The eighth annual Pro Bono Celebration took place during National Pro Bono Celebration week in October 2020.  Due to health and safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, instead of the usual “in-person” event, the Commission partnered with ThinkTech Hawaii to tape and livestream the Celebration.  In addition, during the weeks leading up to the Celebration, ThinkTech Hawaii hosted four segments focusing on various legal service providers, their honorees, pro bono volunteers, and self-help initiatives.

          The annual Celebration allows the Bar to recognize and thank the attorneys and individuals who generously donate their time to assist hundreds of people each year.  It also recognizes those volunteers who have gone above and beyond to assist our legal service providers in helping the public and serves to inspire Hawai‘i’s young people to volunteer.  Equally important, the Celebration is a reminder of the importance of pro bono work and helping those in need, especially during the current COVID-19 pandemic.  It is only through the efforts of the many individuals who dedicate hundreds of hours of pro bono service that Hawai‘i continues to increase access to justice for all.  

Pro Bono Honorees

          Recognition certificates from the Hawaii State Legislature, the Governor, and the Hawai’i Access to Justice Commission were presented to the attorneys who provided pro bono services in assisting various legal service providers. 

  • The Mediation Center of the Pacific (“MCP”) honored Samantha Kasnetz, who quickly became a regular mediator following her participation in MCP’s Mediation Training in April 2016.  Since that time, she has mediated over 328 cases, primarily in the domestic arena, involving 432 sessions and over 1,161 hours.  In addition to mediating some of the most challenging cases, Kasnetz regularly assists with MCP’s trainings, as well as at various government, private, and non-profit businesses throughout Oahu.  Last year, Kasnetz assisted with trainings for the Honolulu Police Department, the Department of Education, the Department of Labor, and more.  She also helped with outreach and education at various conferences and pop-up events coordinated by MCP in Honolulu, Wahiawa, Waianae, and other communities throughout the island.  Kasnetz’s “can-do” attitude and willingness to help whenever and wherever she is needed has been an inspiration to MCP staff, mediators, and clients alike. 
  • Volunteer Legal Services of Hawai‘i (“VLSH”) honored Clarissa Malinao, one of VLSH’s regular Neighborhood Legal Clinic volunteer attorneys, assisting those with family law matters.  Additionally, Malinao volunteered and represented numerous VLSH Re-Employment and Community Services Work Program  clients prior to her appointment as a per diem judge for the District Court of the First Circuit in August of 2019.  Since her appointment, she continues to recruit additional volunteers for VLSH and volunteers for VLSH’s monthly family law clinic.  Malinao also joined Judge Melanie May in leading a training program for new volunteer attorneys. 
  • Legal Aid Society of Hawai‘i (“Legal Aid”) honored Maui attorney, Benjamin Acob, who has been a longtime supporter and volunteer with the Maui Self-Help Center, dedicating countless hours to assist the people of Maui with their needs, ever since the Center opened in Wailuku in 2012.  In 2016, Acob was recognized by Chief Justice Recktenwald at an event for Self-Help Center volunteers, for going above and beyond in his volunteer work at the Center, taking on representation of a family, who had limited English proficiency, and who were facing eviction from low-income housing.  Over the past year, Acob signed up for more shifts at the Maui Self-Help Center than any other volunteer.  Beyond this, Acob would often stop by the Center if he were at the courthouse and would end up taking shifts spontaneously if it were short-staffed that day. For every pro se litigant he assisted, Acob would take the time to listen with care, no matter how long it took.  Both customers and those who worked with Acob alike have expressed admiration and appreciation over not only his legal expertise but also the way he is able to deliver legal services in a manner that is compassionate and with dignity. This year alone, Acob has helped hundreds of those in need who have come to the Maui Self-Help Center and has proved indispensable in increasing access to justice for those without legal representation.
  • The University of Hawai‘i Elder Law Program (“UHELP”) honored Christy Matsuba, who has been volunteering with UHELP since she graduated from the William S. Richardson School of Law in 2007.  During law school, she worked as the senior law student legal clerk for UHELP. Matsuba has always made herself available to help when UHELP needed assistance and participates in a wide range of activities from assisting with major conferences, to making presentations in the community, to mentoring, and going on outreach with elder law clinic students. Having a depth of legal knowledge developed in a range of legal settings, Matsuba is particularly helpful to law students on issues relating to estate planning, including, wills, trusts, and probate.  She is a valued volunteer with UHELP and always exhibits the highest levels of competence, confidence, civility, and cheerfulness. 

