STATE BAR TO PRESENT LEGAL SERVICE AWARDS

Media Contact: Diane Curtis       415-538-2028                                               diane.curtis@calbar.ca.gov

San Francisco, Sept. 23, 2010 — The State Bar has announced a series of awards honoring those in the legal profession who help the neediest and most vulnerable Californians.

 The Loren Miller Legal Services Award, the State Bar’s most prestigious honor, will be presented to Gary Smith, executive director of the Yolo County Office of Legal Services of Northern California (LSNC), at the State Bar’s Annual Meeting this week in Monterey. The award is given annually to a lawyer who has demonstrated long-term commitment to legal services and who has personally done significant work in extending legal services to the poor.

Smith has been with LSNC for more than two decades and, in that time, he has served as managing attorney, director of litigation and executive director. A recipient of joint degrees in law and divinity from Yale University, he has been counsel in dozens of successful court cases, including ones resulting in prompt restoration of underpaid benefits for Food Stamp recipients and one before the U.S. Supreme Court that interpreted the complex interrelationship between the Equal Access to Justice and Social Security acts. He also was lead counsel in Frye v. Tenderloin Housing Clinic, in which the California Supreme Court reversed a lower court ruling which would have prevented most legal services and public interest law organizations from practicing law as nonprofit organizations.

He has helped draft state legislation ranging from creating a pilot program making civil counsel a right for indigent defendants in critical-need cases to requiring financial institutions to offer higher interest rates for IOLTA (Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts).

He also was lead plaintiff in a case successfully challenging congressional restrictions on the work of federally-funded legal aid organizations.

 The recipients of the President’s Pro Bono Service Awards for 2010, which recognize outstanding legal service contributions to those who cannot afford such services, are:

  • Deborah E. Jurgensen, Ventura, Solo Practitioner
  • Christina J. Brown, San Francisco, Newly Admitted
  • Thomas D. Theisen, San Diego. Limited Active Practice
  • Henry C. Su, East Palo Alto, Law Firm Individual
  • Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass LLP, San Francisco, Law Firm
  • Jones Day Advocate Team, Los Angeles, Law Firm Team
  • Morrison & Foerster Foster Parents Team, Palo Alto, Law Firm Team
  • California Western School of Law, San Diego, Law School
  • South Asian Bar Association of Northern California Pro Bono Committee, San Francisco, Distinguished Pro Bono Service

 The Jack Berman Award of Achievement, presented by the California Young Lawyers Association, honors a lawyer who is in the first five years of active State Bar membership or under age 36 who has provided outstanding service to the legal profession and public, as well as dedication to issues of concern to new and young lawyers. The 2010 recipient of the award, named after a young lawyer killed in the 1993 shooting at 101 California Street, San Francisco, is Sonia Fernandes of Sacramento, staff counsel for the State Department of Managed Health Care.

 A new award honors its namesake, Harry Sondheim of Pacific Palisades, who is being heralded for his prodigious work in furthering attorney ethics. The Harry B. Sondheim Professional Responsibility Award was established this year to recognize a State Bar member's outstanding long-term contribution to the advancement of attorney professional standards in California.

 The Benjamin Aranda III Access to Justice Award, which is cosponsored by the Judicial Council of California, State Bar of California, California Commission on Access to Justice and California Judges Association, will be presented to Justice Laurie D. Zelon of the Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District (Los Angeles. The award, named for the founding chair of the Judicial Council’s Access and Fairness Advisory Committee, recognizes a trial judge or an appellate justice whose activities demonstrate a long-term commitment to improving access to justice.

 The State Bar’s Bernard E. Witkin Medal and Diversity and Education Pipeline awards were announced earlier.

All the awards will be presented at the State Bar’s Annual Meeting this week in Monterey.

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The State Bar of California is an administrative arm of the California Supreme Court, serving the public and seeking to improve the justice system for more than 80 years. All lawyers practicing law in California must be members of the State Bar. By September 2010, membership reached 228,000.