One of Preg O’Donnell & Gillett’s core values, or compass points, is service. Consistent with this core value, we are committed to an organized pro bono program and a social responsibility to give back to the community. As part of that community service POG actively participates in several pro bono programs within King County, including the King Bar Association’s Community Legal Services. In 2012, POG provided hundreds of hours of free in kind professional services to underserved communities that would otherwise face difficult legal situations without representation. POG would like to share a few experiences from its pro bono successes in 2012.
In February of 2009, senior associate David Chawes began representation of a client who was denied childhood survivor benefits by the U.S. Railroad Retirement Board for an alleged lack of evidence of his disability and excessive earnings, despite having a significant disability as well as an inability to maintain employment because of the disability. David’s client had worked three menial jobs over the course of 30 years, and had been fired from each for failure to perform as a result of his disability. David formally appealed the denial of benefits at a hearing before a Railroad Retirement Board hearing examiner in February 2010. In a July 2010 written decision, the examiner affirmed the denial of benefits. David then filed an appeal of that decision to the full Railroad Retirement Board, which affirmed the hearing examiner in a 2-1 decision in November 2010. David then petitioned the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals for discretionary review of the Board’s decision. The Ninth Circuit accepted the case and after oral argument in July 2012 issued a 2-1 published opinion in November 2012, more than three years after POG began its representation, reversing the Board’s decision, and winning his client access to childhood survivor benefits, which is truly a life changing result!
In January 2012, POG accepted representation of a detained permanent resident through the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project in an application for cancellation of removal. Senior associate Curtis Leonard represented the client, who had immigrated to the United States from Vietnam by way of refugee camps in Thailand. The client was caring for a son and a mother with Leukemia at the time he was threatened with removal. Curtis helped prepare an application for cancellation of removal and represented the client before the Immigration Court in Tacoma, Washington. The court granted the petition, securing the client’s release from detention and allowing him to stay in the country with his family.
Steffanie Fain, an associate with the firm since 2010, along with pro bono coordinator and member Emma Gillespie, successfully obtained two nonparental custody orders for their client and her three grandchildren who had lived with her since their birth. Two of the three grandchildren had been diagnosed with autism, and experienced significant behavioral challenges. Their mother was employed full time, so the client was heavily involved in the treatment the children were receiving for their autism. Unfortunately, the children’s mother had recently passed away, and the client/grandmother sought a non parental custody order in order to be able to medical and educational decisions for the three grandchildren. Although Ms. Fain met with several challenges throughout the petition, her perseverance resulted in obtaining two non-parental custody orders for the client, who continues to nurture and obtain treatment for her three grandchildren.
In addition to its pro bono efforts, POG has several individuals who are involved in the local community in a variety of ways, a number of whom it would like to recognize.
For several years, founding member Eric Gillett has volunteered his time at the Ronald McDonald House, where he works at the front desk welcoming families to their “home away from home,” offered to families during the unimaginably difficult time spent caring for a seriously ill child. Eric recently was honored to be invited to join the Board of Directors for the King County Bar Foundation, which is responsible for raising funding to support the King County Bar’s Pro Bono Services programs, however, and determined he needed to step away from weekly obligation at Ronald McDonald House. Not one to leave work unfinished, Eric passed the torch to fellow founding member Mark F. O’Donnell, who has taken Eric’s place at the front desk of the Ronald McDonald House.
Lori O’Tool, also a member at POG, has a long history of involvement at The Center for Wooden Boats, where she is currently the President and on the Board of Trustees, and spends numerous hours helping to organize fundraising auctions, breakfasts, and spaghetti feeds. The Center for Wooden Boats mission is to provide a gathering place where maritime history comes through direct experiences, which includes providing sailing and other maritime opportunities to the public for free, as well as classes and programs for underprivileged youth. Lori is also the Legislative Chair and a member of the Board of Trustees for the Washington Defense Trial Lawyers association.
Emma Gillespie, another member at POG, likewise participates in a number of volunteer activities. She recently completed a term as the co-chair for the King County Pro Bon Services Committee, and continues to serve on the committee, including participation in a subcommittee to develop methods to measure outcomes of the pro bono programs to aid in obtaining and maintaining funding. Emma is also a board member for Disc Northwest, an ultimate frisbee organization where she is a member of the youth strategic and fundraising committees. In this capacity, she has organized fun runs and auctions for the Youth Development Fund, which is a restricted fund that provides support for activities and initiatives for youth from underserved populations. Emma and her husband also teach a free SAT prep class for students in south Seattle. Students who have participated in the class and have taken the SAT return in their senior year for assistance with college applications and application essays.
Senior paralegal Rindy Griffith likewise contributes to her local community through her volunteer work with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which is funded by the IRS. Rindy is certified by the IRS in income tax preparation issues, and volunteers at sites that serve low income disabled or elderly individuals.
Finally, POG as a whole has itself participated in a number of community activities, the most recent of which involved participation in the holiday giving spirit. POG employees generously provided gifts for seven families through the YWCA’s Adopt-a-Family program, as well as provided gifts for teens through the Treehouse for Kids Program. POG employee donations were matched by the firm, amounting to a total monetary donation of several thousand dollars. Similarly, Francesca Hrenko, a paralegal in POG’s Portland office, organized a holiday social to gather toys for the U.S. Marine Corp’s Toys-for-Tots program in her capacity as a board member for the Pacific Northwest Paralegal Association.
POG is blessed to have the support of its many clients, and wishes everyone a pleasant and prosperous New Year as we look forward to 2013.