What better time to debut Legal Aid's Pro Bono Publico than National Pro Bono Week?

Read below about your fellow pro bonos and their accomplishments for the public good
A pro bono attorney helps a survivor of domestic violence.

"Lakshmi" was looking forward to the future when she married her husband "Sunil", but right from the start, and for the entirety of their tumultuous 3-year marriage, Sunil hit her, pulled her hair and suffocated her, among other things.

In late 2016 Lakshmi sought help from the Domestic Violence Collaborative, a partnership between Bay Area Legal Aid, CORA (Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse) and the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County that helps low-income domestic violence survivors get essential protective orders and provides limited scope pro bono representation at their restraining order hearings.

After Bay Area Legal Aid helped Lakshmi obtain her Temporary Restraining Order, they referred the case to Legal Aid's Director of Pro Bono, Janet Seldon, to find an attorney to help Lakshmi obtain a Domestic Violence Restraining Order (DVRO), a court order which would keep Sunil away from her for three years. The case was assigned to Joel Silver, Corporate Counsel at Gilead Sciences, Inc.

Around the same time, Lakshmi's husband was arrested for domestic violence and disturbing the peace and ultimately charged with those crimes.

At the first DVRO hearing, the court granted a continuance on the grounds of the Fifth Amendment Right against self-incrimination because of Sunil's pending criminal case. This was the first of four continuances granted on Fifth Amendment grounds, over Lakshmi's objection. Aside from delaying separation and disentanglement from an abuser, repeated continuances of a hearing can be a form of abuse in and of itself, giving the perpetrator a chance to coercively control the survivor and intimidate or tamper with witnesses.

Recognizing these consequences, in spring of 2017, Joel, with the assistance of Family Violence Appellate Project (FVAP), filed a Writ Petition on his client's behalf, requesting that the Appellate Court order the trial court to hear the case, irrespective of the pending criminal case.

This summer, with the criminal case still pending, the Appellate Court granted the Writ, finding that the DV court had abused its discretion and stating that "the fact that a man is indicted cannot give him a blank check to block all civil litigation on the same or related underlying subject matter."

One month later, the DV court heard arguments from both parties as to the competing interests in proceeding with the civil DV case ahead of the criminal case and found for Lakshmi. As a result, it scheduled an expedited evidentiary hearing. At the evidentiary hearing, the court heard testimony from four witnesses, including Lakshmi, and found in her favor, granting a three year restraining order.
 
Lakshmi was extremely happy with the result. With legal representation, Lakshmi was able to find her voice and ultimately prevail against Sunil's attempts to delay justice and coercively control her through litigation tactics. Thanks to pro bono representation, the justice system heard her loud and clear, and Lakshmi received much needed protection against her abuser.
And while he gave so much of his legal expertise to a case that was removed from his usual practice, Joel Silver felt grateful, stating "It was probably the most rewarding case I have ever worked on as a lawyer!"


Or email Legal Aid Director of Pro Bono Janet Seldon: jbseldon@legalaidsmc.org

Note: names changed for reasons of privacy
Pro Bono Honors: Legal Aid Board Member Leticia Toledo 
Leticia Toledo
The Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County is proud to announce that Legal Aid Board member Leticia A. Toledo, Senior Counsel at the firm of Aaron, Riechert, Carpol & Riffle, APC, has been recognized for her deep commitment to pro bono as this year's recipient of the Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC)'s 2017 Award of Merit in the Volunteer/Board Member category. Leticia's pro bono involvement with Legal Aid dates back to her work as a summer law clerk after her first year in law school.
 
In addition to continuing as a pro bono attorney throughout her career, Leticia is a longtime member, and past president, of the Legal Aid Board of Directors.
 
Leticia shares her extensive knowledge of estate planning, guardianship and conservatorship to help improve the lives of our low-income neighbors in San Mateo County. Leticia serves as a mentor to pro bono attorneys from law firms throughout the county, most of whom have had no prior experience in these areas of law.
 
"I have been fortunate to have great mentors in my career," Leticia reflects. "I really want to pay it forward in something that matters to me: legal services for the underserved. The pro bono volunteers are bright and talented attorneys who want to do a great job for their clients. Many of them have told me that they hope to take on more pro bono cases. That really makes everything worth it."
 
Janet Seldon, Legal Aid's Director of Pro Bono, is pleased to have been able to nominate Leticia for this award:
 
"I have always been able to count on Leticia as a valued pro bono resource. She not only answers my questions, but will personally become involved with cases that have suddenly become very complex. Sometimes only a seasoned attorney with years of specialized practice can calm the waters of a heated case. Leticia has never said no!"
 
The formal award presentation will take place at the LAAC Traveling Training Awards Lunch on November 6th, 2017, in Fresno, CA.


Or email Legal Aid Director of Pro Bono Janet Seldon: jbseldon@legalaidsmc.org
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