Monthly Archives: May 2010

Assistant U.S. AG Tony West addresses Equal Justice Council breakfast

Tony West, assistant attorney general of the civil division in the U.S. Dept. of Justice (left, with Maryland Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm Joseph), spoke at the 13th Annual Equal Justice Council Awards & Recognition Breakfast at Camden Yards May 20. “I’m especially glad to join you in honoring the important work of the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau and Equal Justice Council this morning,” West told 175 judges, lawyers, law professors, political leaders and other legal professionals. “You provide this community with needed legal services, you secure access to justice by facilitating access to our courts, you provide hope to many who have lost it. In short, you make real the promise Adlai Stevenson spoke of when he observed that ‘the essence of democracy is the dignity of [the individual].’”

West also spoke about the “courage to care.”

“It’s the courage of Odella Oliver, a senior paralegal here at the Bureau, whose persistence in demonstrating that the Social Security Administration had been wrong in terminating a client’s benefits ensured that a 10-year-old child suffering from severe mental disability would continue to receive her childhood SSI disability benefits,” West said. “Or staff attorney Melissa Kilmer who helped protect an elderly client from falling victim to a simple mortgage fraud scheme that could have resulted in foreclosure of the woman’s home. Or any of the award recipients we honor this morning whose examples are inviting all of us to be our best selves.”

Others on hand at the annual event included Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, Baltimore City Circuit Court judges Pamela J. White (the event’s emcee) and Robert B. Kershaw, Rep. John P. Sarbanes (D-Md.), and Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. This year’s award recipients: F. Paul Bland, Michelle J. Dickenson, Neil E. Duke, and Goldman & Minton P.C. (Champion of Justice awards); Erek Barron (Equal Justice Associates’ Leadership Award); Quinn, Gordon & Wolf (Pacesetter Award); DLA Piper US LLP and Venable LLP (Trailblazer awards); and George W. McManus Jr. (Executive Director’s Award).

The Equal Justice Council, co-chaired by Andrew Jay Graham and Benjamin Rosenberg, is the private-bar fundraising arm of Maryland Legal Aid. Photo: Eric Stocklin.

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tony West to keynote Equal Justice Council breakfast

Assistant U.S. Attorney General Tony West

Assistant Attorney General, Civil Division, Tony West wil be the keynote speaker at the May 20 Equal Justice Council Awards & Recognition Breakfast at Camden Yards.  The Equal Justice Council is the private-bar fundraising arm of Maryland Legal Aid.

West was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Division on January 22, 2009. He was confirmed by the U.S. Senate on April 20, 2009. As the largest litigating division in the Department of Justice, the Civil Division represents the United States, its departments and agencies, Congress, Cabinet officers, and other federal employees in lawsuits across the country. Some examples include: defending the recent health care reform legislation against recent challenges; litigating habeas corpus petitionsbrought by detainees at Guantanamo Bay; and providing support and guidance to agencies responding to the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  West has focused on these traditional areas, as well as bolstering the Civil Division’s civil enforcement efforts, such as bringing civil actions to recover taxpayer money lost to fraud and abuse. Since April 2009, the Civil Division has recovered over $4 billion through affirmative civil enforcement.

In addition, West has emphasized the Civil Division’s responsibility to enforce thenation’s consumer protection laws. Since April 2009, the Office of Consumer Litigation has
convicted 33 defendants and imposed criminal penalties exceeding $1.3 billion for illegal activities in connection with defrauding consumers. During this same time period, 23
defendants were sentenced to some form of incarceration, receiving a total of over 85 years.  West’s most recent appointment marks his return to the Department of Justice. From
1993 through 1994, he served as a Special Assistant to the Deputy Attorney General under the direction of U.S. Deputy Attorneys General Philip Heymann and Jamie Gorelick, as well as Attorney General Janet Reno. As a Special Assistant, West worked on the development of national crime policy, including the 1994 Omnibus Crime Bill.

From 1994 to 1999, West served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Northern District of California, where he prosecuted child sexual exploitation, fraud, narcotics distribution, interstate theft and high tech crime. As a federal prosecutor,  West led the successful investigation, prosecution and appeal of the Orchid Club case, at the time the largest
Internet child pornography production and distribution ring prosecution in history. West later served as a state Special Assistant Attorney General in California, advising
the California Attorney General on matters including identity theft, the Microsoft antitrust litigation, civil rights, and police officer training.

Prior to returning to the Justice Department,  West was a litigation partner at Morrison & Foerster in San Francisco.  West graduated with honors from Harvard College, where he served as publisher of the Harvard Political Review, and received his law degree from Stanford Law School, where he was elected president of the Stanford Law Review.

Maryland Legal Aid awarded $911,000 cy pres

A group of consumer advocacy programs shared a $2.4 million court award from leftover funds from a consumer class-action lawsuit–with Maryland Legal Aid taking the lion’s share, the Washington Post reported today.

“Thirteen legal programs in Maryland that help clients facing evictions, wage disputes and other civil cases will share the money, helping buoy programs battered by ongoing public funding cuts and drops in foundation donations,” the article said.

Maryland Legal Aid in Baltimore received the largest amount — $911,000 — which its head, Wilhelm Joseph Jr., said will plug a funding hole linked to the current low interest rates on accounts that historically generate payments for legal aid programs. As rates dropped, so did the interest income on which Wilhelm’s groups and others heavily rely. ‘The great pain for me was watching our money decline just as more people needed our services,’ said [Joseph].”

To read the article, click here.

Top New York judge calls for ‘civil Gideon’

New York’s chief judge called on Monday for a new guarantee of a lawyer for poor people in civil cases, like suits over eviction and other disputes where basic needs are at stake, pushing the state to the forefront of a national effort to expand the right to representation for the indigent, the New York Times reported. To read the article, click here.

Troubled Pr. George’s families need follow-up

A Washington Post article about problems in the child welfare system in Prince George’s County quoted a staff attorney in Maryland Legal Aid’s Metropolitan Maryland (Riverdale) office. “The child welfare system in Prince George’s County isn’t doing enough to ensure that troubled families receive the services that might help a parent regain custody of a child or avoid the removal of the child in the first place, advocates and officials say,” the article said.

“Our families require more supportive services than merely a written referral mailed to the last known address,” said Ann Marie Foley Binsner, executive director of the nonprofit Court Appointed Special Advocates, or CASA, in Prince George’s. “They require a knock at the door and a supportive person they can turn to when they need help. And that doesn’t happen frequently enough.”

Without that help, all but the most determined parents can be put off, said Megan Berger, a lawyer for Legal Aid, which represents several hundred foster children in Prince George’s. “All these different systems can be sort of daunting to navigate.”

To read the article, click here.