New faces debut; heroic work cited
The State Bar’s annual meeting in San Diego last month was highlighted by the presentation of numerous awards for outstanding achievements in the legal profession, as well as the swearing-in of a new president and board of governors members.
Marc Adelman of San Diego became the second sole practitioner to head the bar when he took the oath of office as its 72nd president.
Other highlights of the four-day meeting:
Wendy Borcherdt reappointed by Wilson
Gov. Pete Wilson reappointed Los Angeles resident Wendy Borcherdt to a second three-year term as a public member of the State Bar Board of Governors. Borcherdt, 61, was sworn in with six other new members of the board.
A public policy consultant with her own firm, Wendy Borcherdt & Associates, Borcherdt has served on the board’s legal, communications, finance and discipline committees.
She has joined other public members in the past year in urging increased openness by the board and in seeking a dues reduction of $25 per year.
Also sworn in to three-year terms on the board of governors were Valerie Ann Miller of Chico, District 1; Palmer Madden of Walnut Creek District 3; Paul Hokokian of Fresno, District 5; Clara Slifkin of Los Angeles, District 7; and Thomas J. Warwick Jr. of San Diego, District 9. Stephen M. Levine of San Francisco will represent the California Young Lawyers Association for a one-year term.
New faces at CYLA
The California Young Lawyers Association installed new officers and five new members of its board of directors.
David B. Norris, a sole practitioner from San Diego, was sworn in as the organization’s president. Other officers are: Adrian L. Randolph of Sacramento, first vice president; Peter D. Nitschke of Santa Ana, second vice president; Michael D. Millen of San Jose, third vice president; Stephen I. Gassner of Upland, secretary; and David G. Douglas of San Rafael, treasurer.
The new directors are: Juliene H. Lee of Chico, District 1; Michael D. Millen of San Jose, District 3; James C. Sherwood of Fresno, District 5; Michael A. Tenenbaum of Los Angeles, District 7; and Paul W. Smigliani of San Diego, District 9.
Former CYLA president Stephen M. Levine of San Francisco joined the bar board of governors for a one-year term as the young lawyers’ representative.
CYLA serves lawyers under the age of 37 or those who have been in practice less than five years.
Pro Bono Awards
At a time when an increasing number of California’s poor cannot afford to hire an attorney, the State Bar honored a select group of lawyers and law firms for giving thousands of hours of free legal help to those in need.
The 1997 President’s Pro Bono Service Awards were presented to 10 attorneys, two lawyer teams and two law firms at a special reception during the annual meeting.
The presentation, featuring an address from Chief Justice Ronald M. George, marks the 15th consecutive year that the State Bar has given the award to exceptional attorney volunteers from the bar’s various geographical districts.
This year’s recipients include:
Donating some 500 hours in free legal assistance last year alone (more than one-third of her practice), Serrata assists clients at a Nevada County Legal Assistance (NCLA) clinic, as well as those referred to her by bailiffs, court clerks, law enforcement and attorneys.
The NCLA Lawyer Referral Service, the local Victim-Witness Program and the Domestic Violence Coalition also send pro bono cases to Serrata. Legal services advocates say Serrata advances costs and fees for her clients’ cases out of her own pocket and pays her staff to work on the pro bono matters as well.
During 1996, he advised nearly 200 clients at the Friday afternoon clinic sponsored by the Voluntary Legal Services Program of Northern California (VLSP).
Snowden, who works part-time for the appellate law firm of Eisen & Johnston and part-time at his own family law and probate law practice, also volunteered his services last year at VLSP’s Simple Wills Clinic at the Sacramento AIDS Foundation.
Devoting an additional 100 hours of his time, he helped some 50 clients prepare their wills and powers of attorney.
These attorneys, most of them sole practitioners, supervise the law school students who assist the low-wage workers seeking help at the clinic.
The CAAA attorneys review the workers’ cases with the students and provide advice. Workers are encouraged to return to the clinic for further advice while their cases are in progress.
With Samuel Swift, the CAAA chapter’s president, at the helm, the attorneys also help the Community Law Center’s staff with cases in litigation. More than 100 workers have received assistance through the program.
Last year alone, the sole practitioner spent more than 120 hours providing free legal advice and representation through the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Volunteer Legal Services Pro-gram (BASF-VLSP) and its various clinics.
