Pro Bono Scales of Justice Awards are presented annually to recognize teams and individual lawyers across the firm who have participated in substantial Pro Bono projects in the previous year. This year's Scales of Justice Award recipients included two teams and eight individuals:
- Half the Sky Foundation Team
- Loan Modification Investigation Team
- Chris Martinez
- Melissa Raphan
- Dan Semmens
- Colin Wicker
- Kristin Zinsmaster
- Bonnie Farrell
- Sue Kjelvik
- Tom Tinkham
100% Participation Offices
This award is given each year to the offices that achieve 100 percent participation in pro bono work by our lawyers. Congratulations to the four offices with 100% participation in pro bono work:
- Anchorage (Pro Bono Coordinator Michael Grisham, Senior Attorney, Commercial Litigation)
- Fargo (Pro Bono Coordinator Sarah Herman, Partner, Labor & Employment)
- Missoula (Pro Bono Coordinator Jack Manning, Partner, Corporate)
- Palo Alto (Pro Bono Coordinator Martha Luemers, Of Counsel, Trial)
Half the Sky Foundation Team:
Led by IP Litigation Partner Susan Progoff (NY), with substantial contributions from Trademark Associate Fara Sunderji (NY)
Other Team Members:
This is a case involving claims of trademark infringement and unfair competition. Our client, Half the Sky Foundation, has been training childcare workers in Chinese orphanages, and engaging in fundraising and educational activities in the U.S. since 1998.
In 2009, two authors wrote a book entitled HALF THE SKY, which discusses the oppression of women. After the book was published, Half the Sky Foundation received a number of inquiries from members of the public who believed it was connected with the book. The book, which became a best-seller, was made into a two-part documentary, also entitled HALF THE SKY, which was broadcast on PBS in late 2012. The authors also created a website at halftheskymovement.org, where the book, DVDs of the documentary and downloads of the documentary are available for purchase. In addition, the authors solicit contributions for a number of charities through their website, and recently launched a Facebook game, also entitled HALF THE SKY. All of these activities have created widespread confusion among the public – our client regularly receives e-mails and other communications asking about the authors’ activities and donations intended for one of the charities that are working with the authors. In addition, because the authors have flooded the Internet and social media with their materials, our client is barely visible in search engine results and risks losing its identity. There is also evidence of the authors’ bad faith in selecting their mark: they selected the name HALF THE SKY with knowledge of our client and after they requested permission from our client to use the name, but were refused.
The parties had a two-day mediation in October, but the case was not settled. Since then, defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, claiming that they have a First Amendment right to use HALF THE SKY, which is derived from an old Chinese proverb that Mao popularized “Women hold up half the sky.” Our client is seeking to have the authors enjoined from using HALF THE SKY as the name of their organization and on new materials they may issue in the future. There have been recent reports in the press that authors are filming a sequel to their documentary and are using the title HALF THE SKY 2.
Led by Southern California Trial Associates Kate Santon and Karen Morao
Other Team Members (Attorneys):
Dorsey represented a class of plaintiffs against unscrupulous companies posing as loan modification providers when in reality, the companies and their principals simply collected advance payments and did little to no work on behalf of the victims. Instead of refunding the fees as contractually agreed upon when the loan modification never came to fruition, the scammers simply ignored the victims’ pleas to have their funds returned---which, to many, represented a significant portion of their savings. The Federal Bureau of Investigations and California Attorney General’s office have also been actively involved in investigating and prosecuting such scams across California.
The Dorsey team, with the assistance from the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, investigated the numerous companies involved in this scam, interviewed many victims, crafted the legal theories of the litigation, drafted and filed the class action complaint, successfully defended multiple demurrers, obtained default judgments, conducted extensive discovery, deposed a key player in the loan modification scams, and engaged in a mediation which resulted in settlement by all but one of the defendants.
