Lawyers Looking Good

Last year, considerable pro bono legal work was done in Marin County—2,515 hours by 150 attorneys, to be precise. “At what the Marin County Bar Association calculates as the average billable rate of $300 per hour, that comes to over three quarters of a million dollars,” notes Paul Cohen, executive director of Legal Aid of Marin. Most pro bono clients are people who don’t have the means to hire an attorney (the term is from the Latin phrase meaning “for the public good”)—typically the poor, the elderly or the infirm.

The county bar association recently honored 15 attorneys for performing 50 or more hours of such work in the past year. Three of those lawyers—all recipients of the association’s Wiley W. Manuel Award, named after a pro bono advocate who was the first African American to serve on the California Supreme Court—are profiled below. Their clients were referred to them after being interviewed by Legal Aid of Marin.

Eda Cole of Sausalito, an estate planning, trust and probate attorney, represented Kerrie Reilly of Novato in her quest to make legally binding quality-of-life, medical and educational decisions for her 20-year-old daughter, Kathryn.

“The daughter was developmentally disabled from birth and functioned mentally as a 5- to 10-year-old,” Cole says. “In California, a person becomes an adult at 18, so obtaining a legal conservatorship was necessary, which is an almost impossible task for a layperson to accomplish.” The process involved considerable paperwork, numerous filings and one court appearance, says Cole.

Reilly, a single mother, was solely dependent on Supplemental Security Income and In-Home Support Services, both available in California under the Medi-Cal program. Although she and her daughter lived together and were very compatible, a public defender and court investigator were required to ensure that the daughter’s interests were represented. “All in all, it went quite smoothly,” says Cole.

A 1973 graduate of University of California’s Hastings School of Law, Cole spent about 50 hours working on the case, with considerable assistance from paralegal Vickie Newman. “In many ways, this case was a pleasure for me,” Cole says, “because it involved a family where the mother, in the best way possible, wanted to provide a loving, supportive and stimulating environment for her daughter.”

Pieter Bogaards of Mill Valley, an employment law attorney, represented Vitalina and Vera Diaz, Deborah Cruz and Gladys Rodas in a case against a Marin housecleaning company.

“They were denied overtime, driven to and from jobs ‘off the clock,’ not provided meal and rest breaks, and didn’t have their taxes deducted from paychecks,” says Bogaards, “all of which violated California employment law.” Bogaards, a 1982 law graduate of University of San Francisco law school, says the four women were undocumented, but ”under California law if you do the work, you must be paid—regardless of citizenship.” The case was complicated by the defendant’s lack of employment records and claims of business insolvency and personal poverty. “Numerous legal steps had to be taken to get at the assets he actually had,” says Bogaards, who spent more than 60 hours on the case.

Bogaards, like many lawyers specializing in employment law, took the case pro bono. “Very few such cases ever go to trial,” he says, and this one was no exception. The four women eventually settled for a sum that is subject to a confidentiality agreement, but which Bogaards says was a “reasonable amount.”

Roshan Jain, an attorney with Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco, represented a client (who requested anonymity) in his effort to live in the Marin City public housing apartment of his deceased wife while caring for her two daughters from a previous marriage.

“My client, a disabled Vietnam vet, had resided on and off in the apartment for some time,” says Jain, a 2002 graduate of University of California at Davis law school, “but (the) property manager denied him occupancy because his late wife hadn’t added him to the lease.”

The manager was particularly truculent, says Jain, going so far at one point to get a court order to keep the man out of the apartment. Finally, though, a settlement was reached just before a trial was to begin in mid-January that allowed the stepdaughters, ages 6 and 19, and the man to live in the apartment without fear of eviction.

Jain put in nearly 300 hours on the complicated case, which he says centered on a dispute over federal regulations and Department of Housing and Urban Development guidelines.