Loren Miller Legal Services Award

INFORMATION & GUIDELINES - VIEW 2013 AWARD RECIPIENT

The Loren Miller Legal Services Award, named after the late Loren Miller, an African American lawyer and judge who was a leader in the civil rights movement, was established in 1977 to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of the State Bar of California. It is considered a lifetime achievement award and is given annually to a lawyer admitted to practice in California who has demonstrated long-term commitment to legal services and who has personally done significant work in extending legal services to the poor. Previous award recipients include the staff of legal services organizations such as directors of litigation, executive directors and private bar attorneys. 

GUIDELINES, ELIGIBILITY, AND CRITERIA

General criteria to be used in the selection of the award recipient include one or more of the following:

  • Demonstrated dedication to the development and delivery of legal services
  • Community organizing to increase access to the legal system
  • Performance of legal services with a demonstrated long-term commitment to providing legal services
  • Successful precedent-setting litigation which benefited the poor
  • Successful local, state and/or national legislative advocacy on behalf of under-represented persons

Members of the State Bar Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services (SCDLS) are ineligible to receive the award during their service on the committee, and for one year following their departure from the committee.

NOMINATION INSTRUCTIONS - DOWNLOAD NOMINATION FORM

  • Self-nominations are accepted.
  • Previous nominations may be resubmitted with updated information.
  • The nomination form and nominee’s current resume or biography with work history and dates are required and must be submitted electronically as Word documents.
  • In addition, at least one (1) but no more than five (5) letters in support of the nomination that include citations to reported cases, references to legislative and organizing efforts, successful projects and relevant newspaper or other articles about the nominee’s professional accomplishments.
  • Letters of support and additional supporting material must be submitted with the nomination form and resume as individual PDF files, except for articles which can be submitted via live URL links. Video web links, CDs and DVDs will not be accepted.  
  • Letters of support should be addressed to the “Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services”.
  • All attachments must be itemized in the body of the e-mail message.
  • The total size of all documents attached to a single e-mail cannot exceed 10 MB. If necessary, send remaining documents in a second e-mail.
  • The page limit on letters of support and additional supporting materials (not including the resume) is 25 pages.
  • Nomination materials should be emailed to the attention of Kimberly Warmsley at LorenMillerandProBonoAwards@calbar.ca.gov by 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time on Monday, March 17, 2014
  • The e-mail subject line should include “2014 Loren Miller Award” and the nominee’s name. If attachments are submitted in two e-mails, please add “(1 of 2)” and “(2 of 2)” to the subject line.
  • Please do not include more than one nomination per e-mail.
  • Nominations will only be accepted electronically. If it is a hardship to submit a nomination electronically, please contact Ms. Warmsley at the e-mail address above, or 415-538-2176 about an alternative method for submission.
  • Nominators will receive e-mail notification acknowledging receipt of each nomination within five (5) business days. Please contact Ms. Warmsley to confirm receipt of submission if needed.

Please answer all questions thoroughly. If critical information is missing, the nomination may be disqualified. If information needs to be clarified, the nominator may be contacted.     

Each nominee will receive e-mail notification that she or he has been nominated for an award with copy to the nominator.

SELECTION PROCESS AND AWARD PRESENTATION

The State Bar Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services (SCDLS) will review the nominations and submit its recommendation to the State Bar Board of Governors in July for final approval. The decision regarding the award recipient will be based on the above criteria or comparable achievements and the strength of the supporting letters. The award will be presented during the State Bar Annual Meeting in San Diego.

For more information and questions regarding the Loren Miller Award, please contact Sharon Ngim via email at: sharon.ngim@calbar.ca.gov

2013 LOREN MILLER LEGAL SERVICES AWARD RECIPIENT

For more than 42 years, Gary Blasi has been a committed and passionate advocate for the poor whose work integrated individual service delivery, litigation, legislative advocacy, investigation, research and writing, and training of future poverty lawyers. His legal career began in the fall of 1971 as a volunteer paralegal studying law in the Echo Park Community Law Office, one of a handful of private, community-based public interest and civil rights law firms in the country. In lieu of attending law school, he participated in law office study as a legal apprentice, eventually working full-time and developing an expertise in landlord-tenant law. As a student apprentice, Mr. Blasi led the effort to organize a Tenant Action Center, which provided free legal services to tenants and provided a home to Tenants United, a neighborhood organization that helped tenants solve their own problems through organizing.

