Public Counsel Honors 2023 Pro Bono Award Recipients for Their Remarkable Service and Dedication

Pro bono award recipients and Public Counsel staff attend a virtual awards celebration on Dec. 6, 2023, to recognize and uplift the tremendous work of our awardees.

Congratulations to our 2023 Pro Bono Award recipients! Public Counsel is thrilled to recognize a remarkable group of individuals whose unwavering commitment to our clients exemplifies the transformative legal work our volunteers undertake daily. As one of the largest pro bono law firms in the nation, Public Counsel is dedicated to delivering essential legal services to clients with lower-incomes and communities of color. The invaluable contributions of thousands of skilled legal professionals who volunteer with us each year are the cornerstone of our success.

The Pro Bono Awards are a way for Public Counsel to spotlight and honor a select group that has demonstrated exceptional dedication and provided outstanding, impactful service to those in need. This year’s awardees are an extraordinary group of dedicated practitioners who have generously devoted significant time to amplify the power of our clients and secure justice for those who might otherwise remain without hope. We invite everyone to join us in congratulating and celebrating the achievements of this year’s distinguished honorees!

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.

Tieryn Bills, MSW Intern

Honored by the Center for Veterans’ Advancement

Public Counsel’s Center for Veterans’ Advancement (CVA) enthusiastically recognizes Tieryn Bills for the Public Counsel pro bono award. Tieryn started working with CVA as an MSW student who had no experience in veterans law. Tieryn put in hard work to learn and became an excellent resource for our clients. Tieryn used trauma-informed practices with our clients and educated our team. Tieryn also made great efforts to empower CVA staff about trauma-informed practices, how we can better serve clients, and how to protect ourselves from burnout. Tieryn put in countless hours to perfect her work and build a relationship with our clients.

In one case, Tieryn worked with a caregiver and veteran who were appealing a VA determination. The caregiver was the veteran’s father, who was forced to resign from his job to ensure his son had constant stability. The veteran experienced constant suicidal ideation, and if his father had not been there to support him would have resulted in the veteran taking his life. Tieryn worked with these clients for several months and created a very good relationship. The Clients were actually very sad for Tieryn to go at the end of her internship. Tieryn’s work product was amazing. She wrote an appeals brief that was on par with the work done by an attorney. CVA staff loved being able to work with Tieryn and are so appreciative of her dedication to veterans and social justice.

Matthew Heartney of Arnold & Porter

Honored by the Community Development Project

The Community Development Project (CDP) extends special thanks to Matthew Heartney and the firm of Arnold & Porter for their work on the no vending zones litigation against the City of LA. CDP nominated Arnold & Porter to receive its pro bono award because of Matt’s exceptional service and dedication to empowering street vendors in Los Angeles. Matt and his team have worked tirelessly to hold the City of LA accountable to street vendors and communities of color. He has been on the frontlines of the no vending zone litigation, always working thoughtfully and strategically in coalition with our clients, community partners, and vendors themselves.

Matt’s leadership and support have been instrumental in our pursuit of racial and economic justice. Arnold & Porter also contributes greatly to Public Counsel through work on other CDP pro bono projects. For example, earlier this year, Arnold & Porter IP attorneys provided a valuable bi-lingual training on trademarks, copyrights, and patents and updated important educational materials for small business owners and nonprofits. We really appreciate all that Matt and Arnold & Porter have done and continue to do to build stronger, more inclusive communities. 

Amy Abeloff and Ashley Arnett of Seyfarth Shaw LLP

Honored by the Community Development Project – Small Business Unit

The Community Development Project would like to thank Amy Abeloff, Ashley Arnett, and Seyfarth Shaw LLP for their support of low-income micro entrepreneurs and small business owners. This past year, the Seyfarth team has helped numerous small business owners to apply for trademark and copyright protection, contest illegal street vending citations, and understand how to comply with federal and state disability laws. We very much appreciate their understanding of the issues faced by our clients and willingness to assist with complex and time-sensitive matters on an urgent basis. Their volunteer hours have been invaluable in empowering low-income communities of color and advancing financial self-sufficiency.

Sean O’Neal of DLA Piper

Honored by the Homelessness Prevention Law Project

The Homelessness Prevention Law Project extends a hearty thanks to Sean O’Neal, who has taken on a number of unlawful detainer matters to defend tenants. Sean has been willing to take on cases with complex legal issues and often difficult fact patterns, which he navigates with aplomb. We are impressed and grateful that Sean has been ready to do what needs to be done in these cases, including preparing for trial dates in short order. Moreover, the team has benefited from the excellent briefs Sean has written to support our litigation for other tenants. Thank you, Sean!

