Bar cites 21 for pro bono work
By KRISTINA HORTON FLAHERTY
They find themselves facing eviction, a complicated child custody battle or
the loss of much-needed government benefits but they don't have the means
to hire an attorney. It is the desperate plight of an increasing number of impoverished
Californians facing critical legal issues.
But in light of such need, some attorneys are offering their services free
of charge. And some are contributing extraordinary amounts of time, legal expertise
and support often with little recognition to those who cannot
afford such assistance.
In honor of such attorneys, the State Bar annually presents its President's
Pro Bono Service Award created in 1983 to a select group of individuals,
legal teams and law firms. Recipients in nine categories received the award
this year at the State Bar's annual meeting in Monterey. The 2002 awardees include:
As the sole lobbyist for the Clorox Company in Oakland, government affairs
issues manager H. NELSON MEEKS handles public policy issues affecting the company's
manufacturing interests. But he also manages to regularly donate his time and
legal expertise to the poor in family law matters.
Last year alone, Meeks, 46, spent some 125 hours helping low-income clients
get divorced, deal with domestic abuse and resolve other legal issues through
the Volunteer Legal Services Program (VLSP) of the Bar Association of San Francisco.
"Mr. Meeks routinely goes above and beyond to give the best representation
to his clients and to assist VLSP as an organization," wrote VLSP director
Tanya Neiman, in nominating Meeks for the award. "It is common for Mr.
Meeks to travel from his job in Oakland to San Francisco during his lunch break
to meet with clients to lessen their burdens."
He has taken on new clients with very little notice. And most of them, Neiman
said, have had complicated cases involving domestic violence and have "needed
the compassionate attention" provided by Meeks.
But Meeks' contribution doesn't end there, she said. He also helps coordinate
and promote monthly training sessions to assist other VLSP attorney volunteers
with their open cases. He has been instrumental in obtaining financial support
for VLSP from the Clorox Company. And recently, she noted, he pledged to fully
represent seven new clients the largest commitment made by any volunteer
in the coming year.
In addition, Meeks serves on the governing board of Alameda County Bar Association's
Volunteer Legal Services Corporation (VLSC). And, in some cases, he steps in
to help indigents who fall outside of the program guidelines.
When an elderly couple faced eviction for amassing large amounts of clutter,
Northridge professor BRUCE ZUCKER and 10 students agreed to clean and organize
the couple's longtime rent-controlled apartment to keep the pair from losing
their home. And when the landlord later reneged on the agreement, Zucker took
the case to trial and the couple, who were living on a fixed income,
won the right to stay put.
That was just one of several recent cases in which Zucker a full-time
professor of real estate law and finance at California State University, Northridge
stepped in to assist low-income individuals in the midst of a crisis,
"Bruce Zucker's work demonstrates compassion for the forgotten members
of our society, namely the poor and prisoners," wrote Tina Rasnow, coordinator
of Ventura County Superior Court's Self-Help Legal Access Center, in nominating
Zucker for the bar's pro bono service award.
The 34-year-old professor contributed more than 150 hours in pro bono services
last year, handling eviction matters for low-income families, representing parolees
in appeals from revocation hearings and serving as a supervising attorney at
the Van Nuys Self-Help Legal Access Center.
Zucker, who also was nominated for the pro bono service award by the Neighborhood
Legal Services of Los Angeles, has had an impact on his Northridge campus as
well. While teaching in the business department, Zucker created a Justice Center
in which students, under Zucker's direction, learn how to assist low-income
individuals with landlord/tenant matters. And he often litigates "meritorious"
cases that cannot be resolved through the center, Rasnow noted in nominating
"He believes in justice and that everyone, no matter his or her circumstances,
is entitled to justice," she wrote. "Because of his work, families
have been able to retain housing, prisoners have been able to get a fresh start
after completing their just sentence, and students have had the opportunity
to learn the value of helping others."
Redding attorney THOMAS N. ANDREWS launched a solo practice last year focused
on real estate law, estate planning, municipal law, elder law, civil litigation
and personal injury. But he also managed, in the same year, to volunteer 260
hours of pro bono legal service.
And Andrews, 53, is no newcomer to pro bono work. He was one of the first attorneys
to offer his services when the Legal Services of Northern Califor-nia (LSNC)
opened its Shasta regional office in 1999, wrote Cathy Ferrell of LSNC's Shasta
program, in nominating Andrews for the pro bono service award.
"He is our most dedicated volunteer attorney," she said, "and
never says no to us."
Last year, Andrews handled pro bono work involving real estate transactions,
contract disputes, leases and promissory note disputes. He also sat on the governing
boards of three local nonprofit corporations that serve the disadvantaged. One
of the three New Directions to Hope in Redding serves the mental
health needs of Redding, particularly those relating to child abuse. In a recent
letter, the corporation's executive director and associate director noted that
Andrews' "wisdom and legal expertise" continue to be "invaluable"
assets to the organization.
