“What is really at stake is nothing less than the legitimacy of our legal system and the rule of law.” This is what David Reiser had printed in the program book when the American Bar Association awarded him its Pro Bono Publico Award. The presentation took place on August 9 at the ABA annual meeting in San Francisco. We heartily congratulate David for this well deserved honor.
David is an important part of the Legal Aid team. He joined us as a volunteer in 2004 as we were developing the Appellate Advocacy Project. He worked closely with Barbara McDowell, the first Project director, to help her build the program to be a respected voice on poverty law issues in the D.C. Court of Appeals. David was instrumental in keeping the project going after Barbara’s death in early 2009 and has continued to support and partner with our current Appellate Director, Bonnie Robin-Vergeer. He has dedicated thousands of hours to the project.
David’s contribution has extended far beyond our Appellate work. He has mentored staff on complex trials and been wise counsel on policy issues. But the thing we value most is his commitment to ensuring equal justice for people living in poverty. He is relentless and uncompromising in his advocacy that the Courts must protect the substance of justice - a fair process is not enough. This point was best made in the acceptance essay David wrote for the program book (he was not permitted a speech at the luncheon):
It is a misconception that the legal problems of poor people are easier to solve than those of businesses or wealthy individuals, or that poor people have less need of skillful and experienced lawyers. Although the representation of poor people is sometimes a matter of routine, that is because a lack of resources sometimes makes creativity impossible, not because creativity is any less needed or desired. In the six years of work on the appellate project, we have consistently found that the skills of experienced and highly trained appellate lawyers make a difference in the outcome of cases….
[P]ro bono service is not merely an ethical requirement – a quid pro quo for a bar license – it is a moral imperative because without it the law systematically aids the wealthy and disadvantages the poor, becoming a system of coercion rather than one than honors individual autonomy and choice.
The importance and complexity of the work done for poor clients should not be measured in dollars. For a poor family, the foreclosure of a $100,000 townhouse is every bit as momentous as a $100 million bankruptcy, and may present just as many cutting-edge legal issues. Without the best lawyering, a parent’s connection to a child can needlessly be severed with a penstroke. That is something hard to price…
The ABA prepared a video on David’s work. It can be viewed HERE.
David’s efforts would not be possible without the generous support of Zuckerman Spaeder where he is a counsel. The firm encourages not only David, but other lawyers to work with Legal Aid. The firm has taken cases pro bono and helped in innumerable ways.