Alexa Nakamura, Benjamin Rowe, Bernardo Valdez Jr, Billy Kosmidis, Brian Glennon, Brian Krieter, Catherine Meller, Christopher Lech, Claudia Barberena, Cynthia Berry, Donna Johnson, Erin Wolgast, Fernando Diaz, Hector Munoz, Jeffery Ramirez, Joyce Reese, Kara Gelman, Kevin Peralta, Kevin Shang, Liana Bickford, Lindsay Cinotto, Marleen Pan, Max Gaertner, Michael Galdes, Michael Soriano, Michael Sullivan, Nancy McLellan, Noel Francisco, Patricia Hopkinson, Queenie Wong, Roderick Sedliacik, Sandra Mathew, Shirin Behrooz, Tara McCortney, and Yolanda Powell of Latham & Watkins

Honored by the Consumer Rights & Economic Justice Project

The Consumer Rights and Economic Justice Project thanks the Rodriguez team at Latham & Watkins for its work on behalf of one of our homeowner clients, whose homeownership status was in jeopardy through no fault of her own. After having lived in her home for almost 25 years, the client reached out to Public Counsel because she was told that she was no longer the owner of her home, despite being current on her mortgage. As it turned out, the former owner of the client’s home, who had no current claim to the property, had recorded a wild deed purporting to transfer the property to his nephew. The Rodriguez team jumped in and moved quickly to defend the client in an unlawful detainer case brought by the purported new owner.

The team then filed a civil case, bringing claims for quiet title, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and declaratory relief. The Court granted default judgment in favor of the client on all claims and entered a judgment of $15,000 in lost wages and $15,000 in punitive damages against the defendants. The team additionally worked to obtain a 5-year civil harassment restraining order against one of the defendants. We are grateful to the Rodriguez team for their hard work and dedication in keeping this client housed and preserving the equity she has worked hard to build for herself and her family.

Soyoung Jung of Paul Hastings LLP

Honored by the Immigrants’ Rights Project Anti-Detention Team

There is no one more deserving of this award than Soyoung Jung. Soyoung represented a Mexican woman seeking protection from anti-LGBTQIA+ violence against her and her family. The client first sought legal assistance with Public Counsel in November 2013. Soyoung took on the matter in May 2014, while working at Katten Muchen Rosenman LLP. I wrote in my notes that Soyoung mentioned being a transactional attorney, wanting court experience. Boy, did she get it! Soyoung had to battle the government’s immigration machinery from the start.

The first immigration judge assigned to the case refused to reopen the removal proceedings, and Soyoung spent the first three years appealing his unfair decision just to get her foot in the courtroom. For the next two years, now at Paul Hastings, Soyoung fielded the court’s various requests, often contradictory, to move the case forward. The case was heard by three immigration judges, at least four merits hearings, when the COVID pandemic hit.

When courts resumed hearings, the case was transferred to a new immigration court and yet another judge. After reading the transcript and reviewing the file, the judge praised Soyoung’s legal skill and tenacity and even recommended filing a complaint against some of the previous court actors for the unfair, possibly unethical, treatment Soyoung and the client received. He granted the client immigration relief, which will allow her to stay in the US indefinitely. It is safe to say that Soyoung is now a litigation expert with vast court experience. However, above all, she is a passionate advocate for her client. Soyoung cared deeply about the client and how this often impossible process was re-traumatizing her. Soyoung never wavered in her support to her and achieved the ultimate success, safety, and security.

Katie Tinto, Criminal Justice Clinic Director, UC Irvine Law School

Honored by the Immigrants’ Rights Project Pro Bono Asylum Team

Katie Tinto is the director of the Criminal Justice Clinic at UCI Law. Among other things, her clinic specializes in post-conviction relief for noncitizens. For years, Katie has been an invaluable resource for our team. Despite having a huge waitlist of clients, Katie often prioritizes our referrals. She fights aggressively to get our clients’ convictions vacated so that they can be eligible for immigration relief. She also frequently consults with us on crim/imm issues and will go out of her way to answer our questions, provide us other referrals, and weigh in on complex crimmigration issues impacting our clients.

Not many providers in our region do post-conviction relief – and even fewer of them do this work pro bono. Without Katie’s support, advocacy, and representation, many of our clients would be ineligible for immigration relief.

Chelsea Kehrer, Chris Han, Erik Olson, Ian Bennett, John Lanham, Karina Pundeff, Karl Johnston, Matthaeus Martino-Weinhardt, Max Levy, Michael A. Jacobs, Purvi Patel, Shaelyn K. Dawson and Yue Li from Morrison & Foerster

Honored by Opportunity Under Law

The Opportunity Under Law project is honored to recognize the law firm Morrison & Foerster’s instrumental work in Cayla J. v. State of California, our historic lawsuit seeking to ensure that all California students, regardless of race or income, receive their constitutional guarantee of equitable access to education.

Morrison & Foerster has brought an exceptional team to this case, all of whom have gone above and beyond at every stage—from taking extensive discovery to playing a leading role in briefings and motion practice. OUL is immensely proud and grateful to partner with Morrison & Foerster on this case, and we are honored to present this award in recognition of the firm’s tireless work on behalf of our clients and communities.

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