May 3, 2010


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

ALBANY- A law firm that helped the families of victims killed in last year's tragedy at the American Civic Association in Binghamton, a 91-year old lawyer who came out of retirement so she could help owners at risk of losing their homes, and a solo practitioner who donated more than 100 hours of free legal assistance to individuals facing bankruptcy in the wake of the recession are among the 20 winners of the New York State Bar Association's 2010 President's Pro Bono Service Awards.

The State Bar presented the annual service awards at a Law Day luncheon today at the State Bar Center in Albany. State Bar President Michael E. Getnick (Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore, LLP of Utica and of counsel to Getnick & Getnick of New York City) and President-elect Stephen P. Younger of New York (Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP) presided at this year's ceremony. Younger and Hon. George Lowe of Syracuse co-chair the President's Committee on Access to Justice.

"Pro bono service is at the heart of why so many of us became lawyers-to help our most vulnerable citizens in difficult times. Every day, thousands of attorneys across New York provide free legal assistance to those in desperate need but unable to pay. Today we recognize those attorneys, firms and law students whose extraordinary efforts are tremendous examples for all of us," said President Getnick. "It is a great privilege for me to recognize their outstanding contributions in meeting the State Bar's goal of ensuring equal access to justice for everyone. I congratulate all the honorees. They represent the very best in our profession."

In addition to honoring attorneys representing all 13 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.

The winners are: 

Anne S. Raish (1st Judicial District: Manhattan) - Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, New York. Donating thousands of pro bono hours over a six-year period, Raish served as the lead attorney in the five-week trial of Disability Advocates, Inc. v. Paterson, an Americans with Disabilities Act discrimination claim made on behalf of more than 4,300 persons with mental illnesses institutionalized in New York City adult homes. In September 2009, the federal district court ruled that New York State had discriminated against these plaintiffs and that they had the right, under law, to live in more integrated, community-based settings.

Christopher Rio (2nd Judicial District: Kings County) - Law Office of Frank J. Rio, Brooklyn. Soon after graduating from law school in 2008, Rio began volunteering legal assistance in bankruptcy and elder law matters through the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project. Within the past year, he took on five settlement conference cases for homeowners facing foreclosure, as well as several emergency cases.

Daniel J. Hurteau (3rd Judicial District: Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster counties) - Nixon Peabody LLP, Albany. Hurteau personally donated more than 184 hours of pro bono service on behalf of 17 clients on matters ranging from child custody cases for prison inmate parents to elder abuse issues. As the Pro Bono Committee member of Nixon Peabody LLP's Albany office, he oversaw an effort that resulted in a nearly 100% pro bono participation rate by the office's attorneys.

Emily Muller (4th Judicial District: Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren, Washington counties) - Saratoga. A solo practitioner with a busy family law practice, Muller provided 63 hours of pro bono services with a focus on contested divorce proceedings and child support cases.

David Hayes (5th Judicial District: Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego counties) - Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC, Syracuse. A member of the State Bar's Executive Committee, Hayes is the immediate past president and a current board member of Legal Services of Central New York, Inc. and the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York. Hayes also gives his time to the Volunteer Lawyer Project of the Onondaga County Bar Association where he assists individuals interested in establishing not-for-profit charitable organizations to help the community's indigent; represents tenants through difficult eviction proceedings; and participates in the "Talk to a Lawyer" walk-in program.

Peter A. Orville (6th Judicial District: Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Madison, Otsego, Schuyler, Tioga, Tompkins counties) - Law Offices of Peter A. Orville, Binghamton. Even though the demands of his solo bankruptcy practice are greater than ever, Orville has maintained his 20-year commitment to pro bono work by volunteering at Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, Inc.'s Consumer Clinics. In 2009 alone, he provided free counsel on bankruptcy matters to 22 Legal Aid clients.

David H. Tennant (7th Judicial District: Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Yates counties) - Nixon Peabody LLP, Rochester. In 2009, Tennant provided 198 hours of free legal assistance, while helping manage his firm's pro bono program in its Rochester office. Among his services, Tennant advised families of victims who died in the American Civic Association mass shooting on immigration issues, advocated on behalf of these families in discussions with federal and foreign officials, and met with emergency management officials to help coordinate the delivery of legal services to the families.

Catherine E. Nagel (8th Judicial District: Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans, Wyoming counties) - Nuchereno & Nagel, Buffalo. In 2009, Nagel performed more than 90 hours of pro bono work through the Erie County Bar Association Volunteers Lawyers Project on matters involving divorce and estate planning.  Of that total, Nagel donated 25 hours alone to a family who lost their father in the Flight 2307 plane crash near Buffalo, helping them with custody arrangements and a complicated estate plan.

Guy Fairstein (9th Judicial District: Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Westchester counties) - White Plains. Fairstein donated more than 100 hours of pro bono services to recession ravaged clients facing wage garnishment and frozen bank accounts. His actions allowed them to pay for basic items such as food and shelter.

