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Public Counsel Announces New President and CEO


Morrow will begin CEO role in Jan. 2016

Judge Margaret Morrow brings decades of distinguished leadership and service to the helm of nation’s largest pro bono law firm

Dec. 2, 2015

Public Counsel announced today the selection of Margaret Morrow as its new President and Chief Executive Officer.

Morrow was appointed to the United States District Court for the Central District of California by President Clinton on March 8, 1998. Prior to her appointment, Judge Morrow was a partner in the Los Angeles office of Arnold & Porter. Before joining Arnold & Porter in 1996, she was one of the founding partners of Quinn, Kully & Morrow, and a partner at Kadison, Pfaelzer, Woodard, Quinn & Rossi. During her years in practice, Morrow handled cases in both the trial and appellate courts, representing plaintiffs and defendants. She was counsel of record in several precedent-setting cases involving employment law, bad faith, insurance coverage and arbitration.  

"I am incredibly honored to have been chosen as Public Counsel's next President and CEO. As a lawyer and a judge, I have focused on doing what I could to ensure that equal access to justice and equal rights for all were not just slogans, but realities," said Morrow. "Working at Public Counsel will allow me to contribute to this effort directly, by doing everything I can to support the team of talented, dedicated staff and volunteers as they help the underrepresented in our community secure rights that are critical to their ability to live with dignity. Public Counsel's work is crucial to our society's ability to achieve social justice, and I could not be more excited about what lies ahead." 

Morrow is a past president of the State Bar of California, having served as its first woman president in 1993-94. She is also a past president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association (1988-89) and its Barristers Section (1982-83). While President of the Barristers Section, she was instrumental in starting the bar association's pro bono Domestic Violence Clinic, which today is housed in the Los Angeles Superior Court, and helps thousands of people a year. As Barristers' President, Morrow was also involved in starting a pro bono Hospice/AIDS program, which helped clients with end of life legal issues. As president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association, Morrow spearheaded the association's adoption of a Pro Bono Policy that was endorsed by major firms and individual lawyers throughout the county, and that led to a significant increase in the number of pro bono hours devoted to helping those who are underrepresented due to poverty or lack of resources. She also served for several years on the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants was a member of the Commission to Draft an Ethics Code for Los Angeles City Government and the Public Commission on Los Angeles County Government.  

"Judge Morrow's energy and enthusiasm for Public Counsel's mission is truly inspiring. But her connection to and respect for our team of leading professionals sealed the deal for me," said Dan Clivner, Partner, Sidley Austin LLP and 2015 chair of the board of Public Counsel. "She has a long history of leadership, both on and off the bench. Her commitment to public service dates back to her terms as President of the Los Angeles County Bar Association and the State Bar of California. Her new role as CEO also her brings her back ‘home' to Public Counsel, where she previously served on our Board." 

Since her appointment to the bench, Morrow has handled a full civil and criminal docket. Among the cases she has decided are Sarei v. Rio Tinto, an Alien Tort Claims Act case concerning alleged human rights abuses in Papua New Guinea; Cano v. Davis, a Voting Rights Act case that challenged the lines drawn in the 2001 decennial redistricting; Neilson v. Union Bank of California, which resulted in a $26 million settlement benefitting victims of the Reed Slatkin Ponzi scheme; and United States v. Valenzuela, which resulted in the conviction of defendants who forced Guatemalan girls and young women to work as prostitutes in downtown Los Angeles. She built and for ten years oversaw the Central District's ADR program, and for more than fifteen years, has led the effort to build a new federal courthouse in Los Angeles.

"With leadership positions on the bench and at the bar, respect in the legal community locally and nationally, and strong connections with our community, I can't imagine a better candidate to lead Public Counsel into its next chapter than Judge Morrow," said incoming Public Counsel Board Chair Paul W. Sweeney, Partner, K&L Gates. "Not only does she have strong pro bono credentials, having served on the boards of Public Counsel and other pro bono legal organizations, she's a wonderful person who's respectful of others' ideas, talent and circumstances-and who's demonstrated success at every endeavor she has undertaken. 

During her career, Morrow has received numerous awards. These include the Los Angeles County Bar Association's Outstanding Jurist and Shattuck-Price Awards; the Judicial Council of California's Bernard E. Witkin Amicus Curiae Award; the Women Lawyers' Association of Los Angeles' Ernestine Stahlhut Award; the Association of Southern California Defense Counsel's Judge of the Year Award; the California Association of Court-Appointed Special Advocates' President's Award; the Western Center on Law and Poverty's Pro Bono Advocacy Award; and the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles' Maynard Toll Award.

"Judge Morrow brings with her an extensive background in public interest related work and a passion for the issues that are important to Public Counsel," said Rand April, Public Counsel board member and Of Counsel, Skadden, who served as Public Counsel's Interim President and CEO during the search. "Her inclusive management style and judicial demeanor are assets that will serve her well as the new President and CEO. I am certain that, under her leadership, Public Counsel will become an even stronger force for good in our community." 

Morrow received her B.A. degree magna cum laude with honors from Bryn Mawr College in 1971, and her J.D. degree cum laude from Harvard Law School in 1974. For the past sixteen years, she has been a member of the Board of Trustees of Bryn Mawr College, where she presently serves as the Chair of its Committee on Trustees. 

Morrow's appointment concludes a national search conducted by Phillips Oppenheim Associates, Inc. under the direction of a search committee formed by Public Counsel's Board of Directors and co-chaired by Stephen Pickett and Gail Title. She is the successor to longtime President and Chief Executive Officer Hernán Vera, who has returned to private practice. 

Morrow will retire from the bench and begin serving as Public Counsel's President and CEO in early January 2016. 

About Public Counsel

Founded in 1970, Public Counsel is the nation's largest pro bono law firm. Public Counsel is based in Los Angeles and combines direct services, policy advocacy, and impact litigation to protect the rights of our society's most vulnerable individuals.

With a staff of 135, including 70 lawyers, Public Counsel leverages the legal talents of 5,500 pro bono volunteers from law schools, law firms and corporations to provide one-on-one legal assistance to more than 30,000 people every year. It helps thousands more through litigation on behalf of students, families, immigrants and people in poverty. 

Public Counsel provides free and low-cost legal help and files litigation in nine practice areas. It recently launched an ambitious new project - the Opportunity Under Law initiative - that seeks to combine impact litigation, communications, and organizing to address the lack of economic opportunity nationally. 

Recent examples of Public Counsel's work include: 

  • Litigation on behalf of students at high-poverty schools to protect student learning time and end the practice of "fake classes" (Cruz v. California);
  • Litigation on behalf of students who have experienced complex trauma that affects behavior and learning (Peter P. v. Compton Unified School District);
  • Litigation on behalf of Los Angeles residents in the social welfare system (Guillory v. Los Angeles County);
  • Litigation on behalf of African-American and Latino residents receiving federal housing support (The Community Action League v. Lancaster);
  • Litigation on behalf of unrepresented migrant children and immigrants with mental disabilities (J.E.F.M. v. Holder, Franco v. Holder);
  • Helping military veterans and their caregivers overcome trauma, escape homelessness and provide for their families through advocacy and direct legal services;
  • Leading the effort to change harsh California school discipline policies and education laws that put students on a path to dropout of school and enter the juvenile justice system;
  • Expanding our immigration and asylum practice to represent unaccompanied children fleeing violence in their home countries;

Public Counsel's practice areas include appellate law, children's rights, childcare law, community development, consumer law, education rights, homelessness prevention, immigrants' rights, and veterans' advocacy. 

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