Coby, a VLSP volunteer since 1986, handles family law matters, as well as guardianships, workers’ compensation and collection defense actions.
Dimmick, a new attorney and associate at the firm of Coleman and Horowitt, spent more than 200 hours helping the couple. Accepting the case from the Central California Legal Services’ Voluntary Legal Services Program (CCLS-VLSP) in 1994, Dimmick eventually negotiated an agreement to end the dispute and the litigation, which required the next-door neighbors to move away.
Since then, she has volunteered additional pro bono services in complex real property cases.
His pro bono clients include such organizations as the Ventura County Habitat for Humanity and the Channel Islands Marine Resources Institute.
Donating some 140 hours in legal assistance last year alone, Harrington also handles real estate, business and consumer law matters for individual low-income clients, and assists the local legal aid program, Channel Counties Legal Services Association. Legal services advocates say Harrington has donated countless hours of pro bono time throughout his 25-year legal career.
Loftin, whose own practice focuses on family law, operates the free clinic. She also volunteers general legal services involving landlord/tenant issues, wills and employment discrimination twice a month at a gay and lesbian community center, The Center of Long Beach.
In addition, Loftin assists with restraining orders and family law matters at the Legal Aid Foundation of Long Beach’s Domestic Violence Clinic.
And she maintains pro bono clients in her private practice as well — at least two at any given time. Last year, Loftin donated at least 300 hours in pro bono services.
The team’s extraordinary efforts stand out in one particular case. An indigent client had been barred from his job after his employer discovered he was infected with the HIV virus. With the help of her legal team, Holly Williams of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi in Costa Mesa set out to regain the client’s job, health benefits and lost wages.
Through the team’s efforts, the client received a substantial six-figure settlement — the largest ever obtained for a pro bono client through the Public Law Center — and was scheduled to return to work.
In addition to supplying legal representation, the PLC’s AIDS Legal Assistance Project also provides free educational brochures on legal issues facing those who suffer from HIV/AIDS.
She trained 50 volunteers to help the children’s families in all phases of the special-education process. She wrote an extensive training manual for volunteers, and organized and conducted training workshops to teach parents the advocacy and negotiation skills necessary for working well with schools.
In its first year, the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program’s (SDVLP) Special Education for Children Program served 80 families.
In one complex, time-consuming case, Robinson succeeded in recouping the estate of a developmentally disabled woman whose home and savings had been taken away from her by her son.
The woman initially sought help after her son threatened to evict her. Robinson was able to restore her estate only after meticulously researching financial and real estate records, and the client’s background.
Robinson, who is enrolled in the bar’s Emeritus Attorney Pro Bono Participation Program, also is an advisor to the VLSP on elder abuse.
Last year, Sherman represented individuals who were threatened with losing their SSI benefits, and who were appealing their cases in special hearings.
Such hearings before disability hearings unit officers are the first level of appeal for individuals who are trying to prove that their disability is not caused by a drug or alcohol addiction. Losing such an appeal leads to the termination of SSI benefits and Medi-Cal coverage, and also could lead to homelessness with the drastic cut in income.
Sherman represented seven clients at such hearings, and was successful in six cases. He currently is representing two clients before administrative law judges at the Social Security Office of Hearings and Appeals.
Enrolled in the bar’s Emeritus Attorney Pro Bono Participation Program, McGuane spends some 20 hours a month at the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program’s (SDVLP) Domestic Violence Prevention Project.
He helps clients get domestic violence restraining orders. He also trains other pro bono attorneys and supervises the volunteer work of law students and paralegals.
Recently, McGuane received SDVLP’s Distinguished Service Award for his contributions to the success of the downtown restraining order program which served more than 2,300 clients last year alone. McGuane also has provided free services at the YWCA Battered Women’s Center and the Retired Affairs Office at the Naval Station in San Diego.
Heller Ehrman supplies services to BASF-VLSP’s Homeless Advocacy Project. The firm serves as pro bono counsel with Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) in a class action suit filed on behalf of California women prisoners allegedly denied adequate medical care.
It also represents prisoners in civil rights matters through VLSP’s Federal Pro Bono Project. In late 1996, Heller Ehrman worked with the ACLU of Northern California to craft a constitutional challenge to the provisions of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) which deny public benefits to noncitizen, legal immigrants; Heller Ehrman is now lead pro bono counsel in a lawsuit filed this year.
