Our Stories

Amazing People, Changing Lives: Meet Public Counsel's 2013 Pro Bono Heroes

Can't see the photos? Click here to visit our Flickr page.

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. But it wouldn't happen without our pro bono heroes.

Public Counsel holds its Pro Bono Awards on July 24 in Los Angeles.

"Our pro bono partners are our greatest asset," said Public Counsel President and CEO Hernán Vera. "They are generous people who enjoy the challenge and the opportunity to serve people in need of justice."

Meet the 2013 honorees:

Appellate Law Program

Alana Rotter
GREINES, MARTIN, STEIN & RICHLAND LLP

Alana has been a mainstay of Public Counsel’s Appellate Law Program since it began in 2007, screening numerous appeals and always volunteering for more.  She also worked with Directing Attorney, Lisa Jaskol on the amicus brief in U.S. v. CRLA (California Rural Legal Assistance), pending in the D.C. Circuit. Currently, she is drafting an amicus letter on behalf of Public Counsel and the Legal Aid Association of California in support of California Supreme Court review in Acosta v. Brown.  Alana’s work is always of the highest quality, and the Appellate Law Program can always rely on her excellent judgment.

Center for Veterans Advancement

The Honorable Paul Enright
RETIRED

Retired Superior Court Commissioner Paul Enright brings more than 30 years experience in the criminal justice system to his work representing veterans in court. Veterans often fail to appear due to being homeless, losing paperwork, or having other issues. Without counsel they probably would just plead guilty and be heavily fined, putting them farther behind.

In one case Paul helped a former paratrooper who had once served with the 82nd Airborne Division. He had a plastic brace on his back, which wrapped around to his front and made him awkward and uncomfortable. He had made a long journey from his home at the West LA VA facility to a courthouse in Pomona to answer an infraction, and on his Failure to Appear charge, that carried substantially more severe penalties. But with Paul’s help this veteran was able to settle his case and move on. We are grateful that Paul is on veterans’ side.

Children's Rights Project - Adoptions

Lauren Sliger
PERKINS COIE LLP

The Adoptions Project is proud to acknowledge the extraordinary work done by Lauren Sliger of Perkins Coie on her recent adoption case.  In addition to finalizing the adoption, Lauren advocated for the family to receive specialized funding based on the child’s medical condition as well as 10 years of retroactive funding, as the family had consistently received the wrong rate.  

Due to a recent change in policy by the County, only 18 months of retroactive benefits were initially approved.  Lauren did not stop there, but took the case to an Administrative Fair Hearing.  Not only was the hearing required, but due to the novel argument by the County in denying the funding, additional briefing was required by the Administrative Law Judge.  

Lauren went above and beyond in her work on this case, researching the issue, arguing the case and drafting an extensive supplemental brief.  Due to Lauren’s superb advocacy she won her case and the family will receive 10 years of retroactive funding totaling $32,800. Lauren’s brief also now serves as a model that can be used by other pro bono attorneys when faced with the same arguments and will serve to assist countless other families.

Children's Rights Project - Education Rights

Rabbi Ron Stern, STEPHEN S. WISE TEMPLE
Chet Kronenberg,
SIMPSON THACHER & BARTLETT LLP
Jeremy Rosen, HORVITZ & LEVY LLP

The Children’s Rights Project is proud to honor Stephen S. Wise Temple for its pro bono efforts.  Last year, Rabbi Ron Stern and Temple members Chet Kronenberg and Jeremy Rosen contacted Children’s Rights Project to identify pro bono opportunities for Temple members. While Chet and Jeremy have access to coordinated pro bono opportunities directly through their firms, many Temple members in small firms and private practice lack such coordinated access. 

Rabbi Stern, Chet and Jeremy now function as an in-Temple pro bono committee for Temple members.  Through the last year over 20 Temple attorneys have participated in pro bono trainings, and many of those attorneys are now advocating for the educational rights of children with disabilities. 

For example, in one case a Temple pro bono has assisted the family of an 8-year-old who was adopted from the foster care system and recently diagnosed with a psychotic disorder.  This little boy was repeatedly sent home from school last year because his teacher “needed a break,” but when the family asked the school for help staff told them their son was fine and refused to offer any assistance.  Through pro bono advocacy, he was evaluated for special education and is now being offered a free appropriate public education through an individualized educational program.

