2015 Volunteers of the Month

2015

DECEMBER VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – TRACY DUNN

Tracy Dunn

Tracy Dunn is ALSC’s December Volunteer of the Month!  She regularly volunteers her expertise for PCA/Medicaid Waiver cases, and achieves life-changing results for our clients!  Check out our interview with Tracy below:

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

My reasons for volunteering with ALSC were a bit selfish. After reading in the monthly Alaska Bar newsletter that volunteers were needed – and that training was available in an area of law which was unfamiliar to me – I thought, “I could do this and learn something new!” Also, I became an empty-nester this year and wanted to keep busy!

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

Representing clients who have no where else to turn made me realize that whatever time and energy I had to give would make a big difference to others. Having the ability to help navigate through a legal maze showed these clients that someone was in their corner. This was made easier because the staff at ALSC is there to help every step of the way. They work long, hard hours, and they want to assist in any way they can. I hoped to alleviate a small fraction of their load, while helping to provide equal access to justice for some low-income Alaskans. I appreciate the ability to be increasing my knowledge in a new area of law and to help make our city a better place to live.

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

I feel privileged to have worked with a variety of professionals – not only at ALSC, but also at various state and local agencies. While representing those that are experiencing one hardship after another, I have learned that patience and persistence can go far to tackle many injustices.

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

I was born and raised in Alaska; my husband and I have two children who are getting to be more responsible everyday, allowing me more time to play hockey, coach young alpine ski racers, and play the flute. I feel so lucky to be a part of this community!

NOVEMBER VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – BROOKS CHANDLER

Brooks Chandler

Brooks Chandler is our November Volunteer of the Month! Brooks is a long-term volunteer who is not afraid to tackle multiple cases at a time to help more of ALSC’s clients. Check out our interview with Brooks:

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

A desire to help folks with needs for legal services but not the means to pay is what motivates my pro bono service. I also do this in honor of my mother who served as the executive director of the Maine Bar Foundation and as Foundation staff to the Maine Commission on Legal Needs in the 1980’s. Her belief in equal access to justice rubbed off!

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

I would hope helping both parents and children navigate the legal and emotional pathways of divorce has brought some peace at times when peace was needed. And the more peace present the better for the community.

On a more practical level the court system gets some relief when people are not forced by their economic circumstances to represent themselves in divorce and custody disputes. This allows court services to be provided more efficiently to the community.

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

I do not participate with the ALSC Pro Bono program for personal benefit. But these experiences expand my appreciation for the economic challenges faced by many persons in Alaska on a daily basis. They also expand my appreciation of the distinction between economic success and human goodness. This might improve me as a human being in many ways not all of which will be readily apparent.

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

I have been involved with Friends of the Library for six years now. Great organization. Check out one of their book sales or call me if you want to volunteer! I recently caught my first steelhead and may be about to be hooked myself on a new fishery. And I still get out on a river or Prince William Sound for paddling fun.

OCTOBER VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – ROBERT STEWART

Robert StewartOur volunteer of the month for October is long serving volunteer Bob Stewart! Bob has made tremendous strides in progressing pro bono efforts in Alaska, and is an outstanding advocate for our clients. Read our interview with Bob below:

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

In large part due to my career long interest in pro bono work and service on the Bar’s Pro Bono and Public Service Committee over the past decade. That helped me become familiar with all of the service providers in the state, including ALSC. Frequent phone calls from Seth Eames, Erick Cordero and Laura Goss over the years also helped a bit.

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

I have either been the direct service attorney or supervising attorney on a broad variety of matters over the years. Those have included area property dispute in Bethel, landlord tenant issues in Anchorage, several family law matters involving dissolution, custody and property distribution. I have also taken referrals from several other providers which have ranged from special victim assistance to advice on the potential for project labor agreements on a public housing project in New Orleans.

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

As chair of the Pro Bono Committee, I tried to advocate for family law volunteers because I see that as the greatest unmet need in the community. Going forward, as I push towards retirement, I plan to take more family law cases with an eye towards leading by doing.

In the legal pro bono arena, there are several pet projects I’d like to see developed. They include development of collaboration between the military and the private bar to provide civilian special victim’s counsels, greater outreach to engage corporate counsel in pro bono efforts and exploration of methods of collaboration between the legal and medical communities in the area of delivering services in remote areas of the state.

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

I remain active on the Pro Bono Committee, just ended eight years of service on the board of Project Access (medical specialty pro bono project) and am looking at the possibility of serving on the board of Anchorage Neighborhood Health Corporation. Also, as I look towards retirement, I’m planning to spend more time with family, out at my cabin and on my son’s blue water boat.

