Nominations for the annual Maryland Pro Bono Service Awards can be submitted at any time throughout the year, but the deadline for submissions for the current year has ended. 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 - Jeanette Cole, Esq.
Jeanette Cole, Esq. – Baltimore City
Jeanette Cole served as a staff attorney for Maryland Legal Aid, a member of the Board of Directors for MVLS and Director of Legal Services at St. Ambrose Housing Center. During her time with St. Ambrose she started the “Just Advice” legal clinic partnership with University of Maryland School of Law. In 2015 alone St. Ambrose served 800 individuals with a staff of just three attorneys. Jeanette instilled the idea that “without stable housing the path to other problems greatly increased,” and made sure St. Ambrose’s doors were always open to clients. As a retired attorney, she has assisted over 120 clients on the PBRC-managed, Maryland Free Legal Answers website contributing to Maryland becoming one of the states with the highest attorney response rate. Jeanette is also the first woman to be admitted to the Maryland bar from Cecil County Maryland.
Distinguished Pro Bono Volunteer Award - Constance Hare, Esq.
Distinguished Pro Bono Volunteer Award
Constance (Connie) Hare, Esq., Mehlman, Greenblatt, & Hare, LLC — Baltimore City
Constance “Connie” Hare joined MVLS’s Bankruptcy panel in 1995 and has since taken at least one case for each of the 21 years serving over 140 individuals. She recognizes the overwhelming amount of low income Marylanders in need of bankruptcy legal assistance since the recession in 2009; and is quick to accept any case MVLS gives her. Connie joined the score of others helping with pro bono cases statewide even before becoming a lawyer by assisting with trainings for other volunteers through the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland and offering support for bankruptcy clients.
Retired Pro Bono Volunteer Award - Jim Richardson, Esq.
Retired Pro Bono Volunteer Award
James Richardson, Esq. — Queen Anne’s County
James Richardson joined the volunteer panel for the Homeless Persons Representation Project in 2010. He has directly assisted with 29 clients in veterans’ discharge upgrades cases improving veterans’ access to healthcare, disability benefits and reducing barriers to housing and employment. He is a mentor for attorneys in HPRP’s Veteran’s Legal Assistance Program, an integral participant in the statewide Veteran’s Conference each year, and faculty for training hundreds of attorneys to help assist with discharge upgrades and family law. One of unprecedented dedication, he serves as an active volunteer with Mid-Shore Pro Bono, Maryland Legal Aid and other organizations as well.
Member of the Judiciary Award - The Hon. Mark F. Scurti
Member of the Judiciary Awards
The Hon. Mark F. Scurti — Baltimore City
Judge Mark Scurti’s commitment to pro bono and access to justice comes as no surprise to any lawyer or judge in the state who knows him. As a long-standing volunteer with a multitude of legal services organizations, he continued his mission to ensuring equal access to the courts when he joined the bench. Among other services, he served on the pro bono MVLS bankruptcy panel for 20 years; served as faculty in training other bankruptcy volunteers, participated in the Bankruptcy Court’s Debtor Assistance Project, was instrumental in the creation of the Free State Legal Project (now Free State Justice) and served as President of the Board of Directors of the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC). On the bench, Judge Scurti helped facilitate the development of the Consumer Protection Project which enables debtors facing affidavit judgment to speak with a pro bono lawyer before entering court or negotiations with the creditor. The project is now operational twice a week in Baltimore City. His most recent endeavor involves creating an avenue for a Tenant Volunteer of the Day Program in Baltimore City District Court as well where volunteer lawyers with PBRC engage in limited scope day of court representation in failure to pay rent cases.
Lee A. Caplan Award - Frank Turney, Esq.
Lee A. Caplan Award
Frank Turney, Esq., Baltimore County
Since 1999, Frank Turney has been a dedicated pro bono volunteer with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS). During that time he accepted 94 Chapter 7 Bankruptcy cases and in 2016 alone assisted with 12 clients filing bankruptcy. Frank is a dedicated volunteer who never hesitates to take tough cases as well as mentor new volunteers. He recently started a Bankruptcy Bypass clinic to help bankruptcy clients facing long wait times for finding a volunteer lawyer. As MVLS states, “Even though a solo practitioner with limited staff, he has been a huge asset to our program and to Marylanders facing crushing debt.”
Young Lawyers Section Alex Fee Memorial Award - James Worm, Esq.
