California Bar Journal
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Pro bono
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retired attorneys and firms from northern and southern California.

Beneficiaries of their efforts include victims of forest fires, workers who were laid off when a severe freeze destroyed the local citrus crop, poor people living in substandard housing and the homeless. One matter resulted in the construction of more low-cost housing by a northern California city; one lawyer won resident status for undocumented children who had been placed in foster care. Several award winners took on individual representation as well as offering more general advice through legal clinics in their communities. Some shared their expertise by writing manuals or guides and mentoring less experienced lawyers. Others left a legacy by recruiting colleagues to volunteer their services.

The recipients of the 2000 President’s Pro Bono Service Awards:

District 1

Leo J. GrahamRedding attorney Leo J. Graham was one of the first attorneys to join the Shasta Voluntary Legal Services Program when it was created last year to offer free legal assistance to residents of five northern California counties.

In 1999, he was instrumental in setting up clinics in Trinity and Shasta counties to help the victims of three disastrous fires who faced insurance problems and the task of securing federal disaster assistance.

“Beyond his incredible efforts to assist the 1999 fire victims, Leo makes a special effort to provide pro bono legal services, which is an important part of his career,” says Gary Rhoades, managing attorney of the Shasta Volun-tary Legal Services Program. “He is able to provide many hours of pro bono work while at the same time handling a very busy legal practice.”

District 2

Jeannette M. CarperJeannette M. Carper of Sacramento put in 120 hours last year at the Voluntary Legal Services Program’s family law pro per clinic, where she mentors new attorneys on family law cases and directly represents clients on a pro bono basis.

A volunteer for the program since 1985, Carper’s efforts have enabled numerous clients representing themselves to gain a clearer understanding of their rights and the legal system and to better present their cases in court.

Asked what motivates her, Carper says the needs of lower-income family law litigants currently are not met, sometimes resulting in tragic consequences for not only the parties but the entire family. The rewards derived from her pro bono cases outweigh the efforts invested, she says.

District 3

Jonathan M. WongImmigration lawyer Jonathan M. Wong has volunteered at Oakland’s Volunteer Legal Services Corp. since 1987, routinely spending more than 50 hours per year with individual clients and working at the agency’s immigration clinic. Last year, he put in 78 hours on six cases.

He has never missed a clinic, never been late and never missed an appointment with a VLSC client. And he never arrives alone, bringing other lawyers and paralegals with him. Indeed, the effort to promote pro bono work among his colleagues is as important as the legal work he has done, said Cherri Allison of the VLSC. “However much pro bono he does personally,” she wrote in nominating Wong for an award, “it will never match the amount done by his ‘children,’ those whom he has brought into the ‘pro bono business.’”

Wong, she continued, “is a stalwart . . . a dynamic man whose main thrust in life has been to make legal services available to all the people of the Alameda County community.”

District 4

Cathy A. MosbruckerServing on the landlord-tenant expert panel of San Francisco’s Volunteer Legal Services Program, Cathy A. Mosbrucker answers questions from other pro bono attorneys, writes manuals on landlord-tenant law and teaches introductory seminars to new volunteers. She also volunteers with the program’s homeless advocacy project and an AIDS legal referral panel and serves as an arbitrator once a month hearing appeals when people are evicted from homeless shelters.

In the last year, Mosbrucker also provided pro bono assistance to eight indigent clients, representing two tenants facing evictions from their homes, and served as co-counsel to a legal services organization for a third tenant.

A partner in a two-person law office, she volunteered between 80 and 100 hours in 1999. “By serving as a teacher and a mentor to inexperienced attorneys willing to do pro bono work, Mosbrucker has effectively leveraged her time and increased exponentially the number of low-income clients served,” wrote Teila Chambers, a project supervisor who nominated Mosbrucker for the pro bono award.

District 5

Lita O. Blatner and Robert L. FeltsLita O. Blatner and Robert L. Felts   are partners in a legal practice called the Good News Center, sponsored by Central California Legal Services and Catho-lic Chari-ties of Cen-tral Califor-nia, providing free legal assistance to low-income clients in Visalia. Last year, they saw 400 clients, many suffering the results of the 1998 Christmas freeze which wiped out the Tulare County citrus crop and caused layoffs affecting 2,800 families.

Blatner and Felts, who also participate in the State Bar’s emeritus attorney program, limit their practice to landlord-tenant and family law cases, providing advice and brief service in tenant rights, eviction defense, habitability, lockouts and other areas of eviction law. They also provide assistance to victims of domestic violence and families needing help with child custody, support and visitation orders.

“Their dedication to their clients has won them the trust of a community of homeless and near homeless clients who have traditionally never trusted attorneys,” said Rachel McDougall Smith of CCLS, who nominated Blatner and Felts for a pro bono award.

District 6

David L. Shain“Simply put, David Shain is a decent human being who is truly a credit to the legal profession,” says Barbara Macri-Ortiz, staff attorney with Channel Counties Legal Services Association and his co-counsel over the past four years representing farm workers living in substandard housing in Oxnard.

Shain , a partner in the Ventura firm of Ferguson, Case, Orr, Paterson and Cunningham, spent more than 80 hours on the case against the landlord of a 22-unit complex which Macri-Ortiz said resembled something out of “Grapes of Wrath.”

Although the tenants won judgments totaling $380,000, the property owner transferred the majority of the property holdings to a third party and the individual defendants went bankrupt. Shain then devoted 120 more hours to a subsequent case, alleging conspiracy and fraudulent conveyance, that ended with a settlement which will provide good quality, affordable housing for the farm workers.

Shain, says Macri-Ortiz, “is truly committed to the notion that all members of our society, including the poor, are entitled to equal access to the courts.”