After passing the bar in 1976, Mr. Blasi continued to work as a partner in the Echo Park Community Law Office, advocating on behalf of tenants and filing lawsuits against slumlords using tort theories and the then recently adopted warranty of habitability. In 1978, Mr. Blasi joined the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA), where he worked as a full-time staff attorney representing the poor. Two of his early cases on behalf of tenants had significant statewide impact. The case of Arrieta v. Mahon (1982) 31 Cal.3d 381 stopped the practice of sheriffs and marshals evicting all tenants when an unlawful detainer judgment had been entered against any person residing in that housing unit, whether or not that person had received notice. The Supreme Court’s unanimous ruling resulted in an immediate change in practice in every jurisdiction in the state. Sanchez v. Little (1985) 166 Cal.App.3d 501, the use of stipulated conditional judgments ordering a tenant to be evicted without notice or hearing,  another device then used by some landlords to evict tenants without due process.. In response to the overwhelming demand for tenant representation, Mr. Blasi led the creation of LAFLA’s Eviction Defense Center in 1983 and served as its co-director. In its first year, with a staff of five and the first computers in any legal services program, the Center assisted nearly 10,000 tenants and provided full representation to more than 300 tenant families.  The Eviction Defense Center still operates in Los Angeles today, 30 years after its creation, now as part of a Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Act pilot project.

In 1984, Mr. Blasi’s primary focus shifted from representing tenants to assisting those who had no housing at all.   He became a local and national leader in advocacy for homeless individuals and families. Between 1984 and 1991, he led the Homeless Litigation Team, a collaboration of attorneys from six legal services and public interest firms, pro bono attorneys, social scientists, community organizers and providers of health, mental health, housing and other services. With Mr. Blasi at the helm, the Homeless Litigation Team pursued targeted, sequential, systematic litigation in lieu of the more traditional law reform or structural injunction case, and succeeded in bringing about substantial changes benefitting the poorest residents of Los Angeles County in a series of cases. For example, in Rensch v. Board of Supervisors, No. C595155, slip op. (Los Angeles County Superior Court August 6, 1986), the preliminary injunction and trial victory required the adoption and maintenance by Los Angeles County of an entirely new set of procedures for identifying and assisting applicants for General Relief with significant mental or developmental disabilities. Those procedures were codified in, and remain a part of, the General Relief Policy Manual. In Paris v. Board of Supervisors, Los Angeles County Superior Court Case No. C523361, Mr. Blasi and his team obtained a preliminary injunction and settlement precluding the County from consigning homeless people to emergency housing in slum buildings. As a result of litigation and settlement of that case, no homeless General Relief applicant being provided temporary housing by the County is sent to a slum hotel. Many of Mr. Blasi’s innovative litigation strategies were adopted by other lawyers litigating cases on behalf of the poor against complex bureaucracies. Also during this time period, Mr. Blasi served on the board of the National Coalition for the Homeless, an organization that was instrumental in lobbying for the first federal legislation to assist homeless persons, the Stuart B. McKinney Act.

