Pro Bono Publico Awards

2007 Awards Recipients

Robert E. Borton

Robert Borton has been a leader in the development of pro bono services to the poor for the past three decades, both through his management of his firm's pro bono practice and his individual representation of low income clients. Working with a number of legal services organizations, Mr. Borton has paired many teams of pro bono attorneys from his firm with public interest attorneys bringing civil rights cases and class actions on behalf of immigrants, children and families, women prisoners, and other groups. He has assisted in setting up pro bono legal clinics and has himself contributed hundreds of hours of his own time to representing indigent people in class action lawsuits and individual cases.

Mr. Borton has also been extremely generous with his firm's resources. He has invited young attorneys from legal services agencies to attend his firm's in-house litigation training program, providing them with comprehensive training free of charge. He has also marshaled attorney involvement in activities ranging from research support for policy impact cases to organizing of a team of 13 attorneys in his firm to teach 120 Oakland high school students about civil rights.

In addition to his own handling of pro bono cases, Mr. Borton has made taking pro bono cases an integral part of his firm's training and culture. Mr. Borton is particularly committed to encouraging pro bono involvement among newer associates and engaging his and other law firms to staff clinics and provide resources to legal services agencies. Because of his many years of pro bono service, Mr. Borton has won a number of pro bono awards, including the State Bar of California's President's Pro Bono Service Award, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Robert Sproul Pro Bono Award, the San Francisco Bar Association Award of Merit and the San Francisco Legal Aid Society's Roll Call for Justice Award.

Derfner, Altman & Wilborn

Derfner, Altman & Wilborn is a small firm with a big heart. This Charleston, SC firm is exemplary in its dedication to pro bono, especially in the area of civil rights. This year, two of the individual attorneys in the firm, Peter Wilborn and Jonathan Altman, won South Carolina Bar Association pro bono awards.

The firm's lawyers annually spend more than a quarter of their time on pro bono cases. They specialize in representing community groups in controversies that often end in litigation. Some of their recent projects have involved a successful suit to redraw County Council election districts to end discrimination, a successful suit saving a historic African-American cemetery, and a series of suits that have saved the land and homes of a group of African-Americans who were the targets - and almost the victims - of highly sophisticated real estate scams.

The firm's lawyers work together on all of these issues and they have been recognized for their work by the South Carolina Bar Association, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights under Law, the NAACP, and other community and civil rights groups.

Armand Derfner, the founding member of the firm, has always had a passion for defending the underdog. He has particularly focused his efforts on civil rights matters. Mr. Derfner has won numerous cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. He has worked on the Voting Rights Act - litigation and working on legislation - throughout its history from passage in 1965 through the most recent re-authorization by Congress in 2006. In Charleston, he challenged the County Council's at large system of elections, arguing that the system discriminates against black voters. Among other recognition, Mr. Derfner has received the Trial Lawyer of the Year award by Trial Lawyers for Public Justice for his work in the desegregation of Mississippi's university system.

Jonathan Altman focuses on consumer law and personal injury. He leads the firm's efforts representing the victims -- primarily African American -- of real estate scams. He worked locally in a case involving the Remley's Point community, an African-American community in Charleston County, against the sale and development of the community's historic cemetery. After five years of litigation, the case resulted in a verdict permanently protecting the cemetery and dedicating it to the public. He is also involved with housing issues, serving as chairman of a commission that promotes home ownership and works to develop policies to achieve more affordable housing in the Charleston area.

D. Peters Wilborn, Jr. successfully addresses legal need in both the microcosm of local issues and the macrocosm of global human rights. In his practice, he focuses on representation of community groups, labor law and election law. He gives generously of his time to local legal aid groups, informing low income consumers of their rights and training other lawyers to be consumer advocates. Two of his cases that received local and national coverage include his representation of a rural African-American community known as Red Top in its fight against suburban sprawl and his assistance to eliminate blatant racial discrimination by a city and some of its businesses towards African American riders during "Black Biker Week". Mr. Wilborn is also a dedicated cycling and pedestrian advocate, serving on the board of the East Coast Greenway Alliance.

Stephen H. Oleskey

Stephen H. Oleskey is a partner in the Boston, Massachusetts office of WilmerHale. He has been an integral part of the firm's Pro Bono and Community Service Committee since 1969. Mr. Oleskey is deeply concerned with the efficacy of the delivery system of legal services to the poor and committed to fostering the spirit of pro bono in future generations of attorneys.