District 7

Daniel J. WoodsThe Inner City Law Center, located on Los Angeles’ Skid Row, serves the poorest of the poor. Daniel J. Woods answered the center’s call for help in a lawsuit it had filed on behalf of 23 families living in one of the neighborhood’s slum buildings, and with him he brought a team of attorneys from White & Case, where he is a partner and pro bono coordinator.

“The cavalry rode in and Dan Woods headed it,” said Clemente Franco, head of the center. Woods and his team devoted more than 2,000 hours to the suit, which settled for $890,000; $400,000 of that was placed in a trust fund for the children in the case.

As important as the settlement, said Franco, was the impact the case had on the plaintiffs, who learned they have rights and were given a sense of empowerment “that will endure long after the money is gone.”

District 8

Clifford R. AndersonClifford R. Anderson has volunteered at Orange County’s Public Law Center since retiring from his successful family law practice in 1995, dedicating countless hours to battered women, AIDS patients and clients facing difficult family issues.

He has served as second chair on the center’s most difficult cases, including a particularly sensitive matter involving a developmentally disabled woman who claimed her father and brother had repeatedly raped and threatened her. Anderson “not only gained our timid client’s trust, but he skillfully advocated on her behalf,” said Tracey Jensen, a staff attorney at the center. “As he does with all his clients, Mr. Anderson left this woman far better off than he found her.”

His thorough understanding of domestic violence has helped countless battered women, and his litigation of a disability benefits matter enabled a family that was teetering on the brink of homelessness to become self-supporting.

District 9

Phyllis G. SchraderPhyllis G. Schrader had no previous experience in immigration law when she signed on with the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program’s special immigrant juvenile (SIJ) program. The program handles the cases of undocumented children in foster care who face deportation if they do not acquire permanent resident status before turning 18.

Schrader took the initiative to learn the substantive law and procedures and in 1999, as manager of the SIJ program and as the lawyer representing children referred by the court and county, she put in 344 hours obtaining legal resident status for abused and neglected children in longterm foster care.

The work is time-consuming and often frustrating, but Schrader succeeded in obtaining legal status for her young clients.

Because of financial problems, the SIJ program was targeted for elimination, and Schrader’s pro bono efforts kept its work going. She also prepared a step-by-step procedures manual, compiled resource materials and developed good relationships with court and affiliated agency staff.

Northern California Retired Attorney

Anne M. RubensteinAnne M. Rubenstein joined Legal Aid of Marin as a staff attorney in the late 1980s, but when budget cuts forced the elimination of a position, she resigned and signed on as a volunteer. Cutbacks were averted.

Since then, Rubenstein has worked tirelessly, particularly on behalf of homeless people with disabilities, handling administrative hearings before the Social Security Administration. Although she is entitled to attorney’s fees from a client’s recovery of back benefits, she accepts no fees. Rubenstein also spent hours meeting with clients at agencies serving their needs; most of those clients would not have found an attorney without her “circuit riding.”

Rubenstein, 73, semi-retired last year, but still contributed 346 hours of time to Legal Aid clients and was honored with her fourth Wiley W. Manuel Award. She received a president’s pro bono award in the northern California retired attorney category.

Southern California Retired Attorney

Mary Pat ToupsMary Pat Toups has volunteered with the Orange County Senior Citizens Legal Advocacy Program (SCLAP) since 1992, providing direct services and recruiting other volunteer attorneys who themselves are senior citizens.

Working both in the program’s office and visiting four senior centers once a month, Toups, 72, devotes more than 300 hours each year helping approximately 120 clients with financial assistance matters, health issues, landlord-tenant problems and consumer problems.

She created a Senior Attorney Volunteers for the Elderly (SAVE) program that attracted retired attorneys who have been able to serve additional clients with a higher level of service than otherwise would have been possible. Toups also publishes a consumer column for seniors, has taught a course on law and aging and speaks throughout Orange County on the subject of elder law.

In addition, she is active in a variety of bar associations, advocating for senior citizens, and donates about 240 hours a year to pro bono activities for the State Bar. Toups currently is developing a pro bono program seeking senior attorney volunteers to assist the local courts.

She received the southern California retired attorney pro bono award.

Northern California Law Firm

Northern California Law FirmIn 1999, 19 attorneys from Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP spent 465 hours on pro bono work, ranging from landlord-tenant cases to contractual disputes and real estate matters. The San Francisco- based firm grants full credit to hours spent on pro bono activities when an attorney’s total hours for the year reach 1900.

Once a pro bono matter is assumed, it is treated like any other paying matter for purposes of support work and administrative time, for which the firm assumes all reasonable costs.

In one particularly important case last year, Gibson Dunn represented a client in a successful suit against the city of Vallejo challenging its low income housing development policies and practices. As a result, Vallejo is now constructing more low income housing.

Gibson Dunn was honored for its pro bono work in the northern California law firm category.

Southern California Law Firm

Southern California Law FirmManatt, Phelps & Phillips LLP was honored as the southern California law firm providing outstanding pro bono work. Manatt continued its long tradition of providing assistance to the poor in 1999, helping more than 80 clients placed with the firm through Public Counsel, a Los Angeles legal services agency.

Its attorneys worked with Public Counsel’s child care law project, providing pro bono representation to low income home child care providers on such issues as licensing, zoning, insurance and landlord/tenant matters.

They also helped immigrant women who suffered abuse at the hands of their citizen or permanent resident spouses, fought for asylum for an individual who was persecuted for his political beliefs in his native Haiti, and helped finalize the adoptions of 20 foster children.

Transactional attorneys assisted non-profit organizations with their legal needs and Manatt’s summer clerks volunteered with a program to help homeless people obtain benefits.