William E. Morris Pro Bono Service Award
Awarded to recognize extraordinary contributions by an Arizona Attorney in making legal services available to persons who otherwise could not afford them, and thereby to focus public awareness on the substantial voluntary services by Arizona attorneys in this area. Renamed in 2000 to honor the memory of William E. Morris, a long-time attorney for the poor in Arizona.
Denice Shepherd / 2016
Congratulations to Denice Shepherd who received the William E. Morris Pro Bono Service Award on June 16, 2016. Over the course of the last twenty years, Denice has assisted children and families with minor guardianships, wills, powers of attorney, healthcare power of attorney and small probate matters. In addition to providing direct representation to clients, Denice frequently participates in the VLP's Minor Guardianship Clinic where she supervises law students as they meet with self-represented litigants at their guardianship hearings in Probate Court.
Skip Skinner / 2015
Congratulations to Skip Skinner, who received the Arizona Foundation for Legal Services & Education's William E. Morris Pro Bono Service Award in June of 2015. Skip began working with SALA's VLP in 2005. During his time with the program, Skip has assisted 1457 clients with consumer and minor guardianship issues. Skip provides families and prospective guardians with the legal assistance necessary to request a guardianship in Probate Court. Skip has led 297 clinics and dedicated more than 1000 hours of his time.
Rob Ferrier / 2012
The Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education (AFLSE) honored Rob Ferrier as the recipient of the 2012 William E. Morris Pro Bono Service Award. Rob received his award on June 14, 2012 at the State Bar Convention held in Phoenix. The Foundation honored Rob for his work with Southern Arizona Legal Aid's Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP). Rob joined the VLP in 2005 and over the last seven years has assisted 211 clients and dedicated more than 1000 hours to help those most in need. Rob’s responsibilities are numerous with the VLP as he has split his time between challenging domestic violence cases, training law school volunteers, and training VLP attorneys willing to assist with family law cases. Rob Ferrier is pictured above left receiving his award from Todd Lang, AFLSE President Elect.
Ben Smith / 2011
The Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education (AFLSE) honored Ben Smith as the recipient of the 2011 William E. Morris Pro Bono Service Award. Ben received his award on June 16, 2011 at the State Bar Convention held at La Paloma. The Foundation honored Ben for his work with Southern Arizona Legal Aid's Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP). Ben joined the VLP in 2007 and over the last four years he has assisted eighteen hundred clients. When Ben first joined the VLP, his only request was to be assigned to assist with the greatest need. As the VLP receives many cases involving family law issues, the staff directed Ben to these clients. Since Ben had never practiced domestic relations, he began to train himself by seeking out topical seminars, advice and mentors wherever he could. Today, Ben leads paternity and divorce clinics several times each week as well as handling direct representation cases.
The numerous hours Ben has dedicated to helping the most vulnerable domestic relations and domestic violence victims have made a difference in countless lives. Ben is pictured above right receiving his award from Todd Lang, AFLSE Vice President and member of the Legal Services Committee.
Dean Christoffel / 2009
Congratulations to Dean Christoffel, who received the William E. Morris Pro Bono Service Award on June 25, 2009. The Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education honored Dean Christoffel, a SALA VLP attorney, as the recipient of the 2009 William E. Morris Pro Bono Service Award. Dean was selected for this award because of his career-long commitment and devotion to advancing the delivery of legal services to the poor. Dean's involvement in pro bono work spans more than 20 years. Dean is pictured above right receiving his award from Christina Urias, AFLSE Board Member and Chair of the Legal Services Committee.
Cary Inabinet / 2007
The Arizona Foundation for Legal Services and Education honored Cary Inabinet (pictured at right with Chief Justice McGregor), a SALA VLP attorney, as the recipient of the 2007 William E. Morris Pro Bono Service Award. Cary was selected for this award because of his career-long commitment and devotion to advancing the delivery of legal services to the poor. Cary ’s involvement in pro bono work spans more than 20 years and two Arizona counties. Originally volunteering with Community Legal Services’ VLP program in Maricopa County, Cary moved to Cochise County in 2001, and began to work for SALA’s VLP. He has launched several clinics meant to assist domestic violence victims and the elders. Two of Cary’s piloted programs have assisted 432 rural clients over the last six years.
In addition to directly serving indigent clients, Cary has volunteered for the past six years as a member of the VLP Advisory Board in Cochise County. Cary ’s service to the Board has ranged from participating in new volunteer attorney recruitment to training other volunteer lawyers. Jeanne Benda Whitney, who has served with Cary on the VLP Advisory Board, commended Cary’s efforts, saying, “He brings a sincere concern for those in need of court services, a willingness to address people as individuals with individual needs, and a breadth of experience in a variety of civil matters.”
Tom Roberts / 2006
Tom Roberts was honored as the recipient of the 2006 William E. Morris Pro Bono Service Award. Tom was selected for this award because of his career-long commitment and devotion to advancing delivery of legal services to the poor. Tom has been a member of the Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP) for twenty years.
