2007 PLAN Excellence Awards

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2007 PLAN Excellence Award
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Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network Presents 2007 Excellence Awards To Advocates for Legal Services To the Poor

Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network held its annual Excellence Awards Dinner on Tuesday, March 20, 2007, at the Hilton Harrisburg.

McKonly & Asbury, a Harrisburg-based accounting/auditing firm and Drexel University's College of Law were the premier sponsors of the event, which pays annual tribute to those who demonstrate exemplary commitment and achievements on behalf of poor and vulnerable people needing civil legal assistance throughout the Commonwealth.

A keynote address was delivered by The Honorable Kate Ford Elliot, President Judge of the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. Judge Ford Elliott is the first woman to lead an appellate court in Pennsylvanian and the first to hold that position in the Superior Court's 110-year history.

"Equal justice is the cornerstone of our judicial system," said Justice Ford Elliot prior to the event. "It will be my pleasure to join the PA Legal Aid Network in honoring those generous few who work to assure that all of our citizens, regardless of income, have fair and open access to legal assistance in times of great need."

Winners of 2007 Excellence Awards include a U.S. Congressman, staff of legal services programs statewide, a Rendell administration cabinet deputy secretary, a client-advocate, a leader of community-based agency and members of the private bar. Each honoree received an engraved plaque and was featured in a video tribute.

"Pennsylvania is fortunate to have a selfless community of attorneys who recognize their obligation to assist low-income residents who are facing dire civil legal circumstances," said PLAN Executive Director Samuel W. Milkes, Esq. "Since 1989 we have been formally recognizing the best efforts of those in the justice community who have worked in relative obscurity to help the least among us. These include not only attorneys from legal services programs and the private bar, but also community volunteers who share their time and energy to support access to equal justice for their neighbors."

Five people received awards in the Community Services category for advancing equal access to justice as volunteers and friends of the statewide legal services system.

  • John Dodds, Director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, is a steadfast advocate for the unemployed and the poor.
  • James Kearney, Esq., Director of Development at MidPenn Legal Services, and
    Donald F. Smith, Jr., Esq., Member, MidPenn Legal Services Board of Directors are helping to build relationships with non-traditional partners in local communities.
  • Kenneth L. Klothen, Esq., Deputy Secretary for Community Affairs, Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development and
    U.S. Congressman Jim Gerlach representing Pennsylvania's 6th district, worked jointly to change policies and secure funding for the Brandywine Health & Housing Center, which will serve Coatesville, the poorest community in Chester County.

John Kane, Esq., was honored in the Private Bar category. Kane recently retired as Chief Counsel to the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare where he worked to ensure that his client, DPW, "respected and honored its own mission of assisting the Commonwealth's most vulnerable residents."

Five others have earned Excellence Awards in the Legal Services Staff category:

  • Claudia Bistyga, a paralegal in the New Castle office of Neighborhood Legal Services Association, is being honored for her comprehensive skills and knowledge of poverty law.
  • John P. Bogdanovicz, Esq., Director of Advocacy, North Penn Legal Services, is cited as an "outstanding individual" with a distinguished history of representing legal aid clients and providing guidance for new legal aid attorneys.
  • Harry Geller, Esq., Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Utility Law Project, is regarded by Pennsylvania legislators and others as the key resource and spokesperson for low-income utility consumers.
  • Catherine Herman, Fiscal Manager for Legal Aid of Southeastern Pennsylvania and
    Evelyn Pankey, Administrative Coordinator of Community Legal Services together demonstrate the crucial importance of fiscal and administrative employees to the mission of the legal aid community.

Maureen P. Kelly, Esq., a shareholder in the Pittsburgh law firm of Babst, Calland, Clements & Zomnir, PC, is chair of the Pennsylvania IOLTA Board and a special honoree this year. Ms. Kelly received the Outstanding Leadership in Support of Legal Services Award for her "invaluable leadership and steadfast commitment to equal justice for those who have nowhere else to turn. "There isn't an attorney in Pennsylvania who is more committed to the concept of equal justice and open access to the courts for all citizens of this state," said The Honorable Ralph J. Cappy, Chief Justice, Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

"For one night each year we gather to honor those who demonstrate excellence every day," said Yvette R. Long, Board President, PLAN. "We're delighted that Justice Ford Elliot will be here to meet those special individuals and share her thoughts on the vital importance of their example for the continued commitment of our legal community."

The Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network of civil legal aid programs is committed to a civil justice system that is client-centered and provides full access to justice for the poor and others who have nowhere else to turn for legal advice. PLAN strives to meet the civil legal needs of low-income individuals and families and victims of domestic violence across the Commonwealth by securing their access to justice and fairness through the legal process.