General

Lawyer’s Hometown Passion Fuels Downtown Revival

George Jebaily: Finalist, 2014 Trial Lawyers Care Award, American Association for Justice

George Jebaily: Finalist, 2014 Trial Lawyers Care Award, American Association for Justice

George Jebaily was seven years old when his family relocated from New York to Florence, South Carolina, in 1963. The community warmly embraced his family and Florence quickly became “home” for the Jebaily family. As adults, George and his brothers raised their own families in Florence. And when the vibrancy of Downtown Florence was noticeably fading, George decided to give back to the city he loves, so that it would shine again for future generations.

The enormous undertaking of redeveloping Downtown Florence, S.C., began in earnest in 1999 with the creation of the Visions 2010 Committee, a citizens’ committee which George chaired. Working with then Mayor Frank Willis, this grassroots outreach effort was organized to engage the community in a dialogue to create a conceptual plan for the redevelopment of Downtown Florence. The Visions 2010 Committee evolved into the Florence Downtown Development Corporation (FDDC), a non-profit organization which worked with consultants to create a detailed Master Plan. The mission of the FDDC was devoted to working with the City of Florence to oversee the implementation of the Master Plan and restore civic pride in Downtown Florence.  

As a part of the 10-year redevelopment plan, George served as the first chairman of the FDDC from 2002-2008, and as the chairman of the Master Plan update committee in 2010. This revised Master Plan continues to provide the framework for moving forward the redevelopment of Downtown Florence. Now, more than 15 years later from when he first began, George is a newly elected member of the Florence City Council and remains committed to the purpose and cause of developing and supporting the town in which he grew up.

“At a time when many others were ‘naysayers’ about the ability for Downtown Florence to have a revival, my brother George was convinced that Downtown Florence would be restored and renewed to make our community a place of pride for a whole new generation,” said Ron Jebaily, who nominated George for the 2014 American Association for Justice Trial Lawyers Care Award.  “That dream keeps driving him forward.”

Downtown Florence, an artist's rendering.

Downtown Florence, an artist’s rendering.

In the fall of 2008, during his last year as Chairman of the FDDC, George recognized the need for increased enthusiasm and support for the redevelopment effort. He believed in the power of the arts to bring people together, enlisting the commitment of two key community artists and activists to create an all-volunteer art gallery space downtown.

The Art Trail Gallery officially opened its doors on December 9, 2008, to a reception of more than 700 community members, many of whom were non-believers in the redevelopment effort prior to the gallery experience. Since then, thousands of visitors have poured through the doors of the Art Trail Gallery, and have viewed the work of more than 600 artists. The gallery has been a major catalyst of economic renewal and has provided momentum for the redevelopment effort.

Pecan Festival-goers crowd the streets in Downtown Florence.

Pecan Festival-goers crowd the streets in Downtown Florence.

Additionally, George served as the chairman of the South Carolina Pecan Festival from its creation in 2004 to the present.The street festival is held each year on the first Saturday in November and has grown to cover 11 linear blocks in Downtown Florence.

Jebaily Law Firm annually provides a sponsorship of the festival, with firm attorneys and staff regularly participating. Festival-goers enjoy free, live concerts on eight stages, plus there are “Run Like A Nut” & “Bike Like A Nut” events, a free Kids Fun Zone, a talent show, pecan cook-off, corn-hole tournament, and more than 250 arts & craft and food vendors. The festival routinely has more than 50,000 attendees, and is a driving force in the renaissance taking place in the heart of the community.

The staff from Jebaily Law Firm, P.A.

The staff from Jebaily Law Firm, P.A.

It’s easy to see how the name George Jebaily has become synonymous with Downtown Florence. His leadership and commitment to the rebuilding process set the stage for bringing together key players to form public-private partnerships that have engaged the greater community in the redevelopment process.Today, Downtown Florence is seeing a major transformation with a new Florence County Library, new Florence Little Theater, new FMU Performing Arts Center, new Florence County Museum, and a host of small businesses who have embraced the vision and have chosen to make an investment in Downtown Florence. Most importantly, there is a now a new belief that Downtown Florence has a vibrancy and attraction which will engage both present and future generations. 

