August 2013 - Abundant Inspiration at PLC’s Volunteers for Justice Dinner
by Kenneth W. Babcock
This year’s Volunteers for Justice Dinner was one for the record books. With 930 in attendance, many remarked that they had never seen a gathering in the Orange County legal community so well attended. And with over $700,000 in revenue to support PLC’s efforts to provide access to justice for low-income Orange County residents, the evening was certainly a financial success—for which we are extremely grateful.
For the second year in a row, PLC went paperless with our always popular silent auction. Bidders received use of an iPod touch for the evening (tech savvy guests used their own smartphones) on which they could bid on silent auction items or make donations to PLC as part of our Justice for All campaign drive, which together raised a record $110,000.
But the evening was about more than just big numbers—it was about inspiration. In her keynote address, California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris called upon the attendees to provide service to others. Her inspirational remarks highlighted the work of her office and PLC in the areas of human trafficking and foreclosure. Our video told the inspiring stories of a disabled woman needing a conservatorship, a homeless veteran whose possessions had been taken by a prior landlord, and a woman fleeing political persecution who in turn became a victim of a sex trafficking ring whose simple thanks at the video’s end to the volunteer lawyers and PLC staff for helping her “to be free” summed up the difference we can make in our clients’ lives. You can watch the video on the Public Law Center’s YouTube channel.
As those in attendance heard, PLC’s new veterans project, Operation Veterans Re-Entry, is dedicated to an inspirational veteran with strong ties to the legal community and to Orange County. Captain Matthew Patrick Manoukian, United States Marine Corps, 1st Marine Special Operations Battalion, was killed in combat August 10, 2012 in Sangin District, Afghanistan. Captain Manoukian deployed twice to Iraq (2007-2009) and twice to Afghanistan (2010-2012), where he worked to train local police forces, open schools and courts, and establish the rule of law.
Captain Manoukian was born in Orange County and was residing in Seal Beach at the time of his last deployment. His mother, California Court of Appeal Justice Patricia Bamattre-Manoukian, is a former Orange County Deputy D.A. and former Orange County Municipal Court Judge. His father, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Socrates Peter Manoukian, joined PLC at the dinner and helped present the awards. We thanked Judge Manoukian and his family then, and thank them now, for allowing us to honor their beloved son and brother by dedicating Operation Veterans Re-Entry to his memory.
As always, our honorees were among the most inspirational part of the evening. This year’s honorees were as follows:
Corporate Partner of the Year: The Association of Corporate Counsel—Southern California Chapter
In 1984, then Irvine Company General Counsel and current PLC Board member Peter Zeughauser, along with other local General Counsel, founded the Southern California Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC-SoCal). ACC-SoCal serves the professional interests of in-house attorneys in Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties, as well as portions of Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
Since the founding of ACC-SoCal, hundreds of energetic, civic-minded, and service-oriented in-house attorneys of diverse backgrounds have volunteered their time and talents to serve in ACC-SoCal. In addition, many other ACC-SoCal members have served in leadership positions at the national ACC level. To date, ACC-SoCal has over 1,400 members in Southern California, all of whom are in-house counsel. In eight out of the last fourteen years (1996, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009 & 2011), ACC-SoCal was recognized by ACC as the “Outstanding Large Chapter of the Year” due to its exemplary leadership, outstanding programs, and great service to its members.
The Association of Corporate Counsel has been a strong supporter of pro bono legal services for many years. Corporate Pro Bono was created as a national partnership between ACC and the Pro Bono Institute in Washington, D.C. to assist in-house counsel who want to establish or improve their legal departments’ pro bono efforts. Corporate Pro Bono’s groundbreaking work has literally changed the face of in-house pro bono programs, creating an unprecedented pro bono culture in the in-house bar.
ACC-SoCal members participate in a variety of PLC’s pro bono work including providing much needed transactional assistance to local non-profit organizations, assisting immigrant victims of crime with U Visa petitions, and helping seniors with end-of-life legal planning. Members have participated individually, as part of a team with the rest of their in-house legal department, in partnership with outside counsel, and as part of Corporate Pro Bono’s Clinic in a Box program by which local non-profit organizations receive a legal check-up from ACC-SoCal members at a clinic organized by PLC. ACC-SoCal members have also worked with PLC’s colleagues in other legal services organizations providing much needed free legal services to their clients.
As ACC-SoCal President Manisha Merchant of Union Bank who accepted the award explained, in-house lawyers typically “don’t have any pro bono hours or volunteer work that is tracked or recognized by their employers.” That’s why it’s all the more impressive that ACC-SoCal members have done all that they have.
ACC-SoCal also has been a strong financial supporter of the Public Law Center’s work for the past twelve years, making PLC the beneficiary of its annual golf tournament proceeds. To date, ACC-SoCal contributions to PLC exceed $125,000—making the organization an incredibly important partner in PLC’s efforts to provide access to justice.
Attorney of the Year: Julie M. McCoy
Julie’s volunteer work with PLC began in 2008. Since this time, she has focused her pro bono work on representing immigrant victims of crime. Julie has represented victims of domestic violence and violent crime in petitioning for immigration relief through U Visas and Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) petitions. Additionally, she has assisted clients in filing for adjustment of status applications based on approved U Visa petitions.
Julie represented three clients before the Immigration Court in requesting asylum and asylum-related relief. All three clients had suffered persecution in their home countries and feared future persecution if deported. “Alan” sought asylum based on political opinion. “Juan” and “Alice” filed for asylum due to their sexual orientation.
