2014 Volunteers of the month

DECEMBER 2014 VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – BREWSTER JAMIESON

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Our December Volunteer of the Month is Brewster Jamieson! Brewster is a Shareholder at Lane Powell PC, and he regularly contributes his time and diverse range of legal knowledge as a stellar ALSC volunteer. Check out our interview with Brewster below:

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?
ALSC is a well-known provider of legal services to indigent people in need of help.  ALSC has also developed the “attorney of the day” program that allows us to pre-screen our cases to determine whether the potential clients are a good fit for our abilities.  Finally, ALSC has great legal talent on staff who can provide guidance in difficult cases.
   
What are some of your experiences at ALSC that have made a positive difference in the lives of others? 
The most basic service I have provided is evaluation and guidance to people who have a problems that may or may not be legal problems.  After that, I have helped people adopt, helped them recover money from people who have wronged them, and helped them navigate issues with government agencies.  

How do you think your experiences with ALSC will benefit you in the future?
Helping others always helps you—it keeps you grounded and it reminds you of the ultimate purpose of our justice system.

What do you do when you are not volunteering with ALSC?
I also am active in the FBA, and hope everyone who reads this will contact me to join!

NOVEMBER 2014 VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – RHONDA BUTTERFIELD

Rhonda Butterfield

November’s Volunteer of the Month is Anchorage based attorney Rhonda Butterfield! Rhonda regularly mentors new attorneys in cases involving the Alaska Child Support Services Division to settle the amount of support owed to a lower and more manageable level…

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

Working with ALSC cases is one area where I can use my legal expertise and help people who otherwise could not afford my, or any other lawyer’s, services.  The subject area of most interest to me, and where I think I can help the most, is child support. 

At this stage of my career, I have chosen primarily to mentor young attorneys and guide them through various child support procedures on behalf of clients.  Child support is an area where I have more experience than most other family law attorneys, because I spent more than 7 years working as an Assistant Attorney General in the Collections and (Child) Support Section, working with CSSD.  As a result, I understand the practices, policies, and procedures of CSSD better than most.  I am happy that there have been quite a few new attorneys eager to volunteer with ALSC, and willing to take on subjects that they have not dealt with before (such as child support) and may never deal with again.  The younger attorneys have more energy and can do the leg work required in a lot of these cases, including tracking down decades-old court files; getting decades-old information from CSSD’s own files; meeting with the client; researching and writing a legal brief for a Formal Hearing; helping a client fill out a “Hardship” application to reduce CSSD’s withholding amounts; and preparing a settlement offer to the State; etc.  

What are some of your experiences at ALSC that have made a positive difference in the lives of others?

The clients who come to ALSC often have not only a sporadic work history, but they may have a substantial criminal history which has negatively affected them in many ways, including their ability to support their children.  In many of these cases, the children for whom support is owed are now adults, and the support has been assigned to the State.  The clients may have a current disability and be on a fixed income.  When CSSD finally catches up with them and starts garnishing 40% of their fixed income, they need to get relief, or they cannot even meet their own basic needs.  In one case I mentored, handled by Henry Tashjian, the client had child support arrears of around $43,000 when Henry started the case.  After a positive result in a formal CSSD hearing, where Henry successfully challenged CSSD’s order of support as based on a “default” and incorrect amount rather than on the client’s actual income, the client’s arrears were reduced to less than $10,000, and the client is in the process of making a settlement offer to the state in order to end his child support obligation once and for all.  This has relieved this client of a huge financial burden that he thought he would never be able to get rid of.  He remains a law-abiding citizen and now has the full benefit of his fixed income.

In a CSSD “default order” case that I am handling on behalf of an ALSC client on a fixed income, the client has child support arrears of over $110,000, with interest accumulating at over $230/month.  CSSD began garnishing his social security disability (which is now authorized under federal law), making it impossible for him to support himself on the reduced income.  Because he is entitled to have his “default order” vacated under AS 25.27.195(b), and replaced with an order based on his actual income over those years, I expect that his arrears will be reduced to a figure under $10,000.  This in turn will reduce the amount and/or the length of time CSSD will be collecting from him, and we may be able to settle the case for less than the new arrearage amount, if there is any arrearage at all. 

Helping people resolve their child support problems to significantly reduce or eliminate a large child support arrearage takes a monkey off people’s backs that they otherwise may not be able to get rid of during their lifetimes.  It relieves a huge amount of stress, and enables them to get back to living their lives without suffering from a significant reduction in their already low incomes. 