At UCLA School of Law, Mr. Blasi was appointed Acting Professor of Law in 1991 and Professor of Law in 1996, and has served as a clinical teacher, training the next generations of public interest lawyers, while continuing to litigate actively on behalf of the poor as a pro bono lawyer.  In 1996, Mr. Blasi co-founded the Los Angeles Blue Ribbon Commission on Slum Housing to investigate and recommend changes to eliminate the slum housing conditions in Los Angeles. Mr. Blasi was also an active member of the litigation team, from pre-filing investigation to settlement negotiations, in Williams v. California (2000) San Francisco Superior Court Case No. 312236. This case was a statewide class action resulting in a landmark settlement that provided all students equal access to instructional materials, safe schools, and qualified teachers. The settlement brought approximately $1 billion in additional resources to the schools attended by one million of the poorest children in California. Mr. Blasi, and a litigation team he helped assemble, also represented individual Section 8 tenants and civil rights organizations in The Community Action League, et al., v. City of Lancaster, et al., Central District of California, Case No. 11-cv-4817 (2011), resulting in settlements and a consent decree.  That case changed policing activity and housing practices, and reconfirmed the fair housing principle for more than 4,000 families who had been subjected to racial discrimination, setting in place policies preventing future efforts to harass Section 8 tenants.

In addition to his continued litigation on behalf of the poor and underserved, Mr. Blasi has tirelessly mentored law students interested in pursuing careers in public interest law. To that end, Mr. Blasi co-founded the UCLA School of Law’s Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy (EPILP) in 1997. He has been a core faculty member of the program since its inception, training approximately 400 future public interest and legal services lawyers, many of whom have gone on to distinguished careers advocating on behalf of the poor in California and across the nation.  His courses in Problem Solving in the Public Interest, Public Policy Advocacy and Fact Investigation prepare future poverty lawyers to both represent individuals and seek systemic change.

Despite an official retirement date of December 2012, Mr. Blasi has committed to teach in the UCLA School of Law’s public interest and clinical programs through at least 2015 and continues an active pro bono practice.  For example, Mr. Blasi is currently negotiating, along with a team of lawyers from legal services programs and pro bono counsel, a settlement of a potential class action on behalf of over 35,000 General Relief recipients who were wrongfully denied benefits during the past three years and many more threatened with illegal terminations and sanctions in the future. He also is pro bono counsel in Gregory Valentini, et al. v. Eric Shinseki, et al., Central District of California, Case No. 11-cv-04846 (2011), a case brought on behalf of approximately 3,000 military veterans who are homeless in Los Angeles County primarily because of mental disabilities stemming from their service to this country.  In recognition of his work on this case and on behalf of homeless veterans generally, Mr. Blasi received the ACLU of Southern California’s 2012 Humanitarian Award.

           

Catherine E. Lhamon, Director of Impact Litigation with Public Counsel, says of Mr. Blasi: “Gary has by now well earned an opportunity to direct other people to do the spade work in his cases.  But he does not avail himself of that privilege. Gary spends his days in soup kitchens and food lines, interviewing witnesses and gathering declarations, or in county offices, interviewing persons who apply for general relief or housing subsidies, and his evenings poring over data received from his many Public Records Act requests, trying to identify additional inequities that he could challenge and end.  Gary meets with poor people to learn their stories and to find ways he can improve their access, often through litigation.  He is a true community lawyer, who appreciates that his value is best focused on poor people’s actual needs, which he can only learn through talking with them.”    

 

Past Loren Miller Legal Services Award Recipients

Year Recipient
2013 Gary Blasi
2012 Melinda R. Bird
2011 Sid Wolinsky
2010 Gary F. Smith
2009 Robert Gnaizda
2008 Richard Rothschild
2007 Stewart Kwoh
2006 Joan Messing Graff
2005 Carl R. Poirot
2004 Bruce Iwasaki
2003 Robert Cohen
2002 Bernida Reagan
2001 Joaquin Avila
2000 Laurie Zelon
1999 David Bryson
1998 Tanya Neiman
1997 Mary Burdick
1996 Jack Londen
1995 Toby Rothschild
1994 Marilyn Holle
1993 Alice Bussiere
1992 Evelyn Frank
1991 Edward Davis, Jr.
1990 Katharine Krause
1989 Elaine Alexander
1988 Carole Brill
1987 Donald Tamaki
1986 Elena Ackel
1985 Peter Reid
1984 John McTernan
1983 Ralph Abascal
1982 Joseph Duff
1981 Benjamin Dreyfus
1980 John Porter
1979 Fay Stender
1978 Cruz Reynoso
1977 Earl Johnson