June 15, 2014

2014 Harrison Tweed Awards Presented at ABA Annual Meeting

The Colorado Bar Association and the San Juan County (NM) Bar Association were each presented a Harrison Tweed Award during the American Bar Association 2014 Annual Meeting in Boston. This award, created in 1956, recognizes the extraordinary achievements of state and local bar associations that develop or significantly expand projects or programs to increase access to civil legal services for those living in poverty or criminal defense services for indigents. It is named for a leader in the promotion of free legal services to the poor and is co–sponsored by the ABA Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants (SCLAID) and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association (NLADA).

The activities of this year's winners demonstrate the wide range of activities that bars engage in to promote access to justice. SCLAID and NLADA congratulate both winning bar associations for their achievements and hope they will inspire other bar associations to increase their commitment to the provision of free legal services to those in desperate need of assistance.

Colorado Bar Association

Colorado Bar Association
From left to right: Don Saunders, Lisa Wood, Margrit Parker and Judge W. Terry Ruckriegle, accepting the award on behalf of the Colorado Bar Association

The Colorado Bar Association (CBA) is being honored for its Colorado Flood Legal Relief Program. The program was designed to provide limited legal assistance to victims of the devastating Colorado flooding that occurred in September 2013. Once President Obama issued the declaration of natural disaster, the CBA launched a cooperative effort with local and specialty bar associations, as well as legal aid providers to develop a plan responding to the disaster. Remarkably, a website was up and running within 24 hours, providing information to the public and a portal through which online applications for pro bono legal assistance could be completed.

The CBA also developed a helpline and legal clinics for flood victims. It hired a full–time managing attorney to oversee and match volunteers with those requesting assistance, a part–time flood coordinator, and an expert on disaster relief to provide training to volunteers. The program recruited 284 attorney volunteers who provided assistance through either the hotline or more extensive services. The program helped many people in need after the devastating floods and serves as a model for other states that may encounter disasters in the future.

 

San Juan County (New Mexico) Bar Association

San Juan County Bar Association
From left to right: Lisa Wood, Daniel Abeyta, Steven Johnston, Cathryn Abeyta, Erika Anderson and Don Saunders, accepting the award on behalf of the San Juan County Bar Association

Faced with more than a 20% funding cut to the only legal aid provider in the county, DNA–People's Legal Services (DNA), the San Juan County Bar Association (SJCBA) responded by greatly increasing its pro bono efforts in the past year. This 100–member bar located in a remote corner of New Mexico worked in partnership with DNA's Volunteer Lawyer Program (VLP) to bring together lawyers, judges, court personnel, pro bono committee members and support from the community to coordinate and enhance a variety of free legal clinics. N?early every member of the SJCBA participates in these clinics annually, enabling clinics to be held close to twice a month at either the courthouse, legal aid office or the local community college.

The SJCBA, in conjunction with its many partners, organized a county wide Legal Fair at which its members served over 300 low–income people. Through the willingness of SJCBA members to help fill the gap, the VLP has significantly increased free civil legal access through expanding pro bono services to those in need. These many efforts by the SJCBA to increase pro bono participation demonstrate that regardless of a bar's size and location, committed bar leaders and members can make a difference.