October 5, 2007
Pro Bono Awards to be presented November 7
Columbus Bar Foundation President Sandra Anderson and CBA President Nelson Genshaft announced the 2007 Pro Bono Award recipients. The Foundation and the CBA jointly fund the Columbus Bar Pro Bono efforts and annually jointly present these awards at the Foundation’s Annual Meeting on November 7. The recipients are:
Alexandra Schimmer of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease, Outstanding Pro Bono Service by an Individual. For the past two years, Alexandra Schimmer has provided extensive support to a statewide effort commonly referred to as the “Civil Gideon” effort. As part of this pro bono effort, she represented a client referred to her by Southeastern Ohio Legal Services who was in great need of an attorney to represent her in an adoption proceeding filed against her involving her 7 year old daughter. Her client, who also suffered from learning disabilities, desperately needed an attorney to help her marshal the evidence of her attempts to support and communicate with her child. When the court denied her request for appointment of counsel, Alexandra stepped in to represent this client on an appeal to the Fourth District Court of Appeals. Her substantial pro bono commitment enabled this fundamental constitutional issue for low income parents and their children to be raised and presented effectively and efficiently.
Porter Wright Morris & Arthur for Outstanding Support of Pro Bono Service by a Law Firm, Government Agency, or Corporate Legal Department. Porter Wright collaborated with the Equal Justice Foundation (EJF), Ohio Legal Rights Service (OLRS), and the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation (OLAF). OLAF along with EJF and OLRS participated as Amici Curiae in a case, Jacob Winkelman v. Parma City School District, pending before the United States Supreme Court involving the ability of parents to appear pro se to prosecute their and their son’s claims under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Working together with OLAF, EJF, and OLRS, Porter Wright assumed primary drafting responsibility for the amici brief, while facing a filing deadline of less than four days. The participating lawyers at Porter Wright worked tirelessly over three days and long nights to complete the brief, with the collaborative assistance of EJF, OLRS, and OLAF. Ultimately, the United States Supreme Court ruled in favor of the position of the Amici Curae, a decision which will protect the rights of parents of special needs children to have meaningful access to the legal system.
The Legal Aid Society of Columbus Divorce Access Project for Outstanding Support of Pro Bono Service by a Project. This project was created by the Legal Aid of Columbus with direction from the Columbus Bar Association, the Franklin County Domestic Relations bench, and experienced domestic relations practitioners. The project serves a critical need in the area of domestic relations, representing low income clients in uncontested divorces. The project’s unique model allows volunteer attorneys to handle several cases in “batches,” allowing the attorney to appear in court on the same day for several clients. The participating volunteer attorneys are experienced domestic relations attorneys who have committed to providing pro bono representation through this project. Since its inception, the project has worked with ten volunteer lawyers: Lora Cleary, Pat Hamilton, Susan Kenney-Pfalzer, Steven Kokensparger, Heather Sowald, Jeffrey Grossman, Richard Swope, Peggy Blackmore, LeeAnn Massucci, and Harold Kemp. The project has screened over 200 clients and has completed divorces for approximately 30 clients.
Probate Court Judge Lawrence Belskis for Outstanding Pro Bono Service by a Judge. Judge Belskis has provided many years of service to pro bono efforts, including the Volunteer Guardian Program and National Adoption Day. Judge Belskis founded the Volunteer Guardian Program in 1993. This program provides pro bono legal representation to volunteer guardians, who serve as guardians to persons in need of a guardianship without pay and for as long as that person needs a guardian. Judge Belskis recruited volunteer attorneys to act as counsel for these volunteer guardians. The success of this program can be measured in part by the long term commitment made by the volunteer lawyers, many of whom have participated for the entire 14 year run of this program. Judge Belskis also participates in National Adoption Day, in which Judge Belskis and all the Probate Court magistrates open their courtrooms to families seeking to finalize adoptions of children living in foster care. Working alongside Franklin County Children Services and the National Center for Adoption at the Capital University Law School, this program allows volunteer lawyers representing the adoptive parents to come on one day and finalize these long awaited adoptions.
