The New York State Bar Association continued its 30-year Law Day tradition of honoring lawyers, law firms, a law student and a civil justice group that have provided extraordinary pro bono service to those in need at a ceremony and luncheon on May 1 at the Bar Center in Albany.
NYSBA President Michael Miller presided over the 2019 President's Pro Bono Service Awards ceremony, which is held each year on Law Day, which is observed across the country with programs focused on education about and celebration of the rule of law. The luncheon is hosted by the President's Committee on Access to Justice.
"Each year on Law Day, we honor those whose pro bono work has helped hundreds of people in meaningful, sometimes life-altering ways," said Miller. "It is fitting because, at its heart, Law Day is about the public good and public service. This is the oath we took when we became lawyers; it is our sacred trust."
Highlights of the luncheon included a keynote address by New York State Court of Appeals Associate Judge Paul Feinman and presentation of the award for Attorney Professionalism to Peter Strauss, senior counsel at Pierro, Connor & Strauss LLC. The award is given by NYSBA's Committee on Attorney Professionalism.
Known as one of the pioneers of elder law, Strauss is an innovative thinker who helped develop the theory that a spouse's right to support can prevail over the state's right to reimbursement for nursing home care. He is co-director and founder of the New York Law School Elder Law Clinic, cofounder of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and the National Association of Geriatric Care Managers.
"We are delighted that Peter Strauss has joined us to accept his award and to help celebrate today's awardees," said Miller, adding, "We thank you all for your generosity and your dedication to pro bono service. We are honored to meet you."
Below is a list of the President's Pro Bono Service Award honorees:
1st Judicial District (Manhattan)
Camille Mackler, director of Immigration Legal Policy at the Legal Immigration Project, led the trailblazing 'pop-up legal crisis response' at JFK airport during the 2017 travel ban and in 2018 helped set up the Albany County Jail Detention Outreach Project, which provided legal assistance to more than 300 detainees transferred from the U.S. southern border.
2nd Judicial District (Brooklyn)
Jonathan Plasse volunteers at Mobilization for Justice, managing the foreclosure clinic at Kings County Supreme Court.
3rd Judicial District (Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster counties)
Sharon Couch DeBonis, a solo practitioner in Troy, volunteers at the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York's Attorney for a Day program, assisting first-appearance clients at Albany City Court and mentoring and teaching new attorney volunteers.
4th Judicial District (Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren, Washington counties)
Amanda Rose, a solo practitioner in Mayfield, staffs the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York's pro se divorce clinics in Fulton, Montgomery and Schoharie counties.
5th Judicial District (Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego counties)
Ashley Lyon, an associate at the McClusky Law Firm, works with the Volunteer Lawyers Project, advising indigent people in Jefferson County on family court and related matters.
6th Judicial District (Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Madison, Otsego, Schuyler, Tioga, Tompkins counties)
Carole Cassidy, senior staff attorney at Crime Victims Assistance Center, volunteers at Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York's Town and Village Attorney of the Hour Eviction Defense Program.
7th Judicial District (Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Yates counties)
George Forsyth, a partner in Forsyth & Forsyth, represents pro bono clients through the Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County.
8th Judicial District (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans, Wyoming counties)
David Whittemore, an associate at Bennett, DiFilippo & Kurtzhaltz, LLP, works with the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, Inc., concentrating on matrimonial actions.
9th Judicial District (Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Westchester counties)
Sheila Miller volunteers at the Pace Women's Justice Center, focusing on family law issues and supervising law student interns.
10th Judicial District (Nassau, Suffolk counties)
Eve Nowak works with the Pro Bono Project of Nassau Suffolk Law Services, screening and assessing callers' legal needs, and evaluating their eligibility for pro bono representation.
11th Judicial District (Queens County)
Lawrence Fox, partner at Duane Morris LLP, worked with Mt. Sinai to expand a medical-legal pro bono project to underserved areas in Brooklyn and Queens.
Large Law Firm
The attorneys of Mayer Brown, a global firm committed to pro bono, volunteer in local communities, with clients from legal service organizations and with the industries and organizations working on justice issues.
Mid-size Law Firm
Coughlin & Gerhart LLP loaned enough new associates to staff the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York new eviction defense programs in town and village courts.
Small Law Firm
Attorneys at Copps DiPaola Silverman PLLC volunteer at The Legal Project's law clinics, including the pro se divorce clinic where they help train law students and paralegals.
Law School Group
For 20 years, the Pace Women's Justice Center Family Court Legal Program has partnered with non-profits, county and state government and higher education stakeholders to provide free legal service in Family Court.
Janice Casey Silverberg works at the Pace Women's Justice Center Family Court Legal Program, providing legal assistance at the Family Court sites.
Michael Herberger, a solo practitioner, works with the Erie County Bar Association's Volunteer Lawyers Project, assisting tenants facing eviction.
Kristin Alvarado, a 3L at Cornell Law School, works with the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, helping domestic abuse survivors get divorces and assisting tenants facing eviction.