California Bar Journal
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Bar joins effort to help terror victims with legal needs
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The State Bar has teamed up with Gov. Gray Davis to form a partnership with local bars, state government agencies and a number of private law firms to offer free legal services to victims of the recent terrorist attacks on our country. Volunteer attorneys have been specially trained to help surviving families identify potential legal issues and assist in resolving them at no cost.

The State Bar, explains Executive Director Judy Johnson, is providing coordination and assistance, linking the state with local bar associations and private law firms to provide important services.

"This is an opportunity for the bar to coordinate efforts to provide a legal safety net" for people who otherwise might have nowhere to turn, Johnson said.

 Latham & Watkins attorneys are assisting the Bolourchis and the woman from southern California. Agencies and local bars participating in the partnership are Public Counsel, the Bar Association of San Francisco Volunteer Legal Services Program, the Los Angeles County Bar Association, the California Victims Compensation and Government Claims Board, and the State and Consumer Services Agency.

State Bar President Karen Nobumoto, calling it an honor for the State Bar to be part of such a collective effort, noted that many survivors of the terrorist victims face a host of legal needs: immigration, tax and estate, workers' compensation, interstate compensation, child custody and financial issues. In addition, many must make decisions that potentially pit benefits from one victim compensation program against another, such as the new federal compensation program vs. the state of California's.

The pro bono initiative got its start in October when Gov. Davis hosted a statewide Day of Remembrance to honor families of victims as well as the firefighters, police officers and many others who assisted in the aftermath of the attacks. More than 150 family members and survivors attended the ceremony and many met with government officials that day.

Davis administration official Clothilde Hewlett, a former State Bar employee, asked the bar to coordinate the effort of recruiting bar associations and private law firms.

"Everyone was very focused on the task at hand and unfailingly offered their time and skills," said Hewlett.

"Initiatives like this don't just happen," said Teveia Barnes, executive director of the Bar Association of San Francisco. "California government agencies, nonprofit organizations and law firms came together and worked hard and fast to put this program together."

Nobumoto has appointed a special committee to recruit additional attorneys who are willing to provide free legal services through the bar's Disaster Legal Services Program. The committee includes two former State Bar presidents, Alan Rothen-berg and Harvey Saferstein of Los Angeles, current board member Marie Weiner of San Mateo and aviation liability expert Cynthia Lebow.

In addition to Latham & Watkins, law firms participating include Lawyers for One America; Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison; Coblentz, Patch, Duffy & Bass; Cooley Godward; Farella Braun & Martel; Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein; McCutchen Doyle Brown & Enersen; Munger Tolles & Olson; and Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe.