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April 29, 2009

STATE BAR ASSOCIATION ANNOUNCES 2009 PRESIDENT'S PRO BONO SERVICE AWARD WINNERS

Annual awards honor lawyers, law firms and law students who provided free legal services to the poor

ALBANY- A lawyer who assisted parents of children with special education needs, a law firm that helped Holocaust survivors seek pension funds from the German government for work performed in WWII-era ghettos, and a solo practitioner who spent hundreds of hours representing clients in complicated bankruptcy cases are among the 19 winners of the New York State Bar Association 2009 President's Pro Bono Service Awards.

The Association will present the annual service awards at a luncheon on Law Day, May 1, 2009 at the State Bar Center in Albany. State Bar President-elect Michael E. Getnick of Utica (Getnick, Livingston, Atkinson, Gigliotti & Priore, LLP) and Hon. George H. Lowe of Syracuse (United States Magistrate Judge), co-chairs of the President's Committee on Access to Justice, will preside at this year's ceremony.

In addition to honoring attorneys representing 12 of New York's judicial districts, the awards are given to a young lawyer practicing law for less than 10 years or under the age of 36, a large law firm, a small/mid-size law firm, a law student and a law school group.

"In this time of economic hardship and rapidly diminished funding for civil legal services, more and more of our members have answered the call to provide critical pro bono assistance to those in need. Although the legal profession alone cannot close the ever expanding justice gap, New York lawyers continue to donate thousands of hours of free legal services to assist the poor," said President Bernice K. Leber of New York (Arent Fox LLP). "This year's recipients represent the very best of our profession and the State Bar's longstanding commitment to ensuring access to justice for all."

The winners are: 

Ronald Abramson (1st Judicial District: Manhattan) - Hughes, Hubbard & Reed LLP, New York. Since 2005, Abramson and his team have worked with the Legal Aid Society and the New York Legal Assistance Group to secure benefits for immigrant families. The team performed extensive research and case file analysis, which indicated that city and state authorities were systemically denying public benefits to immigrant victims of domestic violence. Hubbard's team, along with the Legal Aid Society, filed a class-action lawsuit against the City and State of New York. The Court found that the plaintiffs were denied benefits and both the City and State took remedial actions.

Kim Zinke (2nd Judicial District: Kings County) - Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project. As a volunteer lawyer, Zinke dedicated hundreds of hours of pro bono service, skillfully representing clients in highly complicated Chapter 7 bankruptcies, including two cases involving intricate adversary proceedings to discharge student loan debts.

Jena Rotheim (3rd Judicial District: Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster counties) - Nixon Peabody LLP, Albany. In 2008, Rotheim performed 250 hours of pro bono service on behalf of low-income and needy clients, including 171 hours devoted to the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York. Through the Legal Aid Society, Rotheim represented parties in two complex divorce cases, including issues of equitable distribution and pension distribution, as well as a Supplemental Security Income claimant. Outside of her Legal Aid Society work, Rotheim performed 79 pro bono hours in cases including SSI issues, family court, matrimonial issues and a civil rights case on behalf of a prisoner.

Cheryl L. Maxwell (4th Judicial District: Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren, Washington counties) - Law Office of Cheryl Maxwell, Plattsburgh. In 2008, Maxwell, a solo practitioner, donated more than 119 hours of pro bono service and handled 21 clients. Her work included complex matrimonial cases, custody and other family court matters. She was cited for her willingness to volunteer and compassion to her clients.

Edward McArdle (5th Judicial District: Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego counties) - New York State Department of Law. An Empire State Counsel, McArdle turned his professional interests in health law issues and patient advocacy into a powerful resource for the Central New York community by founding and serving the University Hospital/Crouse Hospital Legal Clinic. McArdle drafted the initial program proposal and spearheaded the program's development. He characterized the program as a coordinated effort to "match unmet patient legal needs with lawyer skills." Through the Legal Clinic, McArdle and other attorneys have engaged in pro bono service for dozens of hours, helping patients and their families, who often face large hospital and medical bills, understand their rights and responsibilities. The Clinic began operating in 2007 under the auspices of the 5th Judicial District Pro Bono Now Action Committee.

Thomas Miller (6th Judicial District: Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Madison, Otsego, Schuyler, Tioga, Tompkins counties) - Law Office of Thomas Miller, Binghamton. In 2008, Miller donated approximately 150 hours of pro bono service while helping 53 clients of the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York. Miller regularly offers his services to help those in Chapter 7 Bankruptcy and trains other attorneys to help clients file for bankruptcies. Miller also donated and installed video cameras in Legal Aid's main offices, enabling staff to hold "virtual meetings" with clients across their 13-county service area.

Jane Gabriele (7th Judicial District: Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Yates counties) - Empire Justice Center, Rochester. Gabriele successfully represented more than 100 parents in special education cases -- winning an important legal victory in a residency appeal. This decision enabled Gabriele's client to continue to attend school in the district where his guardian lived.

Barbara R. Ridall (8th Judicial District: Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans, Wyoming counties) - Bulan Chiari Horwtiz & Ilecki, LLP, Buffalo. Ridall has been volunteering with the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project for 10 years, handling bankruptcy cases and often complex Chapter 13 cases. Ridall also has helped divorced clients and single mothers make new starts in their lives.