James Worm, Esq., Talbot County
James Worm began volunteering with Mid-Shore Pro Bono in the Foreclosure Prevention Pro Bono Project in 2014 offering brief advice and counseling to clients, ultimately donating 307 hours in a clinical setting. He also performed over 200 case hours and assisted with over 105 cases. James was appointed as counsel for guardianship of elderly and incompetent parents and can be called upon to help clients in emergency situations. As a young lawyer he has already been admitted to the Maryland and Kentucky State Bars and practices law with the local firm of Hollis, Cronan & Fronk.
Law Firm Pro Bono Service Award - Saul Ewing, LLP
Saul Ewing, LLP — Baltimore City
Saul Ewing LLP is a Philadelphia-based firm with over 50 attorneys in Baltimore City. The firm “acknowledges and embraces the responsibility of each lawyer to provide pro bono publico service to those who cannot otherwise afford legal representation.” Recognizing the growing severity of the unmet legal needs of the poor and disadvantaged, Saul Ewing launched “We’re All In,” a firm-wide pro bono initiative, in 2005. The firm pledged to give a minimum of 25 hours per attorney to help meet the overwhelming needs of the indigent, abused and neglected children, the homeless, and other interests in the community. The range of organizations they support is varied and impressive. The “We’re All In” participation by Baltimore attorneys in the past two years surpassed that of every other Saul Ewing office, and the total hours committed increased. In fact, in 2015, 100% of the lawyers performed some form of pro bono work; in 2016 attorneys averaged over 42 hours per year of pro bono service.
Government or Corporate Legal Department Award - Sandy Brewer, Law Librarian of Howard County Circuit Court
Sandy Brewer, Law Librarian of the Howard County Circuit Court – Howard County
Sandy Brewer has been instrumental in the creation and the continuation of the free legal clinics in the Howard County Circuit Court Library. These clinics serve low-income Marylanders and the underrepresented. She works as a law librarian without any additional staff support yet started the Civil Law Center for Howard County Circuit Court in 2008, began managing the Family Law Assistance Program in 2010, and continues to run both programs. She has been quick to staff both clinics in advance and goes above and beyond to expand these assistance programs for greater reachability to clients in the area. She has extended the evening sessions of these clinics recruiting attorneys and staffing sessions as well as day time sessions. As a result she has ensured access to legal help for those who cannot make the other clinic times. She has been on the Pro Bono Committee for Howard County for over 6 years and continues to push for pro bono services in the county with great enthusiasm.
Non-Legal or Organizational Involvement Award - Scott Mahler
Scott Mahler, Adult Services Manager Wicomico County Public Library
The Wicomico Public Library in Salisbury has a long history of finding ways to support their clientele and provide services to their community beyond the traditional library roles. One initiative, started after seeing the high unemployment rate in their community, was to create a Job Search Center, to assist residents with finding employment. The library staff quickly realized that the barriers their customers were facing required legal assistance. In October of 2016, Scott Mahler began looking for a way to connect low-income library patrons with attorneys and worked with MVLS to create a cyber clinic, with patrons in the library in Salisbury and attorneys at the MVLS office in Baltimore City. This allows attorneys to reach clients easily and in a timely manner. The library staff promote the clinic, handle registration and coordinate logistics including helping clients complete the intake form, making all the technical aspects of connecting through Google Hangouts work, and providing the computers and web cams. The library also is voluntarily printing all expungement forms, having the clients complete them the day of the clinic. The first joint clinic was held on February 8, 2017 and was a rousing success. The day after the first clinic, Scott Mahler stated, “Everyone that participated was so grateful – people hugged us, some people cried, I cried. It was just wonderful to see how this one thing can impact people’s lives.”
Pro Bono Program Award - KIND
Kids in Need of Defense
KIND represents unaccompanied children in their search for safety, including children who have been persecuted in their home countries, trafficked to the U.S., and abused, abandoned or neglected. Over 160,000 unaccompanied children have arrived in the US in the last three years. KIND has stepped into the work of seeking Special Juvenile Immigrant Status (SIJS) for these children in Maryland. While handling mostly the immigration component, KIND now has the ability to mobilize family law attorneys in the state to help with these children. KIND initially screens all of the children and determines whether they are likely to be eligible for SJIS. They then refer the state court cases to referring agencies for placement, including Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County, Montgomery County Bar Foundation, Mid-shore Pro Bono, and Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service. KIND stays involved throughout the life of the case, offering coordination with the immigration attorney, interpreter and transcription support, sample pleadings, and any other support.