Access to Justice Awardees to be honored May 9

Thursday, Apr. 25, 2013
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From top to bottom: Pro Bono Law Firm Award -- Brown Rudnick LLP; Legal Services Award -- Ruth A. Bourquin, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute; Legal Services Award -- James Breslauer, Neighborhood Legal Services; Pro Bono Publico Award -- Timothy G. Lynch, Swartz & Lynch LLP; Defender Award -- Gloria Tan, confirmed as an associate justice of the Juvenile Court, to be sworn in May 3; Prosecutor Award -- Adam J. Foss, Suffolk County District Attorney's Office.

The Massachusetts Bar Association's Access to Justice Awards will honor five attorneys and one law firm for their exemplary delivery of legal services at its SOLD OUT May 9 Annual Dinner at the Westin Boston Waterfront.

The event will also feature keynote speaker Gov. Deval L. Patrick and the presentation of the Legislator of the Year Award to State Rep. Brian S. Dempsey (D-Haverhill), chairman of the House Committee on Ways and Means. Click here to view the MBA's 2013 Annual Dinner sponsors.

Pro Bono Award for Law Firms

Brown Rudnick LLP

Brown Rudnick LLP has a deep commitment to pro bono work. After forming the Brown Rudnick Charitable Foundation Corp. in 2000, the firm decided to combine all of its charitable efforts under one umbrella. As such, the firm created the Brown Rudnick Center for the Public Interest which combines the firm's pro bono, charitable grants and volunteer efforts. Since the center's creation in 2001, the firm has provided over 89,500 hours of pro bono legal representation -- valued at over $36 million.

Much of Brown Rudnick 's pro bono work has been in Massachusetts. The firm has partnered with the Volunteer Lawyers Project to provide pro bono legal representation to low-income clients. The Center for Public Interest provides $25,000 a year to the MBA Statewide Mock Trial program. In addition, Brown Rudnick has recently worked with the Lawyers Clearinghouse on Affordable Housing and Homelessness to create and implement a Legal Assessment Program for non-profit organizations. The firm also participates bi-annually in the Clearinghouse's Legal Clinic for the Homeless and has donated 855 hours over the last two years.

"The fact that the state's largest bar association would take the time to applaud, focus on and support this type of pro bono legal work is the real award," Brown Rudnick Center for the Public Interest Executive Director Al Wallis said.

Legal Services Award

Ruth A. Bourquin, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

If it takes a village to raise a child, it often takes an army to protect one -- especially one as vulnerable as a homeless child. Ruth Bourquin, a staff attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, has been a general of this army -- a diverse network dedicated to ensuring homeless children are not exposed to harmful and unsafe conditions.

Bourquin specializes in public benefits, including family shelter. She has engaged in legislative and administrative advocacy, as well as class action litigation, expanding access to both income support for needy families and emergency assistance for homeless families.

Bourquin recently served as the lead advocate statewide, working with pro bono counsel and medical providers, as well as the legal and social services communities, to preserve safety net programs that protect homeless parents and their children. When Massachusetts decided to reorganize its emergency shelter system, proposing significant regulatory restrictions to access shelter for homeless families with children, Bourquin assembled a diverse coalition to identify deficiencies in the state's proposed policies and to suggest remedies to protect homeless families.

"I was extremely honored to be told about this award, particularly because it is based on my work on behalf of homeless families with children who are now facing great difficulty accessing emergency shelter in the commonwealth," Bourquin said.

Legal Services Award

James Breslauer, Neighborhood Legal Services

Neighborhood Legal Services Advocacy Coordinator Jim Breslauer has dedicated his entire career to helping the underrepresented. Before joining NLS in 1996, Breslauer worked as a legal aid in Pennsylvania and at Merrimack Valley Legal Services in Massachusetts.

"In college in the 60s I got very bothered by the inequities I was seeing as far as how poor people were being treated and black people were being treated . . . I couldn't stand the injustice so I decided to go to law school and do something about it," Breslauer said.

