The annual Scales of Justice Awards were announced at Dorsey’s Centennial celebration in May. The Scales of Justice Awards are given annually to recognize our lawyers for the great legal work we do to help the poor and disadvantaged. This year’s award recipients included the Sherman team (Seattle), the Project Enterprise team (New York), the Stella Nadeau Housing team (Southern Cal), and the ROC Manual team (Minneapolis). Anchorage and Palo Alto were also recognized for having 100% participation in the Pro Bono program by the lawyers in those offices. A special thanks also to all lawyers across the firm who provided the equivalent of at least 5% of their billables to pro bono matters in 2011.
Jim Howard in our Seattle office was asked by a Judge in the Western District of Washington to take on a pro bono case on behalf of Lawrence Sherman, a disabled African American military veteran who was representing himself on a Title VII retaliation claim. against the U.S. Postal Service. Mr. Sherman had filed an EEOC claim which he supported by submitting copies of documents to show that an able-bodied white male had taken over his job. After his pro se claim was dismissed, Mr. Sherman was fired for “unauthorized copying and submission of official documents for personal use or gain.” The Postal Service then sought to block his unemployment benefits. During that and other proceedings Mr. Sherman apologized and made statements that complicated his case, prior to our involvement.
The Postal Service vigorously contested the case, and was represented by two AUSAs and agency counsel at a week-long trial bench trial. Immediately after closing arguments the Court surprised all parties by delivering a poignant summary of its ruling. The Court stated that the Postal Service had engaged in unlawful retaliation, and warned the Postal Service not to further retaliate against witnesses who testified at trial. The Court then spoke to Mr. Sherman directly, advising him to try to use the ruling as an opportunity to put the Postal Service’s wrongful conduct behind him,. The court later awarded substantial damages.
Project Enterprise (New York):
Project Enterprise is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization whose mission is to support and develop entrepreneurs and small businesses in under-resourced communities in New York City by helping hard working and responsible individuals obtain the tools they need to build businesses. With no access to capital, basic business knowledge, or connections, so many aspiring entrepreneurs have had formidable obstacles in their way. By providing small loans through microfinance, backed up with social pressure to repay, and an extensive business education before and after loan approval, and by challenging them to improve themselves as they challenge and support each other, Project Enterprise is allowing people into the marketplace, enabling them to take on the risks and responsibilities of building and managing their businesses.
During 2011, Dorsey lawyers from the New York, Salt Lake City and Minneapolis offices provided pro bono legal services to 40 Project Enterprise entrepreneurs on 46 separate projects. These projects included forming business entities, restructuring entities, advising on licensing issues, reviewing contracts and creating standard agreements, advising on labor and employment issues, reviewing and negotiating business leases and advising on intellectual property issues. Dorsey lawyers also conducted seminars for PE on understanding the various business entity options, the basics of contract law and a primer on intellectual property. Our lawyers did this legal work for a cake decorator, a children’s book author, a pet store owner, a holistic health center, an electronics store and a wedding band., Musician’s Agent, Photographer, Caterer, Clothing Designer, Contractor and Pet Sitter.
Stella Nadeau Housing Matter (So. Cal):
Our client Stella Nadeau, a 90-year old Franciscan nun, has devoted her entire life to helping those in need. As one of her ongoing charitable acts, for over 53 years, Stella invited people in need to come live with her for as long as necessary—sometimes for as long as a couple years. In September 2005, Defendant, who had been Stella’s friend for many years, was in need of a place to stay. Stella invited Defendant to come live with her, rent free, for as long as Defendant needed. A couple months later, Stella arrived home from church and was told by Defendant that they had an appointment to “sign the papers.” When Stella inquired as to what “papers” they were signing, Defendant responded: “the papers that allow me to live here rent free.” Stella went with Defendant to sign the “papers” and didn’t think about the matter again. A few years later, Stella and Defendant had a falling out and Defendant moved out. Months later, while investigating the possibility of a reverse-mortgage to supplement her only source of income (social security), Stella discovered that Defendant was a co-owner of Stella’s home. Unbeknownst to Stella, Defendant had contacted a real estate agent and the “paper” Stella had signed years earlier was actually a deed conveying Stella’s home to Stella and Defendant as joint tenants. After making numerous informal attempts to get Defendant to re-convey the property, Stella was put in touch with Dorsey. Dorsey filed a lawsuit on Stella’s behalf alleging numerous causes of action, including: multiple species of fraud, undue influence, mistake of law and elder abuse. After conducting discovery, we filed a motion for summary adjudication on the fraudulent non-disclosure, undue influence and elder abuse claims. Two days before Defendant’s opposition to the motion for summary adjudication was due, Defendant’s attorney contacted Dorsey and agreed to re-convey the property to Stella in exchange for dismissal of the action.
ROC Manual (Minneapolis):
Helping low-income clients govern their communities: Minneapolis corporate partner Dave Swanson led a project to assist in the preparation of a guide for residents living in mobile park communities, that are transitioning to resident governance. Our client is the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights (www.lawyerscommittee.org), which is working with ROC USA (www.rocusa.org), which has a Minnesota chapter (http://www.ncdf.coop/). ROC USA helps resident corporations buy their manufactured home communities or “mobile home parks” from private community owners. ROC USA is a non-profit organization with a mission of making quality resident ownership possible nationwide. ROC USA works to preserve and improve affordable communities.
Dorsey helped to revise a handbook to teach residents how to govern their own communities. A similar handbook already exists in New Hampshire, but the applicable laws are very state specific and thus, each state's handbook needed extensive revisions.
100% Participation Awards: Anchorage and Palo Alto:
This award is given each year to the office that achieves 100 percent participation in pro bono work by our lawyers. This year, we have two winning offices.
The large traveling trophy goes to the Anchorage office. Under Pro Bono Coordinator Michael Grisham, all attorneys participated in pro bono and contributed an average of 50.12 hours per attorney.
In Palo Alto under the leadership of Martha Luemers, attorneys also had 100% of their attorneys participate in pro bono efforts. They recorded an average of 39.5 hours per attorney.