Those nominating Andrews for the award point out that he is simply "extremely
dedicated to the service of others" whether he is handling a pro
bono legal matter or playing an instrument in the annual Christmas concert put
on for local inmates.
Andrews also provides legal services for the City of Orland, the City of Anderson
and community service districts in two different counties, and serves as a judge
pro tem for Shasta County Superior Court.
Small law firm
PHILIP L. HAMMER of HAMMER & JACOBS in San Jose is known for representing
poor clients who have the kind of complex, novel and difficult contested family
law cases that are traditionally the hardest to place with pro bono attorneys.
Last year, Hammer provided some 150 hours of free legal services through the
Pro Bono Project of Silicon Valley on three such cases complicated matters
that involved domestic violence, a psychotic child, bankruptcy and, in one instance,
a developmentally disabled client.
And all three cases resulted in "achieving the clients' goals" and
receiving "thank yous from the client," recalls John Hedges, the Pro
Bono Project's coordinator.
Hammer, 67, actually asks for the difficult cases and has agreed to have at
least one pro bono family law case open at all times at the four-attorney firm.
"When he finishes the open case, he asks for another," Hedges says.
And Hammer's longstanding commitment to pro bono work extends beyond individual
representation, supporters say. As chair of the newly formed Legal Services
Committee of the Santa Clara County Bar Association, he successfully led and
coordinated efforts to obtain more than $1.4 million in county funding for eight
local civil legal services programs over the past two years.
In addition, he is a founding director and current vice chair of the Silicon
Valley Campaign for Legal Services (SVCLS), which has raised and distributed
more than $750,000 since 1999 to agencies that provide civil legal services
directly to the poor of Santa Clara County. Hammer, says Hedges, "has been
a tremendous asset to the legal services community."
The Legal Services Committee of the Santa Clara County Bar Associa-tion, along
with the Pro Bono Project and nine other legal services programs, nominated
Hammer for the 2002 award.
Medium law firm
Ventura attorney GREGORY J. RAMIREZ of BENTON, ORR, DUVAL & BUCKINGHAM
volunteered his help last year in the child custody matter of a single mother
who had fled from an abusive husband in Texas. He also handled the case of an
elderly woman whose successful wage claim had sparked a retaliatory lawsuit
from her former employer. And he helped the family of a young African-American
man shot to death by Oxnard police a case that reportedly led to new
officer training and convened a community advisory group to improve police/community
Last year alone, Ramirez contributed more than 200 hours of varied pro bono
legal services. For the Ventura County chapter of the National Association for
the Ad-vancement of Colored People (NAACP), he served as the legal redress advisor.
For the Boys & Girls Club of Oxnard/Port Hueneme, the 43-year-old attorney
served as general legal counsel. And through the Ventura County Bar Association
Volunteer Lawyer Services Program, he advised and represented the poor in legal
"As a result of his pro bono efforts, several indigent clients were able
to resolve their labor, family law and consumer issues," wrote Tina Rasnow,
coordinator of Ventura County Superior Court's Self-Help Legal Access Center,
in nominating Ramirez for the pro bono award.
Rasnow also noted that Ramirez has not shied away from pro bono clients whose
cases involve unpopular causes. "To Mr. Ramirez' credit," she wrote
in nominating papers, "he did not abandon his pro bono clients' causes
for his own personal gain."
In addition, Rasnow pointed out, Ramirez helps produce Law Talk television
programs which educate the public on their legal rights and responsibilities
a "preventative law" effort that serves an important role.
|Arnold & Porter
Large law firm
When an HIV-positive, manic depressive woman fell victim to a real estate fraud,
a legal team from ARNOLD & PORTER in Los Angeles took over the case last
year to keep the 40-year-old mother of two from losing all of the equity in
The fraud victim who lives on welfare and was easily confused without
her medication had fallen behind in her mortgage payments and needed
a loan to avoid foreclosure of her South Central Los Angeles home. But in signing
what she thought were loan papers, she actually signed over the deed to her
house to a near stranger.
That's when the legal team from Arnold & Porter stepped in and contributed
some 533 pro bono hours during a five-month period to handle what turned out
to be a complicated case. In the end, after many twists and turns, the team
managed to preserve the woman's $20,000 equity in the home.
"Clearly, Arnold & Porter devoted greater firm resources than what
the client gained in the end," wrote Laurie Aronoff of the HIV & AIDS
Legal Services Alliance (HALSA) in Los Angeles, in nominating the team for the
bar's award. "A cynic would say they should have just written her a check.
But justice shouldn't have a price tag."
