September 6, 2022

By William Cracraft

Top row, L-R: Chi Soo Kim, executive assistant U.S. attorney, Eastern District of California; Tracy Morris, executive director of the Federal Civil Rights Legal Clinic, Seattle, Wash.; Lupe C. Rodriguez, Jr. sole practitioner, San Diego, Calif.

Bottom row, L-R: Misty Perry Isaacson, chair-elect of the LRCC, Santa Ana, Calif.; Licia Vaughn, co-chair of the Southern District of California lawyer representatives; Lydia Anderson-Dana of Oregon’s Free Federal Law Clinic.

Throughout the Ninth Circuit, scores of lawyers step up to provide pro bono assistance to people who are financially unable to retain counsel for legal advice. Many thanks to the Ninth Circuit’s Lawyer Representatives Coordinating Committee (LRCC) for providing the names and efforts of some of the lawyer representatives throughout the circuit who provided pro bono services in 2021.

Central District of California
Misty Perry Isaacson, chair-elect of the LRCC, volunteers with the Public Law Center (PLC) in Orange County and trains pro bono lawyers on how to draft Chapter 7 bankruptcy documents for potential PLC clients. Those who attend the training agree to work in the Central District Bankruptcy Court Santa Ana Division clinic. “I’ve done it for years, and we typically have two training sessions each year,” said Isaacson. “Due to the pandemic, we only had one training session in 2021.”

Each year, the Central District of California publishes its honor roll of those providing pro bono services. The full list can be found online.

Eastern District of California
The Sacramento Chapter of the Federal Bar Association in the Eastern District of California presented its 2021 Joe Ramsey Award for Excellence in Pro Bono Service to Professor Carter “Cappy” White, a long-time member of the Eastern District of California’s Pro Bono Panel, who was the first person to accept a pro bono appointment in the district. In her congratulatory letter to White, Chief District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, noted White’s consistent “commitment to pro bono service by working with law students, introducing them to federal pro bono practice and planning and executing several pro bono training events. As the supervising attorney for the Civil Rights Clinic at the UC Davis School of Law, you are a valued source of institutional knowledge and a supervisor and mentor within the law school community,” Judge Mueller added.

The court presented its inaugural civics award to Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Chi Soo Kim in recognition of her remarkable public service, demonstrating outstanding commitment to promoting civics education and enhancing the public’s understanding of the role of the courts in our constitutional democracy. “Chi Soo’s volunteer work throughout the Eastern District with Operation Protect & Defend in particular is emblematic of the efforts courts depend on, given our reliance on public acceptance and trust to function as intended,” noted Judge Mueller.

The district also benefited from speakers arranged by the Federal Bar Association. Heather Tiffee with Capital Pro Bono, formerly Voluntary Legal Services Program, spoke of the importance of pro bono work as a core value of the legal profession and emphasized the many gifts one receives by giving back, including deeply meaningful relationships with pro bono clients.

Grace Yoon with My Sister’s House, a local nonprofit organization that serves Asian and Pacific Islanders and other underserved women and children impacted by domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking, encouraged attorneys to volunteer with her organization, which has remained open during the COVID-19 pandemic, and provides case sensitive representation in family law matters such as domestic violence restraining orders, custody and divorce.

The Eastern District routinely identifies need for counsel in moving a case forward or trying a case to a jury. Sujean Park, the district court’s alternative dispute resolution (ADR) director, matches attorneys and neutrals with cases, and its bankruptcy court offers complementary programs.

“Thanks to your dedication, our Pro Bono Panel, Voluntary Dispute Resolution Panel, Pro Se Help Days and Bankruptcy Court’s Help Desk shine as vital, essential components of our court’s equal justice infrastructure,” said Judge Mueller in her message to the district. “Because of your pro bono service, we can be sure the less fortunate have access to justice, even when they cannot afford legal representation.”

Southern District of California
Licia Vaughn, co-chair of the Southern District of California lawyer representatives, assisted a veteran in negotiating and settling a contested family estate. She regularly represents homeless veterans in the San Diego Superior Court’s “Homeless Court” program, which addresses misdemeanor offenses and often dismisses fines for veterans who submit proof of completion of significant treatment program activities. Vaughn helped establish pro bono opportunities for non-lawyers with Reality Changers San Diego, an organization that prepares youths to become first-generation college graduates and agents of change in their communities. She also advised two churches in trademark disputes.

