Last night, Legal Aid’s Servant of Justice Awards Dinner marked several milestones and broke records. It was the 25th anniversary of the Dinner, and we celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Barbara McDowell Appellate Advocacy Project. Over 630 lawyers, judges, government officials, and friends of Legal Aid were in attendance—more than any year before. And the event raised a record-setting $1 million to support Legal Aid’s work on behalf of persons living in poverty in the District!
Philip W. Horton of Arnold & Porter LLP and Tangela S. Richter of Capital One served as the evening’s co-chairs. Board President Deanne Ottaviano of Arent Fox LLP kicked off the evening with a warm welcome, offering thanks to everyone for their support of Legal Aid. She commended Legal Aid’s Board and staff for their dedication to making justice real for D.C. residents. In particular, she recognized staff members Jeannette Henderson and Patricia Roulhac for having been the only two individuals who have been at every single Servant of Justice Awards Dinner since its inception.
In his remarks, Executive Director Eric Angel talked about the impact of Legal Aid’s work on the community, sharing stories about the life-changing work for several of our clients who were able to stay in their homes, obtain safety net benefits, or challenge abusive debt collection practices with Legal Aid’s help. He also recognized the many former Servant of Justice Award recipients (such as 2007 Honorees Sidney White Rhyne and E. Barrett Prettyman, Jr., pictured here) who were in attendance for the 25th anniversary of the Dinner.
The first half of the program ended with the recognition of Stefanie Doebler, of Covington & Burling, who received the 2014 Klepper Prize for Volunteer Excellence. In her remarks, Stefanie spoke poignantly about how fulfilling her experiences have been volunteering each of the last eight years with the Medicare Part D clinics organized by Legal Aid and Whitman Walker Clinic.
The evening continued with the presentation of the Servant of Justice Awards, which included many moving remarks from presenters and awardees.
Professor Sarah Barringer Gordon, who introduced the award for her late friend, and former college roommate, Barbara McDowell, told the audience that, “Barbara would have loved this dinner. She adored Legal Aid,” and upon recalling Barbara’s many accomplishments, added that, “[Barbara] was made for this, but then again, she was made for so many things that she did so well.”
Jerry Hartman, Barbara’s husband, who received the award on her behalf, spoke about Barbara and her contribution to Legal Aid and the cause of access to justice. He talked about their common bond, which was a desire to address social injustice, and shared one of Barbara’s sentiments, “[She] always said, ‘you have to make a fuss to make a difference.’ And a fuss she did make at Legal Aid. That was what Barbara loved about Legal Aid – that it daily made a fuss for powerless and indigent people in the District of Columbia. Barbara would be, I’m quite sure, happy to know that it continues to make a fuss.”
Michele Roberts of Skadden, presented the award for her friend and colleague, Don Salzman, whom she described as an inspiration and “a true servant of justice because it is an innate quality in him.” She talked about his achievements as a former public defender, and now his pro bono work at Skadden.
Don accepted the award, thanking his family, friends, and Skadden, and expressed his admiration for Legal Aid’s attorneys – whom he called his heroes – and their commitment to justice. In his remarks, Don said, “Many people believe in fairness and justice, but my experience is that the lawyers at Legal Aid feel an unbounded passion, an unrelenting, burning demand for justice and fairness,” and that, “that motivation for justice is closely linked to another characteristic that Legal Aid lawyers share: a powerful empathy for the plight of their clients.”
Thank you to all those who were able to attend, or who made a contribution to Legal Aid for this very special occasion. Your support helps us to continue this critical work of ensuring access to justice for thousands of D.C. residents. We hope to see you next year on May 6, 2015!