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Press Release Supreme Judicial Court Pro Bono Committee Honors Attorneys for Outstanding Commitment to Pro Bono Legal Services

For immediate release:
10/28/2020
  • Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
  • Massachusetts Court System

Media Contact for Supreme Judicial Court Pro Bono Committee Honors Attorneys for Outstanding Commitment to Pro Bono Legal Services

Jennifer Donahue and Erika Gully-Santiago

BOSTON, MASupreme Judicial Court Justice Kimberly S. Budd today presented Adams Pro Bono Publico Awards to three attorneys and the inaugural Ralph D. Gants Award for Extraordinary Leadership in Pro Bono Service to a fourth attorney for their exceptional dedication to providing volunteer legal services for persons who cannot afford an attorney for their essential legal needs. The annual Adams Pro Bono Publico Awards are named in honor of John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Normally held in the John Adams Courthouse in Boston, this year's event was presented live online at: https://boston.suffolk.edu/sjc/.

Elizabeth Ennen, Esq., Chair of the Standing Committee of Pro Bono Services, delivered opening and closing remarks. Supreme Judicial Court Justice Barbara A. Lenk gave opening remarks on behalf of the Supreme Judicial Court. Kimberly Parr, Esq., member of the Committee, recognized the legal organizations, individual attorneys and law students on the Supreme Judicial Court Pro Bono Honor Roll.

Justice Budd then presented Adams Pro Bono Publico Awards to three attorneys selected by the Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services for their outstanding pro bono work:     

  • Crispin Birnbaum, Esq., an Access to Justice Fellow, for her extensive efforts to expand free legal services to provide sealing and expungement of criminal records for low income clients, including veterans through Veterans Legal Services, and homeless clients and others through Lawyers Clearinghouse, and for performing more than 95 free criminal records trainings for nonprofits, attorneys, government agencies, veteran support groups, clinical law students, and individuals with criminal records across the Commonwealth.
  • James S. Rollins, Esq., Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP, for devoting 16 years of pro bono service to the cause of freeing a wrongfully convicted Pennsylvania inmate, who was released after 23 years on death row when his conviction was finally overturned this past June.
  • Christian J. Westra, Esq., Ropes & Gray, LLP, for his instrumental role in bringing together partners to launch the COVID Relief Coalition, a group of law firms, nonprofits and government agencies working with Lawyers for Civil Rights and Lawyers Clearinghouse to provide information and pro bono support to nonprofits and small businesses, including many small businesses owned by women and people of color, to access emergency relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Prior to the presentation of the Ralph D. Gants Award, Supreme Judicial Court Justice Budd and Professor Deborah Ramirez of Northeastern University School of Law, widow of Chief Justice Gants, delivered remarks in a tribute to the late Chief Justice.

"Since his sudden passing in September, Chief Justice Gants has been celebrated for his many wonderful attributes: his brilliance, his boundless energy and enthusiasm, his gregarious good nature, his endless curiosity, and perhaps most of all, his empathy," said Supreme Judicial Court Justice Budd. "Though he sat at the pinnacle of the court system, he knew what it can look like from the outside for a person who cannot afford an attorney. He understood what it feels like to be facing life-changing litigation involving your home, your family, or your finances, without a lawyer to guide you. And that is why he was so committed to encouraging lawyers and law students to volunteer their services to assist those who cannot afford an attorney for their essential legal needs."

"This event was one that Ralph looked forward to every year, because he knew how important the work of individual lawyers was in addressing the needs of those who are unrepresented and those who could not afford a lawyer but needed one," said Professor Ramirez. "If he were here, he would be so moved and so proud of the work done by this year's award recipients. He thought this ceremony was critical and important because it honored the people who spent so many hours representing the indigent, the marginalized, and the disenfranchised."

Justice Budd then presented the inaugural Ralph D. Gants Award for Extraordinary Leadership in Pro Bono Service to:

  • Susan M. Finegan, Esq., Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky & Popeo, P.C., for providing extraordinary leadership in pro bono legal services and improving access to justice over the course of her career.

In addition to handling many significant pro bono litigation matters and chairing Mintz's pro bono committee, Attorney Finegan has served as Chair of the Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services, and as Co-Chair of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission together with Chief Justice Gants. In both of those positions she worked closely with Chief Justice Gants on a wide range of initiatives to encourage pro bono service and improve access to justice in the Commonwealth, including the Supreme Judicial Court Pro Bono Honor Roll; the Access to Justice Fellows Program; the Appellate Pro Bono Clinic; the Justice for All Strategic Action Plan; Civil Legal Aid for Victims of Crime; and the Commission's COVID-19 Task Force.

The Committee also recognized the achievements of attorneys, law students, and legal organizations who qualified for the Supreme Judicial Court Pro Bono Honor Roll and High Honor Roll. The Honor Roll each year recognizes law firms, solo practitioners, in-house corporate counsel offices, government legal offices, non-profit organizations and law school faculties that certify that they have performed a minimum number of hours of approved pro bono legal services during the previous calendar year, and law students who have done so during their law school careers. This year an Honor Roll for Individual Attorneys was introduced, awarding honors to those attorneys who performed at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services in the previous calendar year, and high honors to attorneys who performed at least 100 hours of pro bono service.

The SJC Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services works to promote volunteer legal work in Massachusetts to help people of limited means in need of legal representation, in accordance with Rule 6.1 of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct for attorneys. The awards ceremony is one of many activities celebrating and building support for pro bono legal work in Massachusetts during the month of October, a month officially proclaimed Pro Bono Month by Governor Charlie Baker. The American Bar Association has also proclaimed a National Celebration of Pro Bono during the week of October 25 - 31, 2020.

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Media Contact for Supreme Judicial Court Pro Bono Committee Honors Attorneys for Outstanding Commitment to Pro Bono Legal Services

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court 

The Supreme Judicial Court is the Commonwealth's highest appellate court.

Massachusetts Court System 

The Massachusetts court system consists of the Supreme Judicial Court, the Appeals Court, the Executive Office of the Trial Court, the 7 Trial Court departments, the Massachusetts Probation Service, and the Office of Jury Commissioner.
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