Meet the 2023 Access To Justice Award honorees

Thursday, June 1, 2023

The Massachusetts Bar Association's Access to Justice Awards will honor nine attorneys and one law firm, recognizing their exemplary legal skills and service to the community. The awards will be presented at the Access to Justice Awards Celebration at the Sheraton in Framingham on Wednesday, June 8. 

In the profiles that follow, meet the winners of the 2023 Access to Justice Awards.


Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts, Brockton

Leung_Emily (0846)Emily Leung is the 2023 winner of the MBA’s Legal Service Award. The award is given to an attorney employed by a public or nonprofit agency to provide civil legal services to low-income clients, and who has made a particularly significant or meaningful contribution to the provision of low-income legal services, above and beyond the requirements of their position. 

Leung is the director of immigration advocacy at the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts, a subsidiary of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, which provides civil legal aid to low-income individuals and families in Southeastern Massachusetts. In this role, she works to protect the rights of immigrants through systemic projects such as local ordinances, statewide legislation, administrative notice and comment efforts, strategic litigation and amicus support, and by developing legal advisories and materials for immigrants and advocates. Successful efforts have included creating materials for families to protect their children in the event of arrest or deportation and legislation to protect immigrant survivors of crime and human trafficking. 

Leung’s work emphasizes close partnership with community-based partners and immigrant communities, including recent efforts to help coordinate the response to the families transported to Martha’s Vineyard and providing assistance to the rising number of immigrant families in emergency assistance shelter. 


Metrowest Legal Services, Framingham

Weinberger, Alissa (0659)Alissa Weinberger is the 2023 winner of the MBA’s Access to Justice Rising Star Award. The Rising Star Award is given to an attorney employed by a legal services organization, a public defender organization, or a state or federal prosecutor’s office, or an attorney who has engaged in significant pro bono activities, who has been a practicing attorney for seven years or less, who has distinguished themself by a particular accomplishment or body of work that has made a significant and meaningful contribution to access to justice to an underserved population within Massachusetts. 

Weinberger is a staff attorney at MetroWest Legal Services (MWLS) in Framingham, where she represents immigrant youth in removal proceedings and supervises social work interns. She currently serves on the MetroWest Worker Center’s Board of Directors and previously worked with immigrants at nonprofit organizations in legal and mental health settings. 

Weinberger has provided direct representation to clients, focusing on humanitarian-based forms of immigration relief, such as asylum and special immigrant juvenile status, family-based immigration, citizenship, and removal defense. She enjoys presenting to community members on a variety of immigration issues. 


Burns & Levinson LLP, Boston

Cohen_Jerry (7311)Jerry Cohen of Burns & Levinson LLP in Boston is the 2023 winner of the MBA’s Pro Bono Publico Award. The award is given to an individual who has been instrumental in developing, implementing and supporting pro bono programs for the MBA, a local county bar association or a pro bono program of a law firm, or has developed a pro bono program sponsored or organized through an agency in the commonwealth, or has performed significant or meaningful pro bono activity.

Cohen has been active in pro bono efforts throughout his 60-year law career in Massachusetts. He is a past recipient of the Massachusetts Bar Foundation Great Friend of Justice Award, the William J. Ledoux Award for service to the Massachusetts Clients’ Security Board, and the Boston Patent Law Association’s Pro Bono Lifetime Achievement Award. He was among the developers of Justice Bridge, a nationally recognized legal incubator that is located in Boston and New Bedford but reaches out in a large region of Massachusetts. Cohen is also part of the program’s network of mentors for Massachusetts bar member graduates from UMass/Dartmouth Law School who have provided quality legal services at well below market prices to thousands of low-income clients in a broad range of civil litigation and transactional matters. 



McCarter & English Pro Bono Group (9735)McCarter & English LLP in Boston is the 2023 winner of the Pro Bono Award for Law Firms. The award is given to a law firm, composed of two or more attorneys with one or more offices in the commonwealth, whose pro bono activities are particularly noteworthy in relation to the firm’s size, and which has performed significant or meaningful pro bono activities or has been particularly instrumental in developing, implementing and/or supporting a pro bono program or pro bono service within Massachusetts.

