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'We Are Public Counsel': Snapshots from the 2011 Pro Bono Awards

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Public Counsel hosted a reception on June 15 for attorneys and professionals who helped us provide free legal help last year.

With more than 5,000 volunteer attorneys and professionals from the nation’s top law firms, companies and private practitioners, Public Counsel is the nation’s largest not-for-profit law firm of our kind.

“Public Counsel’s team is making a difference for more than 32,000 people and small businesses every year,” said Public Counsel President and CEO Hernán Vera. “We leverage the power of major law firms and top professionals to change people’s lives every day. Our honorees are talented attorneys and professionals and they are making our city and nation a better place to live.”

Meet the 2011 honorees:

Immigrants’ Rights
Sirena Castillo
Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

Sirena Castillo kept a family together. Heavily armed immigration agents seeking a suspect instead arrested her client, a neighbor of the man they wanted. Because of Sirena’s work, the U.S. granted him permanent residency – an amazing turnaround for this family. This is her third case with Public Counsel.

Early Care & Education
Frank Clementi, Rios Clementi Hale Studios

Los Angeles faces a huge gap in quality child care, and architect Frank Clementi (AIA, AIGA) is helping fill it. He assists child care operators to navigate city and state building rules without breaking the bank. He has also helped us organize and present county-wide symposiums about child care center development. 

Children’s Rights Project
Sheryl Hayashida, Law Office of Sheryl S. Hayashida

Sheryl Hayashida goes to bat for children struggling with loss or abuse. Working in the Peace of Mind Program, which assists terminally ill parents in finding co-guardians for their children, and with immigrant youth who are abused or abandoned, she has brought a special touch to children and families struggling with loss and fear. 

Debtors’ Assistance
Keith Alan Higginbotham, Law Offices of Keith Alan Higginbotham

Keith Higginbotham is a bankruptcy expert who leads Public Counsel’s pro bono efforts to assist 150 people every month. He is currently President of Public Counsel’s Debtor Assistance Project Committee and also serves as President of the Central District Consumer Bankruptcy Attorney Association, California’s second largest consumer bankruptcy group, and serves on the board of directors for the Los Angeles Bankruptcy Forum and the Los Angeles Bar Association Bankruptcy Section.

Consumer Law
Irell & Manella LLP: Christopher Cowan, Bradley Mullins, Leslie E. Schuster, Gregory R. Smith, Lucy M. Stark and Jonathan Steinberg

Like thousands of Southern Californians caught up in the foreclosure crisis, Michal Johnson's family lost the title of their home of 30 years through a mortgage scam. Christopher Cowan, Bradley Mullins, Leslie E. Schuster, Gregory R. Smith, Lucy M. Stark and Jonathan Steinberg from Irell & Manella LLP have spent more than 1,000 hours working to win the family’s appeal.

Samuel Kim, Volunteer

Families often go into court alone when they seek guardianship rights for children and youth in the foster care system. UC Riverside graduate Samuel Kim spent a year before law school with the Pro Per Guardianship Clinic and the Transition Age Foster Youth Unit. He helped aunts, uncles and grandparents negotiate the complex rules to winning legal guardianship of their kin – and made sure youth have safe and healthy homes.

Appellate Law
Nate G. Kraut, Law Offices of Nate G. Kraut

State Bar-certified appellate specialist Nate Kraut knows what difference a good lawyer can make when a case is appealed. He won two cases for indigent litigants who had gone into court alone. His work upheld an abused woman’s restraining order against her husband, and another woman’s spousal support plan.

Veronica Kuiumdjian, Reed Smith LLP

Veronica Kuiumdjian of Reed Smith did amazing work for two sisters facing huge challenges. One was tragically shaken with so much force as a baby that she now is quadriplegic, blind, and has profound mental retardation and daily seizures. Her older sister witnessed the horrific abuse and is the victim herself of fetal alcohol syndrome. Their grandparents agreed to adopt them but needed help. Veronica helped the children find a safe home with services they need.

Impact Litigation
Morrison & Foerster LLP: Sean Gates, Hailly Korman, Dale Larson, Jack Londen and Miriam Vogel

Sean Gates, Hailly Korman, Dale Larson, Jack Londen and Miriam Vogel of Morrison & Foerster LLP went to bat for students in struggling Los Angeles schools. When Public Counsel went to court with the ACLU to protect students from teacher layoffs that hit low-performing schools the hardest, the Morrison & Foerster team led by Sean Gates devoted eight months to negotiating and protecting a resolution to Reed v. State. The result is a landmark protection of students’ fundamental right to equal educational opportunity that protects at least 75,000 students annually in the Los Angeles Unified School District from budget-based teacher layoffs. The case was covered by media including the New York Times and Los Angeles Times and spurred national debates about how to protect students from the impact of budget cuts. Miriam Vogel leads our appellate effort.

