Tuesday, July 20, 2010


It was my privilege to co-host the 2010 Chicago Bar Foundation Pro Bono Awards Luncheon at the Fairmont Chicago Hotel on July 13, along with CBF President Steve Patton. This year, more than 750 people came to celebrate the work of the CBF and seven extraordinary honorees. I always find this luncheon to be one of the most uplifting of the Bar year, and this year was no exception.
It was inspiring to hear the stories of the 2010 awardees, Beth Cunningham, Mary Anne Smith, Professor Joe Butler, Todd Solomon, Dan Kirk, Ben Wolf and Fred Cohen. Each has used his or her particular legal talents to advance the cause of equal access to justice in our community in a very significant way. One of the goals I would like to emphasize this year is to encourage all of my colleagues in the profession to use our privileged position within our community to help those most in need. This year’s honorees are great role models for all of us.

2010 Chicago Bar Foundation Pro Bono Award Winners

The Kimball R. Anderson and Karen Gatsis Anderson Public Interest Law Fellowship for 2010 went to Beth Cunningham of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. The Los Angeles native became devoted to child welfare law while attending law school at the University of Denver. She moved to Chicago to become Youth Attorney for Youth Futures, and took the law to the streets in a mobile legal clinic for homeless youth.

The Exelon Outstanding Corporate Counsel Award went to Mary Anne Smith, Vice President and General Counsel of the Illinois Institute of Technology. For 30 years, Mary Anne has volunteered for the Chicago Volunteer Legal Services, handling over 200 adoption, guardianship and divorce cases for low-income clients. In 1988, she founded the legal clinic at Visitation Catholic Church on Chicago's south side, which she has run ever since. Mary Anne spoke about how much she enjoys getting “out of the comfort zone” of a University counsel to help individuals with legal problems that are very different from what she sees in her day job.

I was happy to help honor such outstanding honorees. On the first row are (from left) Mary Anne Smith, Joseph Butler, Todd Solomon, Elizabeth A. Cunningham, Bejamin S. Wolf, Daniel A. Kirk and Dana Cohen (who appeared on behalf of her late husband, Frederick Cohen, to receive his award). In the back row (from left) are Stephen R. Patton, President of the Chicago Bar Foundation; Pauline Levy, Co-Chair of the Annual Awards Luncheon; David E. Mendelsohn, Co-Chair of the Awards Luncheon; me.

The Leonard Jay Schrager Award of Excellence was awarded to Professor Joe Butler of The John Marshall Law School. At the suggestion of students, in 2006 Joe started the Veterans Legal Support Center & Clinic. Since then, he has educated over 70 students in advocacy for vets, a unique clinic program. Joe spoke about how rewarding it is to serve those who have served our country.

The Maurice Weigle Exceptional Young Lawyer Award went to Todd Solomon, an employee benefits attorney with McDermott Will & Emery LLP. With the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago, Todd takes on pension benefits cases, and, as a result, has become an expert in domestic partner benefits. Todd has assembled teams of lawyers from McDermott to spend hundreds of hours benefiting non-profit organizations through the Community Economic Development Law Project. He heads McDermott’s pro bono and community service committee and has been a leader in raising funds for pro bono efforts through the CBF Investing in Justice Campaign.

The Richard J. Phelan Public Service Award was given to Dan Kirk of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office. Dan serves as Chief of Staff for State's Attorney Anita M. Alvarez. When he's not upholding justice for the citizens of Cook County, Dan donates his time and talents to one of the most vulnerable communities in Chicago, homeless teens. Through the program Teen Living, he assists young people with nowhere to turn, helping with problems of daily life and any legal issues that arise from their homelessness.

The Thomas H. Morsch Public Service Award went to Ben Wolf of the Roger Baldwin Foundation of ACLU, Inc. For the past 25 years, Ben has worked on behalf of children, victims of abuse and neglect, prisoners and the mentally ill. Throughout his career, he has addressed problems in state institutions by filing class action impact lawsuits, effecting substantive change. Some of the major reforms brought about through his efforts have affected the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center and the State of Illinois system for the care of mentally ill and developmentally disabled people.

The Edward J. Lewis II Pro Bono Service Award was awarded posthumously to Fred Cohen, who died of cancer last May at the age of 45. Fred’s wife, Dana, accepted the award on his behalf. A partner with Goldberg Kohn Ltd., Fred was a commercial litigator. Dana told us how Fred’s career was transformed when he took on a major class action suit against Medicaid that benefited 600,000 kids and set landmark standards for children's health care. Fred litigated the case while fighting his own private battle with the cancer that ultimately claimed his life. Fred, like Edward Lewis, for whom the award is named, had a real impact on the lives of many, many in our community before being taken from us much too soon.

You can visit the Chicago Bar Foundation here www.chicagobarfoundation.org/