McCarter’s more than 375 lawyers serve as trusted business advisors to Fortune 100, mid-market, and emerging growth companies. Firmwide, McCarter lawyers view pro bono service as an essential component of their practice and the fabric of the firm. The firm’s commitment to serving those in need dates back to the firm’s founding and remains unwavering. Collectively, McCarter lawyers dedicate tens of thousands of hours annually, with more than 17,200 pro bono hours provided during fiscal year 2022. 

The lawyers in McCarter’s Boston office, the firm’s second largest, handle a range of pro bono work. In 2017, McCarter significantly deepened an ongoing partnership with Veterans Legal Services (VLS) to grow capacity for intakes through the VLS monthly intake project at the Bedford VA. In addition to the intake project, the firm partners with VLS to serve veterans who need legal assistance with a wide range of matters. In recognition of McCarter’s partnership, VLS honored the firm with its Outstanding Pro Bono Service Award in 2022.

McCarter’s Boston office also runs a thriving pro bono practice serving survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, working with a range of major legal services providers in the space. In 2020, the firm established McCarter’s Social Justice Project to advance the firm’s far-reaching initiatives to combat structural racism and the impact of racial injustice. The firm’s Boston attorneys are proud to take part in this work, and the firm’s other pro bono efforts.


Suffolk County District Attorney's Office, Boston

Tohme_Marc (7347)Marc Fouad Tohme is the 2023 winner of the MBA’s Prosecutor Award. The award is given to a state or federal prosecutor who has distinguished themselves in public service, and whose commitment to justice and serving the communities where they live or work is particularly praiseworthy.

Tohme has been with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office for the past 10 years as an assistant district attorney and currently serves as chief of the District and Municipal courts. Among his prior roles across various jurisdictions, Tohme was the point prosecutor for the Safe Neighborhood Initiative and head of the Drug Recovery Session for the Boston Municipal Court’s Dorchester Division, a member of the Superior Court Gang Unit, and deputy chief of the District and Municipal courts. He also supervised the offices of the Drug Courts, Mental Health Courts, Homeless Court and Veterans Court. 

In addition, Tohme spearheaded the creation and expansion of Services Over Sentences, a substance-use diversion program designed to address the crisis in Boston’s “Mass and Cass” corridor, and assisted the Trial Court in establishing the Boston Outpatient Assisted Treatment program for individuals with mental health challenges. 


Committee for Public Counsel Services, Malden

McGowan_Carolyn (9581)Carolyn I. McGowan is the 2023 winner of the MBA’s Defender Award. The award is given to an attorney who is employed or retained by a public or nonprofit agency to provide criminal legal services to low-income clients, and who has made a particularly significant or meaningful contribution to the provision of low-income legal services, above and beyond the requirements of their position.

A longtime trial attorney with the Public Defender Division of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), McGowan serves as supervising senior trial counsel for the CPCS Northern Region, which includes Middlesex and Essex counties. She has been an active member of the CPCS Murder List for several years, focusing on juvenile and emerging adult appointments, and is the editor of Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education’s Trying Murder Cases publication. 

Prior to her current role, McGowan was attorney-in-charge of the CPCS Middlesex Superior Court office from 2015 through 2020. She was appointed to the Massachusetts Sentencing Commission in 2019 and has served on various bar and court committees, including as co-chair of the MBA’s Conviction Integrity Working Group, and as the defense representative on the Supreme Judicial Court Voir Dire Committee.  


Todd & Weld LLP, Boston 

Mombeleur_Shayla (8183)Shayla Mombeleur of Todd & Weld LLP in Boston is the 2023 winner of the MBA’s Race, Equity and Inclusion Award. The award is given to an attorney or law firm that has pursued zealous advocacy framed with a race, equity and inclusion lens, which includes a strategy that advances critical race theory, including the impact of individual and structural racism.