Children's Rights Project - Guardianship

Will Wong
SNELL & WILMER LLP

Will took his first Peace of Mind guardianship case(which allow terminally ill parents to have joint guardianship with their children’s future caregiver) last year and within one week had already calendared a temporary hearing. This mom was very ill, and needed a speedy result from her lawyer. After the permanent guardianship was granted, Will kept asking for cases.  He has taken on a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status guardianship, which is moving now at lightning speed, and is working on his second Peace of Mind case at the same time. Will has also connected us with other pro bono attorneys in his firm who have taken on cases. He’s been amazing.

Community Development Project

Melody Chen
Eric Remensperger
Lois Thompson
Albert Valencia

PROSKAUER

Los Angeles’ affordable housing crisis prevents too many vulnerable Angelenos from meeting their basic daily needs. Pro bono real estate transactional attorneys can make a huge difference in this struggle.  This year, Public Counsel’s Community Development Project honors Proskauer and the Tierra Urbana Real Estate Team for their incredible efforts in completing a complex cooperative transaction that resulted in 40 units of affordable housing for elderly Angelenos with low incomes.  The Tierra Urbana Real Estate Team completed this project for a local nonprofit housing cooperative dedicated to affordable, sustainable housing.

This project represents the pinnacle of what can be achieved with dedicated pro bono resources, resulting in successful innovations advancing both affordable housing and tenant investment in real property.  Pro bono attorneys assisted with incorporating a cooperative structure for the residents to achieve equity ownership; acquiring the buildings involved in the development from another nonprofit; and structuring to ensure long-term affordability and sustainability  so that the cooperative maintains control over the use and equity rights at the project.  And because residents maintain an equity stake as members of the cooperative, they are also the project’s owners. Members of the cooperative’s board hope the development will serve as a model for future affordable housing, enabling residents who typically rent to have an ownership stake in their housing.

The Tierra Urbana Real Estate Team spent an enormous amount of time on this transaction, over multiple years, in order to accommodate the many goals the client brought to the project.  This affordable and sustainable resident-owned housing complex is a testament to the pro bono attorneys’ tireless efforts and dedication to advancing the availability of affordable housing in LA.  As one of the cooperative’s board members put it simply, the lawyers were "amazing."

 

 

 

 

 

Consumer Law Project

Philip Cook
JONES DAY

The contribution that Jones Day and its Los Angeles partner, Philip Cook, have made to the work of the Consumer Law Project has been nothing short of immense.  In 2012, for example, Jones Day accepted 10 cases for pro bono placement.  These cases ranged from people who had been defrauded out of title to their homes, to an elderly couple defrauded by a car dealership when they sought to purchase a vehicle to transport the 100-year-old woman to doctor’s appointments.  

This year, Jones Day stepped up to the plate to rescue a woman whose landlord had sprayed their unit with a toxic pesticide.  The woman and her children were without representation a matter of weeks before trial, and Jones Day, despite having very little time to prepare for trial, agreed to represent them.  

Every summer, Jones Day and the Consumer Law Project schedule an intake night.  Jones Day attorneys and their entire summer associate class come to
Public Counsel, meet with a number of intake clients, and get started on their cases.  At any given time, Jones Day usually has more Consumer Law Project cases in active litigation than any other firm in Los Angeles.

Time and time again, Jones Day has come through for Consumer Law Project and its clients.  We are especially grateful to Phil Cook and the other attorneys at Jones Day because they are willing to take the tough cases—the cases that the Consumer Law Project staff believes have real merit, but which are proving to be very difficult to place.  We would like to express the deep appreciation it has for Jones Day by naming it to receive this year’s Pro Bono Award.

Debtors Assistance Project

Rodger Landau
Monica Rieder
Roye Zur
LANDAU GOTTFRIED & BERGER LLP

This team took on an a complex adversary proceeding against an unscrupulous creditor, who was notorious for filing non-meritorious complaints against pro se litigants in bankruptcy courts throughout the Central District of California.  When we contacted them to represent our client against this creditor, the trial was only a month away.  Our client was in dire need of representation and in danger of facing a $100,000 judgment against him if he did not have an attorney to represent him at trial.  After speaking with Rodger, Roye and Monica about taking the case, they immediately said, “Yes. We want the case.”

They had no hesitation and within a few days  met with our client and obtained a continuance of the trial date.  They then proceeded to aggressively litigate the case, and WON!  We are happy to report that since that victory, this unscrupulous creditor is no longer filing these types of complaints in bankruptcy courts in the Central District of California.  The remarkable litigation team of Landau Gottfried & Berger not only made a difference in the life of our client, but also in the lives of countless individuals who will not have to face a complaint by this unseemly creditor.  

