Recognizing the “unseen sacrifices of our noble profession,” the Massachusetts Bar Association’s 2009 Access to Justice Awards Luncheon honored two law firms and five attorneys on May 7 at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum in Boston.
“Achieving and preserving access to justice has remained paramount to this association,” said MBA President Edward W. McIntyre.
In addition to paying tribute to exemplary leaders in public service, McIntyre presented the 2009 Legislator of the Year Award to State Rep. Harold P. Naughton Jr. and the President’s Award to Jayne B. Tyrrell, executive director of the Massachusetts Interest on Lawyers’ Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program.
The MBA’s Access to Justice Section nominates the Access to Justice Award candidates, who are approved by the MBA House of Delegates.
“This year, not unlike other years, the candidates we reviewed were spectacular,” said Access to Justice Section Chair James T. Van Buren, who commented that these awards create a positive feeling within the bar and general population about the nature of lawyers.
Legal Services Award
Two attorneys were presented the Legal Services Award, which is given to a public or agency attorney who has made contributions beyond his or her required job responsibilities: Barbara Kaban of the Children’s Law Center in Lynn and James M. McCreight of Greater Boston Legal Services.
Honored “above all for [her] unyielding passion for disadvantaged children and youth,” Kaban touched lives with the funding she secured from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety, which was used to design and implement a program for gang-involved youth re-entering the Lynn community after incarceration.
Steven Touch, one of the “Boys of Lynn” helped by the re-entry program, spoke about Kaban’s influence on his life after his parents died when he was 14.
“Barbara fights for me and keeps my hopes up. She doesn’t judge me and my friends by color,” said Touch. “She is a great person and she helped me change my life around. I graduated from high school because of Barbara and I am about to go to school to become a lawyer like her.”
Crediting the “Boys of Lynn” as one of the reasons she is committed to the work she does, Kaban believes the boys show the “true meaning of resiliency and the importance of a genuine opportunity for a second chance.”
McCreight has worked for more than 25 years to ensure low-income tenants have access to secure affordable housing. With GBLS, McCreight has been involved with the Boston Housing Authority, working on class action suits, improving rent-setting, receivership cases and the recent Bridgewaters decision on reasonable accommodation.
Over the years, his work has helped give public housing residents a better understanding of their rights, as well as a greater say in Boston Housing Authority policies and redevelopment plans for their housing.
James Breslauer of Neighborhood Legal Services noted that McCreight has “dedicated his life to providing for those who have little,” sharing with attendees that a judge once commented he was pleased to see McCreight in his courtroom because he always learned something about the law when McCreight appeared there.
“It is always a good idea to try new things. It means you will be beaten up sometimes, but if you go along for the ride — you will win some too,” said McCreight. “It is important to keep your passion in the work.”
Pro Bono Award for Law Firms
Two law firms were honored with the Pro Bono Award for Law Firm, which is presented to firms whose meaningful pro bono activities are particularly noteworthy given the firm’s size: McDermott, Will & Emery of Boston and Tennant Lubell LLC of Newton.
Founded in 1934, much of McDermott, Will & Emery’s pro bono work in Boston involves children, including representing special needs children and juveniles who have been sentenced to life without parole. McDermott works closely with Citizen Schools, where it provides tutoring and mentoring services and runs a mock trial program.
Crediting pro bono group Co-Chairs Daniel Curto and Melissa Nott-Davis for “bringing a passion to pro bono work that is contagious,” Marilyn Ray Smith of the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, Child Support Division said that McDermott, Will & Emery “makes a deliberate effort to legitimize pro bono work.”
The firm uses a formal system to encourage pro bono work. In the Boston office, 87 percent of McDermott’s attorneys do some type of pro bono work during the year and 55 percent commit to more than 50 hours a year.
“Much of the impetus of what we have done firm-wide originated out of our Boston office,” said McDermott, Will & Emery Chairman Harvey W. Freishtat, who accepted the award on behalf of the firm. “We are committed to serving public interests.”
Tennant Lubell LLC, a two-person law firm, has represented a Guantanamo detainee for three years, assuming the costs of travel, translation and interpreter services to defend an individual they believe to be wrongly imprisoned.
“Representing a Guantanamo detainee is not only unpopular, but it is not easy,” said MBA Past President Michael E. Mone, who explained the emotional burden of meeting with a detainee and being that prisoner’s only hope.
Doris Tennant spoke of the abuse of the rule of law at Guantanamo, noting that some high-level government lawyers, who took the same “oath that we did, deny access to justice to those whose torture they enabled . . . it is equally important to bring to justice those who dare to act as though the law of the land does not apply to them.”
