An Albany Law School student who founded a program to help veterans, a recently confirmed federal judge who volunteered hundreds of hours to addressing wrongful convictions, and a New York City law firm that donated more than 37,000 hours of pro bono services are among the 22 winners of the New York State Bar Association's 2012 President's Pro Bono Service Awards.
The State Bar presented the awards at a Law Day luncheon today at the State Bar Center in Albany. State Bar President Vincent E. Doyle III of Buffalo (Connors & Vilardo) and President-Elect Seymour W. James, Jr. of Brooklyn (Legal Aid Society) presided at this year's ceremony.
"The work of pro bono service attorneys makes 'justice for all' a reality for New Yorkers. Whether they are a solo practitioner or work in a large law firm, every lawyer can help solve someone else's problem," said Doyle. "It is an honor to recognize such a distinguished group of recipients. They represent the best of our profession."
In addition to honoring attorneys representing all of New York's 13 judicial districts, the awards are given to a lawyer practicing for less than 10 years or under the age of 36, a senior lawyer, a large law firm, a mid-size law firm, a small law firm, an in-house counsel, a government counsel, a law student and a law school group.
The winners are:
1st Judicial District (Manhattan)
Caroline J. Heller of Manhattan (Greenberg Traurig) donated 170 hours of pro bono services in 2011, including 40 hours while on her maternity leave. She obtained lawful permanent residency for two survivors of domestic violence under the Violence Against Women Act and provided pro bono representation to the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates.
2nd Judicial District (Kings County)
"Weil Advantage Team" of Weil, Gotshal & Manges served as co-counsel with The Legal Aid Society to prevent New York City from terminating the Advantage rent subsidy program for 16,000 households. Because of the Weil Advantage Team's advocacy, the Advantage tenants received subsidies from April 2011 to January 2012, totaling more than $115 million.
3rd Judicial District (Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster counties)
Alyssa Talanker of Troy, a solo practitioner, has volunteered at the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York's weekly Pro Bono Unemployment Clinic since February 2011. She has donated more than 100 hours of services to 116 clients who have been denied unemployment benefits.
4th Judicial District (Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren, Washington counties)
In November 2010, Jill O'Sullivan (FitzGerald Morris Baker Firth) and Jessica H. Vinson (Bartlett, Pontiff, Stewart & Rhodes), both of Glens Falls, created the Adirondack Women's Bar Association Domestic Violence Legal Clinic. They regularly meet with victims of domestic violence and have recruited 17 volunteer attorneys to help 59 clients receive free legal services.
5th Judicial District (Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego counties)
A solo practitioner, Susan Esce of Syracuse (Esce Law) accepted eight new bankruptcy referrals last year from the Central New York Bankruptcy Bar Association and the Fifth Judicial Pro Bono Action Committee's Pro Bono Bankruptcy Panel after funding from the Office of Court Administration was eliminated.
6th Judicial District (Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Madison, Otsego, Schuyler, Tioga, Tompkins counties)
Even with a busy solo practice, Carol Ann Malz of Oneonta has made pro bono service a priority. She also saved her clients up to $400 in fees normally associated with Chapter 7 filings.
7th Judicial District (Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Yates counties)
Vowing to clear up the Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County's backlog of 26 bankruptcy cases awaiting referral, Lucien A. Morin II of Rochester (McConville Considine Cooman & Morin) did so in 2009 and 2012. The value of his donated legal services is more than $28,000.
8th Judicial District (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans, Wyoming counties)
Peter C. Obersheimer of Buffalo (Philips Lytle) donated 445 hours of pro bono services to four civil/administrative appeals, three of which were resolved favorably, while another case is still pending.
9th Judicial District (Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Westchester counties)
In addition to helping 25 clients with uncontested divorces, Julia Santiago of Irvington helped develop and lead uncontested divorce clinics for pro se clients at the Legal Services of the Hudson Valley.