Stuart Gelberg (10th Judicial District: Nassau, Suffolk counties) - Stuart P. Gelberg, Esq., Garden City. A volunteer with the Pro Bono Project's bimonthly Bankruptcy Clinics, Gelberg donated more than 226 hours in 131 bankruptcy cases since joining in September 2002. He was named the project's Pro Bono Attorney of the Month in November 2009.

Hilary Gingold (11th Judicial District: Queens County) - North Woodmere. A volunteer with the Queens Volunteer Lawyers Project, Inc., Gingold participated in 14 pro bono foreclosure settlement conferences since the summer of 2009, donating 50 hours of legal assistance to homeowners in the process. In addition, she has mentored other legal volunteers and participated in training seminars.

Michael S. Davi (12th Judicial District: Bronx County) - Vinson & Elkins LLP, New York. Davi has provided pro bono representation for seven InMotion clients, including four Bronx residents, handling a total of 12 matters, from the end of 2005 to date. He has assisted clients in custody, visitation and child support proceedings in Family Court, as well as in contested divorce cases.

Serena M. Stonick (13th Judicial District: Staten Island) - Lahr Dillon Manzulli Kelley & Penett, P.C., Staten Island. Stonick provided free legal assistance on a number of real estate matters through Staten Island Legal Services. While volunteering, she successfully resolved a series of complex foreclosure cases and drafted settlement agreements that kept owners from losing their homes.

Hagit Elul (Young Lawyer) - Hughes Hubbard & Reed LLP, New York. In 2009, Elul provided 247 hours of free legal assistance to those in need. During this time, she successfully argued two pro bono appeals before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, including a wrongful deportation case and representing a plaintiff in a class action suit challenging a discriminatory practice of the City of New York.

Shirley Adelson Siegel (Senior Lawyer), New York. In late 2008, at 91 years young, Siegel came out of retirement and joined the Lawyers' Foreclosure Intervention Network (LFIN). In 2009, she donated more than 400 hours in pro bono services through the LFIN. She is currently working on three foreclosure cases and has made 19 appearances in court in 2009.

Gary B. Cohen (In-House Counsel) - Xerox Corporation, Rochester.  Through a 15-year association with the Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County, Inc. (VLSP), Cohen has donated a wide variety of legal services involving contested family law matters, domestic violence, and child custody matters. In addition, Cohen is a skilled grant writer whose work has allowed the VLSP to fund a number of initiatives including an expansion of Nikki's Legal Hope Clinic for victims of domestic violence at Rochester's Alternatives for Battered Women; a new staff attorney position at VLSP for non-parent custody cases; a Certificate of Relief from Disability Re-entry program and a Micro-Enterprises Program that provides business start-up help for low-income entrepreneurs.

Ryan Shannon (Law Student), University of Richmond, native of Brockport. As a summer associate with the Law Students in Action Project, Shannon performed 321 hours of pro bono service involving 133 clients, well above the project's associate volunteer average of 50 clients. Shannon also developed legal need assessment tools that will be used by the frontline workers of the Emergency Services and Family Stabilization Network. The network is an organized group of emergency service providers who collaboratively respond to the needs of families and individuals in the community who are in or are at risk of crisis.

Levene Gouldin & Thompson, LLP (Small & Mid-Size Law Firms), Binghamton. Attorneys Maria Lisi-Murray, Heather Cornell and Kathryn Grant Madigan, past president of the New York State Bar Association, were cited for their outstanding service in the wake of the American Civic Association shootings. Lisi-Murray served as the on-site coordinator for the State Bar's Committee on Mass Disaster Response and assisted finding language translators so victims' families overseas could make travel arrangements to the U.S. and help repatriate the deceased. Madigan worked with two young children whose parents were killed, providing vital assistance in retrieving their parents' personal effects, securing guardianship on their behalf, helping them get appropriate government benefits and assisting the children's relatives seek asylum in America. Cornell drafted trusts for victims' children and coordinated efforts to ensure that contributions on behalf of the orphaned were properly managed.

Hiscock & Barclay, LLP (Large Law Firm) - Syracuse. The 200-attorney firm was recognized for their pro bono work with the Say Yes to Education Program in the Syracuse City School District. The firm regularly visits local elementary schools, providing 26 weeks of onsite clinic hours that are open to any person who has a child enrolled in the district. Attorneys and paralegals are able to give advice and referrals on legal matters that can interfere with their child's ability to succeed in school.

Suspension Representation Project (SRP) (Law School Group), New York University School of Law, New York. The SRP is an advocacy group that trains law students to represent public school students in New York City Board of Education superintendent's suspension hearings. In the past academic year, SRP represented low-income students in all five boroughs at nearly 50 hearings thereby safeguarding their right to a fair hearing and protecting their access to public education.

Founded in 1876, the 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the official statewide organization of lawyers in New York and the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. The State Bar's programs and activities have continuously served the public and improved the justice system for more than 130 years.