Former FSU President D’Alemberte to receive prestigious legal honor

Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte

With the crumbling of the Berlin Wall in 1989, millions of people living under communist rule behind the former Iron Curtain were given their first taste of freedom. Today, many of those same people are citizens of growing democracies and enjoy the legal protections of national constitutions and independent judiciaries. And one of the men who helped make such a radical transformation possible is being recognized internationally for his efforts.

Talbot "Sandy" D’Alemberte, president emeritus of Florida State University and a professor in the FSU College of Law, will be presented with the International Bar Association’s prestigious Rule of Law Award on Saturday, Feb. 26, in Miami. The award honors individuals who have made a significant and lasting contribution to upholding the rule of law worldwide.

In 1989, D’Alemberte, then serving as president-elect of the American Bar Association, convinced that organization to establish the Central and East European Law Initiative (CEELI), a volunteer program charged with assisting emerging democracies across the region as they worked to create legal frameworks that would guarantee the rights of individuals. The Cold War having recently ended, D’Alemberte said he felt it was time to stop talking about spreading freedom and actually do something to make it happen.

"Are we going to go back and talk some more about the rule of law, or are we going to do something about it?" he recalled challenging his fellow ABA members, many of whom were hesitant to take on such a sweeping project. "The time had come to shift from rhetoric to action."

Over the years, CEELI ( has succeeded beyond its founders’ wildest dreams. The organization, now known as the Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative, has helped dozens of nations establish viable legal systems to enforce the rule of law, as well as develop independent judiciaries and legal professions. The CEELI model also has been adapted to help fledgling democracies throughout Africa, Latin America and Asia.

CEELI now has offices in 24 countries across Central Europe, Eurasia and the Mideast. Since its founding in 1990, more than 5,000 American judges, attorneys, law professors and legal specialists have contributed more than $200 million in pro bono assistance to promoting the rule of law throughout the world.

"CEELI has developed into the most extensive pro bono technical legal assistance program in U.S. history," said Mark Ellis, executive director of the International Bar Association, who also served as CEELI’s first director. "Sandy D’Alemberte is a maverick leader of immeasurable talent whose vision has changed the legal landscape throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union."

D’Alemberte showed typical modesty over the award.

"I’ve come to greatly admire the IBA and its support of the rule of law throughout the world," he said. "I’m very honored to be receiving the organization’s Rule of Law Award, recognizing that the thousands of American lawyers, judges and legal scholars who have really done the hard work in the field are the ones who have made this initiative such a success."

D’Alemberte has been a campaigner for legal reform for decades, helping to institute merit selection for judicial vacancies in the Florida court system in the 1960s and ’70s. While serving as president of FSU, he also helped create the Center for the Advancement of Human Rights (, which works to promote the cause of human rights throughout the world.

In addition to D’Alemberte, the International Bar Association is honoring another accomplished jurist with this year’s Rule of Law Award. Aryeh Neier is regarded as America’s foremost human-rights advocate. He became known worldwide as a founder of Human Rights Watch, a once-small organization that has become the world’s most authoritative voice on international human rights.