On behalf of Public Counsel’s Debtors Assistance Project, it is a great privilege to thank Rodger Landau, Roye Zur and Monica Rieder for their outstanding work on this case and to recognize them as this year’s Pro Bono Award recipients.

Early Care and Education Law Unit

Sean Matsler
MANATT, PHELPS & PHILLIPS, LLP

The Early Care and Education Law Unit is proud to honor Sean Matsler. Sean is a fantastic volunteer who wins over tough critics and gets spectacular results for communities that need it most.  

Over the past several years, Sean has dedicated countless volunteer hours to help increase the availability of quality child care for working families.  Specifically, he worked with Public Counsel’s Land Use Coalition from 2009 to 2012 to identify land use barriers that discourage qualified, licensed child care providers from opening child care programs.  

In addition, despite his busy schedule Sean always volunteered to assist with Public Counsel’s annual symposium on child care development to provide educational talks to elected officials and city planners about the importance of planning for early care and education.  In short, his volunteer hours have been invaluable for assuring that working families will have access to quality child care for their young children.

Federal Pro Se Clinic

Daniel Allender
Christopher Beatty
Emily L. Cox
Thomas L. Jackman
Brandon Marsh
Keith A. Orso
Andrew Ow
Mani Potnuru
Benjamin N. Simler
John G. Snow
Lillie Werner
Kevin M. Winzer
IRELL & MANELLA LLP

This team of attorneys joined the fast-paced practice at the Federal Pro Se Clinic to provide services for unrepresented litigants in the Central District of California.  The attorneys helped our clients navigate through complicated issues in cases involving intellectual property, civil rights, social security appeals, and other matters.  Through their assistance, an elderly, disabled man was able to release a $750,000 lien on his house so that he could remain in his home.  Another man who was being sued in a cyber-squatting case received the team’s assistance and managed to settle his case.  The team brings not only a strong knowledge of federal practice to the Clinic but also a compassionate desire to help those who are less fortunate.

Homelessness Prevention Law Project

Amber Gosney
Aaron Inlender
Gregory Jones
Jessica Mariani
Matthew Smith
Jason Strabo
Charles Weir
MCDERMOTT WILL & EMERY LLP

McDermott Will & Emery has taken several unlawful detainer cases over the past year on behalf of some of our most vulnerable clients.

In three of these cases, they have not only demonstrated their expertise and commitment by successfully defending our clients in their unlawful detainer actions, but have separately filed and are preparing to file affirmative cases on their behalf.

It is for taking this extra step to make our clients whole that we recognize them today.

Immigrants' Rights Project

Peter Perkowski
WINSTON & STRAWN LLP

Peter has volunteered with the Immigrants’ Rights Project for over 12 years.  He has been directly involved in five asylum cases, not a small feat given that asylum cases are particularly resource- and time-intensive as well as emotionally demanding.  

In 2001, Peter started with a case of a Colombian woman who was persecuted because of her husband’s political activities. Peter was able to obtain legal status for her through a derivative application based on her husband’s case.  Peter then successfully handled a case of a young man who fled anti-gay violence by gangs in Guatemala.  

Currently, Peter is in his third year representing a gay Mexican man who suffered horrible physical and sexual abuse while in the Mexican military. In addition to direct representation, Peter has provided supervision to other Winston & Strawn attorneys handling asylum cases.  He supervised an affirmative asylum case of a Rwandan genocide victim and recently took on supervision of a Ghanaian man fearing persecution in his home country based on his sexual orientation.  

Peter has always been willing to assist Immigrants’ Rights Project clients who are tremendously vulnerable and who could not succeed without pro bono representation.  The  Pro Bono Award is a small token of appreciation and gratitude to Peter for his tireless work on behalf of Immigrants’ Rights Project clients.

Impact Litigation Project

Benjamin Maro
Bradley Phillips
Stuart Senator
MUNGER, TOLLES & OLSON LLP

Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP co-counseled two cases with us on behalf of California’s 650,000 farm workers through the United Farm Workers union, seeking to ensure access to lifesaving water and shade when workers pick fruits and vegetables in extreme heat.  We have been in intense litigation for four years, including multiple trips to the Court of Appeal and too many hearings in the trial court, and through that high-profile effort we have made tens of thousands of farm workers safer by turning up spotlight and vigilance on Cal/OSHA’s flawed enforcement efforts to date.  We hope to resolve the issues soon so farm workers may expect to come home alive at the end of each work day, but in the meantime we are deeply grateful to this group for their excellent lawyering for economic justice on behalf of the state’s least advantaged workers.