For George, there is no greater thank you than seeing the smiles on the faces of so many members of the community as the redevelopment of Downtown Florence continues to build year after year.

Posted on April 13, 2015 at 7:37 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Maine Lawyer Encourages Safer Driving for Teens

Joe Bornstein: Finalist, 2014 Trial Lawyers Care Award, American Association for Justice

Joe Bornstein: Finalist, 2014 Trial Lawyers Care Award, American Association for Justice

How do you get teens thinking about the dangers of drinking and driving and distracted driving? Ask Joe Bornstein. As a personal injury lawyer, Bornstein has seen the horrific firsthand effects of dangerous driving.

When his eldest child was able to get a driver’s license, Bornstein decided to focus on educating the most vulnerable drivers and their friends and passengers.

The Arrive Alive Creative Contest is an ongoing project now in its 11th year. Every spring Bornstein asks Maine high school seniors to enter creative projects depicting the dangers of drinking and driving and distracted driving around the “Stay Safe and Arrive Alive!” theme.

Projects can be presented in various mediums – videos, original songs, drawings, paintings, photos, essays, poems and more.

In the past 10 years, the Law Offices of Joe Bornstein has given away more than $85,000 in prizes as a way to help educate teenage drivers in their formative years.  Two award ceremonies are held each spring –in northern Maine and in southern Maine; the top 20 winners along with two guests are invited to attend.  

“With the prevalence of cell phones, smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices, now is the right time to educate the community about the potential dangers in the ways we all communicate,” says Henri Benoit II, a colleague of Bornstein’s, who nominated him for the 2014 Trial Lawyers Care Award.

The Trial Lawyers Care Award is presented by the American Association for Justice to a trial lawyer who has significantly contributed to his/her community through volunteer and charitable activities that serve the public. Bornstein was a 2014 finalist.

For over 40 years, Bornstein and his law firm have represented more than 22,000 injured and disabled Mainers including those affected by drunk driving and distracted driving. This is a subject about which he can speak from experience and with much credibility to make a lasting effect on both teenagers and drivers of all ages.

While parents and teachers have long lectured teens about safe driving, the Arrive Alive Creative Contest gets teenagers to think about existing dangers and to develop memorable messages that can not only win them a new laptop, but also potentially save the lives of friends or loved ones.

Bornstein also gives back to his community leasing the most recognized electric sign in Portland, Maine, which reigns on top of a tall building known locally as the Time and Temperature building. He donates space on the sign to non-profit organizations so that they can display their messages. In addition, over the past decade, Bornstein’s law office has donated more than $750,000 to Maine charities.  

Posted on February 13, 2015 at 8:05 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Louisiana Lawyer Pays it Forward

Glenn Armentor: Finalist, 2014 Trial Lawyers Care Award, American Association for Justice

Glenn Armentor: Finalist, 2014 Trial Lawyers Care Award, American Association for Justice

Glenn Armentor was born into poverty. His life was headed down a crime-laden path that would have landed him in prison, but three mentors – a police office, a teacher, and an attorney — changed his life. Because of his experience as an at-risk youth,  Armentor established the Pay It Forward Scholarship program, which now gives multiple $10,000 scholarships each year to students in critical need who want to attend college.

”My mentors taught me that every child, no matter how seemingly troubled and problematic, is worth the effort to save and worth the time to turn into a better person,” says Armentor, who is a prominent personal injury attorney in Lafayette, Louisiana, and was a finalist for the American Association for Justice 2014 Trial Lawyers Care Award.

He says the Pay It Forward Scholarship “is far and away my best work.”

