The Hawaii Access to Justice Commission (“Commission”) hosted the fifth annual Pro Bono Celebration on Thursday, October 26, 2017 at the Hawaii Supreme Court. The Celebration was supported by the Hawaii State Bar Association (“HSBA”) and the Hawaii State Bar Foundation. The Program honored ten outstanding individuals including nine attorneys, who volunteer for legal service providers, sixty-five attorneys, law firms, and groups who volunteer for the First Circuit District and Family Court Access to Justice Rooms, and six student essay/video contest winners.
Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Simeon Acoba (ret.), Chair of the Commission, opened the ceremony by reflecting on the importance of encouraging and recognizing volunteerism, stating:
The goal of pro bono service is to extend legal assistance to those who would otherwise be unable to obtain or who are restricted in obtaining such services. This assistance is undertaken by lawyers to promote equal justice for all, regardless of economic, cultural, language, or other barriers that those in need may encounter. Equal justice is at the core of our democracy, and in fulfilling such service, lawyers help to preserve our democracy and our constitutional form of government.
Pro Bono Honorees
Hawaii Supreme Court Associate Justice Michael Wilson recognized the pro bono attorneys honored by the legal service providers. The honorees were presented with certificates from Governor David Ige’s office by Attorney General Douglas Chin, and legislative certificates were presented by Representative Della Au Belatti.
Raynette Nalani Ah Chong was honored by the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice for her efforts as a foster parent and as an advocate for foster families. Over a period of nearly 20 years, Ah Chong and her family opened their home to more than 100 foster children. Her family also adopted two children and cared for two more long term. In recent years, like many other foster parents, Ah Chong found that it had become impossible to adequately provide for the foster children in their home with the $529 monthly expenses reimbursement that the state had provided without adjustment for 24 years. Had the reimbursement been adjusted for inflation during that time, it would have increased to over $970. Instead of abandoning the foster care system as many financially stretched foster parents have done, Ah Chong sought to improve it by challenging the state’s refusal to adequately increase the reimbursement. Ah Chong bravely stepped out and spoke up on behalf of the roughly 1,000 foster families in the state, serving as class representative in a case that has continued for nearly four years.
Clare Hanusz and Kevin Block were honored by the ACLU of Hawaii for their commitment throughout their careers to the public interest, and the many immigrants whose civil rights they defended pro bono in the course of their immigration practice. Over the past years, they helped with matters ranging from racial profiling by the Maui police to advocating for the rights of Compact of Free Association migrants and all immigrants in Hawaii. Hanusz and Block have, in partnership with the ACLU of Hawaii, worked tirelessly to do outreach and conduct “know your rights” workshops for vulnerable immigrant communities that live in constant fear of immigration enforcement and deportation across the Hawaiian Islands.
Johanna Chock-Tam was honored by the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation for her efforts to preserve the Hawaiian language. As a legal extern working for the Office of the Administrative Director of the Courts, she worked with the Hawaiian Language Web Feasibility Task Force created by the legislature and was given the task of translating the Judiciary website into Hawaiian. Most recently, Chock-Tam dedicated much of her free time working with the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation as a pro bono attorney on a lawsuit about the ability of Hawaiian families to communicate in the Hawaiian language with their loved ones who are incarcerated.
William C. Darrah was honored by the Mediation Center of the Pacific for his efforts over the years to increase access to justice for divorcing couples. Despite a busy legal practice as a family law attorney, he has dedicated thousands of pro bono hours to provide the people of Hawaii with the knowledge and tools to effectively navigate the divorce process fairly and respectfully. From serving as editor-in-chief of the Hawaii Divorce Manual and the annual supplements since 2002, to developing and presenting 195 Divorce Law in Hawaii monthly sessions at the Supreme Court since 2002 (and more recently at Family Court in Kapolei), creating and conducting 19 annual Divorce Mediation Best Practices workshops for the Mediation Center of the Pacific since 2006, and publishing the monthly Journal of Hawaii Family Law since January 1990, Darrah worked tirelessly to help divorcing couples work through the terms of their divorce with the least amount of stress and pain.
John Egan was honored by the Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center for being a pillar in the legal community in fighting for immigrant rights. His consistent advocacy and dedication to upholding justice for immigrants is a shining example for the team at the Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center at the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii. Egan helps Legal Aid organize naturalization workshops by bringing his valuable institutional knowledge and experience to the table. He is always willing to work with Legal Aid through creative and effective case strategies in wading through murky immigration issues. He has also taken cases from Legal Aid pro bono. Egan regularly speaks at community events and continuing legal education seminars to share his knowledge. He even invites lawyers to come to his office to use his law library and resources.
Jill Hasegawa was honored by the Domestic Violence Action Center (“DVAC”) as a spirited and active member of the legal community and a generous professional serving many through her array of volunteer leadership positions. She has served on the Hawaii Access to Justice Commission, Hawai’i Women’s Legal Foundation, ABA’s Commission on IOLTA, was past president of the HSBA Young Lawyers Division, and an active consultant to the Domestic Violence Action Center. In addition to accepting pro bono cases, Hasegawa has mentored and trained agency staff attorneys over the last eight years. Her kindness, warmth, and welcoming professionalism is deeply appreciated by all staff and management of the DVAC.
Lynne Jenkins McGivern was also honored by the DVAC for the leadership roles she has taken at the organization for more than 15 years. She has been a mentor, trainer, and Board president of the agency. She always provided wise guidance, clear investment, and generous willingness to meet the problem of domestic violence with bold grace. She also provides pro bono representation and case consultation regularly for clients and staff at DVAC.