SEPTEMBER VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – CAROLYN HEYMAN-LAYNE

Carolyn Heyman-Layne

This month we are pleased to honor Carolyn Heyman-Layne as our September Volunteer of the Month. Carolyn not only serves as a pro bono attorney, but also as an ALSC Alternate Board Member and co-Chair of the ALSC fundraising committee! We are continuously amazed by Carolyn and all of the passion, energy, and great ideas she offers to our organization and for our clients. Check out our interview with Carolyn below:

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

I originally began volunteering at my previous firm with the encouragement of John Treptow, a wonderful mentor who supported ALSC. I continued volunteering after seeing how hard it is for many people to access necessary legal services, and because it feels good to see the positive outcomes that can result from even just a little bit of work.

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

My work as an alternate on the Board and as co-chair of the Fundraising Committee has hopefully provided greater access to legal services for folks all across Alaska, by providing more resources for those services as well as more awareness of the need. On an individual basis, I was recently able to help a local non-profit achieve 501(c)(3) status, which will help further their mission of assisting Native Alaskan veterans in Southcentral Alaska.

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

My experiences with ALSC will benefit me in many ways, but most importantly I think they help me appreciate many of the things I used to take for granted – access to justice, resources in times of trouble and networks of friends and colleagues to help with almost anything that comes my way.

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

I serve on a few other boards (the Alaska Mental Health Board, Anchorage Project Access and the Atwood Foundation) and it is always interesting to see how these boards intersect. All of these roles have one thing in common – helping individuals access resources may not always be easy, but it is definitely worth the effort.

AUGUST VOLUNTEERS OF THE MONTH – CAROLINE STREFF AND LIZ BLANAS

Liz BlanasCaroline StreffWe are pleased to honor Summer Interns Caroline Streff and Liz Blanas as our August Volunteers of the Month! Caroline and Liz have been instrumental assets in our Anchorage office and their passion for helping others and the community is inspiring! It has been a pleasure to get to know them and see them in action. Check out our interview with Caroline and Liz below:

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

CS: ALSC first piqued my interest as a private citizen invested in social justice and the equal access of the law and its protection for persons, regardless of class or creed. As a student of law, both in my personal studies and at the University of Alaska Anchorage, I was again intrigued, considering the unique services ALSC provides under the grants it is funded by in the context of the domestic violence, poverty, and drug abuse that Alaska experiences. When the opportunity to learn more about ALSC and to be of some help to the clients it serves arose, I leapt for it.

LB: I chose to volunteer with ALSC because I believe in their mission, to provide equal access to legal services to those in need.

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

CS: The clerks at the Nesbitt have never been thanked so regularly and with such embarrassment when I have returned to retrieve an ALSC copy card, two days after my initial visit. This has happened at least three times.

Joking aside, I have never been so humbled as when I have called an applicant, and regardless of what hope or discouragement arises during our conversation, they almost always end the call with the words: “Thank you so much for listening to me.” I had not realized what it means to be truly heard until I worked for ALSC. I had never known real silence until I knew what it was for someone to be too afraid or too anxious to speak, and their overwhelming relief when someone finally says to them “Come here, and tell me everything.”

LB: I witnessed the attorneys at ALSC continually fight for their clients while I was interning. While I can’t say I did anything specific or legally significant as an undergrad, I tried to help in any way I could so those who could help would be able do their job effectively.

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

CS: I see my community, local and statewide, with new compassion and awareness of my own privileges and securities. I recognize the law profession as an abode of just and fair arbiters, anxious to secure their clients’ health and safety, as well as a home for the calumnious and the cunning. So far, the balance seems to be in favor of the former.

I’ve experienced no paradigm shift, no epiphany, but I have witnessed my own growth in the understanding of the faces of unhappiness and fear, and new trust in those asked to help.

LB: As a student with aspirations towards one day attending law school my experiences at ALSC have helped me see a side of the legal community that makes the system do its job. It’s made me more aware of those underrepresented populations that may influence whatever legal practice I am a part of in the future.

JULY VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – KEVIN HIGGINS

Kevin Higgins

ALSC is honoring Kevin Higgins as our Volunteer of the Month for July! Kevin has been practicing law in Alaska since 2007. He worked as an assistant public defender in Juneau until opening the Law Office of Kevin Higgins in late summer 2011. His practice focuses primarily on criminal defense and family law. Kevin regularly donates his time as a volunteer of the Early Resolution Project. Check out our interview with Kevin below:

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

I chose to volunteer with ALSC because pro bono work is about as much as I can do as attorney with student loan debt, a mortgage, and child care bills to subvert the dominant paradigm.

