Chicago’s Legal Community Honors Pro Bono and Public Service Heroes

CBF Report July/August 2014

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CBA/CBF 16th Annual Pro Bono and Public Service Awards Luncheon

By Angelika Labno |  CBF Administrative & Communications Coordinator

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Michael Pelletier accepts the 2014 Richard J. Phelan Public Service Award from Event Co-Chair Alix Darrow.

Some of the most influential work done by Chicago’s legal community flies under the radar. The Chicago Bar Association and The Chicago Bar Foundation’s 16th Annual Pro Bono and Public Service Awards Luncheon on July 15, 2014 highlighted some of that important work, honoring seven truly exemplary lawyers in the Chicago legal community. Luncheon co-chairs V. Alexandra Darrow of ADP, Inc. and President of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) Chicago Chapter, and James A. Morsch of Butler Rubin Saltarelli & Boyd LLP presented the awards in front of more than 700 members of the Chicago legal community at the Fairmont Hotel Chicago.

The award recipients represent a broad cross-section of Chicago’s legal community and share an unfaltering commitment to advancing justice and inspiring those around them to join the cause. This year’s recipients have represented: victims of human trafficking and domestic violence; people seeking a fresh start after encounters with the criminal justice system; first responders; and people facing discrimination, among many other people in need.

The 2014 Kimball R. Anderson and Karen Gatsis Anderson Public Interest Fellowship was presented to Catherine Longkumer. The Fellowship, made possible by the generosity of the Andersons, awards $50,000 in loan repayment assistance to outstanding recent law school graduates who demonstrate an exemplary commitment to public interest work. Catherine’s commitment to protecting the rights of human trafficking victims began in college when she spent a month in Thailand volunteering her time to help those trying to leave the sex trade. Following graduation, she continued her work with the International Justice Mission in India, where she spent another eight months working with legal and investigative teams to assist trafficking victims.

In 2012, Catherine joined the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Family Services as an Equal Works Fellow to help launch ATLASST, an anti-trafficking initiative that provides holistic pro bono legal services to survivors of human trafficking. Over the last two years, she has served more than 30 clients, trained more than 100 pro bono attorneys and led awareness efforts reaching hundreds of people.

Mary Jo Quinn was honored with The Exelon Outstanding Corporate Counsel Award, which recognizes the typically unheralded pro bono contributions of attorneys practicing in the corporate sector. As the head of Allstate’s Securities Team of lawyers and the law department’s mentoring program, Mary Jo devotes substantial time to pro bono service while supporting and inspiring others to get involved. She helped build a pro bono program that has resulted in nearly 60 volunteers from Allstate giving over 1,000 hours of pro bono services to Cabrini Green Legal Aid clients, personally accounting for over 100 of those hours. Thanks to Mary Jo’s leadership, Allstate is currently the only corporate law department handling clemency petitions, an important expansion of corporate pro bono.

Jill Metz received the 2014 Edward J. Lewis II Pro Bono Service Award, which honors attorneys in private practice committed to furthering equal access to justice through outstanding pro bono service. Jill has devoted her 35-year career in law to litigating, advocating and educating the public on LGBT legal issues, both in her private practice and through her pro bono service. A long-time member of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Jill began working closely with the organization in 1991 on a groundbreaking case that secured a ruling that custody of a child may not be denied because of a parent’s sexual orientation, the first of many noteworthy pro bono efforts in her amazing legal career.

Jill was instrumental in Illinois becoming the sixteenth state to recognize the freedom to marry with a law that was effective in June of this year. She also has provided incredible leadership at the ACLU, serving as Board President since 2006 and leading the organization’s efforts on the fight for same-sex marriage, as well as working to expand the number and significance of the civil liberties cases the ACLU can prosecute.

Professor Michael Seng was honored with the 2014 Leonard Jay Schrager Award of Excellence, which recognizes exemplary attorneys in academia who have made significant and lasting contributions towards improving access to justice for those less fortunate. For nearly 40 years, Professor Seng of The John Marshall Law School has been inspiring countless students to devote their careers to public service and become leaders in a multitude of good causes, in particular fair housing. In 1992, he founded the John Marshall Fair Housing Legal Clinic, the first law school clinic in the country to solely handle issues involving housing discrimination.

Professor Seng’s influence also extends beyond the United States. In 1993, he began organizing delegations of lawyers and judges to assist the Czech and Slovak Republics in rebuilding their legal systems following the fall of Communism. He remains actively involved in the region, as well as in many other international efforts.

Brian Jones was presented with the 2014 Maurice Weigle Exceptional Young Lawyer Award, which honors the initiative and exceptional contributions of young lawyers to the profession, the organized bar and the community at large. Having graduated from The John Marshall Law School only eight years ago, Brian has already developed a successful law practice and bettered the profession through his exemplary leadership and involvement in pro bono and the CBA Young Lawyers Section. As one of the leaders in the Wills for Heroes program, which provides free estate planning to first responders, he has spent hundreds of hours planning, recruiting and training volunteers for the program in the Chicago area, where it is run by the CBA Young Lawyers Section and already has helped thousands of police, fire and other first responders. In addition to contributing his time and talent, Brian has been influential in connecting firms and corporations with the program and encouraging other pro bono efforts as well.

The 2014 Richard J. Phelan Public Service Award was presented to Michael Pelletier. The award honors attorneys who have dedicated a significant portion of their legal career to the public sector, achieved excellence in their work and demonstrated a firm commitment to increasing access to justice for all Chicagoans. Michael has spent his entire career advocating on behalf of indigent defendants. In his 38 years at the Office of the State Appellate Defender (OSAD), he has worked tirelessly to ensure that OSAD’s clients and staff receive the highest possible level of respect, fair treatment and advocacy.

After graduating from The John Marshall Law School in 1976, Michael began representing indigent clients as an Assistant Appellate Defender before becoming State Appellate Defender in 2008. He directs the work of more than 170 attorneys and 60 support staff who handle approximately 4,800 cases throughout Illinois’ five appellate districts, and has implemented policies to support the long term health of the agency.

The 2014 Thomas H. Morsch Public Service Award was presented to Denice Wolf Markham. The award, made possible by the generosity of the Morsch family, includes a $10,000 prize to honor the recipient’s exemplary public interest career and the financial sacrifice it requires. Denice has been a fierce advocate for domestic violence victims throughout her entire legal career, which spans more than 30 years. While raising her young son as a single parent, Denice put herself through college and went on to earn her law degree from Loyola University School of Law in Chicago. During law school, she worked at LAF as the €œbattered women’s paralegal€ and began her life’s work helping domestic violence victims and their children.

Denice is currently the Executive Director of Life Span, a Chicago-based nonprofit that combines counseling, criminal court advocacy and legal representation to offer clients a comprehensive solution to the violence in their lives. Under her leadership, the organization has grown exponentially and launched a number of innovative initiatives, including€”in partnership with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office€”the Targeted Abuser Call, a nationally recognized model to address high risk domestic violence cases at the misdemeanor level. Denice has helped make it possible for thousands of victims of domestic violence to be safe and stable.

For more information on the 2014 honorees or background on the individual awards, visit chicagobarfoundation.org/awards.