In addition to serving indigent clients, Tom has volunteered for the past nine years as a member and Co-Chair of the VLP Advisory Board. Tom’s service to the Board has ranged from participating in new volunteer attorney recruitment to fundraising assistance to training other volunteer lawyers. United States Judge Bernardo P. Velasco, who has served with Tom on the VLP Advisory Board, commended Tom’s efforts, saying, “He is committed, not only to being a Board member, but to being an active participant in all of the activities of the Volunteer Lawyers Program.”
Tom’s enthusiasm for pro bono legal service has inspired many attorneys to join VLP and donate their legal services to those who otherwise could not afford legal assistance. Tom was nominated for this award by his peers, who admire his compassion and commitment to equal access to justice. Dwight Whitley, an attorney who shared offices with William E. Morris during the last years of Mr. Morris’ life, said of Tom, “I am not personally acquainted with any other lawyer who, by their commitment to providing legal services to the disadvantaged, are more deserving of the William E. Morris Pro Bono Service Award.”
Scott Gan / 2005
By all accounts, Scott Gan is an excellent lawyer, recognized as such by his peers and members of his community. His vast legal expertise, coupled with his generous nature, has allowed him to serve one hundred and seventeen Volunteer Lawyer Program (VLP) clients and their families. What sets Scott apart from other lawyers and even other volunteer lawyers is the opportunity and hope Joe Kreamer & Scott Gan that he affords each of his pro bono clients: the opportunity for a fresh start, to maintain financial independence, and to lift themselves out of poverty. Although legal resources for the poor are scarce, opportunity and hope are perhaps even more rare.
Scott has been a member of the VLP since 1986. The legal assistance that he provides to the VLP and its clients takes many forms. He has provided direct representation to VLP clients in some of the most complex and challenging bankruptcy cases seen by the program. Scott sets the clients at ease and explains the impact of their decisions. Each of the clients are treated with respect and given the time to assure they understand the legal terms and consequences of debt reinstatement.
Scott also works to set new volunteers at ease and coaches them through their fears and uncertainly. Scott has been a frequent participant in the VLP’s Reaffirmation Clinic. Scott supervises law students as they meet with unrepresented clients at their reaffirmation hearings. Scott’s example of compassion and integrity gives hope to all who know him.
Pamela A. Liberty / 2003
Pamela Liberty is a certified specialist in family law, and a judge pro tempore of the Pima County Superior Court. She is a member of the Academy of Family Mediators and Collaborative Law Group of Southern Arizona. Pam has been actively involved in the Volunteer Lawyers Program in Pima County for 14 years, and in that time she has assisted 120 clients in divorce, custody and guardianship matters.
Alyce Pennington / 2002
Alyce Pennington is a Shareholder in the law firm of DeConcini McDonald Yetwin & Lacy, P.C. She practices in the areas of domestic relations, probate and general civil law. Alyce became a member of the VLP in 1987. During the last fifteen years Alyce has assisted one hundred and eighty clients with domestic relations and domestic violence matters. She has volunteered three hundred and thirty-four hours to client’s services. Alyce has accepted some of the most difficult divorce/child custody cases that have ever been referred through our program.
In addition to her work with clients, Alyce has volunteered her time as a member of the VLP advisory Board in Pima County. Serving on the Advisory Board for six years, Alyce has infused the board with her energy and enthusiasm.
Luis Ochoa / 2001
Luis has been a member of the Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP) in Pima County since 1988. During that time he has provided pro bono assistance to more than four hundred clients. Luis provides these services in a multitude of ways. He accepts cases for direct representation in the areas of real estate, corporations and consumer bankruptcy. Luis also leads the pro per Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Clinic for the VLP. The clinic provides clients with advice and information in regard to avoiding home foreclosure, averting vehicle repossession and ending or reducing wage garnishments. Clients who attend a clinic conducted by Luis are fortunate to meet with an attorney who is not only knowledgeable about the law, but is an excellent teacher as well. He is able to convey the complex information in an easily understood way. Clients are statistically more likely to follow through with their case after they have attended a clinic lead by Luis than by any other volunteer.
In 2001 the VLP began to offer the Bankruptcy Clinic in Spanish. It was no surprise to any of the VLP staff that Luis was among the first attorneys to agree to lead the clinic in Spanish.
In the spring of 2001 the VLP began a new collaboration with the University of Arizona College of Law and the United States Bankruptcy Court. The idea behind the partnership is to provide legal representation to pro per litigants during reaffirmation hearings. Again, Luis was among the very first attorneys to volunteer to represent clients at these hearings. In addition, he volunteered to train and mentor the law students involved in the project.
