December 2012 - Our Devoted Volunteers: Improving Orange County through Dedicated Service
In keeping with its mission to enhance the system of justice, to support the lawyers who serve it, and to assist the community served by it, the Orange County Bar Association strives to provide its members with a wealth and breadth of community service opportunities.
OCBA members are encouraged to give of their time and expertise to educate their colleagues by speaking at section meetings and seminars, by contributing articles to Orange County Lawyer magazine, by mentoring attorneys new to the profession through one-on-one mentoring or Mentor On Demand—a first-of-its-kind program in the state of California, by reaching out to local youth through our Teenage Legal Survival Skills program, or by educating local community and civic groups through the OCBA Speakers Bureau.
Pro bono opportunities also abound, enabling Orange County attorneys to increase access to justice through the Public Law Center as well as the Domestic Violence Project, the Guardianship Project, the Bankruptcy Project, and Family Law Basic Training. A series of Community Outreach opportunities are also available each year, including local harvesting and food packaging events, beach clean-ups, organized visits to Orangewood Children & Family Center, volunteering at Irvine’s Annual Super Pet Adoption Event, joining the “Raising the Bar” team to Race for the Cure, charitable toy and school supply drives, and much more.
Below are selected highlights from the OCBA’s Community Outreach and Pro Bono Committees, as we celebrate another successful year of giving back. For more information on how you can get involved or to register for an upcoming volunteer event or program, visit www.ocbar.org.
by Sara L. Parker and Sherri L. Honer
Many of us in the Orange County legal community grew up as Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, or participants in other community service organizations. However, after we became practicing attorneys, it became more common to find us time-starved and desk-bound. My doctor prescribed more movement in my life: walk, run, lift weights, yoga, squats; don’t just sit all day. The OCBA Community Outreach Committee turned out to be the right committee for me: one meeting each month for one hour or less (we time them), plus participation in as many or few events as I can manage, and a chance to walk, run, stand, and even practice yoga while providing a benefit to those in need and meeting other like-minded attorneys and judges.
This year, the Community Outreach Committee, with approximately 68 members, will have participated in 22 worthwhile and fun projects. Our enthusiastic committee operates as a team: no single member carries the burden. The committee selects a variety of events and drives, and appoints at least two co-chairs to head each activity.
In the winter months of January to March of this year, the Committee focused on assisting local emergency shelters—the Mercy House-operated Armories in Fullerton and Santa Ana. Deputy County Counsel Karen Prather and attorneys Kristen Lara Myers and Linda Luna led our members in serving dinner to the guests of the shelters and in conducting a hygiene drive to obtain much needed supplies.
During that same period, attorneys Ly Ly and R. Hillary Willet organized a group of committee members to participate in a mentoring event at Orangewood Children & Family Center (Orangewood), which serves as an emergency shelter for abandoned, neglected, and/or abused children and teens. At the request of Orangewood staff, our members spoke with a group of teenage girls about mentoring, Teenage Legal Survival Skills, and the path to a legal career. The program was so well received that the committee members, including Deputy Public Defender Larisa Dinsmoor, Jessica Springer, Sherri Honer, Robert Tennant, and Jeanne Thomas were invited back to participate in additional teen mentoring and mock trial events in May and October.
The final winter event was held in March. OCBA Board member Michael Baroni and attorney Ly Ly orchestrated a partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters to participate in Big For A Day at Boomers in Irvine. Each volunteer was assigned a little brother or sister for a day of play at Boomers. We are not sure who had more fun go-cart racing, rock climbing, and playing laser tag and arcade games—the attorneys or the children. The event was a huge success, with approximately 30 attorney participants. The Committee hopes to participate again in 2013.
Spring was a time of harvest and play. In April, attorneys Nichole Wong and Teresa Farrell, along with about 40 OCBA members, their children, and friends, donned gardening gloves to harvest approximately 2,000 vegetables in less than two hours. Their harvest, and about 75 squats per volunteer, provided 8,000 meals to the needy through Second Harvest Food Bank. Nathan Scott, an attorney with the Fourth District Court of Appeal, brought his children and wife to the fall harvest in September and has enthusiastically volunteered to serve as our honorary co-chair for these events in 2013.
