Public Counsel Celebrates the 2021 Pro Bono Award Winners

Pro bono award recipients and Public Counsel staff attend a virtual awards celebration on Dec. 10, 2021, to recognize and uplift the tremendous work of our awardees.

Public Counsel is excited to announce our 2021 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.

Gisella Soto of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

Honored by the Children’s Right Project (Adoptions)

The Children’s Rights Project – Adoptions Project would like to honor Gisella Soto, an amazing paralegal at Manatt Phleps and Phillips. Gisella has co-coordinated Manatt’s Pro Bono Adoption Program for years and been a driving force in their ability to assist adopting parents whose primary language is Spanish. Gisella has become an expert in the adoption forms and process as well assisted on numerous benefit issues, helping children with special needs receive the proper level of public benefits to which they are legally entitled. On in-person Adoption Days, Gisella would be one of the first people families would see – Gisella greeted families with a smile while simultaneously helping coordinate a large group of attorneys from Manatt preparing for their Adoption Hearings. During the stay at home orders during the COVID pandemic, Gisella reorganized their program so families could finalize their adoptions remotely, including generously using her notary skills to facilitate the adoptions and assist families facing barriers in notarizing documents. Gisella carefully reviews all adoption filings and holds a record for never having a filing rejected by court, despite the complicated filing procedures. Gisella’s caring and determination to support children in the foster care system and their families shines brightly and she has helped hundreds of families in her many years of dedicated service. It is our honor to recognize Gisella Soto as our Adoptions Project Most Distinguished Volunteer.

David Stanley of Reed Smith, LLP

Honored by the Children’s Right Project (Guardianship)

The Children’s Rights Project, Guardianship team, recognizes David Stanley for the work he has done for our litigants and their families. In the past year alone, David has taken on three separate guardianship/ Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) cases, each requiring much time and dedication to helping youth who do not have their parents’ care.

The first was a particularly complicated case where the family of a young minor was in desperate need of a birth certificate. The young girl has been living here in the United States with her aunt and uncle, but her birth was never registered in Mexico. Without a birth certificate she was unable to pursue a SIJS case in order for her to get legal status in the US. David agreed to assist with both the delayed birth registration and thereafter assist her in filing her Petition for SIJS to the United States Immigration Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). We were unfamiliar with the process and could not offer much guidance. However, David researched and prepared the necessary applications on his own and recently convinced a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to issue an order establishing the birth of his young client.

Since then, David has taken two additional pro bono cases for our clients. He is assisting us with two separate cases for minors who need guardianships/SIJS applications so they can remain in the US legally with their family members. David is always there to help us and does not turn away challenging cases. He is diligent, timely and reliable. We are incredibly grateful to him and hope he will continue to assist us in the future.

Veterans’ Advocacy Team of the Kraft Heinz Company

Honored by the Center for Veterans’ Advancement

CVA is proud to nominate our outstanding partners at Kraft Heinz for this year’s pro bono award. Kraft Heinz’s powerhouse team – specifically Zachary Rosenblatt, Peggy Herrmann, Caroline Teichner, and Nicole Fritz – have volunteered many hours of their time to assist several of our veteran clients seeking discharge upgrades. Despite being relatively new partners to CVA, the Kraft Heinz team has demonstrated an incredible eagerness to take on cases, as well as a profound dedication to CVA’s mission to uphold our nation’s promise to veterans and their families. In the few short months that Kraft Heinz has been working with CVA, they’ve taken on five discharge upgrade cases – and they have been nothing but prompt, reliable and communicative throughout the process. We are deeply grateful for their commitment to our clients and CVA’s work, and we look forward to continuing our close partnership and collaboration.

Rudolph Klapper of Venable LLP

Honored by the Community Development Project (Early Care & Education Law)

The Community Development Project’s Early Care & Education Law Unit extends special thanks to Rudolph Klapper of Venable LLP for assisting our childcare provider clients in navigating a variety of employment law issues since the start of the pandemic. We have nominated Rudy to receive our pro bono award because of his dedication and exceptional commitment to equipping small business owners with critical information to understand and comply with employment laws. Rudy has repeatedly stepped in to help providers with urgent employment matters on issues such as COVID-19 sick leave, mandatory vaccination policies, COVID-19 testing, return to work questions, employee confidentiality and privacy concerns, and hiring and termination of employees. Rudy also contributes greatly to Public Counsel through work on other CDP pro bono matters, including his assistance to small businesses and nonprofits serving low-income communities of color in LA County. We are truly grateful for all that he has done and continues to do for the Community Development Project.

Michael Soloff and Ted Dane of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP

Honored by the Homelessness Prevention Law Project

The Homelessness Prevention Law Project extends a special thank you to Michael Soloff and Ted Dane from Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP. They and their team did an incredible amount of work this year helping us with briefing on the CDC eviction moratorium and also helping us brief and argue motions for trial continuances when the court was insisting on going forward with jury trials at the height of the pandemic. Each time our Project’s lawyers’ and our clients’ health and safety were put at risk by potential in- person hearings and trials, Mike and Ted jumped into action to strategize, research, brief, and argue continuance motions backed by sound legal and factual arguments.

At times, our Project and clients were being inundated with potential live-appearance dates. But each time Mike and Ted stayed the course and were right there beside us researching, shaping, and promoting results that would protect all of the interested parties. Mike and Ted are not only exceptionally gifted attorneys, their hearts and passion for justice inspire all who are privileged to witness their work to do more and give back.