Kapolei Access to Justice Room

         The Kapolei Access to Justice Room (“KAJR”) provides limited legal advice regarding family law matters by volunteer attorneys.  The volunteer attorneys for KAJR offer their time, expertise, and guidance to individuals on a variety of family court civil issues, including divorce, paternity, custody and visitation, child support, adoptions, and guardianships.   The following attorneys have dedicated their time at the Access to Justice Room: Kevin Adaniya, Caitlyn Axe, Leslie Ching Allen, Richard Diehl, Shelby Ferrer, Noah Gibson, Shannon Hackett, Thomas Haia, Jill Hasegawa, Steve Hioki, Ann Isobe, Mari Kishimoto Doi, Lynnae Lee, Marianita Lopez, Elsa McGehee, Dyan Mitsuyama, Juan Montalbano, Courtney Naso, Gemma-Rose Poland Soon, Ellen Politano, Tom Tanimoto, Jackie Thurston, Carol Tribbey, and Cheryl Yamaki.

Volunteer Settlement Master Program

The Volunteer Settlement Master (“VSM”) Program was established in 2004 to assist divorcing spouses and unmarried couples with children to resolve their custody and financial issues by making fair and workable agreements with each other, as an alternative to litigating those issues before the Family Court.  The VSM Program is a collaboration between the Family Court, the HSBA Family Law Section, and MCP.  Licensed family law attorneys are appointed by the Senior Judge of the Family Court to serve as VSMs.  A VSM will typically be appointed by the Family Court following a conference conducted in response to a request by one divorcing spouse to set the case for trial.  The Family Court may also assign a VSM to address pre-divorce, post-divorce and paternity issues. 

The VSM Program volunteer attorneys in 2020 included Kevin Adaniya, Marrionette Andrews, Cheryl Arakaki, Sara Jo Buehler, Jennifer Chan, Bradley Chong, Tom Crowley, Nicole Cummings, Everett Cuskaden, William Darrah, Richard Diehl, Gavin Doi, Huilin Dong, Thomas Farrell, Shelby Ferrer, P. Gregory Frey, Stacey Fukuhara-Barclay, Noah Gibson, Christian (Christy) Gray, Donna Davis Green, Geoff Hamilton, Seth Harris, Steve Hartley, Jill Hasegawa, Denise Havicon, Stephen Hioki, Debbie Jew, Curtis Kam, Kevin Kimura, Charles Kleintop, Erin Kobayashi, Jackie Kong, Ed Lebb, Lynnae Lee, Kendal Luke, Katherine Lukela, Tim Luria, Michael McEnerny, Elsa McGehee, Lynne McGivern, Dyan Mitsuyama, Naoko Miyamoto, Juan Montalbano, Courtney Naso, Blake Okimoto, Maria Penn, Anthony Perrault, Ellen Politano, Pablo Quiban, Alethea Rebman, Stephanie Rezents, Candra Rivers, Gregg Ryan, Judith Schevtchuck, John Schmidtke, Scott Schmidtke, Isaac Smith, Gemma-Rose Poland Soon, Justin Sturdivant, Jo-Ann Takara, Tom Tanimoto, Christopher Thomas, Carol Tribbey, Paul Tomar, Molly Turpin, Mitchell Wong, Sheila Vierra, Trina Yamada, and Craig Yim.

Honolulu District Court Access to Justice Room

The Honolulu District Court Access to Justice Room provides free legal advice to unrepresented litigants involved in civil cases.  Self-represented litigants are able to ask questions and get free legal advice about landlord-tenant matters, credit card and debt collection cases, contract cases, such as personal loans, car repairs, and personal service cases, tort cases, and temporary restraining orders.  In 2020, there was a shift from in-person to remote legal services that presented new and improved ways for attorneys to provide legal advice and for the public to receive legal assistance.  This shift also provided additional access for attorneys to be able to volunteer from their homes or offices. 

