Public Counsel Celebrates Its 2022 Pro Bono Award Winners

Pro bono award recipients and Public Counsel staff attend a virtual awards celebration on Dec. 15, 2022, to recognize and uplift the tremendous work of our awardees.

Public Counsel is excited to announce our 2022 Pro Bono Award recipients whose tireless dedication to Public Counsel clients is the epitome of the life-changing legal work all of our volunteers engage in every day. As one of the nation’s largest public interest law firms, Public Counsel strives to provide vital legal services to the most vulnerable individuals and communities. We simply cannot do what we do without the thousands of talented legal professionals who volunteer for us each year.

With that in mind, through the Pro Bono Awards, Public Counsel seeks to highlight and honor a select group that has gone far beyond in providing outstanding and impactful service to those in need. The recipients of these awards are an exemplary group of talented and devoted practitioners who kindly donated significant portions of time to ensuring justice for those who would otherwise be voiceless and without hope. Please join us in congratulating and celebrating this year’s recipients!

Congratulations and thank you again to this year’s Public Counsel Pro Bono of the Year Award winners. To learn about our awardees and their contributions to Public Counsel, click on their names in the list above.

Read more about how you can participate in our Volunteer Opportunities and sign up for our monthly Top 10 List of cases in need of pro bono support. For more information, contact Public Counsel Pro Bono Director David Daniels: EMAIL HERE.


Honored by the Center for Veterans’ Advancement

Public Counsel’s Center for Veterans’ Advancement (CVA) enthusiastically nominates William Greenan as its Pro Bono Award recipient this year. William came to CVA as a volunteer as part of UCLA’s paralegal program. In this position, he donated hundreds of hours of his time to our project’s clients. When we interviewed William for the position, we learned that he himself is a veteran. CVA was thrilled at the idea of having both a paralegal and a veteran on our team.

Throughout his time with CVA, William became an integral part of our veterans’ work. Due to his experiences in the military, he was able to create a rapport with our clients, as well as use these abilities to conduct thorough intakes and draft very thorough declarations and other legal documents.

William was consistently seeking to grow as a person, advocate, and paralegal, which was repeatedly demonstrated through his “go-getter” attitude. William stepped up to assist with any and all tasks CVA needed, we trusted his work product, and we always knew he would do an outstanding job. CVA is proud and honored of having had the privilege to work alongside William.


Honored by the Children’s Right Project (Guardianship)

The Guardianship Program of the Children’s Rights Project (CRP) is thrilled to celebrate its Pro Bono Award recipient: Thomas Gibilisco. Thomas, over a period of many years, has helped CRP’s Guardianship Program team with extremely complicated public benefits (SSI) appeals, a vaccine-injury case, more straightforward probate guardianships, and Special Juvenile Status (SIJS) cases. On all of them, he has been outstanding. He is dedicated and extremely conscientious, and wonderful with the clients.

He helped secure a green card for one vulnerable client, and most recently worked on a Peace of Mind (POM) case with a family where the mother was dying of cancer. She passed during the case process, but he persevered and obtained the guardianship for the 3 children with their older brother. We thought one of the children was undocumented because she was born in Mexico, but it turns out her parents were both US citizens when she was born, so she had citizenship at birth. This case is still pending and Thomas has spent hours getting social security documents for the deceased parents, and filing the application for a citizenship with US CIS.

Without the never-ending commitment of talented lawyers like Thomas, the Guardianship Program simply could not do this critical work. Congratulations and thank you, Thomas!


Honored by the Community Development Project

The Community Development Project (CDP) would like to thank Karl Lott, Greg Cragg, and the firm of Holland & Knight for their work in representing low-income small business owners that have incurred significant amounts of rent debt due to COVID-19. CDP nominated Holland & Knight to receive its pro bono award because of Karl and Greg’s exceptional and unwavering commitment to supporting small businesses.

With Karl’s supervision, Greg has taken on several complex matters involving early lease terminations and negotiations with landlords related to rent debt. Greg has successfully negotiated settlement agreements with landlords that involve waivers of thousands of dollars of rent and allow small business owners to start fresh without the stress and worry of owing their landlord money.

