Apr 06, 2021
Legal Aid of Marin and MCBA Honor Pro Bono Volunteers
Apr 06, 2021
By Mary Sackett
Every year, Legal Aid of Marin and MCBA honor the many volunteers who provide pro bono services “to create a more just and equitable Marin Community.” This year’s event started with a wonderful video montage of volunteers and Legal Aid staff over the years. Legal Aid of Marin Board President Jessica Karner served as the master of ceremonies for the evening and reminded us that this year’s ceremony covers two years, since last year’s was a casualty of the brand-new shelter-in-place orders.
MCBA President J. Timothy Nardell congratulated the 2019 and 2020 Wiley W. Manuel awardees, each of whom donated at least 50 hours of pro bono service. Noting that getting legal help can be a life-changing experience, Tim stated, “The lawyers, professionals and legal assistants who are willing to work without getting paid put a face on the legal system. The simple act of writing a letter, or making a limited scope appearance, can be a real gift.” Tim expressed a sentiment echoed by others throughout the evening that providing pro bono services is as much a gift to those who provide the services as it is to those who receive them, commenting that the awardees had “figured out one of the secrets of making your career worthwhile.”
The Wiley W. Manuel Award Recipients
The Wiley W. Manuel Certificate for Pro Bono Legal Services is awarded to lawyers, law students, paralegals, legal secretaries and other non-attorneys in California who volunteer 50 hours or more of their time and expertise on behalf of low-income clients. It honors Justice Wiley W. Manuel (1927-1981), the first African American Justice of the California Supreme Court.
Marin County Presiding Judge Andrew Sweet and Assistant Presiding Judge James Chou presented the 2019 Wiley W. Manuel awards to the following individuals for their services:
Melissa Gonzalez volunteered at Legal Aid of Marin during the summer of 2019 after graduating from Golden Gate University School of Law. She handled client interviews, legal research and investigations in housing matters and assisted LAM’s housing attorney in representing a low-income, senior tenant in an eviction jury trial.
Diana Caal volunteered with LAM the summer after her junior year at Syracuse University. She helped with the design of LAM’s website and annual report, annual fundraiser gala and social media outreach.
Jacquelyne Gorton is a California lawyer and registered nurse and has worn every hat possible at LAM, from conducting client intakes in Marin City, to representing participants at Marin Community Court, to negotiating settlements at unlawful detainer settlement conferences. Jackie also is a member of the LAM board of directors.
Ain Ashby dedicated many hours to closing LAM’s Community Court and housing case files, but her most valuable contribution was her kind, compassionate and generous care of clients. She volunteered while also pursuing a degree in the Administration of Justice.
Zoe Hauser is a 2017 San Rafael High School graduate and currently a student at Cornell University. Zoe dedicated the summer of 2019 to the Marin Community Court, helping homeless and low-income Marin residents resolve civil fines and navigate social services. Zoe also helped LAM’s lawyers track enforcement patterns of local ordinances.
Robert Harris is both a lawyer and a licensed clinical social worker. Robert conducted weekly client intakes at St. Vincent de Paul and attended every 2019 Marin Community Court session, where he connected participants with social services. A volunteer for many years, he is also the LAM record-holder for most Wiley Awards.
Karen Karlow commuted from Petaluma every Thursday morning for five years to staff intakes at LAM’s housing rights walk-in clinic, where she interviewed clients and helped draft answers for tenants in evictions. Karen retired as a volunteer in 2019, but still managed to clock enough hours to receive the Wiley Award.
Michael Xinshuo Wang is a graduate of the Minzu School of Law in Beijing China. Between passing the bar exam and setting up his own immigration and intellectual property practice, Michael assisted LAM’s staff with wage claim calculations, workplace discrimination legal research, small claims court case preparation, and consumer debt matters.
Judges Sweet and Chou then presented the 2020 Wiley awards to the following recipients:
Katherine Pond is a Santa Clara University law student who spent the summer of 2020 attending law school classes via ZOOM while volunteering full time at LAM. Katherine worked half of each week remotely and half in the office assisting LAM’s worker rights lawyer with wage claims, doing outreach in West Marin and the Canal neighborhood and fielding calls from desperate workers battling the EDD over unemployment claims.
Spencer Kelly was recognized for his accomplishment of winning the Wiley Award faster than any LAM volunteer in its history. Spencer gave over 50 hours in three weeks of his December holiday break from the University of Washington to researching and drafting LAM’s annual report and development materials. Spencer is studying writing and works for the UW newspaper. LAM was the fortunate recipient of this gifted writer and editor’s time and skills.
Matt Fisher contacted LAM within days of arriving home to Marin after his dormitory at Tulane University was shuttered due to the pandemic. While attending Tulane full-time, albeit remotely, Matt volunteered at LAM, fielding calls in Spanish from panicked tenants, interpreting for LAM’s employment lawyer at the Canal and Pt. Reyes Station food banks and translating know-your-rights tenant materials into Spanish.
Congressman Jared Huffman then sent virtual congratulations—and a Certificate of Congressional Recognition—to each Wiley recipient. Congressman Huffman stated, “You help us achieve justice for all, something that our community needs.”
Legal Aid of Marin Special Recognition Awards
Laurie Joyce, LAM’s pro bono director, announced several special recognition awards for pro bono services in 2020. She noted that over 100 lawyers, 23 interpreters and translators, 21 administrators, and four law students donated their time in 2020. LAM staff then introduced the following award recipients:
The Longtime Service Award of 2020 was awarded to attorney Robert Sammis for his 18 years of public service to Marin County’s low-income, senior, and Spanish-speaking residents. Over the years, Bob has assisted Spanish-speaking clients in eviction settlement conferences and small claims disputes.