Crops were not all that was harvested in the spring. The Committee, with the leadership of attorneys Richard Pinette and Henry Ezzati (who also serves as our much-appreciated committee photographer) collected 200 pieces of luggage for distribution to foster kids. For an entire month, the OCBA offices looked like the luggage carousel at John Wayne Airport. The Orange County Social Services Agency collected the bags and distributed them to foster children to be used to transport their belongings when they are moved from temporary shelters to foster homes. Without the luggage, the children are generally left with using large trash bags to transport their belongings.
May was a time for play with the children and teens of Orangewood Children & Family Center. Twenty-three adult volunteers, led by co-chairs Ly Ly, Karen Prather, and Hillary Willet, spent the morning participating in arts and crafts, softball, and other activities with more than 50 children. This popular event is held twice a year.
Summer and early fall are the best times of year if you like animals, walks on the beach, getting kids ready to return to school, and running for a cure. This summer started with the Super Pet Adoption event at the Irvine Animal Care Center. Attorney co-chairs Amy Song and Elizabeth Otley were joined by over 20 other OCBA members to succeed in facilitating the adoption of 352 animals and collecting $30,000 to aid the shelter.
In June and July, the Committee held its annual backpack and school supplies drive. Led by co-chairs Tammy Peng and Alison Gokal, the Committee collected over 12 bins of backpacks and school supplies which were delivered to the Community Action Partnership and the Child Abuse Prevention Center for distribution to underprivileged and abused children.
In August, the Honorable Clay M. Smith and the Honorable Ronald L. Bauer joined event co-chairs Adam Johnson, Jessica Hawari, John Reynard, and about 50 other volunteers and their children, to walk, squat, and pick up trash on the beach in Huntington Beach with the Surfrider Foundation. Why pay a personal trainer when you can exercise with fellow attorneys and Orange County Superior Court judges for free while providing community service? The Honorable Clay M. Smith found the event so worthwhile that he has agreed to be the honorary co-chair for the same event in 2013. And, since the Honorable Ronald L. Bauer has been a dedicated judicial participant for the past two years, we will be calling him to determine which event he has selected for 2013 to co-chair (no good deed goes unpunished).
In early fall, the Committee’s energetic members took part in the Race for the Cure. Our co-chairs, attorneys Jennifer and Robert Tennant, with their new baby in tow, raised almost five times more money than our goal and rallied numerous OCBA members and staff—including OCBA Board Member Steven Hittleman, Executive Director Trudy Levindofske, and Assistant Executive Director Carole Martinez—to rise and shine before 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday to show OCBA commitment to eradicating breast cancer.
Fall was also time for the Committee’s second “play date” at Orangewood, co-chaired by Ly Ly, Karen Prather, and Larisa Dinsmoor, as well as the Committee’s second harvesting event for Second Harvest Food Bank, co-chaired by Nichole Wong, Teresa Farrell, and Sara Parker. It was also time to start collecting toiletries to help stock the shelters for the upcoming winter months. Long-time Committee member, outgoing Orange County Women Lawyers Association (OCWLA) President, and newly elected Orange County Asian American Bar Association (OCAABA) President, Patricia Lee-Gulley and attorney Henry Ezzati, co-chair the drive, which takes place throughout December.
Ever eager to help, the Committee planned four events for December: Home for the Holidays Pet Adoption, chaired by attorneys Amy Song and Elizabeth Otley; Senior Santa and Friends, led by Patricia Lee-Gulley; Toys for Tots, directed by Richard Pinette; and Project HOPE School, led by Sherri Honer and Priya Navaratnasingham. Senior Santa, Toys for Tots, and Project HOPE School involve adopting a senior, a family, or children for the holidays by providing gifts. Flyers will be distributed online and in the mail indicating how OCBA members can make a difference in someone’s life during the holidays. Participation in these programs can be conveniently done from your desk by shopping online or, if you want to move, by walking down the aisles of Target, Ross, or Toys “R” Us. If you want even more exercise, join us at Home for the Holidays to assist with the pet adoptions at the Irvine Animal Care Center.
For most of these events, you will get out from behind your desk and, when that pet gets its forever home or the senior gets some new slippers or that tot gets his or her favorite toy, you will feel like you just got a merit badge for that Boy Scout or Girl Scout outfit in your attic. Please join us in our charitable efforts this December—with or without your scouting attire.
Sara L. Parker is Of Counsel with Fullerton, Lemann, Schaefer & Dominick, LLP. She has served on the Community Outreach Committee for close to five years, as co-chair for three of them. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sherri L. Honer is a Senior Associate with Frank P. Barbaro & Associates. She has been a member of the Community Outreach Committee for close to six years, and the co-chair for the last two years. You may email her at email@example.com.
