Washington Lawyer

Legal Beat

From Washington Lawyer, March 2016

By David O'Boyle and Jeffery Leon

Bar Seeks Nominations for Annual Awards at Celebration of Leadership

The D.C. Bar is seeking nominations for outstanding projects and contributions by Bar members, which are among the honors to be presented at the 2016 Celebration of Leadership: The D.C. Bar Awards Dinner and Annual Meeting. The deadline for submissions is March 25.

Bar members are encouraged to submit nominations for the following: Bar Project of the Year/Frederick B. Abramson Award, Section of the Year, Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year Award, and Laura N. Rinaldi Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year.

Nominations may be submitted in one of the following ways: (1) online at www.dcbar.org/awards; (2) by e-mail to annualawards@dcbar.org; or (3) by mail to Katherine A. Mazzaferri, Chief Executive Officer, District of Columbia Bar, 1101 K Street NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20005-4210. Electronic submissions are encouraged.

The winners will be honored on June 15 at the Bar's Celebration of Leadership at the Mayflower Hotel, 1127 Connecticut Avenue NW. The Bar also will present its Beatrice Rosenberg Award for Excellence in Government Service and its Thurgood Marshall Award for excellence in the pursuit of equal justice and opportunity for all Americans.

Media Law Luncheon Explores FCC Equal-Time Rules, Other Hot Issues

On January 13 the D.C. Bar Arts, Entertainment, Media, and Sports Law Section discussed the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) equal-time rules for television and radio broadcast stations during election season, one of the issues the section explored during its monthly media law brown bag luncheon.

Rosemary Harold, a partner at Wilkinson Barker Knauer LLP, talked about Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's appearance on "Saturday Night Live" in November, and the ensuing demands from rival campaigns to get equal airtime.

Harold said that while there were several complaints made to NBC about Trump's time on air, critics have the burden of proving that a violation of the FCC's equal-time rules had occurred.

The luncheon also featured Chad Bowman, an attorney at Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP, who led the discussion on the libel case Biro v. Condé Nast, and Adam Marshall of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press who talked about the use of body cameras by D.C. police.

Biro, an art expert, sued Condé Nast over the publication of an article about him in The New Yorker that he claimed was defamatory. Bowman discussed the implications of the ruling of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit that limited-purpose public figures suing for defamation must show that the defendants acted with actual malice.

Marshall provided an overview of D.C. laws on police use of body cameras and tackled issues relating to storage, access to the videos, and requests for records.

More than 20 people participated in the luncheon, which was held at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP and moderated by Ashley Messenger, NPR senior associate general counsel and Media Law Committee chair of the Bar's Arts, Entertainment, Media, and Sports Law Section.—J.L.

Tracey OhmDarrell Clark

Pro Bono Partners

Stinson Leonard Street LLP attorneys Darrell W. Clark and Tracey Ohm have teamed up with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center's Advocacy & Justice Clinic to help clients in the District of Columbia's underserved community. 

District Court for D.C. Seeks Comments on Proposed Rule Change

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia is seeking comments on a proposed rule regarding government disclosure of exculpatory information in criminal cases.

Pursuant to Local Criminal Rule 57.1, the court is required to advise that the proposed rule will be adopted unless modified or withdrawn by the court after receiving comments from organized bar associations, members of the bar, and the public. Written comments must be submitted within 45 days of the publication of notice of the proposed rule.

The proposed rule would require the government to make available to the defense any non-trivial information known to the government that tends to negate a defendant's guilt, mitigate the charged offense(s), or reduce the potential penalty.

The proposed rule resulted from the work of an ad hoc committee established in 2015 by former U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth that examined whether a local rule regarding government disclosure of exculpatory evidence in criminal cases was worthwhile.

Comments should be sent to John Aldock, Chair, Advisory Committee on Local Rules, Goodwin Procter LLP, 901 New York Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20001.—D.O.

Bar Invites Members to Apply for Various Leadership Posts

The D.C. Bar Board of Governors is seeking candidates to serve on various boards and committees.

