Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network Presents 2010 Excellence Awards to Advocates for Civil Legal Services to the Poor

Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, Inc. held its annual Excellence Awards and Banquet on Tuesday, March 23, 2010, at the Harrisburg Hilton.

The Pro Bono Office of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, was the premier sponsor 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.

The evening’s keynote address was delivered by The Honorable Ronald D. Castille, Chief Justice of Pennsylvania. Chief Justice Castille strongly supports adequate funding for legal services programs to ensure access to justice for those facing critical needs who are unable to afford private lawyers. Under his leadership, the Supreme Court has adopted several measures to boost funding for legal aid programs since the financial crisis struck in 2008.

Winners of 2010 Excellence Awards include staff of legal services programs statewide, volunteer advocates, a legal team who helped preserve housing for an at-risk population, and an innovative pro bono partnership. Each honoree received an engraved award and is featured in a video tribute which may be viewed below.

In addition, the former Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare Secretary, Estelle B. Richman, was recognized for her unwavering support of civil legal aid seeing it as an important component of Pennsylvania’s human services safety net.

“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 Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, Inc. 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.”

Three people received awards in the Community Services category for advancing equal access to justice as volunteers and friends of the statewide legal services system: Susan K. Evans, a caseworker for the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare’s Disability Advocacy Program in Williamsport, PA where she expertly assists disabled clients; John J. (Jack) Moody, a volunteer in North Penn Legal Services’ Bethlehem office providing disability advocacy and direct services to the low income community; and Lea S. Judson of Chambersburg who can always be counted on to provide advocacy and support on unemployment compensation issues.

The Pittsburgh Pro Bono Partnership, a unique collaboration of corporate legal departments, law firms, and the Allegheny County Bar Foundation was honored in the Private Bar category for their creative efforts to provide increased legal services to persons of limited means through increased volunteerism of attorneys and paralegals.

Pro bono attorney, Carol A. Gershon, Esq. of Philadelphia also received an Excellence Award along with Mark Schwartz, Esq. and Bridget Coyne, Esq. of Regional Housing Legal Services for their expert legal advocacy in saving Wood Street Commons in Pittsburgh and preserving affordable housing for people attempting to transition out of homelessness.

Four others were honored with Excellence Awards in the Legal Services Staff category including:

  • Louise E. Hayes, Esq., a staff attorney in Community Legal Services’ Public Benefits Unit in North Philadelphia. Hayes has had a significant influence in the areas of welfare-to-work, child care subsidies, and supplemental nutrition benefits;
  • Edward Van Stevenson, Jr. Esq., a managing attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services Association in Pittsburgh whose efforts are an inspiring history of dedication and commitment to the poor. In addition to representing clients who have nowhere else to turn for help, Stevenson supervises law students and coordinates the involvement of students from Pittsburgh area law schools in the delivery of civil legal aid;
  • James A. Montero, the office manager and paralegal at the Erie office of Northwestern Legal Services. One of the founding fathers of the Hispanic-American Council of Erie, Montero serves as an important advocate for immigrant families in northwestern Pennsylvania; and
  • Susan K Danforth, the Lancaster County Pro Bono Coordinator for MidPenn Legal Services, is widely regarded as one of the key reasons for the success of pro bono in Lancaster County.

“For one night each year we gather to honor those who demonstrate excellence every day,” offered Milkes prior to the event. “We’re delighted that Chief Justice Castille will be here to meet those special individuals and share his thoughts on the vital importance of their example for the continued commitment of our legal aid 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.

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