After years of litigation, preparing declarations, client testimony, expert affidavits, and country conditions reports, Julie secured asylum for both Alice and Alan, and Alan’s family. Unfortunately after years of similar work on Juan’s behalf, the Immigration Court denied his application. Julie did not give up, and represented Juan in an appeal before the Board of Immigration Appeals. The Board remanded the case to Immigration Court, where Julie finally succeeded in obtaining lawful status for Juan. Juan was in immigration detention for almost two years before relief was granted by the court. Juan calls Julie his “angel” without whose representation he believes he would have been deported and suffered further persecution or death.
In accepting the award, Julie described the moments of being with her clients when they learned they had prevailed and obtained freedom as moments that were “in a word, priceless. Each of them has changed my life in immeasurable ways that no amount of money ever could.”
Julie was raised in Texas and received her undergraduate degree from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She received her J.D. from Southern Methodist University School of Law in Dallas. Julie began her legal career in Dallas and then moved to Stradling Yocca Carlson & Rauth in Newport Beach, where she practiced for seventeen years before opening the Law Office of Julie M. McCoy in 2003.
Opening her own law firm has allowed Julie the freedom to pursue more diverse cases and time to engage in her community. Julie has been incredibly active in our local legal community. In 2000, she was President of the Orange County Chapter of the Federal Bar Association. In 2006, she was President of the Orange County Bar Association. In 2007, she was President of the OCBA Charitable Fund. Julie currently serves on the Public Law Center Board of Directors as Vice President and was co-chair of this year’s dinner along with Darren Aitken.
Somehow Julie finds time to do additional volunteer work outside of the legal community. She has volunteered her time for many years to Liga International, The Flying Doctors of Mercy, a charitable organization that provides free medical and dental care in remote, impoverished regions of Mexico. Julie was President of Liga International from 2001 to 2002, and she continues to volunteer her time as a pilot, regularly flying doctors, nurses, dentists, and provisions to Liga’s clinics in Sinaloa, Mexico.
Law Firm of the Year: Irell & Manella LLP
For more than seventy years, Irell & Manella LLP has been committed to providing those in need with equal access to justice. Last year, attorneys at Irell devoted thousands of hours of legal representation to pro bono work, the value of which is more than $7.5 million. The firm recognizes that pro bono work is an important and rewarding part of an attorney’s career and is very proud of the work its lawyers do on behalf of low-income and disadvantaged individuals and families as well as nonprofit groups.
In 2012, Irell launched a new initiative aimed at strengthening the firm’s commitment to pro bono work. The program requires that all new hires, including new associates and laterals, complete sixty hours of pro bono work in their first year at the firm. Pro bono hours for associates are counted equally with client billable hours.
Together with the Public Law Center and other pro bono organizations, Irell attorneys handle a variety of pro bono matters ranging from the representation of military personnel and veterans, to the representation of victims of mortgage fraud, child trafficking, and elder abuse, and the representation of refugees in life or death situations in the Middle East. Firm attorneys regularly staff PLC’s new Federal Court Pro Se Clinic in Santa Ana.
Together with PLC, Irell represents a seventy-one-year-old widow whose identity was stolen by an individual who used the client’s good credit to obtain more than $225,000 worth of luxury goods for himself, including a Cadillac Escalade. The individual opened multiple accounts in the client’s name and financed the purchase of four vehicles without her knowledge. The firm filed an action on the widow’s behalf for fraud, conversion, financial elder abuse, and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and recently obtained a default judgment against the person who stole the client’s identity. In addition, Irell is actively working to restore the client’s good credit and to stop collection activities caused by the identity theft.
In another matter with PLC, Irell represents a homeless veteran in an appeal of a denial of his application for Social Security Disability Insurance. In conjunction with the appeal, the firm has collected substantial additional evidence to support his claimed disability, including third-party testimony and an extensive medical assessment from his treating physician.
Irell is also working to obtain asylum for a PLC client and Syrian national currently in the United States on a student visa. The student left Syria to escape persecution after participating in political protests against President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Irell is working closely with this student to learn about the persecution he experienced while in Syria in order to assist him in submitting an application for asylum.
In addition, Irell has handled a number of bankruptcy cases with PLC, including several where Irell attorneys worked with students of the University of California, Irvine School of Law.
As the evening closed and Irell partner and PLC board member Mike Ermer accepted the award, he reminded everyone that while awards are nice, that’s not why anyone in attendance does pro bono work. “We do it because we can change lives, because we can make miracles happen. We do it because the value of our lives is tied to the value we place in the lives of others, as expressed through our compassion and empathy. We do it because striving for justice is the highest calling we all have as lawyers, as well as the most personally rewarding. We do it simply because it is the right thing to do, and we know it. That’s why PLC does it.”
Our inspirational honorees were the focus of our Volunteers for Justice Dinner. As they and the rest of our 1,300 volunteers know, we can never take access to our justice system for granted. Orange County lawyers get involved because they care deeply about ensuring that the less fortunate in our community have access to justice. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. For thirty-two years, they’ve inspired us at PLC to do all we can to deliver on the promise of pro bono. If you’re not already involved, we hope you’re inspired to join us.
Kenneth W. Babcock is the Executive Director and General Counsel of the Public Law Center. You can join PLC in providing access to justice. Visit www.publiclawcenter.org.