart. He really is a good person for this community."

To reach JESSICA ALLEN: 540/368-5036 jiallen@freelancestar.com