Pro Bono Service
by Jeanne A. Thomas
The mission of the Pro Bono Committee is to assess needs in the community and coordinate training programs for attorney members with the Public Law Center in order to provide access to justice through clinical programs.
The current economic downturn has created staggering challenges for our courts and for individuals who lack access to affordable legal services. Non-parent caregivers of minor children are overwhelmed by the process of filing for legal guardianship. Victims of domestic violence who need the protection of restraining orders must prepare documents and represent themselves at court hearings without the assistance of an attorney. Persons who have lost their jobs and homes often have no choice but to petition to bankruptcy courts for relief from their debts. Persons seeking information regarding immigration laws and paths to citizenship are susceptible to fraud because of their inability to afford legal services. Pro bono legal assistance can change the course of their lives.
Many OCBA members volunteer their time and specialized knowledge by participating in one of the current Pro Bono Committee projects, such as the Guardianship, Domestic Violence, Bankruptcy, and Immigration Clinics. If you haven’t yet participated in one of our clinics, we invite you to attend one of the volunteer attorney training seminars offered in the coming months. The seminars are provided at no charge and earn MCLE credit in exchange for either accepting a pro bono case from Public Law Center or providing legal assistance at a court clinic or domestic violence shelter clinic.
Guardianship Court Clinics are held on Mondays from 12:30 to 4:30 p.m. at the Lamoreaux Justice Center in Orange. Volunteer attorneys assist self-represented parties with filing petitions for guardianship of minor children. For example, recently a monolingual Spanish maternal grandmother of three young grandchildren came to the Guardianship Clinic at the Lamoreaux Justice Center seeking help with filing for legal guardianship in Probate Court. The children’s mother was unable to care for them. She was believed to be homeless and using drugs. She had not contacted her children in over a year. The father of two of the children was incarcerated in one of the state prisons, but the grandmother did not know which one. The father of the third child was unknown. The grandmother was very confused by the court forms, which were all in English, and she was very nervous about going to court. The volunteer attorney, with the assistance of the Spanish-speaking paralegal from Public Law Center, answered her questions, helped her complete her court forms, and explained the court process. She was able to file her case that same day.
Chapter 7 Court Clinics and Reaffirmation Court Clinics are held monthly or bi-monthly at the U.S. Courthouse in Santa Ana. Volunteer attorneys provide general legal advice on bankruptcy procedures and answer questions regarding filings, as well as rights and obligations under reaffirmation agreements. Domestic Violence Shelter Clinics are held bi-monthly at Human Options and Laura’s House. Victims of domestic violence meet with volunteer attorneys for brief legal counseling. Issues discussed typically include restraining orders, dissolution of marriage, custody, support, and other family law matters. Immigration Clinics are held at school district sites at various times during the year. These informational meetings are presented in both English and Spanish.
We invite you to become a member of the Pro Bono Committee and join us in identifying new projects, which will address unmet legal needs within our community. Your input will help us expand OCBA-sponsored pro bono services. Ideas we are currently exploring include:
- Orange County Adoption Day, similar to the Los Angeles Adoption Saturday program, which began in 1997 and takes place in November each year. The goal of Adoption Day is to finalize adoptions and to celebrate and honor families who adopt. This is a very successful event that builds collaboration among local adoption agencies, courts, and advocacy organizations.
- A clinic to address legal issues of homeless families, particularly those living in motels in Orange County.
- A clinic to address elder and dependent adult legal issues.
- A clinic to address LGBT legal issues.
- Enlarge the scope of the OCBA Teenage Legal Survival Skills project to reach additional youth-centered organizations.
- Add a third domestic violence shelter to our Domestic Violence Clinic project.
- Identify opportunities for OCBA members to volunteer their pro bono legal services on short-term projects that meet unaddressed community needs.
We are excited about bringing new pro bono opportunities to OCBA members. Whether you accept a full representation case or volunteer for a two-hour clinic, the rewards of pro bono service far exceed the time spent. Your efforts make it possible for underserved individuals and families to navigate our court system and resolve their legal matters. We thank you for your generous support.
Jeanne A. Thomas is Director of the Whittier Law School Children’s Rights Clinic. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her co-chair, Claudette D. Kunzman practices Probate Law and Elder Law at the Law Office of Claudette D. Kunzman. She has been a member of the Pro Bono Committee for 20 years and can be reached at email@example.com.