Category Archives: Equal Justice Council

Chief judge urges managing partners at top firms to support Legal Aid


Maryland District Court Judge Ben C. Clyburn


Maryland District Court Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn told 30 managing partners of the state’s top law firms that the legal system is “facing a crisis.” He spoke at Wednesday’s 4th annual Managing Partners Breakfast, sponsored by the Equal Justice Council, the fundraising arm of Maryland Legal Aid. The meeting was hosted by Miles & Stockbridge.

Referring to the recession and decreases in funding for civil legal services, the chief judge added, “In 30 years I’ve not seen a situation like this. We’re facing the perfect storm. At district court,  70 to 80 percent of litigants appear without legal representation. We really have a gap in justice. That’s why I’m asking you to support Legal Aid.”

Clyburn said the judicial system faces “irreparable harm.”

“The confidence and trust of the people will be impacted and we won’t be able to meet our core mission, the fair administration of justice,” Clyburn said. “As a profession, you must stand up and do your fair share by helping Marylanders who can’t help themselves.”

Managing partners and firm representatives at the meeting: EJC co-chair Philip M. Andrews (Kramon & Graham), Rignal W. Baldwin, Jr. (Baldwin, Kagan & Gormley, LLC), James Bartlett III (Semmes, Bowen & Semmes), Michael Baxter (Baxter, Baker, Sidle, Conn & Jones, P.A.), C. Christopher Brown ( Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP), William E. Carlson ( Shapiro, Sher, Guinot & Sandler, P.A.),
Darlene Davis (Ober, Kaler, Grimes & Shriver), Jessica duHoffmann (Miles & Stockbridge, P.C.), Robert Ferguson (Ferguson, Schetelich & Ballew, P.A.),
John B. Frisch (Miles & Stockbridge, P.C.), Alan F. M. Garten (Fedder & Garten, P.A.), Yale Ginsburg (Adelberg, Rudow, Dorf & Hendler, LLC), EJC co-chair Andrew Jay Graham (Kramon & Graham, P.A.), Barry Greenberg (Rosenberg Martin Greenberg, LLP), Kelly Tubman Hardy (DLA Piper US LLP), Peter Keith (Gallagher, Evelius & Jones, LLP), Kevin Kelehan (Carney, Kelehan, Bresler, Bennett & Scherr), Albert Mezzanotte, Jr. (Whiteford, Taylor & Preston, L.L.P.), Charles O. Monk II (Saul Ewing LLP), William H. Murphy, Jr. (The Murphy Firm), EJC co-chair Benjamin Rosenberg (Rosenberg Martin Greenberg, LLP), Sanford Schreiber (Blades & Rosenfeld, P.A.), Steven Silverman (Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White), Howard Stevens (Wright, Constable & Skeen, L.L.P.), Steven Thomas (Thomas & Libowitz, P.A.), Raymond Truitt (Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP), Thomas J.S. Waxter, III (Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann, LLP), Jeffrey Wothers (Niles, Barton & Wilmer, LLP), and Jefferson V. Wright (Miles & Stockbridge, P.C.).

Volunteer your time

From today’s On the Record blog from the Daily Record: “Ben Rosenberg of Rosenberg Martin Greenberg had a pretty strong reaction to contributor Joe Surkiewicz’s column in this week’s Maryland Lawyer section,” wrote reporter Caryn Tamber. “Surkiewicz, the director of communications at Maryland Legal Aid, wrote about the tremendous need for more volunteer lawyers.

“Rosenberg, co-chair of the Legal Aid’s Equal Justice Council, which works to fund Legal Aid, called me Monday afternoon to enthusiastically second Surkiewicz’s message.

“’As a result of a number of factors, all of which have sort of come together in sort of like a perfect storm, the demand for legal services to the underrepresented and people who can’t afford legal representation has exploded, while at the same time what we had thought of as a stable funding source has imploded, and that’s the IOLTA funding,’ Rosenberg said.”