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

My experience with ALSC will benefit me in the future because as altruistic as I’d like to pretend to be by taking pro bono cases, I know that if I do a good job and treat my clients with respect, then they will tell others about their experience.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I’ve got two children, almost 4 years old, and almost 3 months old. They taught me what Bob Dylan meant when he said you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

JUNE VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – BILL CUMMINGS

Bill Cummings

Bill Cummings is the ALSC Volunteer of the Month for June! Bill is a Juneau based attorney who is extremely active with the Early Resolution Project. Check out our interview with Bill below:

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

I volunteered to assist with the Early Resolution Project here in Juneau. This project is an effort to help couples resolve their domestic relations cases without becoming bogged down in the procedures usually applied in civil litigation. These issues often turn upon child custody, child support, and less frequently, the division of their property. This is beneficial to the couples involved because it allows a speedier resolution of their cases and helps the court system with its back log.

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

The cases that I have participated in have had a significant impact upon the parties because it allows for a fair quick resolution to their cases without great expense and saves probably 18 months of their time, which allows them to get along with the rest of their lives.

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

The experiences that I have had have been beneficial because it is a great learning experience to work through clients’ issues and devise resolutions to their particular problems and receive the feedback from going back before the court with the solutions that the parties have reached. These cases are good practice for identifying and dealing with client issues in a controlled environment.

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

I was admitted to practice in 1978 and worked in the Attorney General’s Office for nearly 25 years representing the Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. My duties included litigating condemnation cases and contract claims, drafting administrative regulations under AS 44.62 and legislation, matters related to land acquisition for state public work projects, and issues related to federal Indian law. After I retired I developed an exclusively civil law practice here in Juneau, which included court appointments in Child In Need of Aid cases, and guardianship and conservator cases and other matters under the court system’s Administrative Rule 12.

My outside interests include photography with Leica cameras, frequent travel to Italy and PAC 12 football. I am presently a member of the board of directors for the Juneau chapter of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency.

MAY VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – GAIL BALLOU

Gail

Gail Ballou is ALSC’s Volunteer of the month for May and also the 2015 Solo Practitioner recipient of the Bryan P. Timbers Pro Bono Award!

Gail first met former ALSC Executive Director Andy Harrington while attending Harvard Law School (K.D. cum Laude 1981). After Andy enthusiastically explained that a clerkship in Fairbanks with Chief Justice Jay Rabinowitz would be a great experience and opportunity, Gail moved to Fairbanks “for a year” to clerk for Justice Rabinowitz, and is still there 34 years later.

Gail spent several years with the Fairbanks office of Alaska’s then-largest law firm, and opened her own firm in 1985. Not only is Gail an extraordinary champion of pro bono services in Alaska, she has also served on Alaska Bar’s CLE Committee for over 20 years, previously served on the Bar’s Fee Arbitration and Bar Examiners committees, and is the past president of the Tanana Valley Bar Association. Check out our interview with Gail below:

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

Because it’s the right thing to do. I can’t fix poverty or global warming or civil wars or oil markets or health care or many other things that affect us. But, sometimes I can make one person’s life better.

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

There are many. My favorite from recent years is the case of a widowed senior who was a few weeks away from losing to foreclosure the home in which she had raised her family. We stopped the foreclosure, and today she owns her home free and clear.

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

In my “spare” time, I play oboe with the Fairbanks Community Band and piano for myself; play and direct duplicate bridge; dart around town on my old orange bicycle (the BMW convertible didn’t come in the right color, so I got the Huffy instead); hang out in my garden; cook; read; and enjoy keeping company with the best guy on the planet.

APRIL VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – MEG ZALETELMeg Zaletel

Our Volunteer of the Month for April is Meg Zaletel! Meg is an extremely active volunteer who continuously shows a strong investment in each of her clients. Check out our interview with Meg below:

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

I choose to volunteer with ALSC because I believe in civil gideon, but until that time, I think it is important for everyone to have access to legal counsel regardless of their ability to pay. People who are unrepresented trying to navigate the legal system are at a significant disadvantage. The outcome of a legal matter shouldn’t hinge on who had counsel and who didn’t. Right now, people who cannot afford lawyers are not guaranteed free representation except in some of the most dire situations. So if I can help make legal representation free to more people in a wider variety of areas, I think its important that I do so.

