Remarks by LSC Board Chair John G. Levi | Pro Bono Awards Reception

Good evening, and as many of you already know, I am John Levi, the 10th Chair of the Board of Directors of the Legal Services Corporation, and it is my pleasure on behalf of our Board to welcome you to this reception.

Tonight we recognize two distinguished New Mexico lawyers, two leading law firms and a pro bono committee for their important pro bono contributions to New Mexico Legal Aid.

We will also be privileged to hear remarks from New Mexico’s Chief Justice Charles Daniels, New Mexico School of Law co-Dean Alfred Mathewson, and New Mexico State Bar President J. Brent Moore.

I want to thank Modrall Sperling and the Rodey Law Firm for sponsoring this reception.

Our Board members are all with us tonight, and I want to acknowledge them, beginning with Gloria Valencia-Weber, a professor here at the University of New Mexico School of Law, who has been instrumental in bringing together this meeting. Thank you, Gloria, for your leadership and hard work.

Also here are:

Martha Minow, our Vice Chair and Dean of the Harvard Law School.

Robert Grey, a Hunton & Williams partner in Richmond and a former ABA President.

Charles Keckler, a Presidential Scholar at George Mason University.

Harry Korrell, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine in Seattle.

Victor Maddox, of Louisville’s Fultz Maddox Dickens.

Laurie Mikva, an Assistant Clinical Professor at Northwestern Law School.

Father Joseph Pius Pietrzyk, a Dominican friar nearing the end of doctoral studies in Rome, who in a former life worked for three years as Corporate and Securities associate at my firm Sidley Austin in Chicago.

Julie Reiskin, the Executive Director of the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition.

We have been so fortunate to receive the additional support of non-director members of our Board committees, four of whom are here tonight:  Frank Strickland, former LSC Board Chair and a partner with Strickland Brockington Lewis LLP; Allan Tanenbaum of Atlanta, who practices with Taylor English’s Corporate and Business group; Herb Garten, of Baltimore’s Fedder and Garten and a former LSC Board member; and Tom Smegal, LSC’s longest-serving Board member and a practitioner in San Francisco.

I am very proud of our Board and thank them for their tremendous service to LSC and our nation.

The LSC Board travels to most every state before returning to one where we have already held a meeting.

 Since we hold only three such meetings a year, we will not likely be back in New Mexico very soon, making these awards all the more special.

These awards also reflect LSC’s significant commitment to pro bono service, evidenced by LSC’s Pro Bono Task Force, and most recently, by our Pro Bono Innovation Fund Grants program, first funded by Congress in 2014 for $2.5 million and increased to $4 million the last two years.

LSC awarded its third round of pro bono innovation fund grants a couple of weeks ago to eleven legal aid organizations across the country for a wide variety of projects.

Last year, New Mexico Legal Aid received a 24-month $272,718 Pro Bono Innovation Fund grant to create a statewide coalition of pro bono attorneys, law students, and paralegals to assist low-income families in some of the country’s highest poverty communities.

This project is designed to find pro bono attorneys from New Mexico’s three urban centers, where 83% of practicing New Mexico attorneys live, who are willing to help low-income clients, giving special attention to New Mexico’s 10 poorest counties.  The project also uses technology to bridge the geographical gap between the attorney, the clients and the courts.

In the first months of the project, nearly forty attorneys were recruited to volunteer for the project and eighteen cases were quickly placed with them.  Fifteen of the eighteen cases were in high poverty rural counties where [it had] previously it had been “difficult to impossible” to place a pro bono case.

As we—and you—work hard to promote pro bono, however, we all know that pro bono really must be supported by properly funded and structured legal aid programs that screen cases and provide essential support to volunteer lawyers with training, materials, and the expertise of staff attorneys.

Pro bono lawyers working in conjunction with lawyers at LSC-funded programs have helped tens of thousands of people across the country and play an important role in LSC's mission to help ensure equal access to justice.

That mission reflects a fundamental responsibility of our profession, as a much admired former Supreme Court Justice from neighboring Arizona, Sandra Day O’Connor, observed about pro bono:

“Public service marks the difference between a business and a profession. While a business can afford to focus solely on profits, a profession cannot. It must devote itself first to the community it is responsible to serve. I can imagine no greater duty than fulfilling this obligation. And I can imagine no greater pleasure.”

We lawyers, officers of the court, hold a special responsibility to our fellow countrymen to make sure that our justice system continues to be one that adheres to our founding value of equal justice.

And I hope that all of us will embrace this special duty and will use our voices to speak up when the justice system needs us, as it does now.

For as Bobby Kennedy so eloquently observed: “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls. . . .”

Thank you.

* * * * *

It is now my pleasure to introduce the Chief Justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court, Charles Daniels.

Chief Justice Daniels was appointed to the court in 2007 and won election in 2008 to continue in the position. 

He served as Chief Justice between 2010 and 2012 and has been selected by his fellow justices to fill that position again from 2016 to 2018.

Born in Arkansas, Chief Justice Daniels has been a New Mexico resident since childhood.  After graduating from high school, he served five years on active duty in the United States Air Force.

Chief Justice Daniels received his bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona; his law degree from the University of New Mexico, where he was editor-in-chief of the law review, won a position on the national moot court team, and graduated first in his class.

He also holds a master of laws degree in trial advocacy from Georgetown University.

Chief Justice Daniels has been honored by the Albuquerque Bar Association with its Outstanding Lawyer of the Year award, by the New Mexico Bar Association with its Quality of Life award, and by the Roscoe Pound Foundation with its National Trial Advocacy Teacher of the Year award.

For relaxation, he plays bass guitar in a blues-rock band and is a semiprofessional race car driver.

Please join me in welcoming the Chief Justice of New Mexico Charles Daniels.

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