Legal Aid had a wonderful opportunity recently to celebrate the substantial achievements of our Legal Director, Eric Angel. The District of Columbia Bar Foundation selected Eric and Vytas Vergeer, Legal Clinic Director at Bread for the City, as co-recipients of the 2010 Jerrold Scoutt Prize.
The Scoutt prize is awarded annually 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. It is named in honor of Jerrold Scoutt, Jr., a founding partner of Zuckert, Scoutt & Rasenberger LLP, for his longtime support of legal services.
Eric and Vytas accepted the award at the Judicial Reception at the DC Bar Conference on April 9. The Foundation conferred the rare joint prize for Eric and Vytas’s successful collaborative efforts to reform pro bono tenant representation in the DC Superior Court Landlord and Tenant Branch.
More than 44,000 cases are filed in the Landlord and Tenant Branch each year seeking the eviction of a tenant, most of whom have very low incomes. Fewer than 3% of tenants are represented by a lawyer. Eric and Vytas have worked effectively to increase the number of lawyers available to represent tenants, but also to change Court practices to ensure that unrepresented litigants have increased access to justice.
In his acceptance remarks, Eric noted that the Court still has much to do to improve the way it operates, but that there had been a great many accomplishments over the last several years. In particular, he commended the Court for the numerous reforms that it has made to improve the operations of the Landlord and Tenant Branch, including the addition of a second judge, the hiring of a permanent law clerk, the new morning announcement, the new Complaint, the new protective order rule, the new IFP rule, the new temporary appearance rule, the establishment of the Court-based legal services project, and the creation of a new affirmative conditions Court scheduled to start this very month. Eric and Vytas were at the forefront of tireless advocacy efforts to secure these and other important reforms.
Eric has served as Legal Aid’s Legal Director since 2001. He manages all aspects of Legal Aid’s legal operations, supervising, supporting and inspiring lawyers who have handled thousands of matters for people living poverty in the District. Prior to joining Legal Aid, Eric worked at the Department of Justice and in the Office of White House Counsel.
In a letter supporting Eric’s nomination signed by supervisors, senior lawyers and other Legal Aid staff, my colleagues and I described Eric’s role: “In nearly nine years at Legal Aid, Eric has led our 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, the 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.”
It was a special treat to have Eric’s family join his Legal Aid colleagues at the recent award presentation. We could not have been more pleased and proud to see Eric publicly recognized for all of the remarkable work we see him do every day.