Michael Fehner of Irell & Manella LLP

Honored by the Immigrants’ Rights Project

The Immigrants’ Rights Project extends its heartfelt thanks to Michael Fehner and the firm of Irell & Manella for zealously representing two unaccompanied siblings from Guatemala. These siblings came to the United States because their caregiver could no longer look after them. Fortunately, they qualified for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, a humanitarian benefit for children who have experienced parental abuse, abandonment, or neglect. A team at Irell obtained the necessary state court orders for both siblings to file petitions for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, but doing so did not stop their deportations. Michael joined the team at this point. He helped file motions to dismiss these kids’ removal proceedings based on improper service of the charging documents that initiated the deportation process. These motions were so compelling that the government attorney proposed a deal: he would agree to place these cases on the court’s “status docket” – essentially pausing proceedings – until the Special Immigrant Juvenile petitions were approved. Once this had happened, Michael negotiated with the government to dismiss the siblings’ removal proceedings altogether. The government attorney this time was uncooperative, and wanted extensive background checks from both kids before she would agree to dismissal. Michael facilitated these background checks – which proved difficult to coordinate with the kids and their caregiver – and only had one completed by the next hearing. Nevertheless, the government agreed to dismiss both cases, ensuring that these kids will not be deported and paving the way for them to obtain lawful permanent residence. We appreciate all the hard work Michael and the other attorneys at Irell have put into these cases.

Smith Litigation Team of Winston & Strawn LLP

Honored by Opportunity Under Law

The Opportunity Under Law project extends its gratitude to Katherine Farkas, Gregory Ellis, and Michael Lavetter and the firm of Winston & Strawn LLP for their outstanding leadership and committed partnership in litigating Smith v. Regents of the University of California, a groundbreaking case that eliminated the University’s discriminatory use of SAT and ACT scores in admissions and scholarship determinations. Together with OUL, Ms. Farkas, Mr. Ellis, and Mr. Lavetter served as co-lead counsel of a litigation team including Equal Justice Society, Brown Goldstein & Levy, Marci Miller (now of Potomac Law Group), and Olivarez Madruga Lemieux O’Neill, LLP (counsel for the Compton Unified School District). From the outset, Ms. Farkas, Mr. Ellis, and Mr. Lavetter, then with Scheper Kim & Harris LLP, were incredibly dedicated to this case, undeterred by the prospect of litigating against the University of California and willing to bring a first-of-its-kind challenge to discriminatory testing. This commitment extended throughout the litigation, from initiating the case to leading discovery and mediation to working on the many briefs and motions filed in this litigation. At every stage, the team consistently went above and beyond—serving out- of-state subpoenas on testing companies, monitoring changes in University policy, and supporting stakeholder advocacy. This engagement culminated in the case’s settlement, which Ms. Farkas singlehandedly negotiated with counsel for the University over the course of several months. At the conclusion of the litigation, Winston donated all of the fees it recovered under the settlement to Public Counsel, Equal Justice Society, and the case’s six organizational plaintiffs: Chinese for Affirmative Action, College Access Plan, College Seekers, Community Coalition, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and Little Manila Rising. In short, the Winston team’s service has been truly exemplary, and it is responsible for securing access to the University of California for an unprecedented number of underrepresented students.

Philip Cook and Brian Wright of The Cook Law Firm

Honored by the Women and Girls’ Rights Project

The Women & Girls’ Rights (WGR) project extends special thanks to The Cook Law Firm. We have been grateful to partner with The Cook Law Firm to represent our client in litigating her claims for discrimination and due process violations against her former Ph.D. program.

Phil Cook of The Cook Law Firm came on board in 2019 to initiate the litigation of this case and has been a guiding force through the litigation process. Brian Wright joined the team when we entered the appellate stage after an erroneous dismissal that raised numerous complex legal issues, lending his expertise in the appeals process. With their guidance and collaboration, we have been able to present our client’s strongest case, and feel confident that we will be able to achieve justice for the wrongs inflicted upon her, as well as to develop legal precedent that will aid future students seeking to challenge unfair and unlawful practices by public universities.

Phil is a longtime and major contributor to Public Counsel, serving as a Member and Immediate Past Chair of the Board of Directors. Phil has been generous with his time, assisting the WGR team with this and other legal questions, and putting on educational programming for the legal community. WGR appreciates both Phil and Brian for their time, collaboration, and support, and looks forward to success in this case and to future opportunities to work together.

Clifton Sheng, Esq.

Honored by the Community Development Project

The Community Development Project would like to honor Clifton Sheng for assisting our low-income small business owners with various commercial leasing and COVID rent debt matters. Due to Clifton’s assistance, CDP has been able to help numerous minority-owned and family-operated small businesses such as restaurants, childcare providers, and personal service businesses that were financially impacted by COVID-19. He has passionately negotiated on behalf of small business owners to allow them to reduce their COVID rent debt and re-negotiate commercial leases. His assistance has been invaluable for our clients and allows them to continue making a living to support their families and serve their community. Clifton also lends his guidance and expertise to CDP staff in the areas of real estate, general litigation, and workers compensation. We greatly appreciate all that Clifton has done for our clients, and we look forward to continue working with him.

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