10th Judicial District (Nassau, Suffolk counties)
Barry Smolowitz of Kings Park (Law Offices of Barry M. Smolowitz) launched the Suffolk County Pro Bono Foreclosure Settlement of the Nassau/Suffolk Law Services Committee, where homeowners subject to a residential foreclosure filing can receive a free one-on-one legal consultation. He recruited and trained volunteers, and later supervised their work at settlement conferences. He also designed a special website which includes forms, laws, CLE materials, appointment scheduling and an attorney forum.
11th Judicial District (Queens County)
A young attorney, Mohammad Saleem of Corona (Saleem Law Firm) represents clients, the majority of whom are immigrants and Muslim-Americans, on various immigration petitions and proceedings, real estate transactions and civil litigation matters. He has donated 60 hours to four cases.
12th Judicial District (Bronx County)
Noah Liben of Manhattan (Mayer Brown) volunteers with inMotion, which helps low-income and abused women in New York City. He helped an abused Bronx woman with four legal matters, including obtaining orders of protection, filing for divorce and securing full custody of her son.
13th Judicial District (Richmond County)
Daniel C. Marotta of Staten Island (Gabor & Marotta) helped establish the Richmond County Volunteers Lawyers Project. In the case of IndyMac Bank, FSB v. Blount, Marotta negotiated a favorable settlement for his client. The matter required 21 court appearances, 10 of which occurred in 2011.
The leader of her firm's Humanitarian Parole for Haitian Women Project, Natalie Fleming Nolen of Manhattan (Morrison & Foerster) donated 430 hours of pro bono services to nine clients in 2011. The project represents a group of Haitian women who were the victims of sexual violence in post-earthquake outdoor encampments and are at risk for repeat attacks. Two clients were able to escape Haiti because of the team's efforts.
Daniel F. Kolb of Manhattan (Davis Polk & Wardwell) is the driving force behind his firm's pro bono efforts. Davis Polk's partnership with The Legal Aid Society has helped to achieve legislative funding and administrative policies that ensure indigent criminal defendants receive high quality comprehensive representation. Kolb also is co-chair of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
The author of the recently released Good Counsel: Meeting the Legal Needs of Nonprofits, Lesley Rosenthal of Manhattan (Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts) oversees the Leadership Committee of the Charity Corps Program, which matches volunteer attorneys with nonprofit organizations in need of legal counsel.
Ronnie Abrams was counsel to the New York Justice Task Force from 2009 until March 2012. She spent more than 600 hours in 2011 working on the task force and another 1,200 hours on other pro bono matters at Davis Polk & Wardwell. She was recently confirmed as a judge on the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
While maintaining a 3.93 grade point average, Benjamin Pomerance of Plattsburgh founded and leads the Albany Law School's Veterans Pro Bono Project. He organized a three-hour Continuing Legal Education training focusing on legal issues confronting homeless military veterans. He also recruited volunteers to assist at a monthly Wills for Heroes pro bono program at the Albany Housing Coalition's Veterans' House. Most recently, he implemented free legal clinics to help 87 veterans from five different counties.
Law School Group
The Syracuse University College of Law Pro Bono Advisory Board volunteers at pro se divorce and bankruptcy clinics, as well as assists volunteer lawyers with landlord-tenant court proceedings. Last year's graduating class logged more than 7,000 hours of pro bono services.
Small Law Firm
A solo practitioner, Noemi Fernandez of Buffalo (Law Offices of Noemi Fernandez), donated more than 60 hours of service to 11 divorce cases through the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project. She was praised for her ability to speak Spanish and reach an underserved population.
Mid-Size Law Firm
Bond, Schoeneck & King has handled the "Say Yes to Education" Legal Clinic at Elmwood School in Syracuse since 2009. The clinic helps inner-city families with legal issues and sponsors a "drop-in" clinic for legal advice at Syracuse city schools. The firm's attorneys also assist in the Onondaga County Bar Association's Volunteer Lawyers Project to represent indigent tenants in summary eviction proceedings.
Large Law Firm
The New York office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher logged more than 37,396 hours of pro bono service in 2011. Its pro bono work includes good government projects, immigration, transgender advocacy, holocaust survivors and domestic violence.
The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.
Contact: Brandon Vogel