Scholarship Poster

Scholarship Poster

The program was structured after thorough research with scholarship experts from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Foundation. The $10,000 that a student receives enables him or her to matriculate and begin the process of applying for Pell grants, housing scholarships, merit-based scholarships, book scholarships, and transportation scholarships. Depending on the student’s ACT scores and grade point average, a student who receives the Pay It Forward Scholarship can receive other scholarships and grants ranging in value from $35,000 to $80,000 over the course of four years, essentially helping them pay for all of their college costs.

Armentor intends to expand the scholarship so that it can be offered statewide and even nationally.

“I have made contact with lawyers throughout the state who grew up in poverty and are now doing exceptionally well, and have shared with them the research we did on scholarships, as well as our artwork, templates, and forms so that they can initiate their own scholarship programs,” says Armentor.

He anticipates that six other scholarship programs will arise in six other college towns over the next several years.

Armentor is proud of the work the lawyers at his firm do for injured individuals and families, and he believes, “What sets us apart is the fact that every one of our lawyers has a very significant, highly respected community service project that does a world of good for the constituency it seeks to serve and to benefit…. The lawyers in our firm are happy, our firm feels like part of the community and part of the family of our Acadiana region and we have established a deep friendship and rapport with every segment of our community.”

Glenn and wife Dana, with past and present scholarship recipients.

Glenn and wife Dana, with past and present scholarship recipients.

The scholarship program has come a long way. In its first year, only a few students applied. No one could believe that a trial lawyer wanted to help kids in the most dire of circumstances, and that the scholarship was real. In 2010, the first year of the Pay It Forward Scholarship, one student received the scholarship. In 2011, there were two scholarship recipients; in 2012 four recipients; in 2013 five recipients; and in 2014, two recipients. Videos about the students are featured on the Armentor firm’s website. 

As part of the program, Armentor asks the students to–at some point in their lives–take the time to pay it forward to help someone else. In addition, in 2014 he started bringing all the recipients together for what will be an annual luncheon which will enable the scholarship recipients to stay in touch and mentor and support each other.

 

Posted on January 28, 2015 at 8:49 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Alabama Attorney Helps Wishes Become Reality

Scott McArdle:  Finalist, 2014 TLC Award, American Association for Justice

Scott McArdle: Finalist, 2014 TLC Award, American Association for Justice

For Make-A-Wish® Alabama, Scott Thomas McArdle is a dedicated supporter, contributing both his time and personal financial resources. In September 2012, the Montgomery lawyer joined the Board of Directors when the chapter became a new, independent entity after separating from the Georgia chapter. During the first year, McArdle served as Vice Chair of the Board, as a member of the Executive Leadership Committee, and Chair of the Nominating/Board Recruitment Committee. Earlier this year, he was unanimously elected by peers to serve as Chairman of the Board for the next two years. All are volunteer positions for which McArdle receives no compensation.

Being Chairman of the Board requires a significant time commitment.

“Mr. McArdle willingly accepted this role and is a focused leader,” stresses Pam Jones, executive director of Make-A-Wish Alabama. “He is a visionary and a collaborator, ensuring that everyone feels a part of the team. He is both a fearless leader and a cheerleader, fostering a positive environment that allows our Board and chapter to flourish.”

In addition to Board leadership, McArdle is also a wish granter, going above and beyond to make sure that a child’s experience is more than one can imagine by turning children’s wishes into reality.  
Wish Granted: Four-year-old travels to Disney World and rescues princess

Wish Granted: Four-year-old travels to Disney World and rescues princess

“Mr. McArdle is respected by his peers, and his compassion for this organization knows no bounds,” said Jones. As a wish granter, Jones notes that McArdle, “…dedicates his personal time and resources to make a child’s wish come true – whether it is a shopping spree for a little girl, a golf outing with a celebrity athlete, or a teenager whose one, true, heartfelt wish is to meet the University of Alabama football team. Mr. McArdle makes these wishes come true in the biggest way possible.”

Wish Granted:  Teen becomes rock star for a day.

Wish Granted: Teen becomes rock star                      for a day.

