Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network Presents 2006 Excellence Awards to Advocates for Legal Services to the Poor

Award Recipient Joseph Watts and RHLS staffPennsylvania Legal Aid Network (PLAN), formerly Pennsylvania Legal Services, held its annual Excellence Awards Dinner on Tuesday, March 21, 2006, at the Harrisburg Hilton and Towers.

McKonly & Asbury, a Harrisburg-based accounting/auditing firm, was the premier sponsor of the event, which pays tribute to those each year who demonstrate exemplary commitment and achievements on behalf of poor and vulnerable people needing civil legal assistance throughout the Commonwealth.

The keynote address was delivered by The Honorable J. Michael Eakin, Justice, Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. "There is an ongoing need for legal assistance to low-income people and victims of domestic violence in the state of Pennsylvania and nationwide," said Justice Eakin. "I am proud to salute those who deliver on the promise of equal access to justice."

Winners of 2006 Excellence Awards include staff of legal services programs statewide, an administration cabinet secretary, a state legislator, a client-advocate, the leader of a community-based agency and a member of the private bar. Each award winner received an engraved award and was featured in a video tribute available above.

"Dedicated, courageous people in our state have toiled away in relative obscurity for decades to assist low-income residents facing dire civil legal situations," said Samuel W. Milkes, Esq., PLAN Executive Director. "Our organization formally began to recognize these selfless individuals in 1989 through the establishment of what we then called the Striving for Excellence Awards. We continue to be gratified every year by the caliber of nominations that pour in from across the state and the enthusiasm of those who support these remarkable nominees from legal services programs, from the private bar and from the community at large."

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

  • Sylvia E. Basich, a client advocate and board member of Neighborhood Legal Services Association, was selected for excellence in community leadership and advocacy in Beaver County, Southwestern Pennsylvania and throughout the Commonwealth. She is the founder of Beaver County Client Council, one of the nation’s first organizations of its kind.
  • State Representative Kathy M. Manderino, representing Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties, was cited for "invaluable and steadfast support" of equal access to justice, as well as the "empathy and understanding she brings to legal issues affecting the poor."
  • The Honorable Estelle Richman is named for a "life-long commitment to low-income people," demonstrated most recently through her service as Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare.
  • Joseph J. Watts, a founder and executive director of Better Homes Incorporated, was chosen for his success in providing affordable rental and home ownership opportunities to low-income households in Bucks County.

Morris M. Shuster, Esq., was honored in the Private Bar category. An attorney with Chimicles and Tikellis, LLP in Philadelphia and legal aid benefactor, Mr. Shuster was selected for his "vision, leadership and philanthropic support" of law students and young attorneys seeking careers in public interest law.

Four others earned Excellence Awards in the Legal Services Staff category:

  • Donald Marritz, Esq., an attorney with MidPenn Legal Services in Gettysburg, was selected as an "inspiring example" who has conducted a nearly 30-year career in legal services with "enthusiasm, generosity, persistence, volunteerism and success."
  • Lori A. Molloy, Esq. of North Penn Legal Services in Bethlehem was singled out for her ability to "focus on solutions with intelligence, courage and the passion to make a difference."
  • Robert V. Racunas, Esq., Executive Director, Neighborhood Legal Services Association in Pittsburgh, was chosen for his "success in building bridges between legal services and the private bar through leadership in both spheres."
  • Paul J. Troskosky, Esq. of Northwestern Legal Services in Bradford was noted for his profound commitment to legal aid, collegial mentoring and "unfailing professionalism while providing quality services to low-income clients."

"We are truly looking forward to this year’s event," said Jeffrey A. Ernico, Board President, PLAN prior to the event. "We are especially pleased that Justice Eakin will share our celebration of excellence in legal services since he has fought so consistently in his own career for fair and equitable access to our legal system. We also are excited that so many distinguished members and supporters of the legal services community will be present for the official announcement of our new name and unveiling of the graphic identity of the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network brand."

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.

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