Interested applicants are encouraged to apply for vacancies on the Attorney/Client Arbitration Board, Judicial Evaluation Committee, Legal Ethics Committee, Clients' Security Fund, and the Board on Professional Responsibility (BPR) of the D.C. Court of Appeals. The deadline to apply for these vacancies is March 11.

Applicants for attorney vacancies must be members of the D.C. Bar. For openings on the BPR, three individuals will be selected for each vacancy and their names will be forwarded to the D.C. Court of Appeals for final appointment. Preference is given to individuals with experience on BPR hearing committees.

Bar members interested in being considered for BPR hearing committee vacancies that arise periodically should send a letter of interest and résumé to the Board on Professional Responsibility, 430 E Street NW, Suite 138, Washington, DC 20001.

To apply for a board or committee opening, please submit a résumé and cover letter stating the committee(s) or board(s) on which you would like to serve and a description of relevant work or volunteer experience. Applications that do not include the requisite cover letter with a description of relevant experience will not be considered.

Leadership experience with other D.C. Bar committees, voluntary bar associations, or the Bar's sections is highly desirable. Descriptions of the committees and links to the BPR Web site are available at www.dcbar.org/about-the-bar/committees.cfm.

Applicants should submit materials by mail to the D.C. Bar Executive Office, 1101 K Street NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20005-4210, or by e-mail to executive.office@dcbar.org.

A New Class

Charles F.C. Ruff Fellows. Photo courtesy of the D.C. Office of the Attorney General

Fourteen new Charles "Chuck" F. C. Ruff Fellows began work in various divisions of the D.C. Office of the Attorney General in January. The yearlong fellowships are awarded to top graduates from five local law schools to provide the District government with more legal assistance and to promote public interest work. The fellowships are named in honor of Ruff, who served as White House counsel and U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia.—D.O.

Court of Appeals Adopts Rule 46, With Two Exceptions

The District of Columbia Court of Appeals has adopted proposed amendments, with two exceptions, to D.C. Court of Appeals Rule 46, which governs admission to the D.C. Bar. The amendments took effect March 1.

The revised rule adopts the Uniform Bar Examination (UBE) and establishes the District of Columbia as a UBE jurisdiction. It also imposes a limit on the number of times an applicant may sit for the bar exam, with the exception of extraordinary circumstances.

However, the proposed amendment permitting law students to take the bar exam during their third year of law school, with certification from the law school, is not adopted at this time. The court has reopened the comment period for this issue. Written comments are due by March 31. Comments must be submitted in 10 copies to the Clerk, D.C. Court of Appeals, 430 E Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20001. All comments will be made available to the public.

Additionally, the proposal allowing graduates from law schools not accredited by the American Bar Association to fulfill their 26 hours of required study through "classroom" courses will be considered at a later date, at the recommendation of the D.C. Bar's Global Legal Practice Task Force.

To view the full order, visit the D.C. Courts Web site at www.dccourts.gov.

Bar Sections' Steering Committee Elections Open Online on April 25

Online voting in the 2016 D.C. Bar section steering committee elections will take place between April 25 and May 20. Voting will primarily be conducted on the Bar's Web site, with paper ballots available only on request.

Section members in good standing can access their ballots by logging into the Bar's Web site during the spring voting period to cast their ballots. Individuals who wish to receive a paper ballot must submit a request no later than April 15 online or by e-mail to section-ballot@dcbar.org.

Online voting will be available to all eligible voters throughout the election period, but paper ballots will not be generated unless a specific request is submitted.

New Leadership

Hispanic Bar Association of D.C. leaders

On January 14 the Hispanic Bar Association of the District of Columbia (HBA–DC) installed its new leaders during the organization's annual meeting and elections held at the St. Gregory Hotel. Pictured from left to right are D.C. Superior Court Magistrate Judge Kenia Seoane-Lopez; HBA-DC past presidents Linda Estrada and William "Bill" Alvarado Rivera; current president Edgar Class; immediate past president Juan Semptertegui; and president-elect Ben Hernandez-Stern.—D.O.

LCE's Jennifer Berger Wins Bar Foundation's Jerrold Scoutt Prize

Jennifer L. Berger, supervisory attorney at the Legal Counsel for the Elderly (LCE), has been selected as the 2016 recipient of the Jerrold Scoutt Prize by the District of Columbia Bar Foundation.