Chris Martinez (Trial Associate, Salt Lake City):
Chris Martinez, along with co-counsel and the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center, represented a Utah woman, Debra Brown, who had spent nearly twenty years in prison after being wrongfully convicted of murder. Ms. Brown is the first person in Utah to have her case go to trial under Utah’s Factual Innocence Statute. After a week-long trial, the trial court issued an order exonerating Ms. Brown. The State of Utah appealed the decision. On July 12, 2013, the Utah Supreme Court affirmed the trial court’s finding that Ms. Brown is factually innocent. Ms. Brown, who was released from prison pending the appeal, is also entitled to over $500,000 in statutory compensation (which she did receive about 6 months ago). Chris Martinez conducted all depositions and written discovery in the case, he presented and cross-examined many of the witnesses at trial, and drafted the briefs submitted to the Utah Supreme Court.
Ms. Brown is now reunited with her family. She lives with her aunt and uncle in a small town in upstate Utah, works at a bakery, fishes about every other day, is a grandparent, and is enjoying her simple life. Her goal is to earn enough money to pay for her expenses to her aunt and uncle, who visited her weekly while she was in prison. Chris says it is amazing to see her grace about the wrongful imprisonment – he said she explains that she went through a very dark period about 2-3 years into her time in prison, but she was able to move forward and let go of the anger. She tells a funny story about when she was released and her brother was driving her home, she thought he had stolen the gas, because pay-at-the-pump came along while she was in prison. It is amazing to think of the time she lost, but she is determined to be grateful for the time she now has, thanks to the work Chris and others do with the Innocence Project.
Chris continues to be involved with innocence work. He is on the board for the Rocky Mountain Innocence Center and recently joined their legal oversight committee. The center currently has 40 active investigations and five active cases.
In 2013, Melissa spent over 200 hours assisting J.W. through the Children’s Law Center. J.W. is 12, is a ward of the state and Ramsey county serves as his guardian. He has had 24 residential placements in 9 years. Melissa has been working with him for 18 months. He is from Ghana and has mental health challenges. He maintains no personal relationships with any of his kin. Melissa is truly the most constant personal connection he has. CLC work does not always have to be so personal and can often just mean you attend a few hearings and help with some filings (which is very valuable and helpful). Melissa hesitated to tell us the details of her representation because she doesn’t want anyone to think they have to get so involved in order to do meaningful work for CLC clients. But we think Melissa’s above-and-beyond work here really deserves to be discussed.
J.W. lives in Duluth (2-½ hours from Minneapolis) and Melissa travels there regularly for his hearings and simply to visit with J.W. Melissa has brought along her husband and children to meet J.W. and to do volunteer work for his residential home; she has brought along her artist sister-in-law to do projects with J.W.
Melissa makes it a priority to write or call J.W. every week so that he has some regular contact with a person he knows is looking out for his best interest. Amazing.
Melissa’s work for J.W. includes helping with proceedings, conferences, and meetings regarding disability education, extra help in math, services funding, getting glasses, and adoption issues with a potential permanent placement.
In addition to her CLC work, Melissa also serves as a resource for pro bono projects the firm does to help nonprofits and she serves on the board of directors for The Children’s Theatre and YMCA.
Dan Semmens (Public Finance Partner, Missoula):
Last year, public finance partner Dan Semmens provided nearly 200 hours of work to the Poverello Center (“the Pov”) (including many hours of his vacation).
The Pov is a shelter and community kitchen in Missoula that will provide overnight accommodations to 100 men and women, three hot meals a day to people struggling with food insecurity, and a myriad of day services to help people get back on their feet. The new location will provide communal dormitories and semiprivate rooms for veterans, elderly, women, and people with acute medical needs or receiving hospice care. In addition to a commercial kitchen, the Poverello Center will offer a small food pantry, an expanded Health Care for the Homeless medical clinic through collaboration with Partnership Health Center, and classroom space to provide vocational training and support.
Dan’s work involved securing a complex financing deal that was supported by government leaders and community members, in order to break ground on the emergency shelter. The November 2013 closing was the culmination of years of work. The 20,000 square foot facility is being built with a focus on sustainability and
includes energy efficient windows, durable finishes, and energy star appliances, ensuring the building is less costly to run. The Pov plans to vacate their current facility and be operational in the new location by the end of 2014.