Federal Pro Se Clinic
Angelica Ochoa, Volunteer

After graduating from UCLA Law School, Angie volunteered in Public Counsel’s Federal Pro Se Clinic, providing advice and legal help for litigants representing themselves. She went the extra mile – in one case helping a man with mental illness to reopen his case with the Social Security Administration. 

Homelessness Prevention
Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP: Joshua Bird, Glen Chen, Adam Cherensky, Peter Cho, Elizabeth Dryden and Sherry Jackman

Los Angeles County’s general relief program is a lifeline for thousands of families facing homelessness. Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP adopted Public Counsel’s General Relief Advocacy Project, which makes sure residents get the help they need from the Department of Social Services. Led by third-year associate Adam Cherensky, Paul Hastings has created a pipeline of passionate volunteers including Joshua Bird, Glen Chen, Peter Cho, Elizabeth Dryden and Sherry Jackman who supervise the growing groups of law students, graduate students, and undergraduates who go to bat for Angelenos living at the poverty line.

Community Development Project
Anna Rienhardt, Latham & Watkins LLP

Community development means helping nonprofits cut through the red tape so they can meet their mission. For the Burbank Housing Corporation that’s an innovative arrangement to help families with very low incomes become home owners. Anna Rienhardt of Latham & Watkins helped the Burbank Housing Corporation in complex negotiations to develop nine affordable townhomes.

Center for Veterans Advancement
Adam White, Attorney at Law

For veterans who struggle with the law when they leave the military, a criminal record can stand in the way of employment or recovery. Attorney Adam White helped create a program to expunge past criminal convictions standing in the way of veterans finding promising employment.


President’s Awards

Adam Cherensky, Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker LLP

Adam Cherensky is the driving force behind Paul Hastings’ robust pro bono involvement in the General Relief Advocacy Project. Thanks to his active involvement, we have been able to expand the number of outreach opportunities offered to law students and other volunteers and also serve a greater number of clients in need. 

Alfred M. Clark, Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell LLP

For more than 20 years, Al Clark has gone to bat for tenants and nonprofit housing groups fighting to protect affordable housing. A transactional real estate partner at Locke Lord Bissell & Liddell, he has taken on long-term, highly demanding pro bono matters – including the decades long effort to maintain affordable housing in Venice, California. Clark has led the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Homeless Task Force as a former co-chair and worked for a diverse, racially integrated community as past president of the Pasadena Human Relations Committee.

Kaye Scholer LLP: Theodore Maya, Amanda Myers and Jonathan Rotter

When Mary McGurk became a victim of a real estate fraud ring, pro bono attorneys at Kaye Scholer stepped in. A foreclosure would have left her homeless. But for five years, attorneys Theodore Maya, Jonathan Rotter and Amanda Myers fought for her rights to retain her home – and prevailed at a bench trial in October 2010. 

Jana Sue Memel, The Hollywood Way

As the President of The Hollywood Way, Jana trains professionals to tell stories instead of presenting PowerPoints. Jana has provided trainings to teach Public Counsel how to utilize these skills to engage key audiences such as elected officials to better the child care infrastructure throughout the county and donated her time to provide two-day workshops on storytelling to summer law clerks and to Public Counsel staff.

Marshal A. Oldman, Oldman, Cooley, Leighton, Sallus, Gold, Birnberg & Coleman, LLP

Frequently Public Counsel's clients who struggle with poverty and homelessness have lost touch with their families – and some may be able to inherit significant resources that could make a huge difference. Enter Marshal Oldman, one of Southern California’s leading estate planning attorneys, who has helped many youth and families on their path to stability.

Sidley Austin LLP: Michelle Goodman, Jodi Lopez, Cameron Johnson, Lauren Nevitt and Debra Pole


In 2008, Human Potential Consultants, a Los Angeles-based organization that provides housing for persons struggling with homelessness, needed help securing a permit for a 56-bed homeless shelter in the City of San Bernardino. San Bernardino is home to nearly 2,000 homeless persons, but has only 400 shelter beds. Sidley Austin LLP committed an experienced and enthusiastic team of litigation attorneys, including Michelle Goodman, Jodi Lopez, Cameron Johnson, Lauren Nevitt and Debra Pole, to representing the housing group. Sidley and Public Counsel went to court, filing the first lawsuit of its kind enforcing a 2008 California law prohibiting municipalities from arbitrarily denying housing for the homeless.

Their action led to a successful out-of-court settlement that will allow Human Potential Consultants to set up a homeless shelter in the City of San Bernardino and send a strong message to local jurisdictions about the need to provide housing for their homeless population.