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NJSBA 2020 Pro Bono Awards honor lawyers for helping New Jersey’s most vulnerable
On Oct. 27, at the virtual 2020 Pro Bono Awards, the NJSBA will honor Pashman Stein Walder Hayden (PSWH) in Hackensack, Charles F. Rysavy of K&L Gates in Newark, Michael R. Griffinger of Gibbons in Newark, and Catherine Weiss of Lowenstein Sandler in Roseland for their significant work to improve access to justice for the underserved in New Jersey.
A lifetime of service
Griffinger will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award for a longstanding commitment to pro bono work, helping the underserved and making a lasting contribution during his 55-year legal career. He has donated at least 20,000 hours to pro bono work and served countless clients.
When the Newark riots broke out in 1967, Griffinger was at the forefront of the pro bono legal effort to help more than 2,000 people who were arrested.
“This experience completely changed Michael’s view of the legal profession and its responsibility to provide free assistance to those who cannot afford legal services,” Jessica Kitson, of Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, wrote about him.
Among his many achievements, Griffinger developed the Gibbons Fellowship in Public Interest and Constitutional Law, now in its 30th year. The fellowship has litigated some of the most significant legal issues of our time, including death penalty cases, same-sex marriage issues, the rights of detained enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay, equal funding for education, the prevention of domestic violence, the rights of pregnant women, juvenile defendant issues and the rights of individuals with AIDS.
“Michael is one of the attorneys at Gibbons who, from the beginning of his career, set the standards for community outreach and pro bono service, which have become core firmwide values at Gibbons. The good work he does has been a critical component in providing equal access to a fair legal system,” noted Patrick C. Dunican Jr., Gibbons’ chairman and managing director.
Pro bono during COVID-19
Weiss, a member of the Pro Bono Committee, will receive a special Pillar of Justice Award for her pro bono work during the COVID-19 pandemic. With an expertise in tenancy issues, she was a leader in statewide efforts to prevent evictions.
“In a world where people talk a lot about legal justice, Catherine acts. She is a tremendous asset for low-income people across New Jersey,” Cathy Keenan, executive director of the Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, wrote about Weiss.
Focus on public interest, social justice
PSWH will receive the LawFirm/ Corporate Legal Department Award. The firm focuses its pro bono work on public interest impact litigation and appellate advocacy that advances social, racial and economic justice; protects civil liberties and constitutional rights; and promotes an open and transparent government.
In 2019, PSWH established the Justice Gary S. Stein Public Interest Center as a practice area within the firm, which “provides a strong message internally, as well as externally, that the practice of law is more than just a business,” Joseph A. Maurice, president of the Bergen County Bar Association, wrote in nominating the firm. “PSWH attorneys believe that it is their responsibility as lawyers and as a law firm to lean in, contribute to the public good and give back.”
The bulk of PSWH’s pro bono work in 2019 was drafting and filing amicus curiae briefs in the New Jersey Supreme Court and Appellate Division for public interest organizations in numerous high-profile matters.
The firm estimates it donated more than 1,720 hours of pro bono hours in 2019, not including significant time spent on pro bono legal work by Managing Partner Mike Stein; Special Counsel Justice Gary Stein; and CJ Griffin, director of the Stein Public Interest Center.
Fighting for refugee children
Rysavy will receive the individual attorney award. He has been “an exceptional advocate for the refugee children…protecting and advancing their legal interests with compassion and extraordinary talent,” Carrey Wong, managing attorney for Kids in Need of Defense (KIND), wrote about his work.
“Charles is the quintessential attorney-servant, motivated by the determination to pursue justice for the voiceless,” she wrote. The majority of children served by KIND are from Central America’s Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala, and nearly all have experienced some form of trauma, most often child abuse, neglect, abandonment, sexual violence, gang violence or recruitment, or trafficking.
Rysavy donated nearly 400 pro bono hours in 2019, and an estimated 2,164 pro bono hours during his 33-year career.
NJSBA Pro Bono Task Force
The goal of the Pro Bono Task Force is to make recommendations that will encourage and expand pro bono participation by the private bar. Read the Task Force's report: Closing the Justice Gap - May 2012.
For more information on closing the justice gap, and New Jersey attorneys' pro bono obligations and opportunities, watch the video created by the New Jersey State Bar Association and New Jersey Judiciary.
Additional training videos for attorneys receiving pro bono assignments
Domestic Violence Contempt Matters
Municipal Court Appeals - June 2014
Legal Services of New Jersey
Click here to access the Legal Services of New Jersey website, for additional information about pro bono opportunities, legal services, training for pro bono when available, and regional legal service offices.
ABA Center for Pro Bono
Click here for the ABA Center for Pro Bono