How do you think your experiences with ALSC will benefit you in the future?

At this point, I’m not sure there is a direct benefit to me by working with ALSC, other than the satisfaction of using my skills to help people in need, and getting to meet and work with young, enthusiastic attorneys who are also willing to help others.  In addition, I hope that my mentoring is helping new attorneys develop some skills, self-confidence, and tremendous satisfaction in using their legal skills to help people in need. 

What do you do when you are not volunteering with ALSC?

 I have been a volunteer for many years in other organizations that directly benefit families — the foundation of society.  In the late 1980’s, I was on the Board of Directors that established the Boys & Girls’ Club for the Kenai Peninsula, in Kenai.  The Club is still going strong.  Since my own children were born, I have served on the Board of Directors of a child care center, and as a volunteer for my kids’ swim teams and other sports teams.  I’ve been heavily involved in the Boy Scouts of America program since about 1999, and as of 2002, have served on the Troop Committee, as Troop Committee Chair, as a merit badge counselor for numerous merit badges, and continue in some of those roles even long after my son earned his Eagle Rank.  Since about 2010, I’ve served the BSA at the District and Council levels, including sitting as a Board member on young men’s Eagle Boards of Review, and on committees emphasizing training for adults in the Scouting program, such as University of Scouting.  I have served as a volunteer in my church’s nursery since 1999, and enjoy caring for babies, whose needs are usually very apparent and relatively easily met.  In addition, I have been a small group leader for the Practical Positive Parenting program since about 2007, participating in 10 weeks of parenting classes at least once each semester, helping parents to become better and more effective parents.  

In my profession, I have been active in the American Bar Association Family Law Section since about 2007, recently serving as Vice-Chair and then Chair of the Child Support Committee of that section. 

OCTOBER 2014 VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – MICHAEL GORMAN

Michael Gorman

October’s Volunteer of the Month is is the extraordinary Michael Gorman! Michael regularly volunteers as a pro bono lawyer and takes a variety of cases including bankruptcy, adoptions, wills, and Native Law.  He is always willing to try and learn something new and has taken many cases with non-English speakers, using a translator to communicate with his client…

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

I volunteered with ALSC because it provided an opportunity to practice additional areas of the law, such as bankruptcy.  ALSC personnel will provide assistance with a case, including answering questions and resolving problems that may arise.

I enjoy assisting individuals that do not have the resources to pay an attorney for legal assistance.  I believe it is an opportunity to help others.  It is one way to give back to the community. Many people need help for an issue that has occurred in their life, but do not have the skills to resolve the matter themselves.

What are some of your experiences at ALSC that have made a positive difference in the lives of others? 

Clients are grateful for the help they are receiving for a legal problem.  I enjoy helping someone who is grateful for the help.  Many people that ALSC helps do not have the resources to address a problem themselves.  They are grateful for someone answering their questions, providing assurance, and assisting them with legal procedures.  

How do you think your experiences with ALSC will benefit you in the future?

ALSC has provided me an opportunity to assist others in areas of law that I did not have significant experience with.  I am grateful for the exposure to additional areas of the law so I can determine if I want to work in that area of law again or practice in other areas.

Lawyers are increasingly expected to focus on just a few areas of law.  ALSC provides an opportunity to simultaneously learn new areas of the law and to provide answers to questions that individuals may have in a case they assign to you

SEPTEMBER 2014 VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – RYAN FORTSON

Ryan Fortson

ALSC is honoring ALSC alum Ryan Fortson, who served as a staff attorney in the Anchorage office for over four years, as our September Volunteer of the Month! Ryan regularly volunteers for our Attorney of the Day program by completing screening consultations with potential ALSC clients. Dr. Ryan Fortson is currently an assistant professor at the UAA Justice Center, where he teaches a wide variety of undergraduate Legal Studies courses…

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

I worked for ALSC for four and a half years in the Anchorage office, including a fair bit of work with family law cases, so I know first hand the great work it does and how much the work benefits the clients. By volunteering for ALSC, I am able to continue helping it with its mission. Plus, it is nice to see the friends I made on a regular basis.

What are some of your experiences at ALSC that have made a positive difference in the lives of others?

Unfortunately, ALSC does not have enough resources to represent everyone that seeks its assistance. By volunteering, I try to fill some of that gap by offering enough advice to clients to get them started in their respective cases. Though I do sometime recommend my intakes for further representation, for many of them, I will be providing the bulk of the legal assistance they are going to receive. It is very rewarding to give people hope that they can represent themselves in court and that the judge will treat them fairly.

