Loren Miller Legal Services Award
CONGRATULATIONS TO THE
2014 LOREN MILLER LEGAL SERVICES AWARD RECIPIENT
For over forty years, Betty L. Nordwind has dedicated her career to providing legal services to those who lack the resources to find other counsel. Beginning her career as a VISTA staff attorney at the Metro Denver Legal Aid Society in 1971, Ms. Nordwind handled a broad range of welfare, consumer, housing and family law cases, and later established the first mental health law unit in 1975. She spent several years consulting with and directing legal assistance and other non-profit programs in Colorado and Massachusetts. Finally, in January 1987, she arrived at the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law in Los Angeles, where she has been the Executive Director for 27 years. The Center was formed in the early 1980s as a joint project of the Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles and the Black Women Lawyers of Los Angeles with the Los Angeles County Bar Association becoming a sponsor in 1984. The mission of the Center is to provide family law services to low-income residents of Los Angeles County. It is dedicated to protecting victims of domestic violence and improving the well-being of children living in poverty.
When Ms. Nordwind first arrived, the agency was in its infancy. It had two staff members, 35 volunteers, and a budget of $160,000. Today, there are twenty funded staff positions, over 300 volunteers, a budget of $1.5 million and strong private bar support. Under her leadership, the Center currently serves more than 900 low-income Los Angelenos per year in a variety of family law and domestic violence matters, including custody, child support, restraining orders, establishment of paternity, and division of property including retirement plans. In the early years, Ms. Nordwind developed a clinic-based volunteer system where staff attorneys oversaw the work of volunteers who guided self-represented litigants. Early on in her tenure Ms. Nordwind also recruited lawyers to represent individuals in court in the Center’s now flourishing Pro Bono Panel.
As Aviva Bobb, former Supervising Judge of the Family Law Departments in Los Angeles, put it:
“…Ms. Nordwind took the shell of an organization and created the largest and most effective provider of legal services in California for low-income people with family and domestic violence problems. She expanded the availability of services by the creation of a self-help model for pro per self-representation using volunteer family law attorneys to develop strategies and then prepare court paperwork and train litigants so they could effectively advocate for themselves in court……The court was so impressed by Ms. Nordwind’s self-help model, that the court adopted it as the model for its own self-help center.”
Following the rise of self-help in the courts, Ms. Nordwind changed the Center’s service model by training volunteers to provide more complex family law assistance. In addition, she has expanded the work of the agency from one program to several distinct and innovative programs, including on-campus legal services programs for low-income students at community colleges across Los Angeles County, providing assistance to persons with disabilities, and creating and implementing legal education programs for women incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jail, for women veterans and their Veterans Administration healthcare providers, and one addressing the needs of low-income fathers. She also has built strong relationships, networks and partnerships with other nonprofit legal services providers, the courts, domestic violence agencies, law schools and others so that clients can access a wider range of services and support, as well as to provide services at different locations through the County where they are most needed.
Betty Nordwind has spearheaded several impact initiatives that have made a significant difference on access to justice for low-income family law litigants and include:
California Family Law Basics
This practice manual was written and produced by the staff of the Harriett Buhai Center. The 1400 page step-by-step practice guide is now in its 25th edition and is used regularly by lawyers, law libraries, legal aid programs, paralegals and others throughout the state. In 2008 when the California legislature made comprehensive revisions to the statutes regarding fee waivers under Ms. Nordwind’s leadership, the Harriett Buhai Center submitted detailed testimony and comment that had an impact on the revisions that were adopted in cases involving receipt of support. She helped establish the Los Angeles County Child Support Advisory Board to improve and monitor the County’s child support program. She was an active member for 15 years and served as its chair for three years. Ms. Nordwind also helped draft and encourage implementation of California’s wage assignment statute, making it automatic and mandatory in all cases in which child support is ordered to be paid.
J.W. v. Superior Court (1993) 17 Cal. App. 4th 958
Under Ms. Nordwind’s leadership, the Harriett Buhai Center challenged the Court’s requirement, in a paternity action, that a child over the age of 12 must have a guardian ad litem who is an attorney or who is represented by an attorney. Although the Court of Appeal denied the writ, it held that the mother and son were entitled to free legal counsel. Subsequently, Ms. Nordwind worked with members of the State Bar to change the law to enable parents to be guardians ad litem for their children in paternity cases.
Hogoboom v. Superior Court (1996) 51 Cal. App. 4th 653
The Harriett Buhai Center filed a writ petition on behalf of three retired superior court judges which challenged the mandatory mediation fee required in custody cases by the Los Angeles County Superior Court. The Court of Appeal invalidated the fee as an ultra vires exercise of the Court’s power.
Cruz v. Superior Court (2004) 120 Cal. App. 4th 175
As an amicus, the Center filed a challenged to the superior court’s denial of fee waivers. Cruz is one of the few published decisions finding that applications for fee waivers had been wrongfully denied.
In summary, Ms. Nordwind’s impact can be measured by the number of innovative and systemic programs that she has initiated which have been recognized and, in some cases, emulated:
- recruiting and training pro bono attorneys in a field of law outside of their usual practice area;
- educating litigants regarding their rights and implementing a limited scope representation model;
- bringing legal services to the community rather than requiring the community to come to the Harriett Buhai Center;
- establishing a private donor base to ensure annual funding;
- identifying specific communities that would benefit from their services, such as women veterans, women inmates, low-income fathers, and community college students receiving government benefits; and
- writing a comprehensive family law practice manual for advocates and pro bono attorneys.
Betty Nordwind has worked tirelessly and tenaciously to build a family law program that is not only effective but addresses larger and difficult systemic issues to get solutions in the courts, the legislature, the jails and in other governmental agencies. Her efforts have helped thousands of low-income Californians get access to the courts for their family law issues.
The Loren Miller Legal Services Award, named after the late Loren Miller, a lawyer and judge who was a leader in the civil rights movement, was created in 1977 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the State Bar of California. It is considered a lifetime achievement award and given annually to a California attorney who has demonstrated long-term commitment to legal services and who has personally done significant work in extending legal services to the poor.
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.
- 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: firstname.lastname@example.org
Past Loren Miller Legal Services Award Recipients