Simon Haysom (9th Judicial District: Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Westchester counties) - Simon Haysom LLC, Goshen. In conjunction with Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, Haysom, a longtime volunteer, developed a series of pro se bankruptcy clinics. At these clinics, Haysom personally served 20 clients.

Charles J. Sherman (10th Judicial District: Nassau, Suffolk counties), Garden City. The recipient of numerous pro bono awards, Sherman has been a volunteer with the Volunteer Lawyers Project of Nassau/Suffolk Law Services Committee Inc. where he has mentored many attorneys and donated more than 1,100 hours of pro bono services to matrimonial cases.

Nicholas DeCesare (11th Judicial District: Queens County) - Queens Volunteer Lawyers, Flushing. DeCesare has volunteered with the CLARO-Queens Consumer Debt Clinic, a program of the Queens Volunteer Lawyers Project Inc. The clinic provides free legal assistance to the numerous low-income Queens residents facing consumer debt issues. Many of the individuals are elderly or disabled and are in financial jeopardy due to a default judgment.  In 2008, DeCesare consulted with 120 clients and donated more than 60 hours of services.

Isabelle L. Curro (12th Judicial District: Bronx County), Bronx. Curro has provided pro bono representation for InMotion, a non-profit organization delivering critical legal representation to low-income, under-served and abused women in family crisis. She has assisted her clients in child support, uncontested divorce and contested divorce actions in Bronx Family Court and Bronx Supreme Court. One particular case involved a Spanish-speaking survivor of domestic violence with five children who sought a contested divorce against her abusive husband. Curro obtained temporary child and spousal support, and facilitated the opening of a checking account for her client.

Jennifer P. Stergion (Young Lawyer), Buffalo. Stergion, a young solo practitioner, is a volunteer attorney with the Erie County Bar Association Volunteers Lawyers Project, Inc. (VLP) where she served 85 clients in 2008. Through the VLP's Attorney of the Morning Program, Stergion worked with 83 of those clients, all in whom faced the loss of their home. In addition, Stergion has advocated for better pro bono services for veterans and convinced the Bar Association of Erie County to set up a Special Committee on Veterans & Service Members, which she currently chairs.

Hon. Robert J. Nicholson (Senior Lawyer), Oswego. A retired judge, Nicholson volunteers weekly at the Franciscan Legal Services clinic, providing legal services to individuals who cannot afford to hire their own attorney. Nicholson offers his expertise in family and child support matters, bankruptcies, and landlord-tenant disputes. Under Nicholson's watch, the program expanded and now offers daytime services. As a volunteer with the Oswego County Bar Association Volunteer Legal Clinic, he saw 227 clients and resolved 89% of their cases.

Kaye Scholer LLP (Large Law Firm), New York. In 2008, Kaye Scholer's New York attorneys performed 27,115 hours of pro bono work, averaging 79 hours per attorney. Worldwide, the firm performed 33,056 hours on nearly 350 matters. The firm has taken on matters ranging from wills and other life-planning issues for low-income elderly and disabled clients, to political asylum applications for immigrant victims of torture and persecution, to petitions for Holocaust survivors seeking pension funds from the German government for work performed in ghettos. In one case, Kaye Scholer successfully convinced the Governor of Virginia to commute the death sentence of a mentally incompetent client one day before he was to be put to death.

DelBello Donnellan Weingarten Wise & Wiederkehr LLP (Small & Mid-Size Law Firms), White Plains. In 2008, the firm partnered with Legal Services of the Hudson Valley to help handle the increase in Unemployment Insurance Benefits claims. The firm took on 10 cases in which they either offered advice and counsel or represented clients at Unemployment Benefits hearings. In at least five of those cases, the client was successful. The firm's work inspired other local firms to provide pro bono services.

Siana McLean (Law Student), State University of New York at Buffalo Law School, Buffalo. A second year law student at the State University of New York at Buffalo Law School, McLean was determined to pursue a public interest law internship. During June, July and August of 2008, when no positions were available in Buffalo, she commuted daily to work at Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County (VLSP) in Rochester, New York. McLean worked directly with 208 clients who attended VLSP's Family Law, Pro Se Divorce and Debt Clinics.

Syracuse University College of Law Pro Bono Bankruptcy Practice Group (Law School Group), Syracuse. The new bankruptcy court opened in Syracuse created a need for increased legal representation. Syracuse Law Associate Professor Gregory Germain, in connection with Legal Services of Central New York, started an internship program at the Syracuse University College of Law that offers free legal assistance to clients filing for bankruptcy. Forty students have signed on to the program where they currently represent 10 clients. Students spent 30 to 50 hours per case.

Legal Department of IBM (In-House Counsel) - IBM Corporation, Armonk. The IBM legal department works with the Pro Bono Partnership to provide business legal assistance to non-profit organizations that cannot afford to hire attorneys on matters such as corporate governance, leases and sales of real estate, compliance with government regulations, employment matters. In 2008, 13 IBM attorneys undertook 22 different legal matters for 16 Partnership nonprofit clients. Over the years, more than two dozen attorneys from the department have volunteered their services to the Partnership.

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The 76,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation.  Founded in 1876, the Association's programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.