How do you think your experiences with ALSC will benefit you in the future?

One of the courses I teach at UAA is a course on family law. Volunteering not only helps me keep my skills sharp, it also sometimes gives me examples to use in class. Stripped of names and other identifying information, of course.

What do you do when you are not volunteering with ALSC?

I can’t thank ALSC enough for the experiences I had there. In addition to being personally rewarding, the regular interaction with clients, variety of practice areas, and frequent appearances in court taught me lessons that I use and share every day in my current job teaching legal studies courses. In addition to ALSC, I also volunteer my time with the Anchorage Bar Association serving on its Board of Directors and with the Alaska High School Mock Trial Competition. Outside of the law, I play horn with the Anchorage Civic Orchestra and try to find time to be a hobby photographer. I have a wonderful wife and nine-month-old daughter. 

AUGUST 2014 VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – NICK LEWIS

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ALSC’s marvelous Volunteer of the Month for August is Anchorage attorney Nick Lewis. As a volunteer at ALSC, Nick answers questions for the Landlord Tenant Hotline and handles various cases for low-income clients. Professionally, Nick has been working on legal issues affecting the mining industry with local attorney JP Tangen.

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

That’s easy. Of the organizations I considered volunteering with, ALSC provided me with great opportunities to help people in need while giving me valuable guidance on practical approaches to helping clients.

Volunteerism is one of the most important aspects of the profession; that was a sentiment of a lot of the professors and deans at my Alma Mater, Cooley Law School. It was particularly important to my friend and mentor, Dean Ann Wood. Her influence certainly nudged me to help out when I can.

What are some of your Pro Bono experiences that have made a positive difference in the lives of others and/or the community?

ALSC suggested I would make a good fit for the Landlord Tenant Hotline. Landlord or Tenant disputes can be very personal. Explaining the Landlord and Tenant Act and potential financial and personal risks involved in not resolving issues correctly can sometimes make a significant difference. I feel that I have helped ease some of these folks off the “ledge”. By providing people with objective information and options concerning statutory requirements, I feel that I have empowered them to make more prudent decisions.

Taking on individual clients makes a difference by helping folks who couldn’t afford an attorney otherwise.

How do you think your experiences with ALSC will benefit you in the future?

Working with ALSC is its own reward. I enjoy working with other attorneys, staff, and of course, the clients.

What do you do when you are not volunteering with ALSC?

In other community involvement, I also volunteer with the Bar as Co-Chair of the New Lawyers Section and as a volunteer attorney with the Alaska Network for Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. Our community is already pretty great but there is always room for improvement. ALSC, ANDVSA, and the Alaska Bar really make a difference for folks and I wanted to be a part of that “difference” if I could.

My favorite hobbies are probably wrenching on old cars, fast cars, or old trucks and learning the art of furniture making. I designed and built my own 5-piece office in law school. It was a great stress reliever and I had a beautiful craftsman-style 18 square foot executive desk to spread everything out on!

Also, I’m working on having more fun. I grew up in Alaska, spent a year at UAA, and spent the rest of my higher education out of state. Now that I’m out of higher education I intend on enjoying my home state the way an Alaskan should! I’ve never done much camping, hiking, skiing, hunting, berry picking etc… but I’m really looking forward to it! I’ve already started hiking in the various areas around Anchorage with a weekly hiking group (which I’m not very faithful to!) and I’m trying to get healthier by enjoying the Coastal Trail.

JULY 2014 VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – BRYAN HALL

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We are thrilled to honor our extraordinary July Volunteer of the Month, Bryan Hall.  Bryan is a Medical Law Consultant for the US Air Force at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.  Every month Bryan volunteers his time by facilitating the Landlord Tenant Clinic at the Fairview Recreation Center in Anchorage.  We recently had a chance to ask Bryan about his volunteer experiences with ALSC…

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

I chose to volunteer because I read Helen Prejean’s book “Dead Man Walking” and was inspired by this woman’s desire to get out in her community and serve as Jesus would.  My impression from her experiences was that I’m not very Christian if I don’t feel the inconvenience of Christianity in my life, and at the time, my life was all about comfort.  So I decided to disrupt it.  I still have a long way to go in becoming a better Christian, but even with the limited efforts I’ve expended, volunteering for ALSC has been its own reward as it has brought me face to face with people who seem to genuinely need and appreciate what limited assistance I can provide.  