Lawyer Representative J. Barrett Marum assisted a veteran on a consulting basis with his lawsuit alleging theft of cryptocurrency, and he represented another veteran in the preparation of his Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition and related documents. Both projects are through the Veterans Legal Institute. Marum, working through the Alliance for Children’s Rights, began a representation of a foster mother to adopt her foster child.

Lawyer Representative Vincent J. Bartolotta, Jr., was the 2018 president and is a long-time member of the board of directors of San Diego Nice Guys, a charitable organization which raises about $1 million annually to help families who have somehow “fallen through the cracks.” He is co-chair of the St. Vincent de Paul Hundred Million Dollar Capital Campaign and Semper Fi/Injured Marine Fund, which assists with medical care and needs of wounded Marines. He is an organizer of building projects, medical clinics and Christmas projects for orphaned Mexican children.

A solo practitioner, Lupe C. Rodriguez, Jr., has been doing pro bono work primarily through his church and community organizations for a number of years. In 2019, he reached his goal of assisting 50 pro bono clients with various concerns including low level criminal cases, contract formation and review and small claims issues. “I have multiple attorneys that I refer pro bono work to if it is an area I do not handle,” he said. “The pandemic really curtailed my pro bono work in 2020 and 2021. I am ramping up my pro bono outreach for 2021 in the hopes of getting back to a minimum of 50 pro bono clients per year.” Rodriguez is currently working on forming an umbrella nonprofit to facilitate including other attorneys in the community in pro bono work. “Hopefully, I can get it up and running by the end of the year,” he said.

Districts of Guam and Northern Mariana Islands
The District Court of Guam has held a number of pro bono events designed to address concerns in communities. On Aug. 24, 2021, the district held its annual Power Act outreach event.

Attendees watched a video with Guam first responders relating their experiences handling domestic violence and sexual assault cases. The video was followed by a panel discussion including Chief District Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood; Cynthia V. Ecube, Esq., lawyer representative; Cynthia Cabot, director, Guam Coalition Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault; and Jacqueline Terlaje, president, Guam Bar Association. Over 150 attended.

The Pacific Judicial Council has partnered with the executive and legislative branches of government in Micronesia to take on the rising level of violence in their islands.

District of Oregon
Lydia Anderson-Dana and Bryan Dearinger run Oregon’s Free Federal Law Clinic as its attorney ambassadors. The clinic is a volunteer lawyer program created by the Oregon Chapter of the Federal Bar Association which improves access to justice and assists pro se litigants with civil cases filed in federal court. Volunteers gain exposure to substantive areas like civil rights, employment law and Social Security. The clinic provides coordination of volunteers with litigants and, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the clinic moved to phone and video consultations. The clinic has applied to the Oregon State Bar for OSB Certified Pro Bono status, which will deepen the pool of eligible volunteer attorneys, provide OSB-funded professional liability coverage to all volunteers and, most importantly, enable more litigants the opportunity to consult with an attorney.

Western District of Washington
For nearly 15 years, the Federal Bar Association for the Western District of Washington has sponsored a free Federal Civil Rights Legal Clinic for pro se litigants. What began as one of many pro bono ideas developed into a robust district-wide legal clinic serving the public good.

In 2003, a taskforce of the FBA-WDWA examined the availability of legal services for pro se litigants in this district. The taskforce identified a gap in resources to assist pro se litigants with federal questions. One idea the taskforce proposed was a periodic federal legal clinic. “I was, at the time, in-house counsel at Microsoft, volunteering at our county bar association’s neighborhood legal clinic,” said Tracy M. Morris, now executive director of the clinic, “when I saw the need to assist clients with federal civil rights issues. I worked closely with our FBA-WDWA, our local bar association, and our federal judges — in particular, judges Robert S. Lasnik, Marsha J. Pechman, and current Chief District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez — to launch the Federal Civil Rights Legal Clinic.”

The clinic has provided legal aid to more than 1,600 pro se litigants. “Thanks to incredible bench and bar support — and innovative clerks of court — the executive director position is now funded, and the clinics are well-positioned to continue for decades to come,” said Morris.

The clinic’s ability to support an underserved population was built on the shoulders of a talented group of volunteers who recognize the unique privilege their positions within the legal system affords them, said Morris. Veteran volunteer attorney Roger M. Townsend, vice chair of the LRCC, states: “Providing direct service to a vulnerable population at the clinic connects me to why I went to law school. Pro bono work is a way to stay true to the values that made me want to be a lawyer.”