Category Archives: Pro Bono News

Dayton attorney Robert Curry recognized for improving access to justice

Robert Curry is the 2019 recipient of the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation Presidential Award for Pro Bono Service. The award, presented today during the Ohio State Bar Association Annual Meeting, is given annually to individuals, law firms or organizations that have made outstanding efforts in improving access to justice in Ohio.

“Bob exemplifies the legal profession’s ethical and moral obligation to work for the public good,” said Kim Shumate, president of the Foundation’s board. “By giving his time, energy and passion, Bob is addressing the great unmet need for civil legal help in Ohio.”

Curry, a partner in Thompson Hine’s real estate practice group and former partner-in-charge of the Dayton office, balances his professional responsibilities with a commitment to pro bono service.

Curry serves as board president for Advocates for Basic Legal Equality (ABLE) and Legal Aid of Western Ohio (LAWO), where he oversees legal services provided by both organizations. In 2017, he served as co-chair of ABLE and LAWO’s 50th anniversary campaign. His work was instrumental in raising more than $1.3 million dollars, which allowed for the expansion of civil legal assistance to Ohioans unable to afford an attorney.

In the year following the campaign, ABLE and LAWO served more than 19,000 Ohioans, including veterans, seniors, children and survivors of domestic violence who may otherwise have gone without legal help.

On top of the volunteer hours Curry devotes as board president, he generously gives his own time to serve as a pro bono attorney and encourages his fellow attorneys at Thompson Hine to volunteer. Because of Curry’s efforts and commitment to pro bono service, more Ohioans have achieved our nation’s promise of justice for all.

2019 Presidential Award nomination period is open

The Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation Presidential Award is presented annually to individuals, law firms, or organizations that have made outstanding efforts in improving access to justice in Ohio.

Past recipients include:

  • Luann Cooperrider and Hon. Dean Wilson (2018) for establishing the Perry County Free Legal Clinic in collaboration with Southeastern Ohio Legal Services;
  • John P. Gilligan (2017) for his service on the board of the Legal Aid Society of Columbus and his effective fundraising and volunteer work for the organization;
  • Paul D. Hancock (2016) for his extraordinary individual volunteer efforts for the Legal Aid of Western Ohio; and
  • Colleen Falkowski (2015) for the creation of the first quarterly legal clinic held in Lake County Courthouse in collaboration with the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.

The nomination period for the award is now open.  To nominate an individual, law firm, or organization for outstanding efforts in improving access to justice in Ohio, please send an email to Sophia Chang at schang@olaf.org and include the following information:

  1. Name or names of the individual(s) or organization you are nominating;
  2. Your name, phone number, and email address; and
  3. A brief statement (no more than 250 words) describing why the individual(s) or organization should be selected.

You may submit more than one nomination, but please submit each nomination separately.  You may also submit letters of recommendation but they are not required.

The Foundation Board President will review all nominations and make a final selection.

The Award will be presented on the afternoon of Friday, May 10, 2019, during the Ohio State Bar Association Council of Delegates meeting in Columbus, Ohio.

Nominations should be submitted by email to Sophia Chang at schang@olaf.org no later than Friday, March 15, 2019.

Clinic helps Ohioans get their driver’s licenses back

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Oct. 22, 2018) — More than 150 citizens with driver’s license suspension issues attended a Driver’s License Reinstatement Clinic on Friday, Oct. 19 at the Franklin County Judicial Center.

The Franklin County Municipal Court Clerk’s Office, Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation (OLAF), Legal Aid, and Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA) partnered to provide guidance and assistance to those who qualified for driver’s license reinstatement services. In Franklin County alone, there are more than 370,000 drivers with suspended licenses. Across Ohio, there are approximately 3.3 million active license suspensions.

OLAF, Legal Aid, and OSBA offered free legal assistance, and volunteer attorneys helped participants navigate the step-by-step process. The Clerk’s Office accepted payments for court costs, fines, and provided access to the BMV online reinstatement website.

“Volunteering at the clinic was so satisfying for the attorneys,” said Angie Lloyd, executive director of OLAF. “People are thankful for the help, because getting their driver’s license back means they can get to work, school, and to doctor’s appointments.” For Ohioans who need to get to work, reliable transportation is crucial.