          The volunteer law firms and organizations in 2020 included Bronster Fujichaku Robbins, Cades Schutte, Carlsmith Ball, Case Lombardi & Pettit, Chun Kerr, Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert, Filipino Lawyers Association, Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel, Hawaii Association of Justice, Hawaii Women Lawyers, Marr Jones & Wang, McCorriston Miller Mukai MacKinnon, Office of Disciplinary Counsel, Schlack Ito, and Yamamoto Caliboso.  Other  individual volunteer attorneys recognized in 2020 were William Bagasol, Cassie Bagay, Thomas Berger, Ben Creps, Gilbert Doles, Ben Fisher, Mike Goodman, Arlette Harada, Walter Hebblethwaite, Nathaniel Higa, Naomi Iwabuchi, Daniel Kim, Matthew Kollinger, Christina Ohira, Megumi Sakae, Katherine Vessels, and Bryant Zane. 

Appellate Pro Bono Program

          The Appellate Pro Bono Program is a joint effort of the Judiciary, the HSBA Appellate Section, and VLSH to match volunteer attorneys with self-represented litigants who are parties to an appeal.  Cases in the program are limited to non-criminal appeals in the following civil matters: foreclosure, summary possession, employment discrimination, worker’s compensation, wrongful termination, denial of unemployment benefits, state tax appeals, probate matters, and paternity and non-married custody case.   The volunteer attorneys recognized in 2020 were Sharla Manley, Richard Mitchell, Robert H. Thomas, and Joanna C. Zeigler.

Appellate Mediation Program

The Appellate Mediation Program started in 1995 to offer an alternative to litigation on appeal and for individuals to work with experienced mediators to look at options that might not have been thought of to resolve cases without the cost of litigation on appeal.  The program settles an average of fifty-three percent of cases each year.

The volunteer mediators acknowledged in 2020 included Judge Ricki May Amano, Judge Joel August, Judge Karen Blondin, Professor Addison Bowman, Robin Campaniano, Corlis Chang, Louis Chang, Chuck Crumpton, Justice James Duffy, Jaqueline Earle, Judge Max Graham, Diane Hastert, Diane Hifo, Kenneth Hipp, Judge Colleen Hirai, James Hoenig, Judge Walter Ikeda, Elizabeth Kent, Judge Walter Kirimitsu, Justice Robert G. Klein, Ralph La Fountaine, Roz Loomis, Ivan Lui-Kwan, Judge Vicky Marks, Georgia McMillen, Douglas McNish, Judge Marie Milks, Chief Justice Ronald Moon, Richard Mosher, Judge Gail Nakatani, Patricia Park, Judge Shackley Raffetto, Judge Frank Rothschild, Judge Nancy Ryan, Judge Sandra Simms, Judge Leeland Spencer, Thomas Stirling, Judge Allene Suemori, Owen Tamaoka, Judge Michael A. Town, Judge Diane Warrington, Arne Werchick, Judge Andrew Wilson, and Judge Patrick Yim.

High School Student Essay Award

          In addition to honoring pro bono volunteers, the 2020 theme for the high school essay contest was Standing Together, Six Feet Apart: How Did You Serve the Community During the COVID-19 Pandemic?”  The Commission received essay submissions from public and private high school students throughout the State in grades 10 through 12, with the top three winners from Oahu, and an entrant from Kaua‘i, Maui, and West Hawai‘i, all receiving the top student awards.  Each student awardee received a $500 cash prize, and an additional $100 award for educational purposes was given to a teacher named by the student awardee.  The law firms who sponsored the essay contest were: Case Lombardi & Pettit; Chong, Nishimoto, Sia, Nakamura & Goya; Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert; Ota & Hara; Schlueter Kwiat & Kennedy; and Tateishi & Tanaka.

The 2020 essay award recipients were: Mariah Ramo (Waipahu High School), Josiah Richards (Makua Lani Christian Academy), Emily Tom (‘Iolani School), Kaitlin Kitagawa (King Kekaulike High School), Valor Ahn (Kaimuki Christian School), and Kai Mottley (Kaua‘i High School). 

          The 2020 Pro Bono Celebration was supported by the Hawai‘i Access to Justice Commission, Hawai‘i Justice Foundation, the Hawai‘i State Bar Association, and the Hawai‘i State Bar Foundation. 

Links to the Celebration

Providing free legal services for the community (Life In The Law) – YouTube

Elder Law and Appellate Mediation and Pro Bono Programs in Hawaii (Life In The Law) – YouTube

Mediation Center of the Pacific (Life In The Law) – YouTube

Legal Aid and Legal Self-Help in Hawaii (Life In The Law) – YouTube

Hawaii 2020 Pro Bono Celebration, October 9, 2020 (Life in the Law) – YouTube