YOUNG LAWYERS SECTION ALEX FEE MEMORIAL AWARD: MADONNA LEBLING, ESQ., CHRISTIAN NOBLE, ESQ., & MAYA ZEGARRA, ESQ. Madonna, Christian, and Maya started out as University of Baltimore law student volunteers with Esperanza Center’s Pro Bono Project. They earned the nickname “The Three Musketeers” by consistently volunteering together at weekend legal clinics, helping with topics including: citizenship, consultations, green cards, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), Temporary Protected Status (TPS), and U Visas. Beyond the weekend clinics, all three have volunteered during the week, and each has made a specific decision on how to donate time, talent, and treasure with Immigration Legal Services. Christian signs up in January for an entire year of clinics. Madonna registers for 2 trainings, one on Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and one on asylum, taking back-to-back pro bono clients to keep her skills sharp. Maya acts as an ambassador, encouraging her membership organizations and colleagues to donate to and volunteer with the Pro Bono Project.
HERBERT S. GARTEN SPECIAL PROJECT AWARD: MARYLAND JUVENILE LIFER PAROLE REPRESENTATION PROJECT. The Maryland Juvenile Lifer Parole Representation Project (MJLPRP) is a working group including Families Against Mandatory Minimums; the University of Baltimore Law School Juvenile Justice Project; Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP; the Maryland Office of the Public Defender; the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland; the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative; the Catholic University of America Columbus School of Law Clemency Project; and the American University Washington College of Law Criminal Justice Clinic. The existing parole process presents obstacles that prevent even model juvenile lifers from being considered for release. Legal representation in this process is critical, but the vast majority of these inmates did not have representation. Since coming together in May 2017, the group has recruited 50 pro bono attorneys, and provided training and support. Project attorneys are currently representing 28 clients. Each case requires an estimated 40 to 125 hours, and some attorneys may give more time or take on additional pro bono legal work for the clients.
LAW FIRM PRO BONO SERVICE AWARD: SANTONI, VOCCI & ORTEGA, LLC. In just over a year, the three members of Santoni, Vocci & Ortega, LLC (SVO) have accepted 34 consumer pro bono cases from MVLS. Since consumer cases have short scheduling periods, the hearings are often just a few weeks out. The cases are complicated and the attorney needs time to prepare, but these attorneys have accepted the cases without hesitation, often achieving advantageous settlements for their clients. Attorneys from SVO also help MVLS staff to unravel complicated legal issues, and assist by training and mentoring newer attorneys. Jane Santoni alone, with over eight years of volunteering with MVLS, has assisted 28 clients with consumer and foreclosure matters. She has also provided unique in-kind support as part of the live band performing at MVLS’s annual benefit.
LEE A. CAPLAN AWARD: HERBERT A. DUBIN, ESQ. A longtime member of the Bar Association of Montgomery County, Mr. Herb Dubin joined the Montgomery County Bar Foundation Pro Bono Program panel in 2008. Since that time, he has provided over 1,400 hours of pro bono service, including helping 65 clients with family law cases. He is consistently receptive and positive when contacted by the Pro Bono office. His volunteer work varies in complexity from counseling to litigation. Having become a sole practitioner in 1983, Mr. Dubin has significant experience in criminal defense, family law, and defending attorneys in grievance matters. At 77 years of age, Mr. Dubin brings a wealth of experience, an unfaltering commitment, and a sense of balance as he serves clients and mentors newer volunteer attorneys.
JUDGE ROBERT M. BELL AWARD: MARY ANNA DONOHOE, ESQ. Ms. Donohoe started volunteering with Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP) in 1988. The project provided monthly legal clinics in shelters and soup kitchens around Maryland. Among the first volunteers, Ms. Donohoe staffed a clinic at the Shepherd’s Table soup kitchen in Silver Spring. Since that time, she has listened to and helped homeless persons with a broad swath of civil legal issues, including bankruptcy, consumer debt collections, employment, public housing, family law, and issues involving wills, trusts, and estates. In the last ten years, Ms. Donohoe has assisted 51 clients with 66 cases, and over her full three decades as a volunteer, she has donated many hundreds of hours, with an estimated value of over $158,000.
DISTINGUISHED PRO BONO VOLUNTEER AWARD: CHARLES SCHEELER, ESQ. Mr. Scheeler eagerly accepted the very first vacatur case the MVLS Human Trafficking Prevention Project ever placed with a volunteer attorney. The case involved vacating 10 prostitution convictions for a survivor of human sex trafficking. Mr. Scheeler demonstrated great generosity with his time, dedicating 7 months to this labor-intensive case. He demonstrated sophistication in post-conviction law, and showed strong compassion and empathy in his representation of his client. Mr. Scheeler has also advocated to expand the current vacatur law to help more survivors.
NON-LEGAL OR ORGANIZATIONAL INVOLVEMENT AWARD: MARYLAND FAITH HEALTH NETWORK AS PART OF THE MARYLAND CITIZENS HEALTH INITIATIVE. The Maryland Faith Health Network (MFHN) has greatly expanded access to legal information and services over the past year. Understanding the impact that foreclosure, tax sale, and other housing instability has on the well-being of our communities, MFHN set about to connect these human needs with knowledge and resources. They sought funding from the Maryland Department of Health to create presentations focused on advanced health care directives, to be provided through churches and other places of worship. MFHN develops the connections and provides logistical support for these presentations, and MVLS provides staff attorneys to demystify estate planning. This project has created substantial connections between faith leaders, who are often the ones consulted during life crises, and free services that can aid the families with their legal needs. These efforts will continue to benefit our communities into the future.
RETIRED PRO BONO VOLUNTEER AWARD: ELVA TILLMAN, ESQ. Ms. Tillman has been volunteering with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service since 1992. She has taken 39 cases, including 22 divorce cases, as well as custody, adult guardianship, name change, and estate planning matters. She has also participated in the community development project, assisting other community non-profit programs. Over her time volunteering at MVLS, Ms. Tillman has provided over 673 hours of pro bono service, and has proven herself to be reliable, gracious, and eager. Since her retirement from the Law Department for the City of Baltimore in early 2017, she has become a valuable addition to the Consumer Protection Project clinic. In 2017, she volunteered at 33 of the 52 clinics and assisted 72 clients. Each week, she shows up early to help set up, and stays late to help wrap up after the clinic ends. In addition, Ms. Tillman has volunteered with Pro Bono Resource Center’s Home Preservation Project.