The Impact Service Award of 2020 went to attorney Tom Cohen. Tom is a litigator, arbitrator, and mediator. He assisted a monolingual Spanish-speaking senior in a contract dispute with his HOA. One of the biggest justice gaps in Marin is access to legal services for Spanish-speakers. Undeterred by the need to use a translator in a sticky contract dispute, Tom eliminated a significant mold remediation fee the HOA attempted to impose on the senior.
The Tenant Rights Award of 2020 went to attorney Camille Bosworth. Camille is a trial attorney and former Marin County public defender. Camille assisted two Spanish-speaking families who endured terrible housing conditions, including cockroaches, bedbugs, a leaking roof, and horrific mold contamination. Camille, who is fluent in Spanish, spent hours helping both families gather their evidence for small claims court. She spent even more time navigating the court’s emergency rules for submission of video and photographic evidence. Both families obtained the jurisdictional maximum award thanks to Camille’s efforts.
The Commitment to Seniors Award of 2020 went to attorney Robert Rosborough. Rob is a mediator, lawyer, professor, and the president-elect of the Marin County Bar Association. For many years, he has provided monthly pro bono estate planning and other consultations to Marin seniors through a partnership between LAM and the former Whistlestop, now “Vivalon.” Rob agreed to mediate a financial elder abuse matter that involved a very elderly senior with extremely high-conflict and abusive family members. LAM attorney Ellyn Moskowitz noted that Rob dedicated his time assisting this family patiently, thoughtfully, and compassionately.
The Volunteer Interpreter Award of 2020 was awarded to Brian O’Donnell. Brian rode his bike from his home in Fairfax to the San Rafael Canal neighborhood food bank every Tuesday morning throughout the pandemic. To this day, Brian is at the LAM table at 8:00 a.m. every week, interpreting for LAM attorneys as they respond to long lines of low-wage and essential Spanish-speaking workers with questions about wage and unemployment claims, workplace harassment and discrimination and workplace safety.
The Pro Bono Pandemic Response Award of 2020 was awarded to Xinming Zhang. Xinming is an associate at the law firm of Morgan Lewis & Bockius, and has a Ph.D. in cell biology and biophysics. Xinming was a tremendous help to LAM’s housing team last summer when he researched the issue of the reach of county authority to prohibit rent-default evictions during the pandemic. His field of practice is patent preparation, prosecution, and IP due diligence for biotech companies! In gratitude, LAM presented this award to Xinming for his work on behalf of Marin’s low-income tenants.
The law firm of Morgan Lewis & Bockius was awarded the Pro Bono Law Firm Award of 2020 for its commitment to justice on behalf of Marin County’s low-income tenants. Andrea Fitanides, pro bono counsel for Morgan Lewis, provided several Morgan Lewis lawyers throughout the emergency shutdown to assist LAM with its tenant defense work.
Special recognition then went to the pro bono lawyers and volunteer support staff on the 10-year anniversary of Marin Community Court. The Community Court aims to help low-income members of our community free themselves from onerous civil fines and fees. The Honorable Judge Beverly Wood, court clerk Hoang LeClerc and bailiff Vince Simpson were thanked for their 10 years of continuous service to Community Court.
The Honorable Edward M. Chen Gave the Keynote Speech
Judge Chen had an already-distinguished career before becoming a magistrate judge for the Northern District of California in 2001. Readers may recall from a 2019 MCBA event that Judge Chen joined the legal staff of the ACLU Foundation of Northern California in 1985 and worked on the legal team representing Fred Korematsu in successfully overturning his WWII conviction for failing to comply with the Japanese internment order. In 2011, he became a district court judge for the Northern District of California. He is the first Asian American to serve on that Court’s bench in its 150-year history.
Apropos of the evening, one of Judge Chen’s first orders as magistrate judge in 2001 was to recruit attorneys to participate in the Court’s federal pro bono project. He was able recruit a team to revamp and simplify the Pro Se Handbook. And he lobbied for the creation of the Legal Help Centers at each federal courthouse in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose.
Judge Chen remarked that, “Listening tonight is really inspiring, especially under the conditions of the past year. Public service is the noblest endeavor a lawyer can undertake. Numerous landmark cases, such as Brown, Gideon, and Korematsu, are brought by pro bono attorneys.” He noted that even more so than the landmark cases, pro bono services have a significant impact on the lives of those represented. Saying, “I fear that we have yet to see the brunt of the [pandemic’s] economic and health impacts. The work that you have done, and will continue to do, is even more vital in the months and years ahead,” he pointed out that this work is essential to achieving equal justice for all.
LAM Executive Director Stephanie Haffner wound up the evening by saying how she is inspired by the contributions of all of LAM’s volunteers. She noted that over 150 people donate over 2,000 hours of service each year. This year’s service was particularly crucial and impactful; when LAM’s board put out a request in April for help, many people stepped up.
Stephanie then gave a surprise award to a Marin County treasure: Laurie Joyce, LAM’s pro bono director. Laurie was recognized as a Guiding Star at LAM for the eight years she has committed to the organization, always demonstrating the highest standards of professionalism. Everyone goes to Laurie for guidance, from working with the case management system to how to handle a sticky client. An enormous thank you to Laurie for making Marin County a more just and equitable county.