The Bar Foundation awards the prize annually to a public interest attorney who has devoted a significant portion of his or her career to providing legal services for low-income clients in the District. Recipients are selected for their compassionate concern for their clients and the high degree of skill exhibited in their work.

"I'm deeply honored and humbled to receive this recognition from my colleagues at [LCE] and in the legal services community," said Berger. "I'm incredibly appreciative of the opportunity to highlight the great work that LCE does, and I am touched to be recognized amidst such talented people in the D.C. legal services community."

During her 10 years as supervising attorney at LCE, Berger has advocated for elderly citizens in housing issues, working to enhance the quality of life for low-income seniors in the District through advocacy, social service, and public outreach. She previously worked as housing supervisor at the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, and as general civil attorney at the Legal Aid Bureau, Inc. in Maryland.

"Jennifer is incredibly deserving of this recognition," said Kirra L. Jarratt, executive director of the D.C. Bar Foundation. "She is a compassionate and skilled advocate for our city's most underserved, a wonderful mentor to attorneys within our community, and a fighter for systemic change."

Berger currently supervises LCE's Alternatives Project, which combines social work and legal services. Berger and her team work closely with the social services network in the District, and with in-house social workers to resolve the root causes of eviction.

"It's hard for me to ever complain about any of my circumstances when I have clients who are enduring far greater hardships," Berger said. "There's nothing more gratifying than ensuring that a senior who has contributed to the District their whole life will be treated with respect and dignity, which would include aging in place in the communities that they have known throughout their lifetimes."

The Scoutt Prize is named in honor of Jerrold Scoutt Jr., a founding partner at Zuckert, Scoutt, & Rasenberger, LLP, who was committed to ensuring low-income clients have access to legal services.

The D.C. Bar Foundation will present the Scoutt Prize on April 21 during the D.C. Bar Judicial Reception at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center.—D.O.

D.C. Courts Launch Initiative to Combat Youth Trafficking

The D.C. Superior Court's family court is establishing a team of justice system stakeholders to combat the trafficking and sexual exploitation of court-involved and at-risk youth in the District.

The court's announcement followed the January 11 announcement by Mayor Muriel Bowser that the D.C. government is increasing its efforts against human trafficking by partnering with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Blue Campaign and by launching anti-trafficking initiatives at the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles.

Judge Hiram Puig-Lugo, the presiding judge of the family court, called for a meeting with District representatives. Judge Puig-Lugo has also invited the New York-based Center for Court Innovation, a nonprofit organization that works to reduce crime and aid justice system victims, to lead the meeting.

The discussion aims to create an action plan that will outline the roles, responsibilities, timeframes, services, training plans, and other requirements needed to fight human trafficking in the District.

D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Eric T. Washington and D.C. Superior Court Chief Judge Lee F. Satterfield are both in support of the court's plan.

"Over the last several years our Social Service Division's Child Guidance Clinic has developed and validated a screening tool, believed to be a first in the nation, to identify youth who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing sexual exploitation," Chief Judge Satterfield said. "A number of jurisdictions have expressed an interest in our tool, believing it will help identify victims of sexual exploitation."—J.L.


Following Merger, Stinson Leonard Brings Pro Bono Tradition to D.C.

Pro bono work is a necessity in the nation's capital. With the District of Columbia experiencing rapid redevelopment, a rebounding population after decades of decline, and major social, cultural, and demographical shifts, there's a looming concern that disadvantaged residents are increasingly being shut out of this change. These individuals also fall by the wayside when it comes to legal representation and access to justice.

The D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center's Advocacy & Justice Clinic works to fill this gap. In partnership with almost 30 firms in the Washington metropolitan area and with government agencies, the Advocacy & Justice Clinic offers pro bono representation for people who need legal assistance in matters such as housing, family law, public benefits, personal injury defense, and consumer law. Law firms and federal government agencies sign up for a certain number of cases each year and the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center works to assign a convenient date when attorneys from the firm or agency meet with their clients for the first time.