McArdle is a devoted father of two healthy children. His compassion for others not only leads him to be a part of an organization that restores hope, strength, and joy to those in times of need, but also provides him the opportunity to enrich the community and state in which he lives and loves.

Since September 2012, almost 300 children with life-threatening medical conditions have had their wishes granted with the help of a growing base of individuals or corporate volunteer teams in all 67 counties in Alabama.

As a trial lawyer, McArdle seeks justice for his many clients while also being a steward of the community. In addition to his work for Make-A-Wish® Alabama, McArdle has donated “Slow…Child at Play” signs within neighborhoods to ensure the safety of children.

Wish Granted:  To Help Abandoned Animals.

Wish Granted: To Help Abandoned Animals.

“Mr. McArdle is a leader, and leaders want to make a difference,” says Jones. “Leaders are not happy with status quo; they want progress and they want to make an impact. Mr. McArdle engaged with our charity because he wanted to make a difference – an improvement – in the lives of others in his city and state. From a personal perspective, he is also setting an example for his children by giving of his time and resources to others less fortunate. He has included his children in Make-A-Wish activities so they can begin to understand, even at their young age, the importance of giving back to others struggling with adversity.”

Posted on December 31, 2014 at 5:27 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

One Lawyer’s Quest to Eradicate Cancer: 23 Years and Going Strong

David W. Singer:  Finalist, 2014 TLC Award, American Association for Justice

David W. Singer: Finalist, 2014 TLC Award, American Association for Justice

When David Singer’s mother-in-law, Sylvia Glazer, died suddenly from pancreatic cancer in 1992, she was only 62. That experience led Florida lawyer Singer and his wife Sharon to start a family and get involved with the American Cancer Society.

Singer isn’t your average volunteer.

“In 2014, he will have concluded his 23rd year of chairing one of the most successful American Cancer Society ongoing fundraisers in the nation,” said colleague Peter Walsh who nominated Singer for the American Association for Justice 2014 Trial Lawyers Care Award. Singer was a finalist for the award.

“Certainly, the Jail & Bail event conceived by Singer has made Florida fundraising history. Singer reached over $4 million raised in the years since he has been running this ACS fundraiser,” noted Walsh.

"Judge" Singer,helped by Broward State Attorney Mike Satz & Broward Sheriff Scott Israel. bring some "convicts" to justice.

“Judge” Singer, helped by Broward State Attorney Mike Satz & Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, bring  “convicts” to justice.

Even Singer’s whole law firm, (David Singer & Associates) is involved. Attorneys at the firm serve on the committee known as the Parole Board. Everyone works on a 5,000-piece mailing and everyone gathers items for a silent auction. During the four days of Jail & Bail Week, Singer practically shuts down his office to work on the event.

“David Singer the face of the American Cancer Society in South Florida,” says Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, now the Chair of the Democratic National Committee, a former Honorary Chair of Jail & Bail, and perhaps one of the most famous cancer survivors in America.

Through the years, Singer has involved thousands of people in this event, including local prominent citizens such as members of Congress, Florida governors, Miami Dolphin players (one in the NFL Hall of Fame and one soon to be), the Miami Marlins manager, and even the local sheriff and state attorney.

Singer is hugely proud of three legislative accomplishments the American Cancer Society recently had, which are having a positive impact in Florida:

  1. Florida’s “Clean Indoor Air Act” is the reason there is no longer smoking in bars and restaurants in the state.
  2. A state constitutional amendment now requires the Legislature to use a minimum of 15% of the money that comes to the state via the tobacco settlement, to educate young people on the dangers of smoking. This effort has led to a drastic decrease in smoking among middle school and high school children.
  3. A dollar tax has been added to the price of a pack of cigarettes. This not only raises approximately $1 billion per year for the state budget, also greatly decreases smoking among all age groups.

In April 2010, the Soref JCC (Fort Lauderdale) honored Singer as their Humanitarian of the Year. Also by Proclamation, the State of Florida and Broward County declared April 10, 2010 “David Singer Day.”

