It has only been open for a few months, but already the Seventh Judicial District Help Center in Rochester is receiving accolades.
It was among a number of the New York State Bar Association’s pro bono award winners announced Wednesday during a Law Day luncheon at the State Bar Center in Albany.
The help center, conceived in 2012 and launched in January, provides the public with legal information to better navigate the court system. The collaborative project has assisted more than 125 unrepresented litigants with a variety of civil matters, from uncontested divorces to landlord-tenant issues.
The help center received an award under the government office category.
Presenting the President’s Pro Bono awards were NYSBA President Seymour W. James Jr. (The Legal Aid Society of New York City), NYSBA President-elect David M. Schraver of Rochester (Nixon Peabody LLP) and George H. Lowe of Syracuse (Bond, Schoeneck & King PLLC). Schraver and Lowe co-chair the President’s Committee on Access to Justice.
“Every year, millions of New Yorkers are forced to navigate the civil justice system without legal representation,” James said. “We are so pleased to recognize the attorneys whose pro bono efforts assisted low-income individuals with consumer debt, foreclosure, divorce, end-of-life decisions, government benefits, storm-related issues and other legal matters. It is our privilege to honor those who make access to justice a reality.”
Recipients included attorneys who provided legal advice to victims of Superstorm Sandy and a team of attorneys who successfully challenged a Social Security Administration policy cutting off benefits to more than 140,000 people.
In addition to honoring attorneys representing 12 of New York’s 13 judicial districts, the pro bono awards were given to special categories of recipients including a lawyer practicing for less than 10 years or under the age of 36, a senior lawyer, a large law firm, a mid-size law firm, a small law firm, an in-house counsel, a government office and a law student.
• The Seventh Judicial District winner was Michael S. Schnittman of Rochester, retired from Lacy Katzen LLP, who assisted more than 125 low-income clients in debt collection cases and foreclosures through the Debt Collection Advice Clinic of the Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County Inc.
• Eighth Judicial District: Matthew B. Herdzik of Buffalo, a solo practitioner and 20-year volunteer with the Bar Association of Erie County’s Volunteer Lawyers Project. He performed more than 120 hours of pro bono work on eight divorces, six bankruptcy cases and an income tax matter in 2012. Since 1993, he has closed 115 pro bono cases and donated nearly 1,200 hours of service.
• Fifth Judicial District: Anthony P. Marshall of Syracuse (Harris Beach PLLC) played a key role in launching the “Say Yes to Education” program in Syracuse. The national program is designed to remove socioeconomic barriers that prevent inner-city children from graduating high school and attending college. Syracuse was the first city in the nation to institute the program throughout an entire school district.
Other winners in the Fourth Department are:
• Law student: Catherine Sinwell Gerlach, a third-year student at Syracuse University, chairs the law school’s Pro Bono Advisory Board. She has donated nearly 600 hours to various pro bono programs. In October, she testified in front of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s hearing panel on access to civil legal services in support of law student participation in pro bono work.
For a complete list of winners, visit www.nysba.org.