Celebrate the 2017 Access to Justice Award Honorees

Thursday, May. 4, 2017

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The Massachusetts Bar Association's Access to Justice Awards will honor seven attorneys and one law firm, recognizing their exemplary legal skills and service to the community. The awards will be presented at the sold-out 2017 Annual Dinner at the Westin Boston Waterfront hotel on Thursday, May 4.

New this year, we invite you to hear the 2017 Access to Justice honorees' inspiring stories in their own words on the Massachusetts Bar Association's podcast, the MassBar Beat. MassBar Beat podcast episodes are available to listen to and download for free on many of the most popular podcasting platforms, including Soundcloud, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher and TuneIn Radio. Better yet, subscribe so you don't miss a "Beat."

DEFENDERDefender Award
Rebecca Jacobstein, Committee for Public Counsel Services

As a staff attorney in the Appeals Unit of the Committee for Public Counsel Services, Rebecca Jacobstein has been relentless in the pursuit of justice for both her clients and thousands of others affected by the Sonja Farak drug lab scandal.

When she joined the Appeals Unit in April 2014, she was assigned to represent on appeal Erick Cotto and Jermaine Watt, who were both convicted of drug offenses in which Farak, a chemist at the state drug lab in Amherst, conducted the chemical analysis.

She has worked for three years on these appeals. Through her persistence and determination, one of the cases was recently dismissed; the second is awaiting a ruling on both a new trial motion based on Farak's misconduct, as well as a motion to dismiss based on alleged prosecutorial misconduct.

Jacobstein acknowledges that in cases such as these, it's important to have diligent public defenders who often function as a system of checks and balances for state prosecutors.

"In terms of indigent defense counsel, you need to have a counter weight to the government because they don't always do what needs to be done," said Jacobstein.

To hear the honoree in her own words on the MassBar Beat, click here.

PROSECUTORProsecutor Award
Kevin J. Curtin, Middlesex District Attorney's Office

Kevin J. Curtin is a 22-year veteran of the Middlesex District Attorney's Office, where he currently serves as senior appellate counsel and grand jury director. He is widely respected for his work ethic and fairness, as well as his commitment to victims and the community he represents.

Curtin's strong moral compass has guided him beyond his traditional prosecutorial role to take on more global issues of justice through his work with the Massachusetts Bar Association's Civil Rights & Social Justice Section Council and the American Bar Association.

Last year, in the wake of a failed coup attempt by the Turkish military, Curtin was instrumental in getting the ABA to adopt an MBA-backed resolution condemning the Turkish government's arrest of thousands of lawyers, judges and journalists in the country without charges or access to counsel. Earlier this year Curtin helped the MBA become the first state bar association to co-sponsor the ABA resolution that spoke out against the travel ban created by President Donald Trump's executive order.

Curtin says he gravitates toward these issues because he believes standing up for justice is part of a lawyer's professional duty.

"The Reverend Martin Luther King said that 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.' And I guess I agree with that," says Curtin. "I love to see lawyers who have a passion for justice and are willing to act on it. ... Anytime a lawyer stands up for a worthwhile principle we're all the better for it."

To hear the honoree in his own words on the MassBar Beat, click here.

PRO BONO PUBLICOPro Bono Publico Awards
Andrew Troop, Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman
Christopher Mirick, Harvest Power Inc.

While colleagues at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, attorneys Andrew Troop and Christopher Mirick worked together with Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) to achieve successful outcomes in two notable pro bono cases.

In the first case, Troop and Mirick worked on behalf of 15 Chinese immigrant workers who were unfairly deprived of wages by a Boston daycare facility that attempted to discharge its financial obligations through a bankruptcy filing. When the case went to trial, the court ruled against the company's bankruptcy claim, and efforts are now underway to return the wages to the workers -- a sum that was originally $50,000, which tripled to $150,000 under the Massachusetts Wage Act.

Troop and Mirick also teamed up with GBLS on an important affordable housing case, which led to a groundbreaking victory in U.S. Bankruptcy Court. The duo ultimately helped facilitate a Chapter 11 sale of two Boston apartment buildings to a nonprofit that dedicated the properties to affordable housing for the next 50 years, ensuring adequate living conditions for many low-income and disabled residents.

 


"Each of these clients [has] an absolute appreciation for the fact that our judicial system gives them a voice and pro bono gives them a way to use it," said Troop.

"As lawyers we have a monopoly on providing legal advice -- no one else can do it," added Mirick, who now serves as senior vice president and general counsel at Harvest Power, Inc. "That monopoly gives us incredible power, but in my view it comes with an obligation to give back and to give access to that power and to that system to people who can't afford it."

To hear the honorees in their own words on the MassBar Beat, click here.

