Nominations for the annual Maryland Pro Bono Service Awards can be submitted at any time throughout the year. Selections are made in late April and the recipients receive the formal presentation of their awards by the Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals at the annual Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) meeting in June in Ocean City, Maryland. Anyone is welcome to submit a nomination by simply completing the nomination form. Outstanding individual lawyers, law firms, programs, projects, non-legal entities, government agencies, members of the judiciary and others dedicated to ensuring equal access to civil legal services through pro bono efforts are eligible.
Judge Robert M. Bell Award - José Z. Canto, Esq.
On average, José Canto has accepted more than 15 cases per year from MVLS, for the past six years. Nearly all of those cases have been family law matters, and 79 have been contested custody or divorce. Mr. Canto accepts a large number of Spanish-speaking clients, filling a need for bi-lingual attorneys and significantly reducing the amount of time clients need to wait to be placed with a lawyer. He has helped unaccompanied youth seek Special Immigrant Juvenile status through initial findings of abuse, abandonment or neglect in the Maryland family courts. With those findings, these youth, who frequently fled violence in their home country, are set on a path to citizenship.
Mr. Canto also serves as a mentor and support for MVLS staff and for other volunteers. His colleagues characterize him as kind and humble, and always ready to answer questions. This year, he also assisted MVLS with two family law trainings.
Distinguished Pro Bono Volunteer Award - Howard R. Majev, Esq.
Howard Majev grew up in East Baltimore and is particularly attuned to the importance of preserving neighborhoods and creating opportunities for Baltimore’s low-income residents. On average, Howard has dedicated over 350 hours per year to pro bono matters, during the past five years, with a total value of over $1.1 million.
Howard’s recent projects include the Central Baltimore Future Fund, where his work, in collaboration with that of others, has resulted in the establishment of a $12 million fund which is now making loans to facilitate housing and commercial projects in 10 neighborhoods.
He has also donated many hours of pro bono or reduced-fee services to the Lillie May Carroll Jackson Charter School; Baltimore’s Marian House; the nonprofit Healthy Neighborhoods; and Baltimore’s Har Sinai Congregation, to promote education, housing, and services for vulnerable and underserved residents.
Lee A. Caplan Award - Andrea Ross, Esq.
Andrea Ross came to Mid-Shore Pro Bono after moving to Maryland from New York City where she had practiced bankruptcy law. In September 2013, Andrea began volunteering one day a month for Mid-Shore Pro Bono’s Debtor Assistance Project (DAP) clinic in Talbot County. DAP provides low-income clients a free half-hour bankruptcy consultation to discuss their situation and options.
As a resident of Kent County, Andrea encouraged Mid-Shore Pro Bono to expand the program, and since 2014 Mid- Shore Pro Bono has held monthly DAP clinic in two counties on the Eastern Shore. For the last six years, Andrea has committed to volunteer each month, and has provided 433 hours of pro bono time to 535 clients.
Young Lawyers Section Alex Fee Memorial Award - Thomas K. Prevas, Esq.
Thomas Prevas joined Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr in 2015, the year the firm launched “We’re All In,” a firm-wide pro bono initiative pledging to contribute 25 hours per attorney. He has been one of the firm’s most active pro bono leaders, co-chairing the Baltimore office’s pro bono program, and contributing hundreds of hours personally.
Since 2010, Tom has taken dozens of protective order cases for clients of the House of Ruth. In 2016, Tom joined their Board of Directors; and in 2017, he took on the role of Board Secretary. Tom has served on the executive, governance, and capital committees, and also continues to advocate for victims.
Tom has also worked with others in the community, including donating services to the Central Baltimore Future Fund; assisting a West Baltimore community development organization in achieving 501(c)(3) status; and providing low-bono services to Marian House, Inc.
Law Firm Pro Bono Service Award - Mulinazzi Law Office
Thomas Mulinazzi grounded his firm in pro bono service when he joined the MVLS volunteer panel in 2006. In the past 13 years, he has accepted 138 MVLS cases, of which 123 were contested custody and divorce. Thomas frequently serves as a mentor, answers questions, and has provided family law trainings.
The Mulinazzi Law Firm has demonstrated that pro bono is a part of their identity. In this firm of four attorneys, all have demonstrated a deep commitment to pro bono. Since joining the MVLS panel in 2010, Shannon Kowitz has accepted 27 cases. Kim Stepanuk joined the panel in 2016, and has accepted 20 cases. Less than one year ago, Michelle Dauksha joined the panel, and has worked on 19 family law cases.
Member of the Judiciary Award - Immigration Judge Denise N. Slavin & Immigration Judge Lisa Dornell
Over four years, Immigration Judges Lisa Dornell and Denise Slavin have been involved in helping more than 1,000 unaccompanied immigrant children and families fleeing violence connect with attorneys at the Baltimore Immigration Court. Although they have both announced their retirements, the pro bono program they helped to initiate, the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland’s Maryland Immigrant Legal Assistance Project (or MILAP), will continue.
In 2014, the number of individuals in removal proceedings in Baltimore doubled. The court began scheduling initial hearings for unaccompanied children within 21 days of receiving notice from DHS. Most could not retain a private attorney that fast. Judge Dornell responded by welcoming legal services attorneys into her courtroom. Judge Slavin followed suit and, as the pro bono liaison judge, encouraged the other judges to allow volunteer attorneys to give information to unrepresented respondents before their hearings.
Now, children and families routinely report conferring with staff and volunteer lawyers through MILAP learning for the first time that they may have legal options to stay in the U.S. Instead of simply ordering those children or families deported, Judges Dornell and Slavin, invited attorneys to provide vital legal services. Their accommodations and support institutionalized a system of fairness and access that has been critical to those in deportation proceedings.
Corporate Or Governmental Department Award - Exelon Corporation
In 2013, Paul Ackerman, Assistant General Counsel to Exelon Corporation, reached out to Catholic Charities of Baltimore Immigration Legal Services (ILS) to partner in pro bono immigration work. Starting with a $2,500 annual grant, which was later increased to $5,000, Exelon worked with ILS to provide an opportunity for employees to give back to their community through volunteering.
The initial project was a refugee/asylee green card clinic. Exelon provided space, food, fees, and volunteers; partner organization Asylee Women Enterprise provided clients; and ILS provided training, and anything else needed, using the Exelon grant. Since then, annual green card clinics have assisted at least a dozen clients every year, and the partnership has expanded to include DACA renewal clinics and citizenship as well.
On two separate occasions, Exelon has chosen ILS for All Hands Day, a day of service for the entire legal department, with employees from across the country flying to Baltimore to participate.
2019 Maryland Pro Bono Service Awards presented at Ocean City
© 2019 C.Hamburger/Focophoto
Award recipients gather for a group photo at the 2019 Maryland Pro Bono Service Awards. Back row, from left: Howard R. Majev, Partner at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP; Thomas K. Prevas, Partner at Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr LLP; Hon. John Gossart, retired U.S. Immigration Judge; Paul D. Ackerman, Associate General Counsel at Exelon Corporation; José Z. Canto, solo practitioner; and Thomas E. Mulinazzi of Mulinazzi Law Office.
Front row, from left: Sharon E. Goldsmith, Executive Director of the Pro Bono Resource Center; Michelle Dauksha, Shannon L. Kowitz,Kim E. Stepanuk, and Sandra M. Holt, all members of the Mulinazzi Law Office; and Andrea Ross, solo practitioner.