It was at Dickinson School of Law in Pennsylvania, where Breslauer truly began his career in legal aid.

"I almost got kicked out of law school because I was working 40 hours a week in the legal aid clinic," Breslauer said.

Over the years Breslauer has worked in many different areas of legal aid including public benefits law, unemployment, anti-hunger issues, housing, health law, trial work and appellate advocacy. In addition, Breslauer spends at least one morning a week at the Northeast Housing Court in Lawrence, where he helps less-experienced attorneys and law students represent low-income tenants in mediation. Breslauer has also served as a hearing officer for the Board of Bar Overseers for many years and a judge for the MBA Statewide Mock Trial Program.

Pro Bono Publico Award

Timothy G. Lynch, Swartz & Lynch LLP

One of Timothy G. Lynch's most illustrative anecdotes about what impermanence does to shape a child is the one about "The Box." 

Lynch says a teen in foster care, who has a morning spat with a foster parent, comes home in the afternoon -- after school -- to find a social worker sitting on his or her bed with a box to collect personal belongings in order to leave the home.  

"It's just common sense that children brought up without any permanency are not going to do very well," Lynch said. "Their odds are greatly diminished, but if you have a volunteer to give a kid direction, that kid will succeed."

Lynch says foster children can sometimes be made keenly aware -- by their foster parents -- that the foster parents are being paid to take them in and that message is mostly less than kind.

Lynch's main charity focus has been his work with Boston CASA Inc., a non-profit child advocacy association concentrating on the best interests of children, who are the subject of abuse and neglect cases. Lynch has volunteered for CASA since 1991, first as a court-appointed legal advocate, then as a board member and currently as the organization's president.

Defender Award

Gloria Tan, confirmed as an associate justice of the Juvenile Court, to be sworn in May 3

Gloria Tan remembers being told, as a newly-minted public defender at the Trial Unit of Committee for Public Counsel Services, that in the role of public defender you are "the one person in the courtroom standing in the way of a high-speed train going toward your client, and you are the only one who can stand on the tracks."

Most people wouldn't care for that job description, but Tan, who worked at Harvard's Criminal Justice Institute as a clinical instructor and supervisor for law students representing indigent adults and youth in criminal and delinquency proceedings, says she feels lucky to have served in that role.

"A client is more than just a docket number on case. It's your job to tell the court who your client is and what crime they're charged with," Tan said.  

Tan has served on the Board of Directors of the Asian American Lawyers Association of Massachusetts and has chaired the MBA Criminal Justice Section Council. Tan has also served as a member of the MBA's House of Delegates, the MBA Executive Management Board and as a member of the Gov. Deval L. Patrick's Juvenile Justice Advisory Board. Tan has volunteered at a citizenship tutor at the Boston Chinatown Neighborhood Center.

Prosecutor Award

Adam J. Foss, Suffolk County District Attorney's Office

Assistant District Attorney Adam J. Foss started law school to become an entertainment lawyer. However, after a clerkship in Roxbury District Court and participating in the Suffolk Defenders' Clinic at Suffolk Law School, Foss realized he wanted work in the criminal justice system.

"I thought I wanted to be a defense attorney," said Foss, who ended up starting his career as a prosecutor in Suffolk County after graduating from law school in 2008. Foss explained that ADAs are capable of giving someone a second chance, something unique to the prosecutor's role. Foss currently works in the Juvenile Division of the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office.

Foss has committed himself to giving back to the community through efforts such as the Roxbury CHOICE Program, an initiative to turn probation from a punitive sentence into a beneficial relationship with the court. In addition to the CHOICE Program, Foss is founder of a reading program in which members of the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, as well as other government agencies, volunteer to read in early elementary classrooms in Roxbury.

Foss finds his work extremely rewarding and has no plans of slowing down. He is currently working to create a diversion program for the Suffolk County Juvenile Court.

For complete Access to Justice Award recipient profiles, look in the May Lawyers Journal.