A TRIBUTE TO PRO BONO 2015

Message from the State Bar President

Craig Holden
President, The State Bar of California, 2014-2015

Despite signs of economic recovery, more than 5 million Californians living below the poverty level are unable to obtain legal assistance from nearly 100 State Bar supported nonprofit legal services organizations throughout the state. As lawyers, we are in a unique position to change this equation by engaging in direct pro bono legal services.

The State Bar has a long-standing commitment to increasing and expanding pro bono participation by its members as exemplified by the following initiatives:

  • Pro Bono Practice Program (formerly the Emeritus Attorney Pro Bono Program established in 1987). This program provides retired attorneys who do pro bono work with access to a variety of State Bar benefits, including waiver of the active State Bar membership fee and access to free and reduced cost MCLE programs;
  • Pro Bono Resolution. The resolution, adopted in 1989 and reaffirmed in 2002, encourages all attorneys to engage in 50 hours of pro bono legal services annually;
  • MCLE Rule 2.54. The Rule preserves the MCLE exemption for government attorneys who do pro bono work with qualified legal services providers;
  • Training Pro Bono lawyers. In partnership with the Practising Law Institute, the State Bar facilitates free, live and on-demand MCLE trainings.

The State Bar not only encourages pro bono but celebrates it! Lawyers all over the state are volunteering their time to give free legal assistance to poor and low-income Californians. I could not be more proud of the phenomenal pro bono lawyers being recognized this year with the President’s Pro Bono Service Awards. Congratulations also to the 2015 recipients of the Loren Miller Legal Service Award and the Jack Berman Award of Achievement for Distinguished Services to the Profession and the Public.

Message from the Honorable Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, Chief Justice of California

Honorable Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye
Chief Justice of California

For 800 years the Magna Carta has inspired the evolution of law, justice, and democracy around the world. On a recent trip to Washington D.C., I visited an exhibit at the Library of Congress and as I read one of the original charters, I realized that we can trace many of our personal liberties back to this document—those that exist in our Bill of Rights and the checks and balances within our own democracy.

Most of the clauses from the original Magna Carta have been repealed and relevant rights ensured by other statutes, but three clauses still remain in statute in England and Wales, and one of these is the right to due legal process—critical to our modern day judicial system in California.

Equal access and support for low-income litigants are issues not just in California, but are serious issues for every state and federal judiciary across our nation. Here, we are challenged by our high poverty rate, the impacts of the global financial crisis on our courts and the public, and the need for pro bono or free legal aid.

In California, we also have our Judicial Council Advisory Committee on Providing Access and Fairness, our self-help initiatives, centers, bench guides, a statewide Language Access Plan, the Sargent Shriver Civil Counsel Program, our own Legal Services Summit, and the State Bar’s support for the California Access to Justice Commission.

But, individual attorneys and firms have a role to play in delivering justice for the public good, and in ensuring the right to due process—it’s a role worth celebrating and nurturing in 2015 and beyond.

2015 President's Pro Bono Service Awards recipients:

RECENTLY ADMITTED

Nicole J. Heffel
San Diego

Nicole Heffel was admitted to practice in December 2013, and since that time has passionately served the needs of veterans in her community. During 2014, Ms. Heffel was a solo practitioner specializing in comprehensive estate planning, wealth management, and asset protection. However, it is her dedication to pro bono on behalf of veterans that sets her apart. She is a Navy veteran herself, and spent more than 1,500 pro bono hours in 2014 assisting 500 veterans. Most of her hours were spent with the American Combat Veterans of War, a nonprofit dedicated to helping veterans cope with life after returning from war, through which she has quashed warrants for veterans to qualify for residential treatment centers; dismissed old traffic cases to allow veterans to obtain a driver’s license; and coordinated probation to align with treatment services. Ms. Heffel meets weekly with veterans in the jails, offering one on one legal assistance and counseling. Additionally, she volunteers monthly with the Veterans Legal Self-Help Clinic hosted by Thomas Jefferson School of Law, and participates in the San Diego County Bar Association Service Members Civil Relief Act Pro Bono Program to protect active duty service members from default judgments while they are serving their country.