This clinic was a collaborative effort with AA Affordable Insurance, Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Columbus City Prosecutor, Franklin County Child Support Enforcement, Franklin County Public Defender, Franklin County Job & Family Services, Franklin County Municipal Court Judges, and Franklin County Municipal Court Self-Help Center.

“Friday’s clinic was a great success and we would like to thank all for sparing their valuable time,” said Lori M. Tyack, Franklin County Municipal Court Clerk. “The clinic is a precursor to a larger BMV Driver’s License Reinstatement Workshop which will be held next spring on April 4, 5 and 6. The workshop will assist drivers in taking advantage of the BMV Amnesty Program included in House Bill 336.”

National Celebrate Pro Bono Week kicks off Oct. 21

Ten years ago, in the midst of the financial crisis, the American Bar Association created the National Celebration of Pro Bono, a week dedicated to recognizing pro bono attorneys and growing pro bono participation. Ohio attorneys such as Michael Sermersheim heeded the call to action, and volunteered legal help to those affected by the financial crisis, including Ohioans in danger of losing their homes.

“I had always felt the tug of pro bono work throughout my career, but I had a concern about the unknown,” Sermersheim said. “Community Legal Aid provided the training I needed to start taking on foreclosure cases.”

While the economy is much improved since 2009, there remains a substantial need for legal services for the more than 2.2 million Ohioans who qualify for civil legal aid. As the Tenth Annual Celebration of Pro Bono launches Oct. 21, private attorneys remain crucial to Ohio’s legal aids, who depend on volunteer service to help meet the civil legal needs of Ohioans struggling to make ends meet.

“Only lawyers solve legal problems,” said Angie Lloyd, executive director of the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation. “Through pro bono work, attorneys can make a life-changing difference for Ohio’s children, seniors, veterans, and families.”

Pro bono service can be as simple as volunteering at a brief advice clinic or it can involve accepting a case for extended representation. Throughout the process, volunteers can count on Ohio’s legal aids for training, mentoring, and support.

“Legal aid provides a wealth of resources for volunteers,” Sermersheim said. “When you don’t fully understand an area of the law, they are there to help and assist.”

Sermersheim was recently named Community Legal Aid’s 2018 Pro Bono Volunteer Attorney of the Year. He sticks with the work because he knows his efforts are making a difference.

“We get people that have faced hardships, and they feel that they’re not listened to or considered,” Sermersheim said. “They don’t have a voice in anything. Just giving them the time and the care is a kind gesture that is very helpful to them.”

Attorneys can search Ohio Legal Aid’s Pro Bono Opportunities Guide for clinics, trainings, and recognition events statewide throughout October. For information on volunteering year-round, contact the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation’s Pro Bono Director Sophia Chang.

Emeritus attorney Michael Sermersheim commits to pro bono for the long haul

Community Legal Aid’s 2018 Pro Bono Volunteer Attorney of the Year Michael Sermersheim has made the most of his retirement. After 35 years as general counsel at The University of Akron, Sermersheim now enjoys a busy schedule of pro bono legal work that is making a difference in the lives of Akron residents who can’t afford an attorney.

It was during the financial crisis ten years ago that Sermersheim’s pro bono career began. He answered a call to Ohio’s attorneys to help Ohioans in danger of losing their homes from then Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer.

“I followed up on that request and was referred to Community Legal Aid,” he said. “They provided the training I needed to start taking on foreclosure cases.”

One of his earliest clients was a man in his nineties who had refinanced his home to pay off his wife’s debt. After he fell behind on his mortgage payments, he was in danger of foreclosure. Sermersheim’s efforts stopped the foreclosure and saved the man’s home, a house he had lived in since the 1950s.

Years later, while volunteering for Community Legal Aid’s Credit Card Debt Clinic, Sermersheim taught a woman how to file a motion disputing a complaint about a debt owed on a credit card. Several months after he initially helped her, the woman returned to the same clinic to thank Sermersheim in person. She had followed his instructions, filed the motion, and the charges against her were dismissed.

“We get people that have faced hardships, and they feel that they’re not listened to or considered,” he said. “They don’t have a voice in anything. Just giving them the time and the care is a kind gesture that is very helpful to them.”