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.

DLA Piper’s Dickinson tapped for Champion of Justice Award

DLA Piper announced today that Michelle Dickinson will receive a Champion of Justice Award from the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau’s Equal Justice Council (EJC). The award will be presented at the EJC’s 13th annual awards and recognition breakfast on May 20 at the Camden Yards in Baltimore. Dickinson is a partner in DLA Piper’s Litigation practice in the Baltimore office. Dickinson was recognized for her outstanding leadership and sustaining efforts in support of Legal Aid. Working with several attorneys in DLA Piper’s Baltimore office, she has served as the firm’s representative to EJC for the past two years. Kelly Tubman Hardy, partner in DLA Piper’s Corporate practice, and Deke Miller, Partner Emeritus, are also active members of the Equal Justice Council. To read the entire press release, click here.

Strong show of support for legal services at House hearing

Legal services advocates came out in force for yesterday’s hearing in front of the House Judiciary Hearing for HB 106, a bill proposing to raise court filing surcharge fees to fill the funding gap created by severe shortfalls in IOLTA revenues (a major funding source for Maryland Legal Aid and other legal services programs around the state).

“The judiciary supports this bill,” Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell told the committee. “Right now we’re not meeting the demands of poor litigants who can’t afford a lawyer. Only about 25 percent of them have access to a lawyer, in spite of increased efforts to get lawyers to support access to justice through pro bono and contributions. Lawyers have been doing their part. We’re here to urge you to provide stable resources to legal services.”

District Court Chief Judge Ben Clyburn, vice chair of the Access to Justice Commission (created by Bell), told the committee that the  commission “strongly” supports the bill to fill the funding gap.

Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm Joseph said that Maryland has 1.5 million residents who fall below the official poverty line. “Many are the new poor who are ashamed, confused and embarrassed—and totally unprepared—to deal with civil legal issues,” Joseph said. “We are a charitable organization—in this country, civil access to justice is dispersed by charity—so we must solicit and beg for funding to serve our constituents in every jurisdiction that you represent. We’re asking that you help the Maryland Legal Services Corporation to help us help your constituents.”

Andrew Jay Graham, a principal in the Baltimore law firm Kramon & Graham and a leader of the Equal Justice Council (Legal Aid’s private bar fundraising arm), told the committee that poor people need lawyers, but are unable to pay for them. “So they get their problems resolved other ways that aren’t good for society,” he said. “In 2009, Maryland lawyers contributed more money to Legal Aid than in any  previous year. Legal Aid is a tremendous law firm and everyone on its staff is extremely dedicated and underpaid, handling between 50,000 and 60,000 cases a year. We urge you to pass this bill.”

Maryland State Bar Association president-elect Tom Murphy told the committee that the 24,000-lawyer organization supports the bill. “The time and donations to legal services  made by our members are tremendous,” he said. “But legal services needs a stable funding source. This bill is the only rational answer to the problem.”

Also testifying in favor of the bill at the hearing was Legal Aid supervising attorney Harbour Partesotti, who gave a front-line perspective of what civil legal services means to elderly clients helped by the Long Term Care Assistance Project (she told the committee about a sick,  elderly client who was threatened with eviction from her nursing home until Legal Aid intervened). Also testifying were MLSC executive director Susan Erlichman, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge (and MLSC board member) Pam White, Howard County Circuit Court Judge Diane Leasure, and Access to Justice Commission executive director Pam Ortiz.

A strong showing of legal services staffers attended the hearing, included those from Legal Aid, the Women’s Law Center, Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County, the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers’ Service, the Homeless Persons Representation Project, the House of Ruth and Mid-Shore Pro Bono.

Next week, the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee will hold a hearing on the companion bill, SB 248, at 1 p.m. on Thursday.

