Photos by Gerry Brière.
In 2000, Representative Phillip J. Brutus, an attorney who has been practicing law in Miami-Dade County for the past 23 years, became the first Caribbean-American to be elected to the Florida Legislature.
During his tenure, he served as the Vice-chairman of the Banking and Finance committee, the Judiciary committee and the Claims committee. He also served as Parliamentarian of the Conference of Black State Legislators. In 2001, he secured $2.3 millions for the construction of the first health clinic in Little Haiti. The clinic, located on 80th Terrace in Miami opened its doors in 2008.
In 2001, he successfully challenged a bill that would have made it illegal for undocumented aliens to work in the United States. Following several floor debates, negotiations with the Governor’s office and the Division of Motor Vehicles, the Legislature allowed him to amend the bill, which made it possible for people with cases pending before the Immigration Court or the Department of Homeland Security to have a two year driver’s license.
Every year, he has filed a bill that would remove from our State constitution the ban on Asians owning property in our State although conservative Republican speakers killed the bill every year. Two years ago, with a Cuban American Speaker at the helm, Rep. Ronald Brise was able to get the same bill passed. In 2006, Rep. Brutus introduced a bill that changed several streets in Northeast Miami-Dade County to the names of Haitian revolutionary heroes like Toussaint Louverture, Capois La Mort, Jean Jacques Dessalines, Alexandre Petion and Henry Christophe.
Prior to being elected Phillip J. Brutus took part in several activities that had a major impact on the Haitian community of South Florida. In 1990, he represented free of charge some three hundred fifty Haitians who were arrested while demonstrating at the 79th street shopping center against a Cuban shopkeeper who had beaten up a Haitian shopper. In 1992, he went on a 21 day hunger strike with the NAACP to protest the double standards applied to Cuban and Haitian entrants. That same year, he shut down his practice for two weeks to volunteer at the Guantanamo Naval base to assist several thousands Haitians who were seeking asylum in the US following the bloody military coup in their country.
In 1994, he was appointed by then President Bill Clinton to the steering committee for the summit of the Americas, which gathered heads of State form the Caribbean, Latin America and South America. In 1995, he was selected by the National Center for State Courts in cooperation with the American Bar Association and the US Department of Justice to participate in a series of legal reform seminars throughout Haiti. Rep. Brutus currently practices law in North Miami Beach, Florida. He is married and has 4 children.