The 4.7 million dollar project is funded through private donations, a combination of federal and local grants, as well as local and national sources of financing. Grant funds have been approved from the Veterans Administration, Community Development Block Grants Programs through the City of Missoula and the Montana Department of Commerce, a Federal Appropriation, Missoula Redevelopment Agency, and EPA Brownfields Program. Local financing is also being provided from the Montana Community Development Corporation (Montana CDC) who specializes in business and New Markets Tax Credit financing.
Dan explains that “there are a lot of bells and whistles to this type of financing and a lot of work ahead us, but it is pretty darn exciting (and a relief) that it came to fruition.” We are proud of Dan’s pro bono contributions to this amazing project.
In 2013, Colin spent nearly 300 hours helping lead the firm to a huge win for the ACLU in a lawsuit against the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, and the CIA, seeking to compel the United States government’s proper response to Freedom of Information Act requests served by the ACLU. The FOIA requests seek information pertaining to the United States’ legal basis for its use of predator drones to conduct “target killings” against US citizens oversees. In particular, the ACLU’s FOIA request seeks disclosure of the legal memorandum written by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provided justifications for the targeted killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, as well as records describing the legal and factual basis for the killings. The New York Times submitted a similar but narrower FOIA request, and the two resulting lawsuits filed in the Southern District of New York were combined. The government argued that the requested documents cannot be released, despite the fact that government officials have talked publicly on numerous occasions about al-Awlaki’s killing and the targeted killing program in general.
In January 2012, the District Court granted summary judgment for the government. The ACLU and NY Times appealed and on April 21, 2014, the Second Circuit reversed the District Court in part, concluded that a redacted version of a key legal memorandum should be released, and remanded the matter.
Over Kristin’s four years of practicing, she has been regularly involved in pro bono work and has utilized her work both to provide meaningful help to clients in need, but also to develop valuable trial skills and opportunities that are not always readily available to junior associates. Kristin’s pro bono work has given her a chance to brief and argue at almost every level early in her career.
Kristin staffs both large and small pro bono projects. She generally handles about four order for protection cases annually and even when her own schedule is very full, she willingly jumps in to supervise and mentor younger associates who are staffing OFPs for the first time.
In 2013, Kristin worked on three capital criminal matters. Kristin is said to perennially volunteer herself for difficult assignments and she carves out time not only to complete her sections of the brief, but also assists other members of the team to complete their work to the highest standards. She is a skilled and persuasive writer. She is a detail-oriented editor and cite-checker.
Kristin is also known for displaying an incredible amount of patience and professionalism when speaking with our pro bono clients, who often deal with mental illness and have a difficult time communicating clearly or efficiently. Kristin always takes the time to decipher the client’s true meaning. She is a great and compassionate listener.
Kristin also staffs asylum matters, covers for pro bono projects for people who have gone on leave, is a member of the Asylum White Paper Project, and regularly staffs the Xcel Criminal Expungement Clinic. Additionally, Kristin serves on the Board of Directors for CycleHealth.
Kristin has a great attitude about her pro bono work and talks about how much fun it is to help clients on such a personal level. Many times our billable client situations involve business situations and are not as personal as our pro bono clients whom we are helping with their freedom, their access to the children, their personal safety. Kristin says it is amazing to do pro bono work that is so very different and profound.
Bonnie Farrell, National Pro Bono Coordinator (Paralegal, Seattle):
Since Bonnie joined our pro bono team in April 2012, we have felt a bit like we won the lottery! We didn’t know a thing about her when we were told she was our new West Coast pro bono coordinator. And wow, have we been blown away by her every day since then.
She has an amazing amount of energy and excitement for our pro bono program. She is constantly taking the initiative on new ideas and she always wants to learn more and do more. She has now officially taken on the role as serving as the primary pro bono contact with the attorneys in all offices outside of Minneapolis, hence her new title as the National Pro Bono Coordinator. She takes this role seriously and has a specific plan in place to directly contact every lawyer in those offices. After visiting with attorneys to learn about their pro bono interests, she works hard to identify and vet projects that are a good fit for each lawyer.