The Legal Aid Society of Columbus also announced their Outstanding Pro Bono Service by an Individual Awards:
Seth Gilbert and Dave Gormley for outstanding pro bono service to the Inter-Faith Legal Clinic; Grant Garber and Erin Gallagher for outstanding pro bono service through representation of a tenant in the Pro Bono Tenants Advocacy Project; Gage Gosnell for outstanding pro bono service through representation of an indigent criminal defendant on an appeal to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals; and Ken Thien for outstanding pro bono service through the daily administration and support of pro bono efforts by other lawyers. Barry Kiser for outstanding pro bono service by a paralegal for his work with the Inter-Faith Clinic.
Seth Gilbert has been the coordinator for the Inter-Faith Legal Clinic for the last two years, and prior to that had been a regular volunteer attorney. As his “day job,” Seth Gilbert works in the Franklin County Prosecutor’s office. But even with this time-consuming job, he has found time to provide the necessary leadership and coordination for this important monthly brief services legal clinic. His significant support of this project over the last two years has been an integral piece in the continuing success of this important project.
Dave Gormley is a long-time public servant and supporter of pro bono. Dave Gormley is currently the Director of Legal Resources at the Supreme Court of Ohio, but this has not stopped him from providing continuing support to the Inter-Faith Legal Clinic. Even though Dave was unable to provide direct representation due to his role at the Court, he was eager to find some role that he could play at the Inter-Faith Legal Clinic. So he took on the role of intake coordinator, a key role that allows this clinic to run smoothly each month. As the intake coordinator, Dave is the first one there, often by almost an hour. He sets up for that evening’s clinic, greets the clients, asks the preliminary questions to determine what type of legal issues they have, and generally facilitates the process so that the volunteer lawyers can focus on their one-on-one consultation with each client.
Grant Garber and Erin Gallagher are both second year attorneys with Jones Day. They participated in January 2007 in the Pro Bono Tenants Advocacy Project, where they represented a client facing many obstacles, eviction being only one of them. Their client was living in deplorable conditions, was unable to work because of severe health conditions, and was at risk of being homeless and on the hook for thousands of dollars of back rent. Grant and Erin investigated and documented her housing conditions, and prepared to defend against the eviction to the fullest extent. Fortunately, they were able to negotiate an outstanding settlement for their client in which she was given 30 days to find a new place to live and was relieved from any liability for back rent or other monetary damages. But this is just the legal picture. Grant and Erin also worked with their client’s hospital social worker and social security case worker to help her access much needed assistance, and assisted her efforts to find a new place to live. A few hours before their client moved, she expressed her gratitude to Erin and Grant, even telling them that she was going to name her new puppies after them.
Ken Thien of Porter Wright Morris & Arthur has been tireless in his efforts not only to provide pro bono representation by himself, but also in fostering and facilitating pro bono representation by other volunteer lawyers at his firm. For example, Ken is the liaison for the Pro Bono Tenants Advocacy Project that Porter Wright attorneys participate in yearly. Ken also works with Capital Law School to coordinate Porter Wright attorneys assisting with the representation of victims of domestic violence. In addition, Ken acts as the coordinator for participation by Porter Wright summer associates in the Inter-Faith Legal Clinic, for which the firm had 100% participation. All of this Ken does while at the same time balancing his own caseload. As his own firm attests, Ken has enabled many others to become active in pro bono, thereby exponentially increasing the volunteers available to meet the legal needs of the indigent and unrepresented.
Gage Gosnell, a partner at Chester Willcox & Saxbe, still finds time to serve the legal needs of indigent and often underserved persons. Over a year ago, Gage took on the representation of a criminal defendant in an appeal pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. On behalf of his client, Gage committed a substantial amount of time and energy over a 12 month period researching the constitutional issues raised by this appeal and briefing them to the court. When the court decided the appeal 2-1 with a strongly worded dissent, Gage decided that he needed to continue to press the legal interests of his client. Consequently, Gage drafted a Writ of Certiorari to the United States Supreme Court.
Barry Kiser, a paralegal at Porter Wright , is available at each monthly clinic to answer questions help clients complete intake forms, reassure people that the attorneys will stay to talk to them. Barry’s consistent dedication is appreciated by the clients and the volunteer attorneys.