“It is interesting and quite telling that, in the 23 years of “Jail & Bail” David Singer has never even mentioned what he does for a living,” wrote Walsh when he nominated Singer for the TLC Award. “The event is not a mere marketing ploy to advance the career of a lawyer. The cause is everything with David. Yet – everyone knows that David Singer is a trial lawyer and everyone sees that a trial lawyer can use his or her knowledge and skills to advance a very selfless cause.”

Posted on at 4:15 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Guest Post from Doug Sheff: MBA Protects the Vulnerable

Doug Sheff

I have worked for years with other attorneys to represent the underrepresented. We have done a great deal to assist those less fortunate, the most vulnerable throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and beyond. The following describes some of our work when I served as President of the Massachusetts Bar Association:

The association spearheaded pro bono representation of the Boston Marathon bombing victims, many of whom are still struggling. These include victims of traumatic brain injury, and others with injuries that are not visible and difficult to diagnose. We raised funds for and support the Pine Street Inn Project in the hope of creating a new facility there. We raised funds and helped distribute food to 2,000 hungry people before Thanksgiving. We were able to help those who otherwise would have had very little to celebrate on a holiday so many of us take for granted.

Our “Working Families” and “Justice for All” initiatives are particularly focused on creating safe and fair conditions for workers. Drawing on our collaborative nature, we created the Workplace Safety Task Force and brought together attorneys and professionals from medicine, business, insurance, occupational health, academia, government, labor, etc. The Task Force has educated the public, throughout Massachusetts, on issues ranging from fall hazards—the leading cause of death of workers in my state—to the dangers of prescription drug addiction as it relates to disabled workers on medication. The Task Force and the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) spearheaded an effort in our legislature which resulted in a new law signed by Governor Deval Patrick that protects 100,000 workers annually.

The MBA, along with worker groups, finally prevailed in creating justice for workers after nine previous attempts by others had failed. Along with fair wages, workers are ensured a higher level of safety. We are currently working to advance a bill which would raise burial benefits for the families of deceased workers, as well as a bill which protects domestic workers, often the victims of abuse. Our Workplace Safety Task Force has become a model for virtually every other state in the country. We recently received an award for innovation and community service by a national non-profit organization representing the interests of millions of workers across the country.

We see much attention paid to professional athletes who have suffered from traumatic brain injury (TBI), but hear little about the 2.4 million in this country, with far fewer resources, who have endured the same. These people go misdiagnosed and unattended. In our military alone, there are 22 suicides per day linked to TBI. The MBA is now actively in the process of establishing a Traumatic Brain Injury Task Force, educating the public and attorneys about this silent epidemic, as well as seeking to collaborate with others in an attempt to facilitate assistance to those in need who are victims of TBI and its consequential conditions.

Our Consumer Advocacy Initiative is a new and exciting component of our work, and seeks to serve as a clearing house for information and legal rights for those who are treated unfairly by big business and powerful interests who would abuse those less fortunate without the means to defend themselves. These efforts include protecting the victims of predatory lending, defective products, and unscrupulous corporate behavior. We also seek to acknowledge businesses that are responsible and supportive of consumers.

The Massachusetts Bar Association has always taken strong and positive positions on issues concerning women, children, the elderly, and sexual orientation. We have developed an entire program devoted to access to justice for the underprivileged. We are proud to represent the underrepresented. I am proud to have served as President of the MBA, an organization that demonstrates that attorneys do great things for our families, our communities, and justice.

 

 

Posted on December 30, 2014 at 6:52 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Ohio Lawyer Helps First Responders

Blaine writes a will for Montgomery Co. Sherriff's Office Chief Deputy Streck and his wife.

Blaine writes a will for Montgomery Co.     Sherrif’s  Office Chief Deputy Streck and his   wife.