Sermersheim currently heads up the Peace of Mind Debt Clinic, where he advises Akron residents with significant debt. Some situations, such as student loan debt that cannot be discharged in bankruptcy, are particularly challenging.

“Many times I’m not able to make the problem go away, but I can help them deal with it and move on,” he said.

All attorneys should commit to pro bono service, says Sermersheim, because there should be fairness for all in the justice system, regardless of the ability to pay for a lawyer. While it may be intimidating to practice an area of law that’s unfamiliar, Ohio’s legal aids are available to offer training and support.

“When you have a large segment of society that’s denied access to the legal system, because they don’t have money, I think that has an effect on our overall judicial system and our democracy,” he said. “It should be seen as a responsibility of those who are admitted to practice law to help those who are less fortunate.”

Oct. 21-27 is the Tenth Annual National Celebration of Pro Bono. For more information, visit the Pro Bono Opportunities Guide.

Sophia Chang joins the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation as pro bono director

The Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation (OLAF) has hired Sophia Chang as pro bono director. Chang is an attorney with eight years of experience practicing in both government and the private sector.

As pro bono director, Chang will support local and statewide efforts to grow pro bono resources in Ohio. She will collaborate with legal aids, the Supreme Court, and state and metro bar associations to implement a statewide vision for pro bono partnerships and alliances.

Chang joins OLAF from the Court of Claims where she was a magistrate presiding over hearings for cases brought against the State of Ohio and its agencies. Prior to serving as magistrate, Chang was a staff attorney with the Court of Claims and was previously an attorney with American Electric Power.

“Sophia is a terrific addition to our team,” said Angie Lloyd, executive director. “We look forward to her fresh ideas and expertise as we expand and develop new pro bono resources, a crucial component to improving access to justice for Ohioans struggling to make ends meet.”

Chang has a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from The Ohio State University. She holds a Master of Arts in Public Policy and Administration from The Ohio State University John Glenn School of Public Affairs and a Juris Doctorate from The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law.

Akron attorney Bill Dowling receives pro bono award

Akron attorney William Dowling has been named a recipient of the 2018 John and Ginny Elam Pro Bono Award.

The award recognizes a lawyer’s pro bono legal work in Ohio to provide access to justice for all. Bill has demonstrated exceptional commitment to pro bono legal services throughout his career and most recently through creating and sustaining the VALID program, a free monthly clinic that helps low-income Akron-area residents navigate the driver’s license reinstatement process.

Read more in the Akron Beacon Journal.

Judge Falkowski Recognized for Outstanding Leadership

Angie, Kathleen, Judge Fakowski, Colleen

Lake County Domestic Relations Judge Colleen A. Falkowski is the recipient of the Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation’s 2015 Presidential Award for Pro Bono Service. The award was presented April 29 at the Kalahari Resort and Convention Center during the Ohio State Bar Association’s Annual Meeting and Convention.

The Presidential Award is presented annually to individuals, law firms or organizations that have made outstanding contributions to improving access to legal representation through pro bono or volunteer service to low-income Ohioans.

Judge Falkowski was recognized for the creation of a quarterly legal clinic held in the Lake County Courthouse and believed to be the first of its kind in Ohio. The clinic helps people who cannot afford an attorney by providing legal advice and information from pro bono attorneys; assistance with filing court papers from a court clerk; and information about available resources from a mental health professional.

Developed in collaboration with The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, the clinic is open to low-income individuals residing in Lake, Geauga, or Ashtabula Counties. By agreement between Judge Falkowski and her counterparts in the two adjacent counties, a clinic participant from any of the three counties is eligible for a waiver of court costs. To date, the clinic has assisted over 100 individuals.

The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, which nominated Judge Falkowski for the award, said in its nomination “Judge Falkowski is an outstanding example of how one person can improve access to justice through pro bono leadership.”

“Judge Falkowski, through her vision and leadership, has lifted up our civilized society and ensured that the promise of justice for all is a greater reality for residents of northeast Ohio,” said Kathleen M. Trafford, a partner in the Columbus office of law firm Porter Wright and president of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. “I’m honored to present the 2015 Presidential Award for Outstanding Pro Bono Service to Judge Colleen A. Falkowski.”