In one particular case involving a minority-owned skin care business that was forced to close due to COVID-19 related public health measures, Greg successfully convinced the landlord to waive $16,000 of rent debt and agree to never hold the business responsible for the remaining rent. With the firm and Karl’s support, Greg has also recruited several other attorneys from Holland & Knight to assist CDP’s small business clients with commercial leasing questions, lease renegotiations, and settlements related to COVID rent debt. We really appreciate all of Karl and Greg’s contributions and their dedication to help


Honored by the Consumer Rights & Economic Justice Project

The Consumer Rights & Economic Justice Project extends special thanks to David Horowitz, Lena Cohen, Steven Czak, and Maria Monica Beltran and the firm of Kirkland & Ellis for their work to change Los Angeles City policy affecting vehicle owners with disabilities through litigation in Morrissey v. City of Los Angeles et al.

CREJ nominated the Morrissey litigation team for its steadfast commitment to our client and their hard work through multiple rounds of briefing and discovery. Through Kirkland’s efforts, we secured both a court order requiring systemic change to City policy and a favorable settlement for our client.

Persons with disabilities now have the added protections and due process they deserve so that they don’t have to face the burdens of oppressive car towing practices when the City is claiming it is owed outstanding ticketing fines. We are very grateful to the Morrissey litigation team for their excellent advocacy!


Honored by the Consumer Rights & Economic Justice Project (Appellate Clinic)

The Consumer Rights & Economic Justice Project’s (CREJ) Appellate Clinic for Self-Represented Litigants gratefully acknowledges Richard Nakamura, Senior Counsel at the law firm of Clark Hill, for his exceptional pro bono service. Richard is an experienced and highly skilled appellate lawyer who has regularly and steadfastly donated his time and expertise to the Clinic as an on-site (or for a time, virtually on-site) volunteer since October 2019.

In addition to providing one-on-one assistance to litigants, he generously volunteers time reviewing documents and undertaking case descriptions that are invaluable in enabling Clinic staff to understand our litigants’ cases and provide effective assistance. He keeps superb records of what has been done for each litigant and of case-specific circumstances affecting each litigant, and offers insights into case dynamics that also increase the Clinic’s effectiveness.

Of special importance for the Clinic’s long-range development, Richard took on the extra task of participating in the design and the first (highly successful) trial run of the Clinic’s law student externship project. The Clinic is infinitely indebted to Richard for dedicating his time and expertise in the service of the many clients in need.


Honored by the Homelessness Prevention Law Project

The Homelessness Prevention Laws Project’s (HPLP) client Lisa S. filed a lawsuit against her landlord in pro per for violations of Los Angeles’s Tenant Anti-Harassment Ordinance (TAHO). Shortly thereafter, the landlord filed an unlawful detainer action against Ms. S, for allegedly breaching her lease by having plants on her balcony.

HPLP stepped in to represent Ms. S in the unlawful detainer, and then started looking for pro bono counsel to assist Ms. S in the TAHO case. In response to HPLP’s call for assistance, Casie Orellana of Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP agreed to represent Ms. Shields in the TAHO case against her landlord and has done a fantastic job working up the case so far – successfully defending an anti-SLAPP motion and handling all of the discovery.

HPLP is so grateful to Casie for taking this case on, as the TAHO legislation is a relatively new but powerful tool for tenants to use to fight back against abusive landlords – and, as is often the case, it is a tool that is much more effective if the litigant has access to counsel.


Honored by the Human Resources Department

Public Counsel’s Human Resources Department dedicates its Special Achievement Award this year to Scherzer International. As the nation’s largest pro bono law firm, Public Counsel has extensive and ongoing background check and clearance needs to ensure the confidentiality and security of its client files and operational data. In order to do this, Public Counsel’s Human Resources Department has for many years relied upon the generous pro bono contributions of Scherzer International, the industry’s leading background report company.

Quite simply, Scherzer has donated countless resources to our organization in providing free or reduced-rate background checks for employees and volunteers working in our law firm. Without these critical security analyses, Public Counsel could not have safely grown the teams of talented legal professionals it relies upon to provide access to justice.