The Arnold & Porter team includes WARREN BLEEKER, PAMELA DAVES, THOMAS
I. DUPUIS, DAVID S. EISEN and JULIA ZALBA, as well as paralegal LOIS LeBAR.
The case was initially referred to them by HALSA. Aronoff, HALSA'S director
of volunteer programs, noted that the team was "amazingly aggressive in
pursuing every possible legal avenue" to preserve the woman's equity in
In nominating the team for the award, Aronoff noted that "when a firm
treats their pro bono clients the very same way as their corporate clients,
it makes them particularly deserving of recognition, especially if it is an
emergency,' time-sensitive situation with a dual-diagnosed client."
Even before graduating from law school in 1998, THOMAS A. KRITZIK volunteered
his time to help domestic violence victims obtain restraining orders and individuals
with limited resources obtain guardianship of young relatives in their care.
And once admitted to practice, Kritzik eventually stepped up his volunteerism
to full-time status, focusing his efforts on the needs of young children through
the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program (SDVLP).
Last year alone, Kritzik, 40, contributed some 1,250 hours to assist dependent
children, according to SDVLP's nomination of Kritzik for this year's pro bono
Kritzik's concern about what he saw as serious gaps in legal services for children
began during his studies at the University of San Diego School of Law. Prior
to working with SDVLP, Kritzik was a certified legal intern in the San Diego
County public defender's child advocacy division in the juvenile dependency
section. That experience led him to volunteer his services to children through
For most of last year, Kritzik worked full-time overseeing and coordinating
volunteer referrals for children whose legal issues fell outside the juvenile
dependency system. He also represented de facto parents in juvenile court proceedings.
In addition, he worked at SDVLP's guardianship clinic, actually supervising
the clinic while an SDVLP staff attorney was on medical leave.
"His work in 2001 was critical to the welfare of many vulnerable children,
since they would not otherwise have received necessary legal services,"
wrote Carl Poirot, SDVLP's executive director, in nominating Kritzik for the
According to Poirot, SDVLP was "so impressed with the quality of Mr. Kritzik's
work and his intense commitment to working to better the lives of children and
their caregivers" that Kritzik was hired this year as a staff attorney.
When attorney JOHN P. MILLER retired two years ago, he ended a diverse three-decade
legal career that included stints as a special agent for the Federal Bureau
of Investigation, as a Los Angeles deputy district attorney and as a managing
partner of a law firm in Orange County.
But instead of closing the door on legal work, he set out to help the poor
through the Public Law Center (PLC) in Santa Ana. And last year alone, the 57-year-old
attorney worked more than 730 hours free of charge on a wide array of legal
"There is no type of case, no type of client and no type of task that
[he] will avoid," wrote PLC's executive director Kenneth Babcock, in nominating
Miller for the pro bono service award. "He regularly dives into new cases
requiring him to learn new areas of substantive law and/or procedure and does
so with the enthusiasm one might expect of a new lawyer not a veteran
of three decades."
Since his retirement from Morris Polich Purdy in 2000, Miller has taken on
client matters involving everything from family law to landlord/tenant issues
to automobile fraud. In one case, he helped a 70-year-old disabled retiree obtain
nearly $33,000 in back pension benefits. He also has helped staff various clinics,
including several for the homeless and for low-income Vietnamese clients. And
he spends time mentoring junior attorneys as well.
"His combination of experience, commitment and inquisitiveness make him
both a pleasure to work with and an incredible asset for the staff and clients
of the Public Law Center," Babcock said. "He is a model for other
volunteers and for our staff as well."
|Emeritus Attorney Team
Distinguished pro bono service
The desperate tenant faced eviction and a trial just days away. But a retired
lawyer from the Ventura County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Services Program's
eight-member Emeritus Attorney Team quickly agreed to step in. And the tenant
wound up with a successful settlement.
That is just one example of what Carmen Ramirez, coordinator of Ventura County
Superior Court's Self-Help Legal Access Center in Oxnard, describes as an "inspiring"
team of volunteers.
"I personally have been impressed and gratified when I have seen individuals
with desperate situations get relatively immediate help with their emergencies,"
said Ramirez, in nominating the team for the award. "While many other retired
people choose to do other things with their time, our emeritus attorneys continue
to give the best of themselves to our community, to those without the means
to seek legal assistance."
The Emeritus Attorney Team FREDERIC R. BARAZANI, RAYMOND C. CLAYTON,
HOWARD B. EVANS, VERNA R. KAGAN, EARL PRICE, CAROLYN TULBERG, AL YABLON and
PAULINE ZEBKER together contributed some 780 hours in legal services
last year alone.
Each retired attorney regularly worked one morning or afternoon a week answering
legal questions and remaining "on call" for last-minute legal matters.
The attorneys screen clients, make appropriate referrals, negotiate with opposing
counsel and, on occasion, make court appearances. And in doing so, says Ramirez,
the team "provides tremendous assistance to our under-served population
in Ventura County."