Neva Keres was honored by the University of Hawaii Elder Law Program (“UHELP”) where she has been volunteering since 2013. She always makes herself available to help when assistance is needed and has participated in a wide range of activities, from helping with major conferences to making presentations in the community for UHELP, to mentoring and going on outreach with elder law clinic students, to editing publications to answering the UHELP office phone. She has a depth of legal knowledge developed in a range of legal settings. As an example of her impact on behalf of UHELP, Keres developed quite a following at the Kokua Kalihi Valley Memory Clinic. She is a valued volunteer with UHELP and always exhibits the highest levels of competence, confidence, civility, and cheerfulness.
Jefferson S. Willard was honored by Volunteer Legal Services of Hawaii (“VLSH”) for his public service through volunteer work. Most notably, Willard has donated not only his time, but also his legal training and skills to helping over 44 low-income individuals through VLSH’s Pro Bono Program. He logged in over 113 hours this year in VLSH’s Re-employment and Community Services program. Despite his busy practice and commitments to his wife and daughter, he has made time to give back to the community.
Access to Justice Room Volunteers
Judge Melanie May and Mark Murakami recognized the individuals, law firms, and groups who volunteered at the District Court Access to Justice Room including: Sharon Lovejoy, Jefferson Willard, Alana Peacott-Ricardos, Nathaniel Higa, Arlette Harada, Cheryl Park, Beverly Sameshima, Kristie Chang, Bryant Zane, Stacey Djou, Tred Eyerly, Daniel Kim, Bruce Paige, Sam Yee, Miriah Holden, Samantha Chan, Daniel Cheng, Rowena Somerville, Justin Brackett, Bruce Paige, Sergio Alcubilla, Eileen C. Zorc, Dan O’Meara, and William H. Gilardy, Jr. The law firms included: Chong Nishimoto Sia Nakamura & Goto; Hawai’i Women Lawyers; McCorriston Miller Mukai Mackinnon; Carlsmith Ball; Cades Schutte; Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel; Hawai’i Filipino Lawyers Association; Bronster Fujichaku Robbins; Schlack Ito; Starn O’Toole Marcus & Fisher; Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing; Ashford & Wriston; Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert; Marr Jones Wang; and Yamamoto Caliboso.
Judge Catherine Remigio recognized the individuals who volunteered at the Family Court Access to Justice Room including: John Bryant Jr., Leslie Ching Allen, Richard Diehl, Noah Gibson, Jessi Hall, Seth Harris, Jill Hasegawa, Steve Hioki, Ann Isobe, Mari Kishimoto, Erin Kobayashi, Lynnae Lee, Marianita Lopez, Dyan Mitsuyama, Juan Montalbano, Michelle Moorhead, Mei Nakamoto, Eizabeth Paek-Harris, Gemma-Rose Poland Soon, Ellen Politano, Madalyn Purcell, Jackie Thurston, Carol Tribbey, Cheryl Yamaki, and Sandra Young.
The Essay/Video Award Recipients
The Commission received 191 essays and videos from public and private high school students in grades 10 through 12 on the theme: “Why we need volunteers, and how volunteering has helped me to answer this question.” Regan Iwao, the lead coordinator of the contest, noted that the Commission received over 1,000 entries for the contest over the past five years. This year was the first time that videos were included in the contest.
The 2017 essay/video award recipients were: Kylie Alarcon, Aiea High School (video); Lona Girardin, Seabury Hall; Mya Hunter, Trinity Christian School; Elise Kuwaye, Kaimuki Christian School; Emily Kuwaye, Kaimuki Christian School; and Madison Pratt, Keaau High School.
The preliminary judges for the contest included: Judge Rhonda Loo, Judge Catherine Remigio, Judge Melanie M. May, Judge Michael Tanigawa, Judge William Domingo, Judge Dyan Mitsuyama, Judge James Kawashima, Judge John Montalbano, Judge Thomas Haia, Judge Randal Shintani, Judge Darolyn Lendio Heim, Judge James Ashford, Judge Hilary Benson Gangnes, Judge Steven Hartley, Jessi Hall, Derek Kobayashi, Sergio Alcubilla, David Brittin, Jenny Silbiger, Tracy Jones, Roya Deyhim, Joanna Sokolow, Jo Kim, Laurel Loo, and Shannon Wack.
The finalist judges of the essay contest were Chief Justice Recktenwald, Judge Ronald Ibarra, Commissioner, and 2017 HSBA President Nadine Ando. They praised the high school students for their inspiring essays and for actively engaging in volunteerism. Each of the students received a cash award of $500, donated by McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon, LLP; Schlack Ito, LLP; Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel, LLP; Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert; Carlsmith Ball, LLP; and Bronster Fujichaku Robbins.
“Today’s celebration honors those who volunteer their time and talent to help others. Whether it be advocating for the rights of foster children, volunteering in a homeless shelter, or guiding a pro se litigant through the legal process, today’s student and pro bono honorees possess a quality of selflessness that helps to make Hawai’i a better place for all,” said Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald.
The Commission is grateful to everyone who supported and participated in the 2017 Pro Bono Celebration. The event represents an important gesture of gratitude to the attorneys and individuals who so generously donate their time to assist hundreds of people each year and serves to inspire Hawaii’s young people to volunteer. Equally important, the Celebration is a reminder to all of the importance of giving back and helping those in need to achieve access to justice.