ALBANY- A lawyer who helped 400 Iraqis find refuge from danger, a retired accountant who became a lawyer to do only pro bono work, and a young blind attorney who regularly represents tenants in Housing Court are among the 20 winners of the New York State Bar Association's 2011 President's Pro Bono Service Awards.
The State Bar is to present the annual service awards at a Law Day luncheon on May 2nd at the State Bar Center in Albany. State Bar President Stephen P. Younger of New York (Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP) and George Lowe of Syracuse, United States Magistrate Judge for the Northern District of New York and co-chair of the President's Committee on Access to Justice, will preside at this year's ceremony.
"As lawyers we have a duty and responsibility to better our communities and help our neighbors. Particularly now when government support for legal services has dropped and the need for legal services has grown significantly, pro bono services are more essential than ever. The recipients of our President's Pro Bono Service Awards have answered the call with genuine concern, dedication and generosity," said Younger. "The State Bar is thrilled to recognize the work of this year's honorees. I congratulate each of them on a job well done."
In addition to honoring attorneys representing 12 of New York's 13 judicial districts, the awards are given to a young lawyer practicing law 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/government counsel, a law student and a law school group.
The winners are:
1st Judicial District (Manhattan)
Through his firm's Iraqi Human Rights Project, Eric Blinderman of New York City (Proskauer Rose) leads a team of more than 60 lawyers and staff to help Iraqis, whose lives are in danger, find refuge in the United States. He has devoted nearly 2,400 hours to the project, including 570 hours in 2010. The project has handled more than 160 cases involving more than 400 individuals.
2nd Judicial District (Kings County)
The youngest associate ever appointed to Kaye Scholer's Pro Bono Committee, Larissa Eustice of Brooklyn (Kaye Scholer) served as co-chair of the firm's Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Disability Project. She helped train and supervise more than 40 junior and summer associates on 32 SSI cases, resulting in 27 favorable decisions and hundreds of thousands in benefits dollars to clients. She donated more than 600 hours to the project.
3rd Judicial District (Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster counties)
David Price of Albany volunteers with the Legal Project, the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York, and the Albany County Bar Association. He represents domestic violence victims in family court, low-income homeowners facing foreclosure, individuals who are in need of a will or healthcare proxy, and bankruptcy filers. He has donated more than 250 hours to low-income residents of the Capital District.
4th Judicial District (Cinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren, Washington counties)
A solo practitioner with a young family, Bethany Schumann-McGhee of Amsterdam came up with the idea of holding pro se divorce clinics to help as many low-income people seeking divorce handle cases on their own. She recently donated 20 hours to develop a pro bono and modest means panel for the Montgomery County Bar Association.
5th Judicial District (Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego counties)
John Powers of Syracuse (Hancock & Estabrook), a West Point graduate, helped implement a Veteran's Pro Bono Project and Legal Clinic, which has helped 55 veterans from 21 counties with their legal needs.
6th Judicial District (Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Madison, Otsego, Schuyler, Tioga, Tompkins counties)
Even with a busy private practice, Kurt D. Schrader of Binghamton (Pope & Schrader) has made pro bono service a priority. He has provided pro bono divorce assistance to 40 diverse clients in the last two years.
7th Judicial District (Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Yates counties)
Shaleeya B. McFadden of Rochester (Harter Secrest & Emery) donated more than 492 pro bono hours to five immigration cases in 2010. Three cases involving "Special Immigrant Juvenile status" and permanent residence for children who fled countries to escape abuse and neglect from their parents. McFadden quickly secured permanent residence for each child, resulting in continued foster care funding for each child until age 21.
8th Judicial District (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans, Wyoming counties)
Michael Anton Sciortino of Buffalo (SUNY Buffalo) volunteered with the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project through its Attorney of the Morning (AOM) Program 25 times. He represented 146 clients who were faced with losing their home in 2010. In 2011, he has represented another 22 clients and is expected to serve as the AOM 11 more times before July 2011.
9th Judicial District (Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Westchester counties)
Having recently returned to practicing law, Elizabeth King of Bronxville has been an active volunteer with Legal Services of the Hudson Valley. She has donated more than 100 hours to uncontested divorces, unemployment insurance benefits cases, and qualified domestic relations orders.
10th Judicial District (Nassau, Suffolk counties)
After retiring from an accounting career, Leah Belfort of Hempstead became a lawyer devoted exclusively to pro bono work. She has devoted more than 5000 hours since joining the Volunteer Lawyers Project in 1998. She provided 496 hours to 82 cases in 2010.
11th Judicial District (Queens County)
Since 2008, Ned Kassman of Jackson Heights has provided 75 hours of pro bono service to 70 low-income Queens residents facing consumer debt issues.
13th Judicial District (Staten Island)
Sheila T. McGinn of Staten Island (Sargente & McGinn) helped launch the Staten Island Civil Legal Advice and Resources Office that provides free assistance to unrepresented low- and middle-income debtor-defendants in Civil Court debt collection cases. More than 99 percent of debtor-defendants do not have counsel.
A blind attorney, Angela C. Winfield of Syracuse (Hiscock & Barclay) volunteers with the Onondaga County Bar Association's Eviction Defense Clinic in Syracuse Housing Court. She appeared in Housing Court representing tenants monthly.
Since retiring from the Madison County bench in 2001, Hugh C. Humphreys of Utica has been the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York's (LASMNY) most active volunteer, providing 4,000 hours of service over a ten-year period. He staffed LASMNY's Utica Pro Se Divorce Clinics helping more than 120 people get a divorce. He also has been co-chair of the Sixth Judicial District's Pro Bono Action Now Committee since 2007. Under his leadership, the committee has recruited nearly 230 attorneys, conducted six legal education seminars, and hosted nine clinics where 359 individuals received pro bono services.
Led by Presiding Justice Henry J. Scudder, The New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Fourth Department in Rochester developed and implemented the state's first and only pro bono volunteer services policy for appellate court attorneys and staff. The policy encourages appellate court attorneys to donate at least 20 hours of pro bono service annually. Thus far, court attorneys have helped 106 low-income residents in the greater Rochester area.
Maria Martinez, a student at St. John's University School of Law, co-chaired the St. John's Street Law en Espanol Community Outreach Program. The program provides Spanish-language "Know Your Rights" workshops for Latino parishes, public library branches, and community-based organizations in Queens County.
Law School Group
The Brooklyn Law School's Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office Student Action Group (CLARO SAG) educates the Brooklyn community about consumer debt. In June 2010, the student interns handled 95 cases, dismissing a total of $391,080 of consumer debt.
Small Law Firm
The New York City firm Lanser Kubitschek Schaffer served as lead counsel in the consolidated Supreme Court cases of Camreta v. Greene, 09-1454 and Alford V. Greene, 09-1478, which involve children's and families' rights in child protection investigations. The firm logged more than 1,600 hours on the case and paid for printing, copying, and other costs.
Mid-Size Law Firm
In 2010, the Buffalo law firm Phillips Lytle LLP and its 174 attorneys collectively donated 3,300 hours in pro bono services to low-income and disadvantaged families, and various non-profit organizations, totaling more than $833,000 in legal services. Cases involved immigrants held at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, prisoners' rights, and tax matters.
Large Law Firm
Over the last three years, the New York City firm Davis Polk Wardwell LLP has donated nearly 200,000 hours to pro bono work. Due to its efforts, a man on death row obtained a new trial, individuals fleeing persecution gained asylum in the U.S., domestic violence victims escaped their batterers, and various non-profit organizations received tax and intellectual property assistance.
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