2015 Celebrating Service Award Winners

These remarks were prepared by Jamie Perez, Director of Atlanta Volunteer Lawyer Foundation’s Safe and Stable Families Project, for the 2015 Celebrating Service Awards.

Good morning.  My name is Jamie Perez and I oversee AVLF’s Safe and Stable Families Project. It is my pleasure to represent AVLF today to recognize our foundation’s award recipients.  

I only recently joined AVLF and in just a few months with this organization, I cannot adequately express how overwhelmed I have been by the generosity of the Atlanta legal community. I was previously in private practice so I know what it means to balance billable hour requirements, caring for children and family, and being a leader in legal and community organizations.  

I know how precious your fleeting “down time” is.   

Yet this community continues to give of itself for our pro bono causes:

•    whether by standing with a survivor of domestic violence to help him or her obtain a protective order against an abuser,
•    spending a weekend morning on your day off at our Saturday Lawyer Program,
•    fighting for wages denied to hard-working Atlantans,
•    demanding better living conditions for tenants,
•    advocating for the best interests of children in contested custody disputes as a Guardian ad Litem,
•    or working tirelessly to plan and execute fundraising events on our behalf to help fund our programming,

your sacrifices are invaluable to our poverty-stricken clients. And for that, we thank you.

Words cannot express how humbled I am and how incredibly fortunate I am to be able to work with you all and present these well-deserved awards.

The S. Philip Heiner Award is presented annually by AVLF to the person or organization that best exemplifies the high ideals and selfless dedication displayed by Phil Heiner, who in his life was a champion of private volunteer legal service to the poor.

The 2015 Heiner Award recipient is a law firm that has been just such a champion in many different capacities, rising quickly to be one of AVLF’s most valued and loyal supporters: Taylor English Duma LLP. In 2014, AVLF started an awareness-raising film series, and Taylor English, the sole sponsor, committed to film series on long-term basis. Everyone in their firm – managing partners to associates – roll up their sleeves to take cases across all AVLF programs.

For fighting for AVLF’s clients from the trenches and beyond, AVLF is thrilled to honor Taylor English as our 2015 S. Phillip Heiner Award recipient.  

AVLF operates a walk-in clinic within the Fulton County Courthouse where victims of intimate partner domestic violence go to obtain protective orders against their abusers.

After attending a domestic violence training and representing domestic violence clients in securing 12-month protective orders, Jones Day associates Kacy Romig and Mareasa Rooks were so enthusiastic about the program that they encouraged Jones Day to become a firm partner with AVLF. Following in their footsteps were Jessica Casey and Laura Bunten, who currently head the program at Jones Day. This firm takes cases during designated weeks but also off-weeks. They are exceptionally responsive and enthusiastic in their communications with us, and they are dedicated to this program and ensuring they place each and every case we send their way.  

Congratulations are in order to the Safe Families Office Firm of the Year, Jones Day, for seeking out this partnership and their commitment to our DV clients.

A guardian ad litem is someone who is appointed by a judge in a contested custody case to represent the best interests of the children and conduct an investigation to make a custody recommendation to the court. Esther Vayman is a family law attorney who became trained as a guardian ad litem with AVLF in November 2013.  From January 2014 to the present, she has taken five cases, including volunteering in two different AVLF guardian cases at the same time.

GAL work can be extremely time-consuming, inluding interviewing both parties, each child; doing home visits; interviewing witnesses; and potentially writing a final report for the judge making a custody recommendation.
We are extremely grateful for volunteers like Esther, who dedicate countless hours to give a voice to children in contested custody matters.  For that, Esther, we’d like to congratulate you and present you with AVLF’s GAL of the Year Award.

AVLF’s Saturday Lawyer Program involves attorneys volunteering to do intake for clients with landlord-tenant disputes and unpaid wage claims, many of whom then choose to represent the client in the matter.

Seven of Adam Masarek’s last 52 Saturdays have been spent at AVLF’s SLP, more than any other volunteer attorney in the same time span. He hasccepted numerous cases and donated well over 100 hours of his time. Among many other achievements, Adam sued a landlord to help a tenant escape mold-infested housing, successfully pressured a landlord to replace a broken furnace for a tenant who was suffering in the cold, and and won a cash settlement for a client whose home was flooded with sewage.  

Adam stands out as a true friend to Atlanta’s most vulnerable residents.  Because his advocacy is so clearly fueled by his limitless compassion for his clients, he is AVLF’s Saturday Lawyer of the Year.

AVLF has a great need for help with our Spanish-speaking clients. Whenever AVLF calls in need of urgent assistance from a skilled Spanish-language interpreter, Ricardo Corporan, a Resource Center Assistant at Alston & Bird LLP, answers without hesitation.

Over the last few years, no single interpreter has taken on more cases or done so with the level of selfless compassion that Ricardo demonstrates every time he is asked to help. Ricardo contacts AVLF’s Spanish-speaking callers in the evening or over the weekend and attends Saturday Lawyer clinics in person. Often, he is the reason a volunteer attorney agrees to take on a case – Ricardo will aid them across the language barrier.

He provides this otherwise very expensive support to AVLF and our clients out of a clear passion to help those who would otherwise be denied access to justice.  For this commitment to justice, Ricardo is this year’s recipient of the 2105 AVLF Hero Award.

As you all know, cases can’t move forward until service has been perfected.

When AVLF needs to find someone who does not want to be found – or find someone who most people would not want to find or confront – we call Craig Brazeman. The difficult cases take Craig a day or two.  The impossible cases take a week. But talking to Craig, it seems no case is too difficult.

In one instance, Craig accepted the challenge of finding and serving one of AVLF’s most notorious and brazen slumlords, which led to one of AVLF’s most loved and patient clients finally receiving full satisfaction of a judgment. In another case, Craig quickly found and confronted a reported gang-member to serve him with the papers that led to his abused wife obtaining a domestic-violence protective order.

Within this past week, Craig waited for hours on end for two evenings in a row for an abusive mother to come home from partying late at night so she could be served with protective order and legitimation paperwork on behalf of our client, the child’s father, and then attended our client’s hearing to testify about the woman’s erratic behavior that he witnessed.  The protective order was secured.

Over the years – and across all AVLF programs — Craig Brazeman has made the difference between a case stalling or being dismissed due to lack of service, and securing justice for our clients.  Accordingly, AVLF is proud to name him our 2015 AVLF Difference Maker.

Congratulations to all of our award winners. Thank you for helping us make a difference.