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

Each of my cases with ALSC has been a positive experience. I really enjoy working with my clients and their families not only to solve the legal issue at hand, but to discuss strategies for self advocacy and how to plan for the future.

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

I’ve had the great opportunity to work with mentors on some of my cases and I have learned so much about other areas of law where I have little or no experience. For a new solo practitioner, like myself, its a great way to expand your knowledge into areas that may come up in private practice. ALSC has access to some of the best and brightest attorneys around so there’s really no better place to get set up with someone to teach you the ropes of a particular area.

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

My legal passion is representing individuals with disabilities. I recently went back to school to dig really deep into mental health law. When I’m not practicing law, I like to garden, bicycle, keep chickens, ride my motorcycle and hang out with my family, all of which I hope to do in copious amounts this summer.

MARCH VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – LIBBY BAKALAR

Libby Bakalar

We are pleased to honor Libby Bakalar as our March Volunteer of the Month! Libby has been involved with ALSC for over ten years and her dedication and eagerness for helping others continues to inspire us! Check out our interview with Libby below:

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

I chose to volunteer with ALSC because ALSC is a great organization that gave me my first introduction to the legal community in Alaska: a summer internship with the Bethel Office in 2003. I’ve always loved the people at ALSC, the organization, and the work it does. I also made great friends in the organization and those connections inspire me to continue volunteering with ALSC.

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

Since practicing law in Alaska full time, I’ve taken two pro bono cases, one in which I helped a teenager get back thousands of dollars in wrongly-withheld permanent fund dividends from a parent, and one in which I assisted a partner in a same-sex partnership achieve a formal dissolution and disposition of her property. I also help in the Early Resolution Program each month I am available to do so.

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

My work with ALSC always gives me great perspective on the legal needs of my community. The clients I work with enrich my life personally and professionally by expanding my comfort zone in practice and exposing me to the pressing legal issues that matter in their lives and that need to be resolved promptly and professionally. Many of these issues might not otherwise be resolved without ALSC.

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

In my free time, I enjoy creative writing on my comedy, parenting, and lifestyle blog onehotmessalaska.blogspot.com. I also enjoy skiing, hiking, and spending time with my husband, two kids, and all of my wonderful friends and family, here in Juneau and beyond.

FEBRUARY VOLUNTEER OF THE MONTH – LEE HOLEN

Lee Holen

Our February Volunteer of the Month is the amazing Lee Holen, who assists potential ALSC clients with employment issues. Check out our interview with Lee below:

Why did you choose to volunteer with ALSC?

I have always wanted to assist ALSC, but I practice employment law and not many opportunities came up to assist in this field.  Last year, the idea evolved to provide potential clients with employment problems an attorney interview and analysis to help them in deciding what, if any, action to take.  I was happy to do that, and have met with potential ALSC clients on their employment issues since then.

We screen the cases with the idea of giving the person options, such as going to DOL Wage and Hour or one of the commissions on discrimination issues, among other things.  Where the case appears to lack merit, I tell the person why, for example, if they were at will employees and no other issues such as discrimination exist. If I do find a case that appears to have merit, I would assist the person in finding counsel and also advise as to interim steps to take to protect their claims, such as applying for unemployment, exhausting grievance provisions or administrative remedies, mitigating damages, etc.

I also prepared an intake form for ASRC’S potential employment clients, I have provided the agency with ideas for referral of clients who inquire to assure statutes of limitations are met, and I am available to assist staff attorneys in outlying areas as they screen employment cases for ALSC potential clients outside of Anchorage.  

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

As a practical matter, I evaluate the potential cases as I would my own.  In reality, there are very few cases that warrant action against an employer, particularly where the jobs are low wage jobs, the employer is at will (almost all are), or the employee has adequately mitigated damages.  But I do believe it is helpful in assisting people with adverse employment situations to move on if they know there appears to be no case or to exhaust their administrative remedies or complain to a commission if a discrimination claim can be made. I think it helps these individuals to learn from an attorney what the law requires for these types of cases, and when they see the reality of the situation and have the opportunity to be heard, they can then move on without the regrets or “what ifs” to hold them back in the future. 

What do you do when you are not volunteering with ALSC?
Thanks to being able to practice law from afar, using internet communication mainly, I am very involved in travel to SE Asia to pursue my passion of trying to save and better the living conditions of the Asian elephant. I try to support and visit several elephant sanctuaries and an elephant hospital in Thailand, and I assist NGO’s that support efforts to improve situations for Asian elephants and educate tourists to the area.

Check out our 2014 Volunteers of the Month Here!