Mombeleur is a past recipient of the MBA’s Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. Scholarship and a past participant in the MBA Leadership Academy. She currently serves as chair of the MBA’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, and is a member of the association’s Executive Management Board. To help advance DEI initiatives, she has created a variety of training sessions with members of the Massachusetts Trial Court and recently led a three-part webinar that focused on developing and maintaining a diverse network and workplace through supportive and inclusive environments.

Mombeleur previously served as a criminal defense public defender in the Boston office of the Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS), where she helped organize the public defender march in honor of George Floyd and later received the Emerging Defender Award. 

A former missionary in Haiti during her college career, Mombeleur now serves as an associate at Todd & Weld, concentrating her practice on government investigations and criminal defense.  


Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow PC, Boston

Carroll_John (8414)John J. Carroll Jr. of Meehan, Boyle, Black and Bogdanow PC is a 2023 winner of the MBA’s Lifetime Achievement Award, which is given to an MBA member at the end of their career (or posthumously). The award recognizes an attorney who has committed almost their entire career to advancing access to justice issues.

Carroll became deeply invested in helping others while working for South Dakota Legal Services on the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Sioux reservations — an experience that he once described as “the second best thing ever to happen to him,” next to being born in the U.S. He has continued that passion for service since joining Meehan Boyle in 1985, including through his pro bono work for the Volunteer Lawyers Project, his roles as MBA representative and later chair for the Equal Justice Coalition, and his volunteer efforts with the Catholic Lawyers' Guild at the St. Francis House. 

Carroll has also served since 1996 on the Greater Boston Legal Services Board of Directors, since 2017 on the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) Board of Directors, and since 2017 as a Senior Fellow for the Access to Justice Commission. He received the Massachusetts Bar Foundation President’s Award in 2010, MLRI’s Champion of Justice, (Catalyst for Change) Award in 2019, the Massachusetts Academy of Trial Attorneys’ Lifetime Achievement Award in 2020, and the Arlington Rotary Club’s Paul Harris Award for Community Service in 2019.


South Coastal Counties Legal Services, Fall River

Nagl_Susan (8388)Susan Nagl is a 2023 winner of the MBA’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

After moving to Massachusetts in 1988 to work in legal aid, Nagl dedicated herself to providing legal representation to low-income clients for more than 25 years. She became executive director at South Coastal Counties Legal Services in 2012 and served in that role through Feb. 28, 2023. Nagl is a past recipient of the MBA’s Community Service Award and was appointed to the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission in 2017.

Originally from the Midwest, Nagl began her legal career in private practice, providing representation, in part, to clients faced with criminal, involuntary hospitalization, and juvenile court proceedings. She later worked for a legal aid program, the Appalachian Research and Defense Fund of Kentucky Inc., where her practice included housing, employment and family matters.

During her career, Nagl has been privileged to witness the many ways in which quality legal representation helps families realize economic stability and opportunity.


Lawyers Clearinghouse, Boston

Perry_Maribeth (0680)Maribeth Perry is a 2023 winner of the MBA’s Lifetime Achievement Award. 
Perry became the executive director of Lawyers Clearinghouse in 1996. At the time, the Clearinghouse had no other full-time employees, a tiny budget, and a small network of partner law firms to assist with the organization’s two programs — the Nonprofit Assistance Program and the newly created Legal Clinic for the Homeless program. 

Over nearly 25 years as executive director, Perry dedicated her career to ensuring access to justice for individuals in need and nonprofit organizations across Massachusetts. Notably, she oversaw the addition of the Clearinghouse’s CORI Sealing Clinic and partnered with the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission and others to create, and later take on the management of, the Access to Justice Fellows Program. In 2020, even as she wound down her career, she helped steward the Clearinghouse through a time of great uncertainty as it pivoted to a fully virtual service model.

To this day, she remains a friend and champion of the Clearinghouse’s important pro bono work — work that has endured in part due to her decades of dedication and care.