Luis joined the VLP Advisory Board in 1998. As a member of the board, Luis immediately recognized the need to increase attorney participation in the VLP throughout the community. In addition to recruiting volunteers on an individual basis, Luis has served as a point person for the media. By appearing on television and in local and legal news publications Luis has increased awareness about the need for pro bono legal assistance. More than four hundred new volunteers have joined the VLP since Luis became a member of the Advisory Board.
While the number of individual pro bono clients Luis has assisted is impressive, it is his total commitment to the delivery of legal services to the poor that has placed him in a category by himself. Dedication, consistency and honestly are qualities that run throughout all of the work that Luis has done for the VLP and for the community. Luis’ commitment to helping those less fortunate is so broad, so deep and so extensive that the impact of his work transcends the individual case, and leaves its permanent mark on our community.
Steve Cox / 2000
Steve Cox joined the VLP in 1981. Since that time he has assisted more than three hundred clients with consumer bankruptcy matters. Steve has never declined to accept a pro bono case when called upon by the VLP staff. It makes no difference to him if the case is a simple Chapter 7 or a complex Chapter 13.
In addition to providing direct representation, Steve participates in the pro per Chapter 7 Bankruptcy Clinic sponsored by the VLP. In fact, it was Steve who recognized the need for such a clinic and founded it in 1991. In the clinic, volunteer lawyers provide clients with basic information about the process of filing bankruptcy, and explain the benefits and consequences of this course of action. For those clients who choose to file, the VLP staff assists in the gathering of necessary information and prepares the client’s bankruptcy petition and schedules. In the last fourteen years Steve has personally conducted the Bankruptcy Clinic more often than any other volunteer lawyer.
Although Steve Cox assists clients in every possible way through the VLP, by providing direct representation, leading the pro per clinics and offering advice and brief service to clients, he realizes that the needs of the low-income client community are greater than he alone can solve. With this in mind, Steve has committed himself to helping the VLP recruit and train more volunteers and raise more funds to support he program and hire more staff.
In 1999, Steve was of significant help to the VLP in obtaining monies to fund its Consumer Advocate program to prevent home foreclosures and vehicle repossessions. The monies have allowed the VLP to hire a part-time paralegal to administer the program.
Steve was also a member of a select group of the Tucson Bankruptcy Bar (TBB) that rallied to help the VLP recruit more volunteers. The group met several times before involving the bankruptcy judges and making a pitch to the TBB. As a result of this effort the VLP has recruited many new bankruptcy lawyers and is able to provide direct representation to a significant number of clients.
Steve is not one to toot his own horn. But through his involvement in the community he serves as both a model citizen and as a shining example to those in the legal profession. Steve truly sets the standard for the delivery of pro bono legal services in Pima County and throughout the state.
Wayne Yehling / 1999
Wayne has been a member of the Volunteer Lawyers Program (VLP) since 1992. During this time he has assisted more than 600 clients with domestic relations matters. In addition to his direct representation of clients, Wayne has been a participant in the VLP Domestic Relations Clinics as well as a constant resource for the VLP staff.
In the summer of 1998 the VLP developed three pro per domestic relations clinics. Wayne was the first attorney in Pima County to respond to our request for attorney participation in the clinics. In fact, Wayne conducted the first VLP Divorce with Children Clinic and has continued to participate in the clinics more often than any other volunteer attorney. In addition, Wayne has taken the time to assist the VLP staff in making adjustments to the clinics to continually improve the quality of service the program is able to provide to clients.
Wayne has never declined to represent a VLP client when called upon. What is unique about Wayne is his willingness to handle even the most difficult of cases. It is not uncommon for Wayne to accept divorce cases where the client speaks Spanish. Wayne does not speak Spanish himself, but is more than willing to work with interpreters to help his clients. In addition to helping clients with legal matters, Wayne is known to go above the call of duty and make arrangements to provide safe housing for clients and their children. Although most attorneys would decline to take on cases with such difficult issues, it is not unusual for Wayne.
Wayne is not the type of person to promote himself or boast about his accomplishments. He instead lets his actions speak for him. His dedication to the VLP has influenced members of his firm as well as member of the local bar, increasing volunteer attorney participation in the VLP.
There has never been a time when Wayne did not make himself available to assist with a VLP case. On a daily basis, he makes pro bono assistance a priority in his practice.
Michael McGrath / 1998
Michael has been an active participant in the Volunteer Lawyers Program in Pima County for twenty-three years. Through the VLP, Michael provides direct representation to pro bono clients who seek assistance with bankruptcy issues. He is also a member of the Tucson Bankruptcy Bar (TBB). Many TBB members have joined the VLP as a direct result of Michael’s recruitment efforts. Michael has also been instrumental in the expansion of the VLP Bankruptcy Clinic to include reaffirmation counseling. In addition, has has been critical to VLP fund-raising efforts.
“I participate in the VLP because I think it’s the obligation of all attorneys to dedicate a portion of their practice to deliver necessary legal services to those who are unable to afford them,” said Michael.