SOLO PRACTITIONER

Shahpour “Shawn” M. Matloob
San Francisco

Shahpour “Shawn” Matloob is a long-time and dedicated volunteer immigration attorney at a number of Bay Area legal nonprofits. These organizations include: AIDS Legal Referral Panel (ALRP); Asian Pacific Islander Legal Outreach; Immigrant Legal Resource Center; Justice and Diversity Center of the Bar Association of San Francisco; La Raza Centro Legal; and Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2014, Mr. Matloob contributed over 150 pro bono hours and served nearly 100 pro bono clients at these nonprofits. The range of pro bono services provided include representing clients or mentoring other pro bono attorneys with clients before the U.S. Asylum Office, the Immigration Court, the Board of Immigration Appeals and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals; regularly participating in immigration clinics to assist clients with cancellation of removal, U-Visas, asylum, naturalization and adjustment of status; and mentoring newer immigration attorneys and law students. Notably in 2014, Mr. Matloob handled 17 referrals from ALRP. The work done in these matters includes assisting a client in obtaining naturalization, successfully applying for asylum, and obtaining a green card for the same-sex partner of a client. In addition, since 2004, he serves as a mentor to fellow American Immigration Lawyers Association members on asylum issues.

LIMITED ACTIVE PRACTICE

Ophelia H. Zeff
Sacramento

Though retired since 2010, Ophelia Zeff, an employment lawyer, has continued to provide significant pro bono legal services through the State Bar’s Pro Bono Practice Program to the Voluntary Legal Services Program (VLSP) of Northern California in Sacramento. Ms. Zeff participates in VLSP’s Employment Law Clinic that convenes every Tuesday evening. Her ongoing participation at the clinic has brought a practitioner’s view valued by VLSP staff, other pro bono attorneys and law students. She has been invaluable in mentoring law students at the clinic and at administrative hearings before the Employment Development Department and Division of Labor Standards Enforcement. Ms. Zeff is a positive role model and provides practical skills training on client interviewing techniques and analyzing employment cases. She is a reliable and compassionate volunteer with a great sense of humor who is willing to pitch in on short notice. Ms. Zeff started volunteering at VLSP in 2000. During 2014, she contributed more than 75 hours and assisted more than 100 clients. She also worked on eight cases where either she or a law student she supervised represented a client directly at an administrative hearing. Six of the cases involved Unemployment Insurance appeals, and two were Labor Commissioner matters that led to judgments or settlements.

INDIVIDUAL FROM A LAW FIRM

Sarah E. Powell
San Bernardino

Sarah Powell of Bullard & Powell was nominated for her work in Satterwhite v. Elliott, et al., a civil pro bono case referred by the Legal Aid Society of San Bernardino to the firm where she worked. Ms. Satterwhite, the plaintiff, was defrauded by a pastor of over $100,000. Plaintiff turned to a local church after losing her job as a correctional officer, the threatened foreclosure of her home, and the tragic and brutal loss of her only child. The pastor of the church convinced Ms. Satterwhite to sell her home to avoid foreclosure and turn over the proceeds of the sale to him. While the pastor provided plaintiff with limited funds, within months he depleted the funds for his own purpose and as a result, Ms. Satterwhite became homeless. The pro bono case was opened in 2008, but the trial concluded and judgment was rendered in 2014. In total, Ms. Powell completed over 2,000 hours in support of her pro bono client before a total of 13 different judges in state, federal and appellate courts. Trial was set five times before it finally moved forward. Despite delays and tactics employed by opposing counsel, Ms. Powell continued her pro bono commitment to Ms. Satterwhite to ensure that justice prevailed.

INDIVIDUAL FROM A LAW FIRM

Michael E. Soloff
Los Angeles

Michael Soloff, a partner at Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP, has done incredible pro bono work dedicated to the protection of Section 8 tenants. This work is born out of his groundbreaking work with Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and National Housing Law Project in Barrientos v. 1801-1825 Morton LLC which resulted in a 2009 Ninth Circuit opinion protecting the rights of subsidized tenants in rent-stabilized jurisdictions. Mr. Soloff has continued to work on Section 8 issues with Bet Tzedek Legal Services and other providers. In 2014, Mr. Soloff spent 650 pro bono hours defending 16 elderly and disabled Section 8 tenants from wrongful evictions. The first case involved a recently widowed 82-year old Section 8 tenant facing eviction in West Hollywood. She also was a Holocaust survivor with advanced Alzheimer’s and needed to stay in familiar surroundings close to her doctor. After Mr. Soloff and Bet Tzedek succeeded in that matter, he took on more West Hollywood cases, many involving elderly, disabled and monolingual Russian speaking tenants. He visited buildings on weekends to meet with tenants. Not only does he mentor other lawyers, but Mr. Soloff has had a huge impact on the capacity of local legal services organizations to engage in Section 8 work.

