Each year, individuals are selected from all walks of legal life for their selfless work, helping to provide access to justice for the underprivileged citizens of Maryland. Here are the recipients for this year’s statewide pro bono service awards. All of the recipients will be honored on June 14, 2008, at the MSBA Annual Meeting in Ocean City, Maryland.
- Mark J. Shmueli, Esq. Shmueli serves as the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) DC Chapter’s Pro Bono Liaison, supervising the expansion of the chapter’s DC Court Referral Project. The Project places unrepresented cases from both the Arlington and Baltimore Immigration Courts with AILA pro bono attorneys. Shmueli, who has handled numerous pro bono cases on his own, was also instrumental in the development of the Maryland Immigrant Rights Coalition (MIRC). MIRC is a statewide coalition of private attorneys, nonprofit legal service providers, community organizations and law school clinics formed in the fall of 2007 to address the growing need for pro bono legal representation in immigration proceedings. Shmueli serves as Co-Chair of MIRC’s Steering Committee.
- The Honorable Julia B. Weatherly. A Circuit Court judge for Prince George’s County, Weatherly has served nearly two decades with the Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County. Weatherly is a Charter Fellow of the program, where she has been associated with the Board in varying roles as officer and member since 1990. She has been active in the MSBA’s Family Law Section, Alternative Dispute Resolution subcommittee on Family Law Mediation, and the related continuing legal education programs sponsored by these committees. In addition, Weatherly has served on the Court of Appeals Standing Committee of Rules and Practice and its Family Law Subcommittee, on the Pro Bono Resource Center’s Board of Directors, and on the Planning Committee for the Maryland Partners for Justice Conference. Judge Weatherly’s contributions to the community and her leadership in the continuing education of legal professionals reveal that she has always been a champion of the underprivileged.
- The Prince George’s County Bar Association. The Prince George’ County Bar Association (PGCBA), under the leadership of President John Frederickson, Esq., has been an active participant in the success of Prince George’s local pro bono committee from its inception. Frederickson took a special interest in the pursuit of attorneys not already involved in providing free legal services in Prince George’s County, and dedicated the PGCBA October meeting to legal services. Every legal service provider doing business in Prince George’s County was invited to have a table display showing the types of services each organization offered, and to offer the many attorneys present an opportunity to provide service to their community. Members of the Association have continuously supported legal services through representation of clients, providing legal advice in legal clinics, teaching and mentoring of new attorneys, and providing public education on legal issues important to our community.
- Jewish Legal Services. Jewish Legal Services (JLS) has provided legal services to some 1,100 indigent residents of Northwest Baltimore City and Baltimore County for more than 11 years with an entirely volunteer group of lawyers, paralegals and law students. In 1997, JLS started its monthly walk-in clinic as a pilot project to determine if there were unmet legal needs among the indigent members of the community. JLS operates as a legal information clinic, which provides a half-hour consultation with a lawyer free of charge to individuals who meet MLSC income guidelines. JLS will also provide services to “above-income” clients on a time-available basis. Approximately 66 percent of JLS clients have their legal services needs met at the monthly clinic. For those whose legal issues can not be answered or resolved at the clinic, JLS has over a 99 percent success rate of referring clients to existing legal service programs and individual lawyers or law firms who have volunteered to accept referrals from JLS.
- Ellen T. Marcus, Esq. Marcus and other attorneys from Zuckerman Spaeder joined attorneys from CASA to represent 46 immigrant workers from Latin America in a lawsuit to recover unpaid wages for work related to rebuilding areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. The workers had been recruited in and around Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, Maryland, by a Maryland contractor who promised wages, plus food and lodging. When the workers returned to Maryland from Mississippi in late October, the subcontractor refused to pay them in full for their work. Following the filing of an action on the workers behalf by CASA de Maryland, Marcus and the attorneys of Zuckerman Spaeder took up the effort and were successful in negotiating a settlement agreement with the company. Marcus then filed a motion on behalf of the workers for summary judgment against the company and its principals and argued the case before the U.S. District Court.
- Winifred Borden. Winnie Borden’s efforts to help bring access to justice to the underserved citizens of Maryland began in 1991 when she assumed leadership of Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS). There she worked with other legal services providers, bar associations, the bench and local law school clinics to develop not only its core pro bono program, but numerous other innovative programs that have dramatically expanded the availability of legal services to the poor of Maryland. Although a non-lawyer, Borden has navigated the complex world of legal services as deftly as the most seasoned practitioner. She is respected throughout Maryland for her leadership role in championing pro bono legal services.
- Jason C. Hessler, Esq. Although Hessler is restricted in his position from handling pro bono cases on an individual basis, he has not allowed this to stop him in his efforts to support and encourage the pro bono efforts of others. As a result, Hessler is serving his second consecutive term as the Chair of the Pro Bono Committee of the MSBA Young Lawyers Section (YLS). As Chair, he is responsible for creating pro bono opportunities for the YLS and educating individuals in need with pro bono opportunities. Hessler assisted in the creation and development of the Pro Bono Resource Center’s Mentoring Program, whereby YLS members would be assigned a pro bono case with another attorney with experience in the specific legal topic and together would take on a pro bono case from a local legal service provider. In its first year of existence, Hessler has played a pivotal role in the promotion of the program.
- Matthew G. Summers, Esq. Over the past year, Summers and his law firm, Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP, have worked with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland (ACLU) in challenging a pattern of harassment against homeless people in a Maryland township. Summers’s commitment of time and energy to the cause, his easy ability to move from courtroom to soup kitchen to backwoods camp and his rapport with people from all backgrounds have been critical to the successes thus far achieved.
- Emily T. Wright, Esq. Wright has been involved in a myriad of pro bono assignments since she joined the firm of DLA Piper. One of Wright’s most significant projects was on behalf of the detainees at Guantanamo Bay. DLA Piper was asked to draft an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court of the United States in response to a lower court ruling that no court, justice or judge has the jurisdiction to hear or consider further habeas corpus petitions from foreigners held as enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay. Wright was highly involved in all aspects of this project was responsible for researching and drafting the brief. This was an exceptional undertaking, particularly in the compressed timeframe. Notably, the brief was quoted in an article published in the December 3, 2007, edition of The New York Times, “For Justices, Another Day on Detainees”.
- Hogan & Hartson LLP. Because an increasing number of children in Baltimore County are being raised by kinship caregivers (primarily their grandparents), the Baltimore County Department of Social Services officials deemed a manual was needed for staff members who work with this population, outlining information and guidance on a variety of legal issues including caregiver rights and benefits. Fourteen attorneys from the Baltimore offices of Hogan & Hartson LLP volunteered on the project, with the help and support of summer associates and firm staff. Working very closely with the Baltimore County Department of Social Services (DSS), it took over two years to research and write the Kinship Care Resource Manual, a guide for the staff of DSS and others who work with children and their caregivers. Partner Gil Abramson led the Hogan & Hartson effort.
Jon Moseley is Director of Volunteer Services & Community Outreach for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.