State Bar of California California Bar Journal
Home Page Official Publication of the State Bar of California November2002
Opinion
MCLE Self-Study
Discipline
You Need to Know
Trials Digest
Contact CBJ
PastIssues

Bar cites 21 for pro bono work

By KRISTINA HORTON FLAHERTY
Staff Writer

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:

Nelson Meeks
Meeks

Corporate

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.

Bruce Zucker
Zucker

Government

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, supporters say.

"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 papers.

"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."

Thomas Andrews
Thomas

Solo practitioner

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.

Philip Hammer
Hammer

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.

Gregory Ramirez
Ramirez

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 relations.

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 matters.

"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
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 her home.

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 her home.

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."

Thomas Kritzik
Kritzik

Recently admitted

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 service award.

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 SDVLP.

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 award.

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.

John Miller
Miller

Retired

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 matters.

"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
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."

Contact Us Site Map Notices Privacy Policy
© 2009 The State Bar of California