How do you think your experiences with ALSC will benefit you in the future?

Volunteering here in Anchorage has changed my perspective permanently.  I will continue volunteering as long as we live here and wherever we move after this I will volunteer there.  I never again want to be out of touch with what life is like for people who live wholly different lives from my family’s.  I’m not really a helpful member of my community if I don’t bring what skills and training I have to help those who can use them, particularly those who lack the means to afford them.

What do you do when you are not volunteering?

I have a wonderful family of a supportive spouse (who shoulders an extra burden when I volunteer) and a 3 and a half year old daughter and one year old son.  I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  My time is divided exclusively in the following ways:  family, work, church, volunteering, reading, running/biking eating and sleeping.  I might have a few minutes that don’t fall into any of those other areas, but I can’t think of when they are!

JUNE 2014 VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – MIKE BAYLOUS

Mike Baylous

Our June Volunteer of the Month Mike Baylous is an attorney at Lane Powell who regularly volunteers for the ALSC Attorney of the Day program in Anchorage.  Mike has a diverse litigation practice, with experience in construction, product liability, the consumer protection act, financial institution, employment, and personal injury matters.  Click here to read our recent interview with Mike

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

Lane Powell has been a long-time participant of the attorney-for-a-day program, and, fortunately, when I started with the firm in 2008, I was encouraged to participate.  I spend an afternoon interviewing perspective clients and assessing whether they will benefit from legal representation and if so whether placement with ALSC or referral to a pro-bono partner is appropriate.  Through the program, I can identify pro-bono clients well-suited for my practice, and I get first choice of the most interesting matters.

What are some of your Pro Bono experiences that have made a positive difference in the lives of others and/or the community?

We’ve obtained great results for clients we’ve represented in litigation, but sometimes the most positive differences come from more informal relationships.  It is amazing what a few hours of attention can do for a person.  Often, the folks I meet are frustrated, angry, and/or exhausted by difficult situations, often of their own making, and by legal/bureaucratic systems they simply do not understand.  However, they can work through their issues with a little help.  Listening to what they have to say and then  explaining the what, why, when and how of the legal side of things allows folks to make more informed decisions, and remaining available as a resource allows them to proceed with confidence.

How do you think your experiences with ALSC will benefit you in the future?

It feels good to help people, and its nice to point to the charitable aspects of practice when your kids ask if lawyers do anything besides argue.

MAY 2014 PRO BONO AWARD RECIPIENTS

This month we decided to do things a little differently by honoring the 2014 Bryan P. Timbers Pro Bono Award recipients in place of our volunteer of the month.  Each year at the Alaska Bar Convention, ALSC and other legal services providers come together to determine the recipients of the Bryan P. Timbers Pro Bono Awards. This year’s winners truly embody the spirit of this award through their continued dedication towards delivering exceptional pro bono services…

Gwen Neal – Solo Practitioner

Gwen Neal - Solo Practitioner

Becky Kruse – Government

Becky Kruse

Patton Boggs, LLP – Law Firm

Patton Boggs, LLP

Photos credited to Karen Schmidlkofer, Alaska Bar Association

Congratulations to this year’s winners who were selected for donating their extraordinary time, resources and talents to pro bono efforts in Alaska!  Click here to read more about these amazing pro bono champions!

APRIL 2014 VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – BOBBI ERWIN

Bobbi Erwin

We are excited to honor Bobbi Erwin as ALSC’s Volunteer of the Month for April.  Bobbi, an attorney at Palmier ~ Erwin, LLC, has been instrumental in the success of the Early Resolution Project.  The ERP is an innovative partnership between the state Superior Court and ALSC that helps couples settle their divorce and custody cases quickly and amicable, saving money for the litigants as well as the courts.  Bobbi has spearheaded the placement of volunteer attorneys for the ERP in Anchorage, helping many pro se litigants reach a divorce and custody agreement through free legal advice.  We recently spoke to Bobbi about her ERP volunteer experience with ALSC…

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

I worked as a volunteer attorney with the ERP under Katherine Alteneder.  I practice in family law and was familiar with both the law and many of the attorneys who practice in this area.  I thought the program was really helpful in settling pro se family law matters.  When Katherine stepped down, I stepped forward in a volunteer capacity to help the ERP keep moving forward. 

What are some of your experiences at ALSC that have made a positive difference in the lives of others and/or the community?