One partner firm stands out in particular for its dedication to pro bono service: Stinson Leonard Street LLP. Since its formation in 2014, the firm's D.C. office has distinguished itself through its pro bono work with the Advocacy & Justice Clinic, committing to accept 10 cases each year with a staff of only 25 attorneys.

"Stinson's participation in the Clinic is exemplary," says Pro Bono Center Managing Attorney Vanessa Batters-Thompson. "Although their Washington office is relatively small, their impact on the client community is huge."

Making Pro Bono Work Easy

Stinson Leonard Street came into existence with the merging of two firms—Stinson Morrison Hecker of Kansas City and Leonard, Street and Deinard of Minneapolis. Both legacy firms have a strong history of pro bono work and community support initiatives that can be traced back to their respective formations. In particular, the firm's Deinard Legal Clinic, which opened in 1993, has provided more than 100,000 hours of pro bono service to clients in Minneapolis.

In the merger, there was added emphasis for both firms to continue this longstanding tradition of pro bono service.

Stinson's decision to join with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center's Advocacy & Justice Clinic was a no-brainer. "The Pro Bono Center makes it so easy for you," says Darrell W. Clark, a partner at the firm. "Clients are pre-screened and interviewed by the Clinic, and all the basics are provided to you before you meet them." Clark himself has represented six clients through the Clinic.

Fellow Stinson attorney Tracey Ohm agrees: "Through the Clinic, you have these ready-made and ready-to-go cases."

Both attorneys have taken active roles in the Clinic, with Clark organizing orientation sessions at the firm before each Clinic and Ohm assisting in case and firm logistics. Both point to the firm's close relationship with the D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center—and the Center's attorney mentors, thorough case documentation, and client vetting—and the firm allowing its attorneys to credit pro bono work toward their billable hours as the reasons why Stinson has been able to take such a large role in the Advocacy &Justice Clinic.

"Talking with our other offices in different cities, [the Advocacy &Justice Clinic] is something that they're a bit jealous of," Ohm says. "The Pro Bono Center offers this great program that we can link to."

Stinson primarily handles family and child custody, housing, and disability appeals cases from the Advocacy & Justice Clinic. The firm considers housing cases, particularly those involving affordable housing and poor housing conditions, as matters with high stakes. "If you lose, your client could become homeless," Clark says.

Motivating Attorneys to Step Up

Stinson assigns two attorneys to each case referred by the Advocacy & Justice Clinic and provides a support system for them. It encourages attorneys to take on cases outside of their comfort zones and legal background, an approach that allows them to bring their expertise to the table and at the same time gain knowledge of other types of law.

To get attorneys on board, Clark says the firm tries to find a case that motivates them, as they may be passionate about a certain type of issue. Coming from a law clerk background, Clark says what motivates him to offer pro bono assistance is the number of pro se cases that clog up the courts.

The increasing demand for pro bono legal assistance in the District means that for the firm to deliver on its strong commitment to pro bono service, its attorneys frequently must put in extra hours working with their pro bono clients.

Stinson continues to work tirelessly in getting more attorneys involved in pro bono work and with the Advocacy & Justice Clinic, with several accomplishments along the way. In 2015 Dennis Lane, a partner at the firm with extensive federal administrative law experience in representing regulated entities before federal agencies and the courts, was a co-recipient of the D.C. Bar's Laura N. Rinaldi Pro Bono Lawyer of the Year Award for his dedication and service in representing low-income clients, especially domestic violence survivors. Newer attorneys at the firm also are stepping up, seeking to gain experience and build relationships with other attorneys on staff.

"It's not hard," Clark says about doing pro bono work, "all you're doing is solving a problem. You may be the kind of lawyer who writes contracts or is in the patent world, but you're capable enough to help figure out a problem. Many people live every day with the same problems that go unresolved . . . and helping them get that problem resolved can be so meaningful to them."—J.L.

Reach David O'Boyle and Jeffery Leon at doboyle@dcbar.org and jleon@dcbar.org, respectively. You can also follow David on Twitter at @d_oboyle and Jeffery at @JLeonDCBar.