A TRIBUTE TO PRO BONO 2013


Message from the State Bar President

Patrick M. Kelly, President, The State Bar of California, 2012-2013

As attorneys, the legal problems of others challenge us to do our very best. We straighten out transactions gone awry. We resolve property and commercial disputes. We counsel our clients through criminal proceedings and personal difficulties and help with innumerable other problems that ordinary people have every day.

But there are more than 6 million indigent Californians who cannot afford our services. The Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Account (IOLTA) revenue that pays for civil legal assistance for indigent people statewide is barely a quarter of what it was in 2008 because sadly, the economy has experienced an almost unprecedented downturn with interest rates at historic lows. The capacity of each of the 100 non-profit legal services organizations is stretched to the maximum. There is no cushion left as we struggle to close the justice gap – the gap between the legal needs of the poor and the legal help we can provide for them.

Attorneys are helping to close the justice gap, not only by making financial contributions, but by donating their time and expertise to assist those who would not otherwise have access to legal services. This year, we honor the outstanding contributions made by individual attorneys, a law firm team, a firm branch office, and a law school with the President’s Pro Bono Service Awards. We also recognize the recipients of the Loren Miller Legal Services Award and the Jack Berman Award of Achievement for Distinguished Services to the Profession and Public. These awardees are the shining examples of our profession. On behalf of the State Bar of California, thank you and congratulations.


Message from the Honorable Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of California

 

In my first years as Chief Justice, I have had many opportunities to travel around the state to visit with judges at their courts and with attorneys in their communities. I have seen the extraordinary potential of the bench and the bar. I have seen the power of pro bono service. And I have seen a growing need for legal help, not only among the poor and underserved, but among Californians struggling in an uncertain economy.

The work of the men and women we honor with these Pro Bono Service Awards has never seemed more critical, or more appreciated. Economic stresses have social consequences, many of which present challenges to the legal profession and to the courts. We see court filings rising rapidly in several areas and self-help centers reporting greater volumes of visitors from across the socio-economic spectrum. It is not uncommon for judges to see vulnerable families and seniors in their courtrooms attempting to handle their own legal matters.

The need for pro bono representation seems greater than ever. Especially in times of crisis, when services are cut, homes are taken and jobs are lost, the legal system serves as the safety net for a civil society. Making good on the promise of equal access to justice in our state is not a challenge only for the courts, nor is it a challenge only for the bar. It is a challenge for all Californians. I am honored to be part of this celebration of those who are stepping up to do their part.

2013 President's Pro Bono Service Awards recipients:

Created by the State Bar Board of Trustees in 1983, the awards recognize California attorneys, law firms, associations of California attorneys, law schools and law students who have provided or enabled the direct provision of legal services to individual low-income clients and client groups, or to nonprofit organizations whose primary purpose is to provide services to the poor or disadvantaged, free of charge, without expectation of compensation, in the preceding calendar year. A combined total of up to nine awards can be given annually in all award categories. Nominations for the awards are reviewed by the Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services (SCDLS), and recommendations are made to the Board of Trustees for their consideration and final approval. SCDLS is a 20-member advisory committee appointed by the Board of Trustees that identifies, develops and supports improvements in the delivery of legal services and pro bono assistance to low- and moderate-income Californians, and serves as a resource to the Board on legal services issues.

Recently Admitted

Meeran Mahmud
Los Angeles

Meeran Mahmud’s experiences as an immigrant woman of color have shaped her character and her outlook on life. Ms. Mahmud grew up in Pakistan, where she witnessed social inequalities and political turmoil. Her belief in social justice and giving back to the community motivate her to do pro bono work. In 2012, Ms. Mahmud dedicated 1,800 pro bono hours to more than 100 clients at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles (LAFLA) and the Los Angeles Community Action Network (LA CAN). At LAFLA, she assisted immigrant victims of domestic violence, torture and trafficking file for asylum, U-Visa, T-Visa, and VAWA protection. She also handled family reunification matters and assisted with deportation defense in federal immigration court. Through LAFLA’s Eviction Defense Unit, she defended an elderly tenant with severe health problems in her eviction proceedings and negotiated a great outcome. Additionally, Ms. Mahmud volunteered with LA CAN’s evening legal clinics where she assisted clients from the skid row area providing information and advice on issues pertaining to housing law, civil rights and government benefits. She also assisted in preparing impact litigation. In January 2013, Ms. Mahmud joined Asian Americans Advancing Justice│Los Angeles (formerly known as Asian Pacific American Legal Center) as a staff attorney, where she practices immigration law.