This program matches pro se litigants who cannot otherwise afford attorneys with some top notch practicing attorneys who give them advice and help them get on their way.  It is a great experience to be able to assist people find resolution in a short period of time.  As practicing attorneys it takes months to see the same results.  In addition, it helps the judges with their calendars which are full of these sorts of cases.

How do you think your experiences with ALSC will benefit you in the future?

It has helped me work better with pro se litigants and really understand their need to have a voice and have access to justice.  It has also helped the attorneys who practice in this area be more collegial and work together.

Bobbi was born and raised in Anchorage.  She is married with three children and is a scuba enthusiast.

MARCH 2014 VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – JONATHON TAYLOR

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March’s Pro Bono Volunteer of the month is Jonathon Taylor, an attorney at Gupta Beck PLLC which is based in Washington, DC.  Jonathon generously travelled from Washington, DC to present an oral argument for ALSC’s Alaska Supreme Court Case Alaska Trustee v. Ambridge.  We recently caught up with Jonathon to ask about his Pro Bono experience…

Why are you volunteering with ALSC?

I am volunteering with ALSC to help families facing foreclosure, most of whom do not have the money to pay for a lawyer. My colleague Deepak Gupta and I have teamed up with ALSC attorneys to argue an important issue before the Alaska Supreme Court: whether a foreclosure mill must comply with the same basic requirements of state and federal law as all professional debt collectors. Our brief argues that it must. A family on the verge of losing its home is entitled to the same fundamental protections against unfair and abusive debt-collection practices as are all consumers who owe a debt to someone else. 

The case is Alaska Trustee v. Ambridge. I will be presenting our oral argument to the Court on March 11. Our brief is available at http://www.guptabeck.com/.

What are some of your experiences doing pro bono work that have made a positive difference in the lives of others and/or community?

I have always had a strong commitment to public-interest work and to advocating on behalf of those at the margins of society. Before law school, I interned at the Missouri Attorney General’s Office, where I helped prepare a Medicaid-fraud case against drug companies. During law school, I spent my summers working for CARE Ethiopia, where I focused on antipoverty and microfinance projects, and Public Citizen. And after law school, I’ve worked at Public Citizen and Gupta Beck — both of which are dedicated to helping offset the severe mismatch of resources between ordinary people, who typically lack the means to stand up for themselves, and powerful corporations with fleets of lobbyists and high-priced lawyers at the ready to defend their every action.

How do you think your experience with ALSC will benefit you in the future?

My experience volunteering at ALSC — like many of my other experiences advocating on behalf of consumers, workers, and homeowners — benefits me because it serves as a reminder of why I chose to become a lawyer in the first place: to improve the lives of ordinary people. 

Jonathon Taylor is an attorney at Gupta Beck PLLC, a plaintiff-side and public-interest appellate boutique in Washington, DC. He represents consumers and workers in Supreme Court, appellate, and complex litigation. Jonathon joined the firm following a clerkship with the Honorable Ronald Lee Gilman of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Before clerking, he spent a year as a fellow at Public Citizen Litigation Group, where he worked on a range of issues affecting consumers. Jonathon is a graduate of Harvard Law School and the University of Southern California, and was born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri.

FEBRUARY 2014 VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – EMILY MAASS

Emily Maass

Alaska Legal Services is honoring Emily Maass from Patton Boggs Law Firm as our February Volunteer of the Month for her  hard work and Pro Bono dedication.  Emily recently volunteered her services to help a family adopt a child in an extremely compelling case.

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

My firm encourages pro bono service and works closely with ALSC to give back to the community. Since working with ALSC, I have found that offering pro bono assistance provides me with an opportunity to take on assignments that might not otherwise come across my desk. 

What are some of your experiences at ALSC that have made a positive difference in the lives of others and/or the community?

The most rewarding experience I have had with ALSC was assisting a family living in a remote part of the state with a long overdue adoption.  My clients were a joy to work with and the end result was extremely gratifying.

How do you think your experiences with ALSC will benefit you in the future?

Volunteering with ALSC definitely broadens my horizons, both professionally and personally.  Providing pro bono assistance has taken me out of my comfort zone, challenged me to work in different practice areas, and provided me increased independence as a young attorney.  These are experiences I will definitely draw from in my future practice.

At Patton Boggs, Emily advises Alaska Native Corporations, non-profit corporations, and various for-profit entities in a broad range of civil matters, including corporate law and governance, government contracting, shareholder relations and litigation.

When Emily is not working or being a Pro Bono Superstar she spends time with family, chasing after her 1 year old, and enjoying the company of friends.