For its unending generosity, Scherzer International is most deserving of this year’s Human Resources Department Special Achievement Award. To Scherzer President Larry Scherzer and Scherzer Vice President of Pre-Employment Alex Rodriguez, we cannot thank you enough for your hearts and for your dedication to Public Counsel’s mission!


Honored by the Immigrants’ Rights Project (Pro Bono Asylum Team)

The Pro Bono Asylum team of the Immigrants’ Rights Projects (IRP) is excited to present the Pro Bono Award to Sylvia Chiu of Forrest Lawn and Connor Scott of DLA Piper. Sylvia and Connor did an outstanding job representing an asylum seeker from El Salvador.

This July, eight years after the client entered the U.S., the client was granted asylum by an immigration judge. The client, a transgender woman who suffered terrible harm in both her native El Salvador and Mexico, was tortured by community members as well as police officers. The people who should have protected her, not only failed to do so, they also perpetrated abuse. When she finally fled into the United States, she was placed in a detention center where she was met with harassment.

Sylvia, who previously interned with IRP, jumped at the opportunity to represent her. Sylvia kept the case when moving to another employer and, two years in, she joined forces with Connor. They became a strong team of advocates for the client through the complex and ever-changing world of immigration law and procedure, and also supported the client through her personal hurdles such as homelessness and health scares.

Their relentless advocacy and hard work finally resulted in the client’s ability to remain in the U.S. permanently, providing her with safety and stability. There are not many volunteers who would work on such a complicated pro bono case for so many years. Our profound thanks to Sylvia and Connor.


Honored by the Immigrants’ Rights Project – Unaccompanied Children’s Team and Anti-Detention Team

Linda Dakin-Grimm, a senior consulting partner with Milbank, has been a strong partner to IRP’s Unaccompanied Children’s team since 2018. She served as amicus counsel in J.L. and co-counsel in M.W.D.C., our habeas petition on behalf of a J.L. class member who was wrongfully deported from the United States and then detained upon his return.

As a result of Linda’s fearless advocacy, our client was ordered released from detention by the District Judge and is pursuing lawful permanent residency. Linda also co-counseled with IRP’s Anti-Detention Team on a mandamus for a deported veteran. She and her team were great collaborators; due in strong part to their fierce advocacy, our client was naturalized in July 2021.

Linda arranged for a beautiful, private naturalization ceremony at the federal district court in downtown LA. For all of Linda’s compassionate and expert legal work, IRP is so grateful to celebrate Linda with a Public Counsel Pro Bono Award.


Honored by Opportunity Under Law

Opportunity Under Law (OUL) would like to recognize and thank the Marchus Litigation Team from Sullivan & Cromwell LLP: Mike Steinberg, Ryan Nielson, Noah Stern, and Lauren Goldsmith. They have advocated tirelessly for special education students who were subjected to traumatizing restraints and seclusion at Marchus, a school exclusively for special education students.

For over four years, Sullivan & Cromwell’s Marchus Litigation Team has been unwaveringly committed to protecting special education students from abuse and failures to provide them with the education they deserve. Each of the team members contributed in countless, meaningful ways. Under Mike’s expert guidance, the team worked with OUL to develop legal theories, identify plaintiffs, gather facts, conduct extensive discovery, draft and file three complaints, defeat a demurrer, and engage in lengthy, multi-party settlement negotiations. Ryan’s leadership has held the case together; he tracked every detail throughout the life of the case and negotiated and drafted settlement terms. Lauren made invaluable contributions on strategy, bringing forward different approaches to facilitate resolution. And Noah conducted incredible research all along the way and did excellent work at the demurrer hearing.

Thanks to the hard and excellent work of the Sullivan & Cromwell Marchus Litigation Team, we have been able to reach a fantastic settlement with the State in which they agreed to perform an unprecedented role in reviewing and training at Marchus, and are close to reaching settlement with the County as well. We are also so grateful to Sullivan & Cromwell for partnering with Public Counsel to establish the Sullivan & Cromwell Fellowship, which helped support Public Counsel’s work on this case.