Solo Practice

Julie M. McCoy, Newport Beach 

After 20 years practicing at large law firms, Julie McCoy went solo in 2003 focusing on business litigation. Since 2008, she has been a volunteer with the Public Law Center in Orange County where she learned the intricacies of immigration law.  Ms. McCoy represents victims of domestic violence and violent crimes in seeking permanent residency and indefinite legal status through U-Visa and the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Adjustment of Status Applications.  She also represents individuals seeking asylum due to fear of persecution and torture in their home countries before the Immigration Court and Board of Immigration Appeals. While these cases are time consuming due to the severe emotional and physical trauma suffered by the clients, Ms. McCoy is able to handle them through patience, compassion and persistence. She also provided direct pro bono services to needy clients of Liga International, a non-profit organization that provides free health care and education in Sinaloa, Mexico through a team of U.S. health care professionals who are transported to Sinaloa in planes flown by volunteer pilots, and provided pro bono counseling and legal assistance to the organization itself. In total, Ms. McCoy provided more than 200 hours of pro bono service to PLC and Liga International. On top of her legal work, she also volunteers as a pilot for Liga International. Government Practice

Government Practice

Laura Robles, San Bernardino

Laura Robles is a Deputy District Attorney in San Bernardino who has provided dedicated pro bono assistance to the Inland Empire Latino Lawyers Association (IELLA) Legal Aid Project Clinic since 2008.  In 2012, she volunteered at four to six clinics located in Riverside and Colton each month, while a typical volunteer commits to volunteering once a month.  At the clinics, Ms. Robles provided legal advice on family law and domestic violence matters.  She also worked on collection responses and tenant evictions. Ms. Robles’ empathy and ability to counsel clients, particularly those who have experienced trauma and consider the legal aid project to be their last stop of hope, make her an extremely effective advocate.  Because she is bilingual, she was also able to provide direct services to monolingual Spanish speakers.  Ms. Robles dedicated more than 200 hours to IELLA through both direct clinical services to more than 120 clients of which 50 spoke only Spanish, and her leadership role serving as President of the Board of Directors and member of the Fundraising Committee.  Ms. Robles also is a member of the Board of Directors for Inland Counties Legal Services, the federally funded legal aid organization that serves indigent residents of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

Limited Active Practice

Christine Linh-Chau Hoang, San Francisco

In 1995, Christine Hoang began volunteering with Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach (APILO) and served for five years on the Board of Directors. Since 2005 she has served as a Volunteer Staff Attorney and Pro Bono Program Coordinator, which includes providing direct representation on behalf of domestic violence and human trafficking survivors in immigration cases; facilitating and supervising APILO’s pro bono program; and representing APILO in the Coalition for Immigrant Victims of Crime (the Bay Area VAWA Taskforce).  Ms. Hoang, a former intellectual property law attorney, assists clients with their immigration cases, handling both a high volume of basic cases and complex cases, and ensures that the services she provides are culturally and linguistically appropriate. Her knowledge of immigration law is so extensive that she is the backbone of APILO’s immigration project and has helped train all of the current immigration staff.  As the Pro Bono Program Coordinator, she trains and mentors a panel of 150 attorneys, provides technical assistance to law firms, and organizes pro bono clinics.  In addition, since 2008, she has co-coordinated a free monthly legal clinic with the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area. Ms. Hoang contributed 1,400 hours and served 200 APILO clients in 2012.

Inidividual from Law Firm

Ruth D. Kahn, Los Angeles

Ruth Kahn, a partner in the Los Angeles Office of Steptoe & Johnson LLP, is an accomplished litigator and trial attorney specializing in complex products liability and toxic tort cases.  Since 2011, Ms. Kahn has participated in Bet Tzedek Legal Services Holocaust Survivors Justice Network which matches volunteer attorneys with Holocaust Survivors and their heirs to obtain reparations and other benefits from Germany and other European countries. In 2012, Ms. Kahn devoted more than 200 hours representing more than fifty Holocaust Survivors and obtained benefits not only on their behalf, but also on behalf of their late spouses. Because few survivors possess documentation of their persecution history, Ms. Kahn uses her creativity and resourcefulness to identify alternate sources of records and many times has had to obtain supporting proof from outside the U.S. Her pro bono work also is complicated by the advanced age of her clients ranging from 75 to 93 and their declining memories.  She is a passionate, patient and persistent volunteer who brings the same energy, enthusiasm and quality of service to her pro bono clients that she brings to her private practice, and consistently obtains exceptional results. She also has mobilized others in her firm to provide similar pro bono services for Bet Tzedek’s clients.

