Every year the D.C. Bar Foundation awards the Jerrold Scoutt Prize to “an attorney who has worked for a significant portion of his or her career at a non-profit organization providing direct hands-on legal services to the needy in the District of Columbia; has demonstrated compassionate concern for his or her clients; and has exhibited a high degree of skill on their behalf.” Eric Angel, Legal Director of the Legal Aid Society has been named as one of two winners in 2010.
Eric joined Legal Aid in 2001 as Legal Director. He had significant public service career prior to taking a position in the Department of Justice and in the Office of White House Counsel. Over the last nine years, he has made his mark on Legal Aid with his vision, compassion, commitment and hard work. In a letter supporting the nomination signed by supervisors, senior lawyers and other Legal Aid staff, his colleagues described Eric’s role in the following way: “In nearly nine years at Legal Aid, Eric has led our legal program with great commitment, brilliance, energy, and compassion. We cannot think of anyone more deserving of this award. Eric embodies the principle that clients living in poverty deserve the highest level of skill and professionalism. He takes Legal Aid’s work seriously, and his job revolves around ensuring that we give the best service to every client we represent. In some cases, that task might involve working through a legal issue; in others, addressing an ethics challenge; in others, finding a way to connect with a client struggling with mental illness. In every situation, Eric approaches the case and the client with respect and a determination to solve the problem in a client-centered way.”
Eric shares the award with Vytas Vergeer, the Legal Director for Bread for the City. Vytas is a tireless advocate for low-income tenants. He leads the legal program at Bread, carries an active caseload and is engaged in law reform initiatives. He is a terrific lawyer and a frequent partner on many important projects. He is also the spouse of Legal Aid’s Appellate Director, Bonnie Robin-Vergeer.
The Prize Committee specifically noted Eric and Vytas’s work to improve the Landlord and Tenant Branch of the Superior Court. More than 44,000 cases are filed in the Branch each year seeking the eviction of a tenant, most of whom are very low-income. Fewer than 3% of tenants have a lawyer. Eric and Vytas have worked effectively to increase the number of lawyers available, but also to change court practices to ensure that unrepresented litigants have a better chance at justice.
The Prize will be presented at the Judicial Reception of the D.C. Bar Conference on April 9, 2010.