LAW FIRM TEAM

Arnold & Porter LLP Fresno Homeless Litigation Team
Los Angeles, Palo Alto and San Francisco

A team of Arnold & Porter members from offices in Los Angeles, Palo Alto and San Francisco co-counseled with Central California Legal Services (CCLS) in a civil rights action challenging the City of Fresno's "clean-ups" of homeless encampments, which involved seizing and destroying their shelters and personal property, and bulldozing the encampments. The A&P Team filed and then coordinated over 30 individual actions, a strategy they chose over a class action. The litigation required over 80 depositions, numerous motions and discovery hearings, necessitating multiple trips to Fresno. The litigation ultimately produced an overall settlement that included cash payments to the homeless and significant changes in City policy toward homeless. The A&P Team won respect and appreciation from the clients, who saw that they gave as much importance to their case as to those of paying clients. They also provided helpful guidance to less experienced CCLS staff attorneys. The homeless encampment issue was a controversial one in Fresno, but the A&P Team took on both the case and Fresno city government. The A&P Team provided a model for urban based attorneys delivering pro bono legal services to underserved rural communities. A&P committed over 1,000 hours to the case in 2014 alone, and more than 4,500 hours over the life of the case since 2012.

LAW FIRM TEAM

Cooley LLP Voluntary Departure Team
San Diego

A team at the Cooley San Diego office co-counseled with the ACLU Foundation of San Diego & Imperial Counties, led by David Loy, the ACLU of Southern California, and the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project in Lopez-Venegas v. Johnson, a class action lawsuit alleging deceptive and coercive immigration practices by immigration enforcement officers. The case alleged that in Southern California the immigration enforcement agencies regularly relied on coercion and misinformation in order to expel non-citizens with deep family ties in this country without a hearing, through a procedure known as “voluntary departure.” The parties reached a landmark settlement that will reform immigration enforcement practices and allow individuals from Southern California summarily expelled from the United States to return and pursue immigration relief to which they have strong claims. The matter was noted to be particularly complex, both logistically and substantively. The ACLU has subsequently received numerous inquiries from individuals who may be eligible to return to the United States and pursue applications for immigration relief under the terms of the settlement. Many may ultimately benefit. Anthony Stiegler and Darcie Tilly spent 553 hours on this matter in 2014, and the firm as a whole spent more than 2,500 hours over the life of the case since 2013.

LAW FIRM BRANCH OFFICE

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP Orange County Office
Irvine

The Orange County Office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher contributed nearly 2,500 pro bono hours to the Public Law Center (PLC) in 2014 to assist 56 clients. The office took on complex and time consuming matters not easily placed on a pro bono basis such as: a low income housing matter for an elderly client requiring more than 1,000 pro bono hours; an appeal to defend a custody order handled by an attorney on leave; a time-sensitive emergency guardianship involving a grandmother trying to protect a child from his abusive parent; a consumer matter for an elderly disabled man being pursued for outstanding federal student loan debt; a veteran seeking a discharge upgrade so he can be more employable; a Ninth Circuit case involving application for legal status for a person held one year in immigration detention before becoming bond eligible; and regular participation at the Federal Pro Se Legal Clinic at the District Court in Santa Ana to provide counsel, advice and assistance with discovery in the areas of civil rights, intellectual property, foreclosure, employment and Social Security appeals. The office also provided pro bono legal services to other legal services organizations including Alliance for Children’s Rights, Family Violence Appellate Project and Inner City Law Center.

DISTINGUISHED PRO BONO SERVICE


Los Angeles HIV Law and Policy Project
Los Angeles

The Los Angeles HIV Law and Policy Project (LA HLPP), launched in 2013, is a unique collaboration between Disability Rights Legal Center, the Los Angeles County Bar Associations’ AIDS Legal Services Project, Inner City Law Center, and UCLA School of Law. The collaborative provides access to legal services to people living with HIV and/or AIDS in Los Angeles County. Each entity provides substantial resources and leverages resources of other legal services agencies, pro bono attorneys, and law student volunteers. Through operating a centralized intake line, LA HLPP directs eligible clients to meaningful access to legal services to address unmet legal needs in areas of healthcare, housing, immigration and employment. The network of providers includes AIDS Project Los Angeles, Los Angeles LGBT Center, Public Counsel, ACLU of Southern California, Lambda Legal Defense & Education Fund and Bet Tzedek Legal Services, as well as more than twelve major law firms and numerous solo and small law firm attorneys. In 2014, 85 pro bono attorneys contributed more than 2,600 hours and joined staff attorneys to assist more than 500 clients. Pro bono services included counsel and advice, brief service, and full scope representation in administrative hearings, immigration court, bankruptcy matters, and state, federal and appellate court actions.