Charles Trudrung Taylor, Fresno

Charles Taylor is the head of the labor and employment law department at Lang, Richert & Patch, a mid-sized firm in Fresno. He has been a major advocate and supporter of the Workers’ Rights Clinic (WRC) that was launched in April 2012. The WRC is a collaboration between Central California Legal Services (CCLS), Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, the Consulate of Mexico in Fresno, and Lang, Richert & Patch that provides pro bono legal assistance to low-wage workers with various employment issues.  In the Central Valley, where there is a severe shortage of legal assistance to farm workers and low-income minority workers, Mr. Taylor’s efforts have made a tremendous difference. He has been a leader in advocating for his firm’s participation in the WRC, both financially and by ensuring that the firm provides the greatest number of volunteers at each clinic He also serves as one of two supervising attorneys at every clinic, trains WRC volunteers most of whom are not employment lawyers, mentors new attorneys taking employment cases for pro bono representation, and trains staff attorneys at CCLS and California Rural Legal Assistance in employment law and general civil litigation. 

Law Firm Team

Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP Team Defending Law Banning Conversion Therapy, Los Angeles and San Francisco

With the passage of Senate Bill 1172 in September 2012, California became the first state to bar state-licensed mental health providers from practicing Sexual Orientation Change Efforts (SOCE) on any patient under age 18. This practice, known as “conversion therapy” or “reparative therapy,” poses serious risks to youth in particular. SOCE plays a role in causing a dramatically disproportionate number of LGBT youth to end up homeless, infected with HIV, impoverished, or with severely diminished life chances. The main sponsors of SB 1172 were Equality California (EQCA), an LGBT civil rights legislative advocacy organization, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), a non-profit legal organization advancing the civil and human rights of LGBT people and their families. Immediately after the bill’s passage, two separate lawsuits were filed seeking preliminary injunctions. A team of six lawyers from Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, as co-counsel with NCLR, represented EQCA as an intervenor in defense of the constitutionality of the legislation. As this is the first law of its kind, the issues presented are complex and challenging.  Munger Tolles attorneys and staff have devoted thousands of pro bono hours litigating these novel issues in extremely tight timeframes. By defending SB 1172, the Munger Tolles team’s work will have an enormous impact on countless LGBT youth and their families.

Left to right: Connor T. Gants, William D. Temko, Lika C. Miyake, David C. Dinielli, Bram M. Alden, Michelle Friedland

Law Firm Branch Office

Irell & Manella LLP, Newport Beach Office

The Newport Beach Office of Irell & Manella partners with Public Law Center (PLC), University of California, Irvine School of Law, and the Legal Aid Society of Orange County to provide free legal services to low-income residents in the areas of immigration, asylum, veterans' rights, consumer litigation, and bankruptcy. It is particularly difficult for individuals to find assistance in dealing with their own personal bankruptcy matters. Irell is one of the few larger law firms able to provide pro bono representation to debtors. The firm also supervises UCI law students to prepare Chapter 7 petitions for PLC clients. In addition, Irell sends at least four attorneys each month to PLC’s Federal Pro Se Clinic at the District Court in Santa Ana to assist with matters involving civil rights, intellectual property, foreclosure, employment, and Social Security appeals. Since June 2012 when the Clinic opened, 25% of the pro bono attorneys have been from Irell and they provided 20% of the total consultations. The pro bono services provided by Irell’s Newport Beach office may not garner headlines, but are performed in the trenches and are making a difference to change the lives of many. In 2012, Irell contributed more than 2,000 hours to the three partner entities.

Law School

UC Irvine School of Law Family Law Blitz Pro Bono Project, Irvine

In January 2012, the Family Law “Blitz” began as a collaboration to provide pro bono assistance in family law, one of the greatest areas of legal need.  The Blitz partners UC Irvine law students with attorneys and volunteers from the Legal Aid Society of Orange County (LASOC) to help clients who would not otherwise have access to family law assistance move on with their lives. The Blitz takes place during school breaks, and is followed up with ongoing family law assistance throughout the semester, known as “Friday Clinics.”  The project gives UCI law students an opportunity to expand skills learned in the classroom and to provide needed pro bono service. During each Blitz, law students received training from LASOC staff, and then immediately assist clients with a broad range of family law issues during a period of 2-4 days.  The first Blitz was held over winter break and was so successful that dedicated students created an ongoing pro bono project to assist LASOC family law clients every Friday during the spring and fall semesters. During calendar year 2012, nearly 300 clients received assistance from more than thirty UCI law students. Students continue to participate in the Blitz and Friday clinics in 2013. 

Left to Right Rear: Bill Tanner, Elizabeth McCullough-Sanden

Left to Right Front: Chariese Solorio, Pilar Ferguson, Anna Davis, Mimi Ahn, Krista Garcia