Legal services advocates say Heller Ehrman donated more than 42,000 hours in pro bono time in 1996.
Pillsbury attorneys also regularly accept pro bono referrals from organizations such as the San Diego Federal Pro Bono Project, the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program (SDVLP) and the Senior Citizens’ Legal Center.
They regularly volunteer at SDVLP’s Domestic Violence Restraining Order Clinic.
In 1996, the firm’s San Diego attorneys helped eight individuals obtain political asylum and jobs.
They also succeeded in winning a favorable judgment in an unlawful eviction case.
In addition, they spent more than 100 hours of pro bono time representing an HIV-positive client in an interpleader lawsuit involving insurance coverage issues.
The client eventually received more than two-thirds of the requested sum through mediation.
Pillsbury’s San Diego attorneys also have provided pro bono services for numerous nonprofit organizations, including the Educational Enrichment Foundation and the San Diego/Imperial County Regional Center for the Developmentally Disabled.
State Bar Foundation presents scholarships
The Foundation of the State Bar of California has awarded scholarships totaling more than $110,000 to 30 law school students. The scholarships were granted for the 1997-98 school year.
Recipients were chosen on the basis of their public service. The scholarship program, now in its sixth year, is underwritten by Acordia Lloyd and MBNA America.
Recipients of exceptional merit scholarships ($7,500 each) are: Whitnie Henderson, San Francisco Law School; Kathryn Morgan, Pepperdine University Law School; and Cory Stephens, New College of California.
Winners of merit scholarships ($5,000 each) are: Carrie Ahn, University of Southern California Law School; Ramiah Bright, Stanford Law School; Dominique Day, Stanford; Jo Ann Hoenninger, USC; Todd Jackson, Boalt Hall; Melissa McKowan, Santa Clara University Law School; Jeffrey Mingo, Boalt; and Wendy Stanford, UCLA Law School.
Scholarships of $2,500 were awarded to: Wendy Lee Anderson, Boalt; Jessica Aronoff, UCLA; Brian Augusta, Santa Clara; Monique Doryland, New College of California; Karolina Ericsson, Stanford; Francesca Godi, Boalt; Mary Lynn Hansen, San Francisco Law School; April Hesik, University of California at Davis Law School; Jeanette Jose, UCLA; Kristin Lamson, University of San Francisco Law School; Karen Li, California Western Law School; Meredith Linsky, UC Davis; Ana Mallari, Stanford; Karen Pang, UCLA; Jason Pu, UCLA; Eileen Rice, USF; Jihan Shammas, Pepperdine; Barbara Suaret, Monterey College; and Elsa Torres, New College of California.
3 receive legal services achievement awards
The State Bar’s Annual Legal Services Achievement Award was presented to three individuals at the bar’s annual meeting.
All three attorneys received the award — presented by the bar’s legal services section — in recognition of their many years working to protect the rights of the state’s poor and disadvantaged.
Jefferson: Witkin medal
Retired Court of Appeal Justice Bernard S. Jefferson was awarded the State Bar’s Bernard E. Witkin Medal last month for his contributions to the quality of justice and legal scholarship in California.
Jefferson, 87, was honored as a "distinguished lawyer, outstanding jurist, renowned author and beloved professor." The Witkin medal was established in 1993 to acknowledge legal giants, like its namesake, who have altered the landscape of California jurisprudence.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Jefferson was the second black justice on the California Court of Appeal (his brother, Edward, whom he replaced, was the first).
He holds a doctorate in law and taught at Howard University for 10 years before his appointment to the Los Angeles Municipal Court in 1959 by the late Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown. He was named to the superior court the following year, and was appointed to the Court of Appeal by Gov. Jerry Brown.
A distinguished jurist who has written widely, Jefferson initiated the California Judicial College’s course in evidence, which led to the first edition of the California Evidence Benchbook in 1972. He also served as president of the University of West Los Angeles School of Law for 11 years.
Murray top legislator
One of the youngest members of the California State Assembly, Kevin Murray, was named 1997 Legislator of the Year by the State Bar in recognition of his service to the legal community.
Murray, 37, was elected to the Assembly in 1994 and represents the 47th District, which includes the Los Angeles area communities of Windsor Hills, the Crenshaw District, Cheviot Hills, Hancock Park, Century City and Baldwin Hills.