Managing partners to discuss legal needs of low-income Marylanders

The Equal Justice Council (the private bar fundraising arm of Maryland Legal Aid) will hold its third annual Managing Partners’ Meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 7, at 8 a.m. The event, hosted by Miles & Stockbridge, will focus on the challenges facing low-income Marylanders with civil legal problems and how the legal profession can meet the demand. Managing partners of the area’s 50 largest firms will join Court of Appeals Judge Robert M. Bell and EJC members for the discussion. For more information, email or call 410/951-7759.

Judge Andre Davis reminds lawyers of their obligations

U.S. District Court Judge Andre M. Davis

U.S. District Court Judge Andre M. Davis

U.S. District Court Judge (and nominee to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals) Andre M. Davis was the guest speaker at today’s 12th annual Equal Justice Council Awards and Recognition Breakfast at Camden Yards. “Not all lawyers appreciate their obligation to be available for pro bono service,” Davis told 190 lawyers, judges, political leaders and other legal professionals. “Process matters. And fundamental fairness of the legal system is something we can be proud of in the justice system. I salute what you’re doing and those who support Maryland Legal Aid.” This year’s awardees: Andrew D. Freeman, Stanford G. Gann Jr., and Sayra Wells Meyerhoff (Champions of Justice Award); Mark A. Stanley (Young Lawyers Division Leadership Award); Miles & Stockbridge and Rosenberg Martin Greenberg (Pacesetter Award); DLA Piper US and Venable LLP (Trailblazer Award); and G. Daniel Shealer Jr. (Executive Director’s Award). The Equal Justice Council is the private-bar fundraising arm of Maryland Legal Aid.

Obama nominates former Legal Aid president to 4th Circuit

U.S. District Court Judge Andre M. Davis

U.S. District Court Judge Andre M. Davis

Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge (and former board president) Andre Davis was nominated to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit by President Barack Obama. Davis was Legal Aid’s president in the mid-1980s and will be the guest speaker at next month’s Equal Justice Council annual recognition breakfast at Camden Yards on May 21.

Chief Judge urges managing partners to support Legal Aid

Andrew J. Graham (left), Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, Philip M. Andrews

Andrew J. Graham (left), Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, Philip M. Andrews

The second annual Managing Partners Breakfast brought together more than 20 managing partners of major Baltimore firms to hear from Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell (center) about why they should continue to support Legal Aid. “We are dealing with a justice system with many components,” Bell said. “If one doesn’t work, the whole system won’t work in providing fair access to justice. Those who can’t pay for a lawyer need the services of Legal Aid so they can get access to justice. When the system doesn’t deliver justice, it has a negative impact on the public. Without the trust and confidence of the citizens we serve, the court can exert very little power.” Andrew J. Graham (left) and Philip M. Andrews (right) of Kramon & Graham, co-chairs of the Equal Justice Council (the private-bar fundraising arm of Legal Aid) also addressed the group. The event was hosted by Ober Kaler at its downtown Baltimore office. Also on hand for the Oct. 8 event: Rignal Baldwin (Brassel, Baldwin, Kagan & May, P.A.), Herbert Better (Zuckerman Spaeder LLP), C. Christopher Brown (Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP), Jessica duHoffman (Miles & Stockbridge P.C.), Julie Dymowski (Whiteford, Taylor & Preston LLP), Jervis Finney (Ober, Kaler, Grimes & Shriver), Andrew Freeman (Brown, Goldstein & Levy, LLP), John Frisch (Miles & Stockbridge P.C.), Michael Hendler (Adelberg, Rudow, Dorf & Hendler, LLC), Decatur Miller (DLA Piper LLP), Benjamin Rosenberg (Rosenberg Martin Greenberg), Sanford Schreiber (Blades & Rosenfeld, P.A.), Steven Silverman (Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White), Raymond Truitt (Ballard Spahr Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP), John Wolf (Ober, Kaler, Grimes & Shriver), and Linda Woolf (Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann, LLP).