Access to Justice Awards recognize profession’s best

Issue May 2011 By Bill Archambeault, Jennifer Rosinski and Tricia M. Oliver

The Massachusetts Bar Association will honor five attorneys and one law firm at the Access to Justice Awards Luncheon May 18 for their efforts in providing exemplary legal services to the public. Lt. Gov. Timothy P. Murray will deliver the keynote address and be honored with an MBA Centennial Award. The noon event will be held at the Boston Sheraton.

Murray will be presented with the MBA's Centennial Award, which has been and will continue to be bestowed across the state throughout the MBA's 100th anniversary commemoration.

As lieutenant governor, he works closely with Gov. Deval Patrick on important issues facing the commonwealth, chairs 10 policy-related councils (and co-chairs an 11th) and is the administrative liaison to cities and towns. Murray previously served as mayor of Worcester for three terms and sat on the Worcester City Council.

A Worcester native, Murray earned his bachelor's degree at Fordham University, then put himself through law school attending classes at night while working days as a substitute school teacher and an advocate for homeless families. Murray earned his law degree from the Western New England College School of Law in Springfield and became a partner in the Worcester firm of Tattan, Leonard and Murray.

The MBA's Centennial Award is given to persons of extraordinary achievement who materially advanced the rule of law, enhanced the integrity of lawyers, judges or the legal profession, engaged in important legal scholarship, or protected the democratic principles upon which our country is founded.

MBA Access to Justice Section Chair Jayne Tyrrell and Vice Chair Charles Vander Linden presented the report of the Access to Justice Award nominees at the March meeting of the MBA's House of Delegates, who unanimously approved the following roster of attorneys to be recognized at the May 18 luncheon.

"These lawyers are a source of inspiration to all of us for their tireless commitment to helping the commonwealth's most needy individuals," said MBA President Denise Squillante. "We applaud and congratulate their hard work on behalf of access to justice."

Legal Services Award

Daniel S. Manning
Greater Boston Legal Services, Boston

Daniel S. Manning went to law school -- graduating from Boston University Law School in 1973 -- to be a legal aid attorney.

"In that era, there was a lot of belief that you could fight poverty and make a difference in people's lives," said Manning, who's worked for Greater Boston Legal Services his entire career and now oversees major projects as director of litigation.

In collaboration with other groups, for example, he helped settle class action lawsuits with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, in 2006, and two local hospitals, in 2009, to improve access for people with disabilities.

"That's the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and we're trying to make that a reality. There's a great deal of satisfaction in seeing something work that didn't work before," he said.

For 15 years, Manning has spent a couple of weeks a year away from GBLS training and advising legal aid workers in countries with fewer resources or government structure to assist them.

"I've learned a lot from it," he said. "Advocacy is needed on behalf of poor people everywhere and I've been fortunate enough to be involved in some of that. I've been really impressed by how small legal aid organizations have made a big difference. Using basic advocacy skills, they're able to make a difference, which is very inspiring to see."

While there may be fewer obstacles for legal aid workers here, funding shortfalls have hit hard.

"These are very difficult times for Greater Boston Legal Services because of funding. That's a reality, that we've got more people needing our help and fewer people to provide that help. We need all the support we can get. These are vital times for legal services, and difficult times."

Manning appreciates the award. "I've had so many colleagues who deserve this kind of recognition as well. It's been a collaborative effort throughout my career, and I appreciate the recognition for my part of it."

Legal Services Award

Linda L. Landry
Disability Law Center, Boston

Disability Law Center Senior Attorney Linda J. Landry has always worked for nonprofit organizations, but she finds helping the disabled particularly rewarding. Even though she doesn't get to handle as many cases as she'd like because of her administrative duties, she appreciates that it's an area where she can see results, whether it's changing policies or winning cases.

"I always liked doing the disability benefit work because you can win real money for people," she said. "I love working with the disability community, it's very collegial and we do some good."

After graduating from Northeastern University School of Law in 1981, she went to work for the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, then joined Neighborhood Legal Services in Lynn, where she represented individuals with cases involving Social Security, Supplemental Security Income, Medicare and Medicaid, unemployment compensation and housing issues.

Landry is in her 20th year at the Disability Law Center, a resource center for policy work, technical assistance to legal services lawyers, community advocates and others assisting the poor. The center provides local training, writes articles and contributes amicus briefs, along with generally helping organize and advise those handling disability cases.

"It's the bringing together of people who do the work, to answer their questions, and raise questions, do trainings."
Related to her duties at the center is the SSI Coalition, an association of legal services and private attorneys working for disabled and indigent citizens that was founded in 1983.

Landry, who also provides training for consumer groups and legal and social services agencies, has received the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives Distinguished Service Award.

"It's quite an honor," she said of the MBA's Legal Services Award. "I don't think I do flashy work, and I wouldn't have expected to get this. I'm humbled."

Pro bono publico award

Eleanor J. Newhoff
Newhoff Law, Cambridge

As an art history major in college, Eleanor J. Newhoff did volunteer work in St. Louis, where she saw firsthand that people needed professional legal help. So she went to law school to help them.

"I had volunteered in the community and saw the need," she said. "I realized that advocacy was something I really liked and made a difference in people's lives."

Focusing on immigration law, Newhoff joined the Immigration and Human Rights Unit of Greater Boston Legal Services while maintaining a private practice in Cambridge. She focused exclusively on private practice in 2000, but with an unusual devotion to those in need.

"I don't turn people away if I see that they have nowhere else to go," said Newhoff, who maintains around 20 pro bono cases at a time. Some are complex family cases involving women subjected to violence, but even the simpler ones can have a significant impact, she said.

"Some of these cases are a huge investment of time, and some I might put in 10 hours of time, but it will change their world."

