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August 05, 2023

7 pro bono champions to inspire us all

Two entities of the American Bar Association honored on Aug. 4 a total of six individuals and a law firm for their pro bono efforts or special service to those in need at the 2023 ABA Annual Meeting.

The joint reception at the Hyatt Regency Denver combined honorees of the Pro Bono Publico Award, which annually recognizes individuals and entities for demonstrating outstanding commitment to volunteer legal services for low-income and disadvantaged persons, and the Corbitt and Kaye awards. The Corbitt Award honors individuals for exceptional service and leadership and the Kaye Award spotlights judicial excellence in the area of sexual and domestic violence.

The pro bono awards have been presented annually since 1984 and represent the top honor given by the ABA Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service. The Corbitt and Kaye awards are given by the ABA Commission on Domestic & Sexual Violence.

“We not only thank (the honorees) but they inspire the rest of us to do more,” ABA President Deborah Ross-Enix said at the ceremony, the first joint event for the two ABA groups.

The Pro Bono Publico Award honorees are:

  • Charles B. (Charlie) Phillips of Salem, Virginia, who retired from his law practice in June 2018 at the age of 80, and he has continued providing services with pro bono emeritus status in the Roanoke office of Blue Ridge Legal Services.
  • Karen R. King of New York, a partner at Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello PC, King. She was lauded for her longtime pro bono work, most recently for the Asian American Bar Association of New York to address anti-Asian hate and violence during the COVID-19 pandemic, and her work with Sanctuary for Families to assist survivors of gender-based violence.
  • David Cross of Washington, D.C., who in addition to his antitrust practice at Morrison Foerster, Cross maintains a robust pro bono practice focused on protecting civil rights. Cross dedicates significant time to his mission of bringing much-needed attention to the struggles and social stigma associated with individuals with disabilities in the high-pressure world of the legal profession.
  • Ned Pillersdorf of Prestonsburg, Kentucky, who helped recruit a network to represent former clients of a lawyer who perpetuated a disability fraud leading to more than 2,000 hearings and 250 federal court cases. As a result of these volunteer efforts, the Social Security Administration’s mass hearings were declared unconstitutional, and hundreds had benefits reinstated.
  • Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, a law firm based in Seattle which was recognized for its innovative approach to pro bono practice and its extensive work reimagining pro bono partnerships with in-house legal departments. The firm has helped over 120 in-house legal departments either engage in pro bono work or launch their own in-house pro bono programs.
  • Beth S. Posner, a clinical professor at the University of North Carolina School of Law, was the recipient of the Sharon L. Corbitt Award. Domestic violence, sexual assault, family law and Title IX issues have been her area of practice and teaching and her legal career includes overseeing statewide domestic violence initiatives through what was then Legal Services of North Carolina.
  • Melissa L. Pope, the chief judge of the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi Tribal Court, received the Judith S. Kaye Award. She has served in this role since 2011 and also served as an elected chief justice of the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians Tribal Court of Appeals since 2009. Since 2007, Pope has taught American Indian Law as an adjunct professor at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law.

In her remarks introducing the Corbitt and Kaye winners, ABA President-elect Mary Smith praised both for their “tireless work” on behalf of others. A Native American herself, Smith observed that “50% of Native (American) women experience gender-based violence.”