She has developed and maintained close contact with each of the pro bono coordinators outside of Minneapolis, and she works hard to help them make connections with local projects that will interest and engage the lawyers in those offices. We have learned the Field of Dreams movie line “If you build it they will come” most certainly applies to our pro bono program. If we build the projects, the connections, our lawyers will come, will come to the table and do meaningful pro bono work. And Bonnie is doing just that, she is building up our program. We have already seen a significant rise in our numbers in the offices where she has been focusing her time and we are excited to see continued growth across the firm as she expands her outreach.
In addition to connecting with our Dorsey lawyers across the firm, Bonnie has worked hard to connect with various groups, such as local pro bono coordinators’ groups and nonprofit legal service providers. This networking allows her to learn about new opportunities that may be a nice fit for our lawyers. Bonnie also handles all sorts of other tasks with great organization and efficiency – including reviewing file openings for pro bono matters, responding to requests from legal organizations for pro bono assistance, attending training and CLE opportunities related to pro bono, and reviewing and preparing internal and external reports. She joins our otherwise Minneapolis based pro bono team for our regular meetings and we are thrilled to present her with a Scales of Justice award.
Sue has been part of the pro bono program leadership team longer than any of the rest of us. She worked with our former Pro Bono Director, Bricker Lavik, for over a decade. In the past year, Bricker passed away, Pro Bono Coordinator Pam Wiehoff-Kaufman retired, and Pro Bono Partner Perry Wilson retired – in the midst of all that change, it was truly Sue who was the glue who kept us all together. She is amazingly organized and is great at retaining exactly the right information to keep us all on track, including when outside reports are due, what methodology is used for each report, who has experience supervising certain types of matters, when deadlines are approaching for award nominations, and what needs to be done to organize and support the summer program.
Sue regularly goes above and beyond to provide great support to the pro bono program. She pays attention to what is going on in the firm and in our communities and she is great at suggesting project ideas and program tweaks. Her “institutional” knowledge of both the pro bono program and the firm as a whole is incredibly valuable and we’re truly not sure we could have made it through this transition year without her (we certainly would have dropped a lot of balls, at the very least).
We rely heavily on Sue to always help the right hand know what the left hand is doing. She keeps us all informed and on task, she makes sure we don’t miss important deadlines, and she plans ahead and always has materials prepared for trainings, meetings, and clinics. She has developed a great relationship with many of our lawyers and reaches out directly to lawyers across the firm to help staff projects and clinics. Staff across the office know that Sue knows all things pro bono and they are quick to contact Sue when they need help opening a file, connecting with a lawyer, or interpreting a report.
It’s quite possible Bricker still directs our pro bono program through Sue – as we constantly hear her saying “Bricker said . . .” and each time we hear that we smile, and are thankful to have Sue carry on Bricker’s great legacy.
For over four decades, Tom has worked tirelessly to change the legal landscape for those most in need. Tom has had a long and distinguished career as a partner at Dorsey in Minneapolis and has been widely recognized as a leader in the legal community. Tom is a recipient of the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA)Distinguished Service Award in recognition of his lifelong commitment to the legal community. Tom is a past president of both the Hennepin County Bar Association (HCBA) and MSBA, and during those terms led efforts to improve access to the judicial system by low-income people and to increase pro bono service in the profession.
For more than 35 years, Tom has been an active volunteer with Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN), which supports the provision of pro bono legal services in the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County. He has served in a variety of leadership roles with VLN, and has personally provided legal services to hundreds of disadvantaged individuals. He has also served on the board and as chair for The Fund for the Legal Aid Society of Minneapolis.
In recent years (when many in his position may have simply retired to the beach), Tom has devoted his time to working with VLN, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA), and a number of law firms in Minneapolis, to create a new pro bono initiative aimed at getting more lawyers to volunteer to provide legal services to the poor
and disadvantaged. This has been a major undertaking that Tom has led with amazing success. This new initiative involves various phases.