“As lawyers, we thought we had to do something to oppose our government,” said Ellen Lubell, who spoke about the difficulties of preparing for a case when you are not permitted to tell a client what he is charged with.
Pro Bono Publico Award
Wendy J. Rickles, a solo practitioner in Worcester, was presented the Pro Bono Publico Award, which is given to an individual who has been instrumental in developing, implementing and supporting pro bono programs for the MBA, a local bar association, law firm or agency.
In addition to running a solo practice focusing on criminal, family and employment law, she is an active member of the Worcester County Bar Association’s Committee on Services to the Poor and Homeless.
Through the WCBA, Rickles founded the Mustard Seed Dinners at a local homeless shelter in Worcester. Several times a year, Rickles plans menus and enlists volunteers to provide, cook and serve food to more than 150 homeless or low-income individuals. In addition, Rickles also contributes to dinners at the Veterans’ Shelter, which serves more than 100 meals every night.
Rickles said “lawyers are often easy targets for being considered selfish and uncaring.” Dedicated to spending at least one hour a day on some kind of volunteer activity, Rickles explained that she believes her award recognizes community service and the attorneys willing to give time and resources.
Lawrence J. McGuire, the recipient of the Defender Award, was lauded as a man who “leads by example and is meticulous about protecting the record.” McGuire is a zealous advocate committed to defending the indigent.
The award is given to a public or non-profit agency attorney who provides or contributes to the provision of criminal legal services to low-income clients.
Known as a committed, hard-working attorney, his peers claim that if you have a legal question — between LexisNexis and Lawrence J. McGuire — McGuire would be faster and more accurate.
McGuire, while accepting the award, declined to accept it for himself alone, saying that it is owed to every dedicated lawyer in Essex County who goes “into the trenches everyday and is doing the absolute best for the poor or indigent in Essex county.”
Aloke Chakravarty, who received the Prosecutor Award, was deeply impacted by Sept. 11, 2001, and “sought a way to provide for aggressive counter-terrorism enforcement as well as aggressive protection of civil liberties.”
“His approach is a nontraditional approach that helps bridge the gap between his world and the attorney general’s office,” said Richard McMahon of the New Center for Legal Advocacy Inc., noting that on Sept. 11, Chakravarty’s wife was trapped in the subway beneath the World Trade Center.
The award is bestowed upon a state or federal prosecutor who has distinguished him or herself in public service.
“My mandate is to uphold the rule of law,” said Chakravarty, who spoke about his work in Southeastern Asian communities. “I am cutting away at ignorance and building trust. I refuse to succumb to the attitude that we can’t make something better. It has to start somewhere — in a courtroom, but outside a courtroom as well, because it comes back in. Rule of law can help enfranchise a community. We can make things better if there is a common will.”
McIntyre honored Jayne B. Tyrrell with the President’s Award, given to individuals who have made a significant contribution to the work of the MBA, its values and success of its initiatives by promoting the MBA’s leadership role within the legal community.
Tyrrell has been with Massachusetts IOLTA for nearly two decades, and continues her work encouraging banks to offer IOLTA savings rates equal to that of commercial accounts.
Tyrrell is a past president of the National Association of IOLTA Programs. She is the co-chair of the Boston Bar Association Task Force on Expanding the Right to Counsel and is a member of the National Coalition on Civil Right to Counsel and the Supreme Judicial Court Working Group on Limited Assistance Representation. She also served on the litigation strategy team when
IOLTA’s constitutionality was challenged at the federal level. “Jayne knows more than most and is having a positive impact on people’s work today,” said McIntyre.
“This is a humbling experience to stand here with those who have helped preserve rule of law and children’s rights,” said Tyrrell.
Legislator of the Year
State Rep. Harold P. Naughton Jr. of Clinton, who accepted the Legislator of the Year award, received high praise from McIntyre: “As a resident of Clinton, I have seen the difference Naughton has made in the lives of constituents and in their communities.”
The award is presented annually to a state or federal legislator who has distinguished himself or herself in public service through outstanding contributions to the legal profession, courts and administration of justice.
During his 14 years as a state representative, Naughton has supported proper court funding and fair compensation for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, bar advocates and district attorneys, as well as new courthouse construction throughout the commonwealth.
Naughton, a member of the Joint Committee on Veterans and Federal Affairs since its inception in 2005, took over as House chair in February.
Naughton, who was honored by the award “bestowed upon me by my brothers and sisters of the bar,” credited the bar with leading the way in these troubled times, noting that he would remember the day in “the glory that I had such friends.”