“My Father served in the military— that is the benchmark I use for giving back,” says Ohio trial and firearms lawyer Erik R. Blaine. Throughout the year, Blaine volunteers his time as the lead attorney for the Dayton Wills for Heroes program by preparing wills for first responders, and teaching other lawyers how to provide this service.

The program is known nationwide as Wills for Heroes, and the Dayton Bar Association is now in its sixth year of helping members of the Ohio law enforcement community plan for emergencies and the inevitable future. In June 2014, Blaine and the other Dayton volunteers celebrated the drafting of the 1,000th will for the first responder community.

Blaine (L) at press conference with Dayton Bar Assoc. Executive Director William Wheeler, and the recipient of the 1000th will.

Blaine (L) at press conference with Dayton Bar Assoc. Executive Director William Wheeler, and the recipient of the 1000th will.

“It’s a phenomenal program,” says Blaine. “The families can come back any time to make updates to reflect their growing or changing needs. I’ve gotten to know the families, and it’s important to be involved in the community that has given me and my family so much.”

The issues he works on with the families include health care decisions, designating power of attorney, and ensuring that responders’ children will have a guardian.

“You don’t need to be an estate planner to lend a hand. At the training sessions for lawyers, we walk them through the process and partner those who are new with lawyers who have experience with the project,” says Blaine.

The Wills for Heroes program started shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when attorney Anthony Hayes emailed his local fire department in Columbia, South Carolina, to see how lawyers could help the fire department. He discovered that what the group needed was help with estate planning.

The program now serves first responders across the country. Qualified first responders include firefighters, police officers, paramedics, corrections and probation officers from federal, state, county, city and town departments and agencies.

Posted on December 29, 2014 at 8:12 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

FL Firm Provides Free Car Seats

On National Seat Check Saturday, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, in partnership with Safe Kids Palm Beach County and Bridges at Highland donated 100 child safety seats in Lake Worth, Fla. The event was organized to support a new law that will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, requiring all children in Florida up to the age of five to travel in a child safety seat.

Carseats for the community

Car seats for the community

Over the past four years, the Florida office of Cohen Milstein has hosted events throughout South Florida to provide families with free child seats. Since this campaign began in September of 2011, over 500 car seats have been donated to families in needy communities including Belle Glade, Boynton Beach, Indiantown, and Riviera Beach.

The firm’s products liability attorneys originally launched this car seat campaign to address a failure in Florida law. Through the work they do to help injured individuals and families, the attorneys had witnessed the tragic aftermath when children were catastrophically injured because they were not properly secured in an appropriate child safety seat. A child’s body is often not developed to withstand the force of a seatbelt, and most vehicle manuals indicate that the back seat of a vehicle is not designed to provide protection to a child in the event of a crash. 

The “forgotten child” is a term given to these types of cases where children are catastrophically injured or killed because the seatbelt fails to protect them. Florida had the weakest child passenger safety law in the nation, despite recommendations from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that children need to ride in a booster seat until at least 4’9′, 8 -10 years old, or approximately 80-100 pounds.

For several years, the firm, led by partner Leslie Kroeger, engaged in a coalition comprised of almost 100 different public service and first responder organizations dedicated to passing a bill that would increase the child safety standards in Florida. In the spring of 2014, their efforts prevailed, and elected leaders in Tallahassee passed a new law which will require children ages five and under to be secured in crash-tested, federally approved child restraint devices.

Kroeger said, “We launched this campaign to ensure children are protected, parents are educated and the legislature assumed its responsibility to safeguard the ‘forgotten child.’  This bill raises Florida’s standard for child safety and implements lifesaving measures for our most precious cargo. ”

Posted on December 19, 2014 at 9:06 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Dallas Firm Offers Scholarships to Students Affected by Cancer

hopeSimon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett, PC, is offering up to $50,000 in annual scholarships for Dallas County students whose lives have been disrupted by cancer.

The Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett Scholarship Fund of Communities Foundation of Texas will be awarded to selected Dallas County high school seniors planning to attend college in fall 2015. Students attending a Dallas County public or private school may apply if they or an immediate family member has or recently has had cancer. The scholarship is for one year, although students may re-apply for it in subsequent years.

“Cancer is a life-changer, but for those students who are looking to pursue higher education, it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker,” says David C. Greenstone, a founding shareholder at the firm, which represents people who have suffered from various types of cancer, including cancer caused by toxic substances or pharmaceuticals. “As trial lawyers, we have represented countless cancer victims and their families. If we’re fortunate, we are able to help provide them with some financial security. But many cancer victims and their families have nowhere to turn, so we wanted to find a way to help them and give something back to our community.”

Applications for the scholarship will be available in February 2015, with a spring submission deadline. Once applications are available, students can submit an online application through the Communities Foundation of Texas at www.cftexas.org/scholarship. Applicants will be required to set up an account before submitting an application.

As part of the online application process, students must submit a 500- to 1,000-word essay describing the hardship cancer has caused them, as well as two letters of recommendation. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or documented legal residents of the United States, have at least a 3.0 GPA and a minimum SAT score of 1300 or an ACT score of 18, and demonstrate financial need.

Posted on November 20, 2014 at 3:50 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Puget Sound Attorney Creates Template for Disaster Relief

Finalist:  2014 TLC Award

Michael Fisher: Finalist for the 2014 TLC Award, American Association for Justice

In the summer of 2012, the Ellensburg agricultural area of Eastern Washington suffered the Taylor Bridge Fire which swept through a highly populated area burning commercial and residential structures and displacing many families. The fire moved quickly due to high winds and dry conditions and the fire crews struggled for weeks to get control of the fires. Numerous livestock, including horses, cows, goats, and dogs were separated from their homes and owners.

Local volunteers set up food, water, and shelter for displaced residents and gathered livestock and transported them to the safety of the fairgrounds, which eventually contained hundreds of animals that needed to be fed, watered, and cared for every day. 

Michael J. Fisher reached out to his fellow trial lawyers in the Washington State Association for Justice (WSAJ) asking for donations to buy and transport supplies to assist the fire crews, displaced residents, and animals in Ellensburg. Within three days, WSAJ members donated $5,000 for relief supplies.

Fisher, an attorney with Rush, Hannula, Harkins & Kyler, L.L.P., used the donated funds to buy pallets of livestock grain, lead ropes, halters, fly spray, feed buckets, and more to assist with the care of the rescued livestock. He also bought six pallets of cases of bottled water and a large variety of food, blankets, and other relief supplies for displaced fire victims. Several trucks and trailers delivered the supplies to Ellensburg within five days of the start of the relief effort, including unloading the bottled water for the fire crews at the local fire station.

Aside from greatly needed supplies, a group of trial lawyers provided free legal consultation and representation for fire victims, and spread the word to the local community to contact a volunteer lawyer for assistance with any fire-related legal issues. Fisher particularly focused on how to avoid scams and abusive insurance company tactics until speaking to a lawyer.

With a family history of equine involvement, Fisher was motivated to help the livestock and their owners.

“More than the monetary donations and relief supplies, I was surprised that the biggest impact this project had was in stopping scammers from being able to take advantage of fire victims while vulnerable,” said Fisher.  “I heard through anecdotal evidence that the availability of volunteer lawyers effectively eliminated the scammers from taking advantage of people.”

 Through the Taylor Bridge Fire relief effort, the WSAJ established a template to provide similar relief and assistance in future disasters. More recently Oso, Wash., was struck by a large mudslide that took out an entire community and killed 41 people. Using the disaster relief template, a group of volunteer trial lawyers organized and spread the word that trial lawyers were ready to provide free legal services to assist mudslide victims. The template is now place for future disasters.

“On an individual level,” said Fisher, “Every person who received free legal assistance, I believe, will maintain a different view of trial lawyers as a result of this effort.”

Posted on November 11, 2014 at 7:02 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0