Conciliation (Small Claims) Court Pro Bono Advice and Representation: The initiative’s first program was to provide pro bono counsel for all low income individuals who are party to an appeal of a Conciliation Court referee’s decision. The law provides that these cases are to be tried de novo in District Court. Because one of the parties has already prevailed in conciliation court, it is sometimes difficult for judges to help the parties reach an agreed compromise. The program created by Tom is designed to provide legal counsel either to help guide the low-income client to a suitable resolution or to try the case. Tom not only created the program, he then personally recruited attorneys to provide pro bono advice and representation, and mentored and co-counseled with those recruits. The next phase is to expand the range of services available to consumers who are being sued in Conciliation Court by companies who purchase debt, as well as by original creditors such as credit card companies, payday lenders, and medical service providers. These consumers are often unaware whether they may have exempt income or affirmative defenses to the lawsuit. Tom has been working with VLN and MMLA to establish a walk-in clinic that operates during the same period of time when consumer debt cases are tried in blocks of up to 50 cases. The new clinic will recruit 20 volunteer attorneys who will provide free advice, brief services, and representation to eligible clients.
District Court Pro Bono Advice and Representation: Another initiative of the program Tom has created deals with the judges’ desire to have a method of finding pro bono counsel for low-income parties with meritorious cases who have difficulty navigating the court rules and processes. Under this part of the program, judges are able to refer these parties to VLN and thereby allow the parties to obtain counsel. Housing Court Pro Bono Advice and Representation: And another initiative of the program is to expand the Housing Court Clinic Program currently providing walk-in brief legal advice for tenants appearing in Housing Court in Minneapolis. While VLN and MMLA provide walk-in clinic services with volunteer lawyers from Minneapolis law firms, there is need to provide additional volunteers. Tom has worked with others to recruit 100 additional lawyers to supplement the current volunteers providing services at Housing Court. This led to expanding the number of attorneys volunteering at Housing Court each day from two to three, resulting in provision of both advice and representation in Housing Court hearings. As a result, VLN saw a 30% increase in clients served in 2013 over 2012. In addition to increasing the number of volunteer attorneys advising clients at Housing Court, Tom also recruited 10 attorneys willing to represent clients in housing trials on short notice. This panel of last resort helps to ensure that low income tenants with meritorious defenses get help asserting them to avoid eviction.
Domestic Abuse Order for Protection Pro Bono Representation: And the last initiative of Tom’s program is to recruit volunteers to provide representation to represent victims of domestic abuse in Order for Protection (OFP) hearings. Tom coordinated discussions between the domestic abuse advocate community, VLN, the bench, and the private bar to address assess how to best assist the many victims of abuse representing themselves in OFP hearings. The result of those discussions was an effort to recruit attorneys for Tubman, Minnesota’s largest provider of domestic violence services, and its Safety Project, a program providing volunteer representation of victims in OFP hearings on short notice. Tom personally attended a number of Continuing Legal Education sessions and committee meetings to make a personal pitch to recruit volunteers. The result was an increase of volunteers participating in the Safety Project. Between May and October of 2013, the effort led by Tom resulted in 82 recruited new attorneys to do this important work. It also led to new partnerships for Tubman that will also lead to additional attorneys doing this pro bono work in the future. At the conclusion of this recruitment push, Tubman's case placement rate increased to 80-85% for the months of October, November, and December 2013 (it has previously been 70-75%).
Fifty years ago, Tom’s fellow Dorsey partner, Vice-President Walter Mondale led the charge to secure the right to counsel of indigent individuals in the landmark case of Gideon v. Wainwright. Tom’s work on this new effort grows out of a desire to expand this right to counsel in civil cases. There have been a number of studies of this issue, all concluding that additional legal services should be provided. However, none of these studies has created a clear path to provide such services. Tom has created such a path.
Most of you had the pleasure of knowing our friend and Pro Bono Director Bricker Lavik, who passed away in March of 2013. Bricker was always pushing us to do more and to carefully analyze what we were doing to make sure we were making the best impact possible. Tom’s pro bono work embodies the ideals and actions of Bricker, both in his many years of distinguished service and his extensive efforts to improve pro bono legal services to those most in need. And so it is our pleasure to present Tom with the first ever Bricker Lavik Distinguished Service Award.