MBA President Warren Fitzgerald opened the annual Access to Justice Awards Luncheon on Friday, March 24 by praising the exceptional efforts that lawyers make in helping those less fortunate.
"Much of the Massachusetts Bar's efforts are directed to helping give a voice to those who have none," he said.
Jim Braude, the keynote speaker, hosts New England Cable News Network's "NewsNight" and co-hosts a talk radio show on WTKK-FM 96.9 with the Boston Herald's Margery Eagan. He described in amusing detail his first day as a legal services lawyer in the South Bronx in New York.
He recalled meeting his first client Ñ shortly into his first day Ñ who promptly told him, "I don't want no legal aid lawyer, I want a real lawyer," to laughs from the audience. Then he explained his client's legal problem: she had the audacity of expecting to raise her daughter in a rat-free apartment.
Braude said the seven years he worked for legal services shaped his entire career.
"Every single thing I've done that's been good has been inspired by the work I did in the South Bronx decades ago trying to give a voice to those who have none," he said.
Access to Justice Section Council chair Jacquelynne Bowman introduced the Legal Services Award recipients, Susan F. Cole, a senior project director at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, and James R. Pingeon, litigation director of the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services.
Cole urged the audience to work on advancing the cause of children whose lives have been disrupted by domestic violence.
"Our bar can play a key role in these issues," she said. "We must work to ensure that children who are traumatized can be helped to overcome their experience. I thank you for the recognition of our work."
Pingeon, an authority on litigating prison cases, noted that the United States accounts for 25 percent of the world's prison population, with 300,000 prisoners with schizophrenia or other serious mental illnesses and 100,000 who are mentally retarded.
He described the deplorable conditions many of his clients live in at places like M.C.I.-Walpole. "It's no exaggeration to say that it feels like you're walking into hell," he said. "If any rehabilitation takes place in the prison system, it's in spite of the Department of Corrections, not because of it."
In introducing Defender Award recipient Nona E. Walker, a supervising attorney in the appeals unit of the Massachusetts Committee for Public Counsel Services, MBA President-elect Mark Mason said, "Nona embodies the very spirit of the MBA's Defender Award."
Lawrence E. Cohen was presented the Pro Bono Publico Award. He is a longstanding member of the Worcester County Bar Association's Committee on Services to the Poor and Homeless.
Mark Tan Lee was presented the Prosecutor Award. Lee is the chief of the senior trial unit in the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office.
Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr LLP was presented with the Pro Bono Award for Law Firms based on its generous and long-term support for pro bono programs, its employees representation of indigent clients and its commitment to the plaintiff children and their families in Rosie D. v. Swift.