Mr. Oleskey's pro bono clients and their needs vary widely and illustrate the breadth of his skill. For example, he has been involved in a range of cases such as a three-year on-going New York child custody dispute to acting as lead counsel in the firm's largest and most significant pro bono matter, Boumediene et al. v. Bush, representing six detainees at the United States Naval Base Guantanamo Bay.

Steve's decades of service include significant leadership in various local, national and international legal and social organizations. Whether holding a director or chair position at Boston's most prominent legal service centers or serving as director of Food Corp International, a program that provides research, training and low-cost technology to low income international rural communities, Mr. Oleskey is deeply involved in ensuring access to justice for all.

Mr. Oleskey's dedication to access to justice has been recognized on many occasions. He has been honored with the 1992 Thurgood Marshall Award from the Boston Bar Association, recognized by the International Senior Lawyers Project for his outstanding pro bono services to the Socio-Legal Information Centre in New Delhi, India, received the Massachusetts Correctional Legal Services "Distinguished Service Award" in 2005, and was presented with WilmerHale's own John H. Pickering Award for Pro Bono Activities in 2005.

For four decades, Mr. Oleskey has not only made pro bono representation a priority in his own career, but has also been an inspirational leader. He strives to make a lasting impact on the delivery and quality of services available to indigent clients, undertake high-impact, precedent-setting matters and give a voice to the least powerful in our society.

Sidley Austin LLP

An international firm, Sidley Austin LLP has had a long tradition of pro bono service. The firm's pro bono policy strongly encourages all attorneys to devote time to pro bono legal matters. Sidley places no limit on the number of pro bono hours an attorney can work and strives to ensure that the number of hours of pro bono service equals 3% of the firm's total billable hours.

Over the past decade, Sidley attorneys have provided over 300,000 hours of pro bono legal service and in 2006 alone, provided 75,000 hours on pro bono matters - an increase of almost 50% from 2005. The pro bono legal matters that Sidley has undertaken have varied in scope-from individual cases in areas of child custody and landlord/tenant to U.S. Supreme Court cases potentially affecting millions of people.

In 2005 Sidley initiated a firm-wide death penalty litigation project. In response to the overwhelming need for legal assistance for poor prisoners on death row in Alabama, Sidley attorneys have stepped in to represent an unprecedented 18 death row inmates. Over 112 Sidley attorneys from around the country are participating in this effort and donated more than 18,000 hours of their time in 2006. In recognition of this tremendous contribution, the ABA presented Sidley with its first ever Death Penalty Representation Volunteer Award in 2006.

Furthermore, in 2006, Sidley launched a firm-wide Political Asylum Project to centralize and coordinate the firm's management of asylum cases. Sidley now has a centralized database of materials and attorneys interested in providing representation and provides training and mentoring to its attorneys in this area.

Patricia Yoedicke - ANN LIECHTY AWARD

Patricia Yoedicke is this year's Ann Liechty Child Custody and Adoption Pro Bono Project Award recipient. Ms. Yoedicke is an attorney with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Since 2000, Ms. Yoedicke has provided close to 800 pro bono hours representing children through the Children's Law Center of Minnesota. These children are state wards whose parents' rights have been terminated. Under Minnesota law, these children are not entitled to representation after the point at which their parents' rights are terminated. Ms. Yoedicke's volunteer representation fills the void for the children she represents. She has often been the most consistent person in these children's lives, and she treats them with respect and professionalism equal to her adult clients.

For each of her child clients, Ms. Yoedicke spends time ascertaining their wishes, explaining available options, consulting with social service providers, and making sure their voices are heard in court. For example, she worked diligently to keep three siblings together in a permanent placement after the proposed adoptive parent decided she only wanted to adopt one of the children. She also represented a child who had contacted the Children's Law Center requesting an attorney to help him get adopted. Ms. Yoedicke was able to successfully assist this child with an adoption placement, helped negotiate a visitation agreement with the child's biological brother, and worked diligently to maintain this placement for the child after the county refused to allow the child to remain in the home. As Ms. Yoedicke says about her pro bono work with children, "The most important message I hope to convey to my clients is that their hopes and dreams can make a difference."