Murray has carried a number of bills supported by the State Bar Conference of Delegates, including legislation dealing with temporary restraining orders, subpoena issues in juvenile cases and workers’ compensation benefits for HIV-related deaths.
He was admitted to the State Bar in 1987 and has been in private practice since 1989.
Helping the poor in troubled times
When Mary Burdick took a two-year leave from her Los Angeles law firm to practice poverty law, she wasn’t sure if the move would simply satisfy her desire to perform public service or if it meant a permanent career change.
"I had not gone to law school thinking I wanted to be a career public service lawyer," Burdick recalls. But when she arrived at the Western Center on Law and Poverty in 1975, she says, "I felt I had come home."
Twenty-two years later, Burdick is still there, now in her 13th year as executive director and a savvy veteran of shifting political winds, up-and-down budgets, and dramatic changes in public policies.
In recognition of her longtime commitment, Burdick last month received the 1997 Loren Miller Legal Services Award, the State Bar’s highest honor.
"I am in awe of her," says M. Carmen Ramirez, executive director of the Channel Counties Legal Services Association in Oxnard. "Mary Burdick has performed the heroic task of keeping the voice of the poverty-stricken loud enough to be heard, despite the efforts of very powerful forces to silence that voice."
Other legal services advocates describe Burdick as both a smart lawyer with good judgment and an administrator who has steered the Western Center through major financial crises.
Burdick herself says she is most proud of creating an environment "where advocates could do excellent work without being buffeted by political pressures, where we could continue to exist whether we were in favor with the administration or out of favor." Despite major funding cuts, the center remains stable, she says, with some of the best poverty lawyers in California on its staff.
Burdick received her law degree from the University of Virginia, bachelor’s from Ohio State University and a masters from the University of Wisconsin.
It was during a promising stint as an associate with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher that she thought, "If I were going to do public service in my life, that would be the time to do it."
An independent, non-profit corporation, the Western Center serves as a support operation for legal services programs throughout the state. Burdick guided it through a financial crisis in 1984 when the Legal Services Corp. tried to defund it, charging the center had engaged in political work.
When all LSC funding ended in 1996, the Western Center lost $1.2 million and half its staff. Again, however, Burdick weathered the challenge, soliciting foundation grants and contributions from law firms and individual attorneys to add to attorney fee awards. "We’re smaller," she says, "but we have income and the staff doesn’t have to worry about their jobs."
The center’s nine lawyers field nearly 4,000 calls a year from poverty lawyers in local programs. They also continue to handle high impact cases affecting thousands of people.
Burdick has developed a kind of equilibrium about legal services for the poor. She is optimistic about current bipartisan support for legal services and predicts stable federal funding or even modest growth.
But she remains concerned that the price for that funding is a ban on the considerable range of work that poor people need. No LSC-funded program, she explains, can do any work on welfare reform, file class actions, or contact a legislator on behalf of a client.
"It’s going to take some time for the system to come around to accept that poor people’s lawyers should be able to give them a full range of high quality services that people with money are able to buy and that corporations have in their counsel," she says.
With Burdick in the battle, that just might happen.
State Bar cites journalists
Journalists from seven news organizations were honored by the State Bar for excellence in legal reporting in the past year. The State Bar’s Golden Medallion Awards were presented for stories which covered issues such as the early release of inmates and problems with prosecuting war criminals from other countries and cultures.
The Golden Medallion Media Awards were first presented in 1954 to encourage print and broadcast reporting that educates the public about lawyers, law, the courts and the administration of justice.
A series of articles exploring the questionable use of public funds for the early release of inmates from the Los Angeles County jail brought the Los Angeles Times the bar’s top newspaper award.
Freelance writer Kitty Felde was awarded with a Golden Medallion for her radio reporting, which revealed the problems that occur when well-meaning judges and attorneys from the U.S. and elsewhere attempt to prosecute war criminals from other countries and cultures.
In the legal press category, a Golden Medallion was awarded to the San Francisco Daily Journal for its report on the reluctance of San Francisco juries to recommend that defendants be sentenced to die. A Golden Medallion also was presented to The Daily Recorder in Marysville, which documented how law enforcement officials may have wasted taxpayer money and infringed on the rights of a Russian emigre in an attempt to build a government case against a suspected Russian organized crime ring.
The 1997 winners are: