Letters to the Editor

Viewpoint: Many lawyers work for the public good

The American Bar Association has designated Oct. 24-30, 2010 as the second National Pro Bono Week. Particularly in these times of lawyer bashing, lawyer jokes and the continuing low esteem of the legal profession, it is important to recognize and celebrate lawyers who provide valuable legal services without cost to needy individuals within our community.

The term “pro bono” comes from the Latin phrase “pro bono publico,” which roughly translates as “for the public good.” The California Commission on Access to Justice recently highlighted the innumerable challenges faced by poor and moderate income people living in rural areas and emphasized the important role of pro bono attorneys in assuring access to justice for these disadvantaged groups (The report may be viewed at www.calbar.ca.gov/rural).

As part of the National Pro Bono Week celebration, the San Luis Obispo Superior Court wants to acknowledge and thank the many lawyers throughout the county who provide pro bono services to individuals who would not otherwise have their day in court.

These lawyers donate their valuable time helping out on a wide variety of important legal problems, including domestic violence, divorce, child custody, evictions, mortgage foreclosures and elder abuse.

They volunteer in legal clinics, take referrals from nonprofit legal service agencies and provide free legal services from their offices.

Most of our pro bono lawyers are sole practitioners who, as have many others within our community, been severely affected by the economic downturn.

Although the list of pro bono lawyers is significant and growing, there are several individuals who deserve special recognition in 2010. Mitzi Scott, a sole practitioner, donates a substantial amount of her time volunteering with LawLine San Luis Obispo in family law matters.

Ray Allen, a criminal law specialist, volunteers a great deal of time at the Women’s Community Center legal clinic. Neil Tardiff, director of LawLine San Luis Obispo, and Angie King, president of the board for the Women’s Community Center, have taken leadership roles in establishing pro bono programs.

Michael Blank and Abby Lassen from California Rural Legal Assistance and Virginia Sawyer from Senior Legal Services Project work for legal aid agencies and continue to devote their professional energies to helping San Luis Obispo County’s low-income individuals.

We salute all of these individuals and applaud the admirable job they do. If you pass them on the street, please make sure to thank them for their tireless efforts.

Over a century ago, in the case of Chambers versus Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Company, 207 U.S. 142 (1907), the Supreme Court said: “The right to sue and defend in the courts is the alternative of force. In an organized society, it ... lies at the foundation of orderly government. It is one of the highest and most essential privileges of citizenship.”

With California’s tremendous budget deficit, access to the courts for those less fortunate is truly in peril. With funding and staffing levels at all time lows, our local charitable legal aid organizations have been devastated. Now more than ever, we need additional volunteer lawyers involved in pro bono activities in order to help meet the growing need for legal assistance in our community.

For more information on how you can help, please contact Alicia Valdez Wright, family law facilitator for the San Luis Obispo Superior Court, at alicia.wright@slo.courts.ca.gov.

Charles S. Crandall is the presiding judge of the California Superior Court, County of San Luis Obispo.