Newhoff said she was surprised to receive the MBA award.

"You do something for so many years … it was a wonderful thing. I feel wonderful about it, but I can't say understand it."

Newhoff added that she's glad the awards are given, since it draws attention to the need for pro bono work. It's great when a lawyer handles a single pro bono case a year, she said, but "why not five?" She said she'd love to see lawyers take on more pro bono cases, participate in lawyer-for-a-day programs or find other ways to help people of limited means.

"I think there should be awards of this kind," she said. "People should be encouraged to do pro bono."

Defender Award

Radha Natarajan
Committee for Public Counsel Services

Radha Natarajan knew she wanted to pursue public interest law before she was admitted to New York University School of Law. It was her work with a federal judge in New York that guided her to begin a career in criminal justice.

"I wanted to make a difference. It came from my ethos, my parents, my upbringing," said Natarajan.

While reviewing federal trial transcripts associated with habeas corpus petitions as part of an internship, she was struck with a feeling of injustice. "From there I chose to pursue criminal work at the trial level. This is where the basic rights and liberties are determined," said Natarajan, who currently serves as the vice chair of the MBA's Criminal Justice Section.

Through her current work as a public defender in the Somerville Superior Court office for the Committee for Public Counsel Services, Natarajan represents indigent persons charged with felony offenses in Cambridge, Somerville, Malden, Woburn and Middlesex Superior Court.

Natarajan considers her last jury trial one of her most meaningful cases to date. The jury rendered a not guilty verdict for her client -- a homeless, African-American veteran accused of attempted bank robbery.

"The case was really a story about race … how people see our clients," she said. "This victory was such a vindication of his right to be free. My client earned that right to walk into the bank, he even fought for that right."

Natarajan's position with CPCS allows her to pair her commitment to clients with her interest in mentoring and community involvement. She is responsible for hiring and supervising law student interns and has trained peer attorneys at CPCS. She has also dedicated a portion of her time away from the office to mentor local high school students as part of a tutoring program for South Asian students.

Prior to her time in CPCS' Somerville office, she worked in CPCS' Roxbury Defenders Unit. Through her work in the Roxbury community, she became involved in neighborhood-based ex-offender re-entry and prevention initiatives.

"I take this Defender Award honor as a promise of what I need to do and want to do in the future," said Natarajan, who is only in her eighth year of practice. Ironically, she is officemates with last year's Defender Award honoree, Beth Eisenberg, who serves as a mentor to Natarajan.

"Unlike when Beth received the honor, I don't see this as a testament to what I've done so far in my career. Instead, it serves as an inspiration to what I hope to achieve in the future, both for my clients and my community."

Pro Bono award for law firms

Law Offices of Howard Friedman

Receiving an honor for the work of his firm surprised Howard Friedman. The firm's clients typically have criminal records or are facing charges. "You don't see people being honored for this kind of work."

The firm, which also includes attorney David Milton and paralegal Carmen Guhn-Knight, focuses its practice in the area of civil rights and has successfully represented minorities and prisoners, as well as victims of various forms of police misconduct, including illegal strip searches.

"What we're doing is really reinforcing the Constitution. Without a lawsuit, it's just a piece of paper," Friedman said. "It's important to set guidelines and let people know that people enforcing the law are not above the law. They have to abide by the rules, too."

While the work can be hard, it's also very rewarding, Friedman said. Among his greatest achievements is a case he worked on with Merrimack Valley Legal Services that accused the Lawrence Police Department of violating the Fourth Amendment of Lawrence citizens.

Boston's Federal Court in 1992 ruled it was unconstitutional for Lawrence police officers to enforce an order by then-Mayor Kevin Sullivan to seize the welfare cards of anyone who came in contact with police. "That was a great victory," said Friedman, who enjoyed collaborating with legal aid because he had previously worked in the office.

One of Friedman's most widely known cases is Mack v. Suffolk County, which resulted in sweeping changes that included the Boston Police Department building a lockup for female detainees and an increase in police and agency training across the sate to ensure legal strip search policies. The firm won a $10 million settlement on behalf of 5,400 women who were illegally strip searched as part of admissions at the Suffolk County Jail.

"The great thing about this work is if you have a victory, it does have a ripple effect," Friedman said. "That's the best part of the job."

Prosecutor Award

Katharine B. Folger
Middlesex District Attorney's Office, Woburn

Working with children was a natural fit for Katharine Folger. The oldest of six, Folger spent much of her youth babysitting. She also taught junior league tennis in college and studied child occupational therapy before she earned her law degree and joined the Middlesex District Attorney's office Child Abuse Unit, of which she is chief.

"I meet just amazing children that still find joy in life and survive what they've been through," said Folger, who has been told by many young children that the trial process is the hardest part of their experience. "It's long. It's drawn out. It's not easy."

Folger manages her own caseload while also supervising 20 in the department, which reviews more than 1,000 investigations each year into child sexual and physical abuse, deaths and child pornography. "It sounds kind of silly, but trying to make the world a better place" is one of the goals of Folger's career, and why she finds it so rewarding.

Convincing jurors that child abuse really happens is among the most challenging parts of Folger's job, requiring her to frame her cases carefully. "The world is a prettier place without child abuse in it," she said. "[Jurors] say, 'I don't need to listen to this kid because this stuff doesn't happen.'"

While Folger said she is proud of accomplishments related to specific cases -- including making sure children are handled appropriately legally and emotionally when interviewed -- she considers her most significant professional achievement to be last April's launch of the state's first online training for those mandated to report child abuse. The project now has more than 10,000 registrants who have been trained to recognize and report on child abuse and neglect.

"Reporting of abuse is so critical, and it's always something that was underreported … Obviously, this helps bring to the forefront our mandated reporting laws," Folger said. "I feel like that's making a huge difference."