Atlanta Legal Aid Society 2012 Service Awards
William H. “Bill” Kitchens, a native of Newnan, GA, who has practiced law at Arnall Golden Gregory since 1973, is a constant source of inspiration and creativity for Atlanta Legal Aid executive and fundraising staff. Bill has a long history of supporting legal services to the poor in general and Atlanta Legal Aid in particular. He headed a committee of the Access to Justice Committee looking at increase funding for legal aid across the state. He was chair of Legal Aid’s Annual Campaign in 2008 and then when our current financial troubles made it clear that maintaining our support would be difficult in 2009, he offered to chair that campaign. He is the first chair to have been willing to take the task twice. Both campaigns exceeded goals. Bill enthusiastically serves on most of our fundraising committees and continues to serve as a vital part of the Annual Campaign team. Bill’s Legal Aid legacy includes inspiring a unique CLE program using our documentary One Law for All to tell the story of Legal Aid to hundreds of lawyers this year alone. He is dedicated to always being on call for Atlanta Legal Aid, ready and willing to solve any problem and muster any resource, making him an irreplaceable member of the Legal Aid family. Bill embodies the Randall Hughes tradition of tireless devotion to Atlanta Legal Aid through his commitment to protect and expand the program’s resources and its reputation in the Atlanta legal community.
Innovations in Pro Bono Service:
A woman walked into the office of Gwinnett Legal Aid attorney Hee Ryu with the problems of a typical Legal Aid client. Client X, fleeing an abusive marriage, had no resources and was destitute. She was in desperate need of a permanent child support order. Digging deeper, Hee discovered some atypical issues in Client X’s case. It turned out that Mr. X, a trained accountant, was hiding resources from his ex-wife. To unravel the tangles of his untruths, Hee sent subpoenas to five banks, obtaining huge quantities of information. She filled Excel spread sheets with all that bank transaction data for the years 2008 through 2012 to date, and with tax return data for 2008, 2009 and 2010. Hee determined that Mr. X’s true income warranted the increase in child support, but realized that she would need an expert witness with a thorough command of forensic accounting to make her case. She turned to Deborah Johnson, DeKalb’s managing attorney. Deborah called on Laurie Dyke, a partner in the Investigative Accounting Group LLC, d/b/a IAG Forensics, with whom she had served on a child support commission. Laurie brought Karen Fortune, another IAG Forensics partner, into the picture along with forensic accountant Adrienne Kimball. The company agreed to do the work pro bono.
Karen’s data-backed testimony and report were so effective that Judge Karen E. Beyers of Gwinnett Superior Court complimented her in court. Based on the testimony, supported by exhaustive research, Judge Beyers imputed considerably higher income to Mr. X, raised the child support from $570 per month to $962 and required him to pay childcare costs and medical insurance expenses. A little child’s life was substantially lifted by Hee’s work, and the expert testimony of Karen Fortune. Hee places the value of services provided by IAG through Karen at well over $20,000.00. We are grateful to IAG for both the work they did for Hee and her client and demonstrating how non-lawyers can provide invaluable pro bono help for Legal Aid.
2012 Outstanding Pro Bono Service:
Prior to opening her own practice, DeKalb County associate magistrate judge Nora Polk cut her teeth in public interest law by serving as a staff attorney at Atlanta Legal Aid for eight years. Yet leaving Legal Aid is never that simple. Judge Polk has, for the past several years, coordinated the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys’ Estate Planning Project with Legal Aid’s AIDS Legal Project/Cancer Initiative, helping to provide wills and advanced directives for many clients every year. She is committed to making this project a success, and if she cannot find a volunteer attorney to take a pro bono wills case, her firm will often draft the documents. She has demonstrated the same passion for and commitment to this project over the last three years that she brought to her work as a Legal Aid lawyer.
Melissa Reading, attorney at Owen Gleaton Egan Jones & Sweeney LLP, used her time as the pro bono chair of the Women in the Profession (WIP) section to foster a robust relationship between the Cancer Initiative and WIP. Because of Melissa, dozens of WIP members have been trained to do onsite client screening at medical facilities for the project. Members also take on various civil legal pro bono cases, again thanks to Melissa. Her leadership in this project has allowed Atlanta Legal Aid to serve countless more clients than before and expand the reach of services to a particularly vulnerable population – the critically and terminally ill. She has also raised money and solicited gifts for clients in need, including personal care items, baby necessities and money for medication. Melissa’s dedication to Legal Aid’s clients sets the highest standard for both compassion and professionalism any lawyer- or person – might hope to achieve.