For their dedication in assisting low-income New Yorkers to gain access to quality legal services, four attorneys and a nonprofit organization have been recognized with the Denison Ray Awards, given by the Department of Pro Bono Affairs of the New York State Bar Association.
"Each of the Denison Ray Award recipients has had a positive impact on the most vulnerable citizens in our society," said State Bar President James (The Legal Aid Society in New York City). "I congratulate all of this year's honorees. They have done a remarkable job upholding the proudest traditions of our profession."
The awards were presented September 13 during the 2012 Legal Assistance Partnership Conference.
At the same event, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and State Bar President James were recognized for their significant contributions in promoting access to justice for low-income New Yorkers.
Recipients of this year's Denison Ray Awards are:
Ian Feldman of New York City, Civil Legal Services Individual Attorney Award: Feldman (director of Legal Services, Mental Health Project, Urban Justice Center), was cited for more than 40 years of excellence in civil legal services advocacy, including his extensive knowledge of Social Security law and leadership in New York State's Disability Advocacy Program.
Michael Hanley of Rochester, Civil Legal Services Individual Attorney Award: Hanley (senior staff attorney, Empire Justice Center) has practiced civil rights and housing law since 1975. He was a key figure in the federal lawsuit, Comer v. Kemp, which successfully challenged racial segregation in federal housing programs in Buffalo.
Richard S. Hobish of White Plains, Pro Bono Program Director Award: Hobish is the founding executive director of the Pro Bono Partnership and is responsible for oversight and management of the Partnership. He transformed it from a single-staff lawyer service to a regional agency that has assisted nearly 2,000 organizations in three states and recruited nearly 3,000 attorneys to provide pro bono services.
Michael Rothenberg of New York City, Legal Services Director Award (posthumous): Rothenberg was a founder of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) and served as its executive director from 2001 until his death in February 2012. Under his leadership, the organization's funding increased 400 percent and its staff more than doubled to 35 members. The New York Times awarded the NYLPI the Nonprofit Excellence Award in 2010.
New York Legal Assistance Group of New York City, Nonprofit Organization Award: Since 1990, the New York Law Assistance Group (NYLAG) has provided high quality, free civil legal services to low-income New Yorkers who cannot afford attorneys. The organization, with seven core legal divisions, is staffed by more than 100 full-time legal professionals and 800 volunteers. The NYLAG served more than 56,000 low-income individuals in 2011.
The Denison Ray Awards were named for the late Denison Ray, the former executive director of the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York.
A highlight of the evening was the Committee on Legal Aid's surprise recognition of Chief Judge Lippman and Bar President James. The two men were cited for their advocacy on behalf of providing quality legal services for the poor.
"Chief Judge Lippman has set a national standard by recognizing the importance of civil legal services in bringing fairness to the civil justice system. Seymour James has devoted his career to protecting the rights of those accused of crimes. They are two magnificent leaders of the legal and social justice worlds," said Edwina Frances Martin of Staten Island, who co-chairs the Committee on Legal Aid with Lewis Creekmore of White Plains.
"New York is the birthplace of the concept of legal aid. With the advocacy of Chief Judge Lippman and President James, New York continues to be a trailblazer in ensuring access to justice for all," Creekmore said.
As State Bar president, James offered his own appreciation of his fellow honoree.
"Our justice system works best when all parties in an action have legal representation. Chief Judge Lippman's leadership shines a light on the critical need for civil legal services funding to help provide such representation," James said. "He is a true champion of the underserved."
The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.
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