Honored by the Pro Bono Department

Public Counsel’s Pro Bono Department celebrates longtime Public Counsel Board Member Bob Wolfe for his exceptional pro bono service in providing powerful anti-racism trainings to our staff members and volunteers. Each summer for the better part of a decade, Bob has crafted deeply researched CLE trainings and walking tours of the City of Los Angeles specifically designed to educate the legal community about important geographical sites and events in Los Angeles that are linked to our city’s history of racism and evolving system of justice.

During the pandemic, while so many of us have been working remotely, Bob has spent countless hours weaving together compelling PowerPoints that include photographs, documents, video clips, and facts that tell the story of how our city’s relationship to racial justice has presented itself and changed over time. As one audience member remarked after viewing one of Bob’s recent CLE events: “If we are to dismantle the institutions of racism that surround us, then we must understand the depths and specifics of our racist history. Bob’s work is centered directly on this essential education. I am so thankful for all he has taught me.” In honoring Bob with this year’s Pro Bono Department Pro Bono Award, we could not agree more with the foregoing statement. Bob: you have taught all of us so much.


Honored by the Community Development Project – Early Care & Education Law Unit

The Early Care & Education Law Unit (ECE) would like to extend a special thanks to the team of attorneys from Cooley LLP: Talha Aziz Mirza, Alexander Gefter, Joanna Liebes Hubberts, Nick Trimis, Matthew Scarano, Cristina Ferruolo, Mohammed Elayan, Patrick Sharma, and Mary Kathryn Kelley for assisting over fifteen family child care providers to apply for state funding to renovate and improve their child care facilities. ECE has nominated Cooley LLP to receive its pro bono award because of the team’s outstanding service to child care providers.

The Cooley LLP team expertly prepared and drafted application responses, answered questions about budgeting and grant requirements, and gathered supporting documentation. Thanks to the Cooley LLP team, we were able to assist low-income providers across the county in a variety of languages such as Spanish, Korean, and Mandarin. We recently learned that a number of providers supported by the Cooley team have received grants of about $75,000 each to make much-needed improvements to their child care facilities and in turn, improve the quality of care they are providing to young children. Several members of the Cooley team continue to volunteer their time to help providers with other legal issues such as reviewing and updating their parent provider contracts and other business documents. We look forward to strengthening our pro bono partnership with the Cooley LLP team as they continue to provide tremendous support to child care providers.


Honored by the Audrey Irmas Project for Women and Girls’ Rights

Public Counsel’s Audrey Irmas Project for Women and Girls’ Rights (WGR) enthusiastically recognizes Arnold & Porter’s Local Transit Authority litigation team for its outstanding work in representing a combat veteran, former teacher, and experienced security officer in obtaining a monumental settlement of the client’s gender harassment claims against her former transit authority employer.

Shortly after being the first woman to be hired by the transportation authority as a Lieutenant in their security department, WGR’s client was subjected to a steady onslaught of misogynistic, racist, and ageist hate-speech and innuendo from her male colleagues who, despite the client’s excellent credentials and oft-commended work performance, sought to undermine her position at every turn. Ultimately, though this WGR client received numerous commendations for her work from the department’s director, her employer unlawfully and maliciously terminated the client after she requested a reasonable accommodation following a workplace injury.

Led by Arnold & Porter litigation partner, Rhonda Trotter, and supported by a team of outstanding lawyers and legal professionals that included William T. Costley, Kathryn Podsiadlo, Oscar Ramallo, Stephanie Sanchez, and Nicholas Zebrowski, the Arnold & Porter Local Transit Authority litigation team when hearing about this case, immediately stepped into the gap to provide aggressive and exceptionally strategic representation for the client. Through a step-by-step and relentlessly pinpointed approach, this outstanding Arnold & Porter pro bono litigation collaborative favorably resolved all of the client’s claims, negotiating a six-figure settlement that included re-classification of her separation from the MTA, while also holding the transportation authority fully accountable for the hostile and gender-biased culture it had promoted in its institution for years.

The truth is: this WGR client, like so many of its clients, was never seen by her former employer as an equal – as an invaluable human being and expert professional deserving of respect and protection from discrimination. However, due to the outstanding work of the Arnold & Porter litigation group, this transportation authority was both exposed and held responsible for its wrongdoing. We, along with our client, are so grateful for the Arnold & Porter team’s leadership on this important case.

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