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Pro Bono Lawyers in Action

Veterans Day 2010 Story
The PBA's Military and Veterans Affairs (MVA) Committee enjoyed a busy Veterans Day 2010 with an information table for its Legal Assistance for Military Personnel Program at the National Constitution Center (NCC) in Philadelphia (where an exhibit of soldiers' art is featured through March 2011) and a spot on the dais at the Veterans Day Parade in Media (the largest parade in the state) to honor the committee’s work promoting education about veterans in the schools of the commonwealth. PBA Pro Bono Coordinator David Trevaskis and Wes Payne, chair-elect of the MVA, manned the LAMP table at the NCC.

The pro bono service of the committee is reflected in a recent case handled by LAMP volunteer Marion Cowperthwait-Murray involving the adoption of a toddler whose adoptive father has been in her life since he met her mother a few years ago. Since then, while mom was at classes, at work or doing chores, he has been daddy to the child, feeding, changing, bathing, reading to her when he was not on military duty or working at his full-time civilian job or repairing and renovating the house he'd bought for them to live in after their marriage. She has called him daddy since she learned to talk. He and mom, who is a member of the National Guard IRR, married in June.

  Dad, a National Guard Sergeant, learned he was to redeploy to Afghanistan sometime in November. Before he deployed, he wanted to ensure that his child in all but name would truly be his child and have his name and all inheritance and veterans' benefits rights to which the child should be entitled as his daughter.

He sought assistance from his unit's JAG officers who, in turn, referred him for civilian legal assistance because adoption proceedings are not among the legal matters that can be undertaken by the JAG Corps.

The legal process of adoption by a step-parent of a child born in another state was begun in the Philadelphia Family Court Division, Adoption Branch. The Family Court Adoption Clerk's Office personnel offered superb and caring efforts to process the legal paperwork, the required interviews and the adoption proceedings. Family Court Judge Walter J. Olszewski presided over the adoption hearing. His calm, warm, patient and professional manner was noted by the parents as something they "really needed by the time we came into the courtroom."

  The parents feel secure now that their little girl is protected by law as well as by love.

A pro bono story that reminds us of what makes a lawyer great …
Posted June 2006

“In western Pennsylvania, a young lawyer in a well-established firm hears from a couple in need of his pro bono services in a case arising from shoddy repairs to their home by a local contractor. The young lawyer sets up a meeting with the couple for the following Monday and goes off for the weekend. When he comes in Monday morning, he has an e-mail from his senior partner explaining that the case has been settled, and the couple will just need to execute the release attached to the e-mail when they come in later that morning as scheduled by the young attorney.

“The senior partner had been working over the weekend when a rainstorm brought a panicked call to the office from the couple whose home was leaking badly. He told them he would be right over and, five hours later, not only had he helped the couple with their clean-up, he had also negotiated a settlement of their case with the contractor.”

The young lawyer who told this story was Jeffrey Monzo of Belden Law, and the senior partner was late Pennsylvania Bar Association President H. Reginald Belden Jr. Monzo told this story at the PBA memorial celebration of Belden’s life.

Stories of Pro Bono Lawyers in Action — Ronald Long
Posted November 2006

The Coast Guard ribbon that Ronald Long will soon be given for his legal services in the Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awards_and_decorations_of_the_United_States_Coast_Guard and scroll down the ribbon section to see the new Coast Guard Katrina Presidential Unit Citation) was not the reason why Long donated his time and expertise to the residents of Mississippi. His inspiration came from reading about post-Katrina volunteering efforts in the PBA’s Pennsylvania Lawyer Magazine. A member of the Coast Guard Auxiliary, Long picked up the phone after finishing his reading and called the Coast Guard to see what he could do to help. Working through government channels, Long obtained special permission from the Mississippi Bar to practice law within Mississippi and started working the phones from here to the benefit of many Mississippi residents who otherwise would have been unable to access an attorney.

Many Pennsylvania attorneys have worked to help in the recovery process from Hurricane Katrina which imposed devastating effects on the residents of Louisiana and Mississippi physically, emotionally, and legally. Some have even traveled down to the Gulf Coast and set up shop for periods of time. Long’s pro bono efforts highlight that much can be done long distance. His services ranged from real estate and insurance issues to tenants rights. When Long learned that one landlord was charging what seemed to be excessively high rental rates to victims who had lost their homes, he responded by researching the Mississippi Landlord Tenant Act, uncovering the state’s view as to what constitutes an excessive rental rate. Long then contacted numerous real estate professionals in the landlord’s area. Once Long had determined the prevailing rental rates in the particular area, he informed the offending landlord of his duty to comply with the much lower rates, which the landlord did.

Other services Long provided included aiding individuals who received insurance proceeds. One problem he settled involved two sisters who were issued one insurance check with both of their names on the check for their loss of property. The sisters were not knowledgeable as to the check’s proper disbursement, and one sister wanted the entire check to be used in an effort to relocate. Long wrote a letter to the sister explaining her duty to the other sister, allowing the family members to resolve their dispute through the rule of law. It seems like a simple matter to those of us who are enjoying an undisturbed life far from the ravages of Katrina, but in a devastated area just being able to get sound advice made all the difference in the world for the family.

Long handled numerous additional issues stemming from the hurricane. In one case, a landlord wanted to restore a damaged property and rent to new tenants, unsure of their original tenant’s location. The tenant, living in a FEMA trailer at the time and suffering from a nervous breakdown, was unable to inform the landlord of her intention to return. Long, after communication with the tenant’s mother, informed the landlord of the tenant’s intent to return, staving off another blow to that tenant’s life.

Long’s legal aid service gained him special recognition in the Fall 2006 Navigator Magazine, the journal of the Coast Guard Auxiliary (see his article at http://www.auxadept.org/navigator/2006FALL.pdf), but for him the real thrill comes not from a Presidential Ribbon or his picture in a magazine, but from knowing his work is helping victims to begin putting their lives back together.