LEGAL SERVICESLegal Services Award
Brian Flynn, Greater Boston Legal Services

Brian Flynn has been an attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) for more than 20 years. An expert in welfare and unemployment law, he has dedicated his career to advocating for low-income workers with disabilities and recipients of public benefits.

During his time at GBLS, Flynn has been a staff attorney in the Benefits Unit, a senior attorney in both the Welfare and Employment Law units, and is currently managing attorney of the Asian Outreach Employment Law Unit.

Flynn recently expanded his practice area to address wage and hour cases, resulting in several large settlements for immigrant workers who were not paid wages and legally required overtime payments. For the last two decades, Flynn has been a constant leading voice in the commonwealth for welfare and employment advocacy for some of the state's most vulnerable populations.

He has been recognized for his unique ability not only to resolve individual cases, but to also identify and resolve systemic problems in the delivery of welfare and unemployment benefits.

"We have an obligation to look at every case with the knowledge that there might be five or 10 people, or more, with a similar problem, who we're not going to see," says Flynn. "I feel strongly that's why it's very important to do systemic advocacy based upon individual cases."

To hear the honoree in his own words on the MassBar Beat, click here.

AWARD FOR LAW FIRMSPro Bono Award for Law Firms
K&L Gates, Boston

Committed to providing pro bono services on a global scale, as well as locally through its Boston office, K&L Gates works on hundreds of pro bono cases each year.

In Massachusetts, the firm has been recognized for its work with the Kids in Need of Defense (KIND) program, representing unaccompanied minors who have fled violent situations in their home countries. Attorneys help separated families navigate the state court system, establish custody and guardianship, and guide them through U.S. citizenship and immigration services.

"The reward at the end of the case for the child and for their families is just enormous," says partner Andrew Glass. "It's hard to understand how happy the families are that they can remain united and that their child can escape the kind of violence that they often face."

In addition, the firm works with the International Refugee Assistance Project to provide legal services on behalf of individuals from Iraq and Afghanistan who face persecution in light of providing service to the U.S. government during the wars in those countries.

K&L Gates also recently partnered with Veterans Legal Services to provide pro bono representation to veterans in need within the greater Boston area. Attorneys assist veterans, many of whom are homeless, with legal representation in civil cases.

"It's often difficult for lawyers to find the time to devote to pro bono causes, but when the causes are the types of projects that we work on, it's easy to find time," says partner Sean Higgins.

To hear the honorees in their own words on the MassBar Beat, click here.

RISING STAR WNDRising Star Award
Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies, Community Legal Aid

A specialist in public benefits, housing and family law, Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies serves as a staff attorney with Community Legal Aid in Worcester.

Nelson-Davies oversees Community Legal Aid's medical-legal partnership with UMass Memorial Health Care, working with clinical partners and medical providers to help represent low-income clients seeking pro bono assistance with special education needs, disability and public benefits, guardianship, and housing. In this role, she trains providers on how to screen for various legal issues that contribute to an individual's overall personal health.

Throughout the last year, Davies has been instrumental in facilitating a pro bono innovation grant from Legal Services Corporation, which helps provide on-site consultation at several primary care locations in partnership with UMass Memorial Medical Center.

A graduate of Roger Williams University School of Law and Rhode Island College, Nelson-Davies is a former Bart Gordon Fellow with South Coastal Counties Legal Services. Even at the early stages of her career, she has already developed a keen understanding of what's at stake for her legal aid clients in their daily lives.

"In legal aid, as attorneys, we understand that we are sometimes the lifeline of our clients," she says. "If we cannot win an eviction case, or negotiate for more time, or secure alternative housing for our client, they could be homeless."

To hear the honoree in her own words on the MassBar Beat, click here.

RISING STAR CVRising Star Award
Claire Valentin, Children's Law Center of Massachusetts

Claire Valentin has always been interested in the overall immigration experience. With parents of Romanian and French descent, Valentin grew up in the U.S. with a green card and became a naturalized citizen during law school. She even put together her own naturalization application, but it ultimately got stuck in the system and was delayed. Valentin knew she wanted to help others facing similar immigration challenges.

"My own experiences and my family's experience made me want to help other immigrants who were making the transition to a new life, and to help navigate what's really a very complicated system and in a lot of ways a very unequal system," says Valentin.

In her current role as a staff attorney at the Children's Law Center of Massachusetts, Valentin advocates for unaccompanied immigrant children from Central America who flee their home countries seeking humanitarian protections in the U.S. Since 2013 she has been instrumental in transforming the organization's Special Immigrant Juvenile Project, representing clients in state Juvenile and Probate Court, as well as in federal immigration proceedings.

A graduate of Brown University and Harvard Law School, Valentin is the recipient of Harvard's Irving R. Kaufman Fellowship. While at Harvard she worked with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project and the Georgia Legal Services Migrant Project.

To hear the honoree in her own words on the MassBar Beat, click here.