by Alan J. Crivaro
Some call her the Orange County Bar Association’s “Ambassador of Kindness.” More often, she is simply referred to as the ultimate volunteer we all wish we had, all of the time. This year’s prestigious Harmon G. Scoville Award recipient, Pearl Gondrella Mann, is a shining example of an attorney committed to giving back to the community.
Established in 1990, this award recognizes a member of the Orange County legal community whose career exemplifies the highest standards of the legal profession, and who has significantly contributed to the Orange County Bar Association and championed our constitutional system of justice.
After twenty-seven years of practice, Pearl’s contributions are many and multi-faceted. Her unflagging commitment to providing greater accessibility to justice for the public, especially the poor, the elderly, and the disabled, as well as her advocating for diversity and gender equity in the legal profession, exemplifies all of the qualities this award is meant to embody. Indeed, her continuing volunteer efforts have significantly contributed to not only the Orange County Bar Association, but to the State Bar of California.
Hailing from New Orleans, Louisiana, Pearl was first a wife, mother, and librarian before entering the vocation of law. As a child, her loving parents expected her adult life to be similar to other southern women—that of a homemaker. Although she went on to receive college degrees in teaching and library science, destiny was to hold more in store for her. Years later, a fortuitous transfer brought her and her family to California. Seeing the possibilities of helping others through the legal system, she decided to enter Western State College of Law in Fullerton. She served as the Law Review Editor-in-Chief, graduating in 1985.
A few years later, after establishing a private practice, she accepted a court appointment in a conservatorship case which would have a profound effect on her. The difference her representation made in this client’s life awakened a passion in Pearl which continues to this day. “The satisfaction of helping people who could not help themselves or afford to pay someone to help them was the greatest reward,” recalls Pearl fondly. Superior Court Judge Kimberly Hubbard observes that Pearl is “a tireless advocate on behalf of elder and dependent adults. I have appointed her on numerous elder abuse/dependent adult abuse restraining order cases as the guardian-ad-litem in matters where the petitioner cannot appear in court. I cannot think of one case she has not resolved in the best interests of the elder or dependent adult.” Frequently, Pearl accepts these appointments and waives any fees.
On a local level, Pearl has been very active with our association, presently serving as a Board of Director since 2008. She also has served as the chair of several OCBA sections, which include the Appellate Section (1997), Trust & Estates Section (2012), and the Elder Law Section (2000). Among the many committees in which Pearl has participated, she is a past chair of the Law Day Committee which formerly hosted the luncheon at which the Scoville Award was presented and which held outreach activities such as our annual “Call a Lawyer Event” held in conjunction with KOCE TV. She was also the Pro Bono Committee Chair in 2007 and 2008, and the Co-Chair for Bridging the Gap.
Past OCBA president Joseph Chairez perhaps captured Pearl’s spirit of volunteerism best in 2007 when he wrote in Orange County Lawyer magazine, “When the Orange County Bar Association began looking for volunteers for its Lawyers for Literacy program, Pearl was quick to sign up. Pearl, however, in her usual spirit of giving, not only made the commitment to teach a class, but also went on to speak to five different classes. Needless to say, Pearl has signed up to serve as one of our volunteer trainers for the Teenage Legal Survival Skills program.”
Pearl has been a longstanding advocate for pro bono legal service for our low-income community. For over twenty years, she has accepted pro bono appointments. Her tireless, generous efforts over the years were finally recognized in 2010 by the Public Law Center (PLC) who named her as their Attorney of the Year. Ken Babcock, Executive Director of PLC, recalled that many attendees of the award dinner expressed surprise that Pearl had not been recognized earlier by the PLC, and that a better recipient could not have been found. A year later, she received the California State Bar Wiley W. Manuel Award for Pro Bono Services to the Poor.
Pearl has long been a diligent and strong advocate for diversity in the legal profession both on a local and statewide level. Her efforts have been instrumental in opening up diversity not only in gender but also in age. She was president of the Orange County Women Lawyers Association in 2003 and served on the board of California Women Lawyers, one of the largest statewide women lawyers associations. Eventually, she became the 2005-2006 president of California Women Lawyers. As CWL president, Pearl focused on outreach programs emphasizing work/life balance, gender bias, sexual harassment, breaking the glass ceiling, and the judicial appointment process.
Recently, Pearl concluded the second year of her three-year term as a Trustee for the State Bar of California. Despite the number of challenges faced by the state bar and the demands placed upon the trustees, Pearl has found the time to head the Senior Lawyers Working Group. Specially appointed by our state bar president, Pearl’s charge was to identify the challenges facing our state’s growing population of older lawyers. From this working group, a number of key recommendations have been implemented by the state bar, including a specialized website for the senior practitioner. Some of the issues she intends to prioritize in her third year include increasing the delivery of legal services to the poor, inspiring California’s lawyers to improve professional competence, a plan for the future commitment to public service, promoting diversity and gender equity in the profession, facilitating the processing of awards from the Client Security Fund, and assisting the many young and aging lawyers who open solo offices when they cannot find jobs.
There is genuineness to Pearl’s personality that cannot be manufactured. When she is not working or helping others, Pearl loves Creole and Italian cuisines, roller coasters, Mardi Gras parades, wearing costumes, traveling to exotic places, and activities with her family. Would one expect less from someone from NOLA?
“While I can go on and on about Pearl’s leadership and her accomplishments, I think there is something else that sets Pearl apart,” notes OCBA Director, Solange Ritchie. “She is always willing to give of herself and inspire others. I have listened to Pearl speak to a law student fondly of the fact that the law was not her first career, but also explain how much she enjoys it, especially helping her clients. Pearl treats everyone with equal respect, whether they are a law student or a federal judge.”
It is with good reason that our bar remembers the outstanding career and professionalism of Justice Harmon G. Scoville. The values embodied by this award are timeless and continue to inspire us. Pearl Mann’s significant contributions certainly demonstrate these values and, thus, make her a worthy recipient of the 2013 Harmon G. Scoville Award.
Alan J. Crivaro is a retired Orange County Senior Deputy Public Defender who is now in private practice in Newport Beach. He can be reached at email@example.com.