Kutak-Dodds Prizes

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NLADA bestows the Kutak-Dodds Prizes annually at the Exemplar Dinner to honor the accomplishments of civil legal aid attorneys, public defenders, assigned counsel, or public interest lawyers who, through the practice of law, are significantly contributing to the enhancement of human dignity and quality of life of those individuals who are unable to afford legal representation.

Established in 1989, the prizes are jointly sponsored by the Robert J. Kutak Foundation and NLADA and bestowed in memory of Robert J. Kutak and Kenneth R. Dodds. Both men were partners in the Omaha, Nebraska, office of Kutak-Rock and practitioners and advocates of public service, legal education, and high ethical standards throughout their lives. In addition to legal services for the poor, the Kutak Foundation supports education in professional ethics, minority scholarships, and a variety of other public interest projects. The foundation is maintained by Mr. Kutak’s former friends and associates.

For information, please contact Helen Katz, chief development officer, at [email protected] or 202-452-0620, ext. 223.

Kutak-Dodds Award Winners

Frequency:
Annual
Year:
2017
Recipient(s) name:

D. Michael Dale, Northwest Workers’ Justice Project, and Lisa B. Freeland, Federal Public Defender for the Western District of Pennsylvania

Where presented :
Exemplar Award Dinner
Reason for selection of recipient(s):
D. Michael Dale is honored with the Kutak-Dodds Prize for more than 40 years of litigation and advocacy work to significantly improve the lives of farmworkers and other low-wage workers across America. At the core of Michael’s life work is a belief in the inherent right of every individual to live and labor with dignity, safety, and hope. As a widely recognized leader in farmworkers’ rights, Michael consults regularly with farmworker legal aid organizations both nationally and internationally.
 
 
Lisa B. Freeland is honored with the Kutak-Dodds Prize for her advocacy in the arenas of pretrial reform, racial justice, and capital representation. She is recognized for her leadership and her passionate advocacy on behalf of her clients. Under her leadership, procedures were put into place to ensure representation prior to an individual appearing before a district judge. In addition to starting a Capital Habeas Unit that represents those on Pennsylvania’s death row, Lisa has advocated at a national level for funding for such units. Until this year, she chaired the national committee tasked with oversight of all capital representations in the defender program.
 
Frequency:
Annual
Year:
2016
Recipient(s) name:

Lisa Greenman, Federal Death Penalty Resource Counsel Project, and Jane Perkins, National Health Law Program

Where presented :
Exemplar Award Dinner
Reason for selection of recipient(s):

Lisa Greenman receives the Kutak-Dodds Prize for her extraordinary career at the intersection of indigent defense and mental health. Described by her colleagues as “a fierce and compassionate advocate for the poor and defenseless,” Lisa has dedicated almost 30 years to advocating for clients in capital and non-capital cases, while be­coming a national authority on protecting procedural fairness for clients with intellectual disabilities.
 
Jane Perkins is recognized with the Kutak-Dodds Prize for her work as “the advocate that saved Medicaid.” Jane joined the National Health Law Program (NHeLP) in 1984 and by 1997, she had already received NLADA’s Reginald Heber Smith Award in recogni­tion of her magnificent achievements in providing direct representation on behalf of Americans in poverty. Her writing and analysis on healthcare issues garnered national recognition and even then she stood at the forefront of the fight for access to justice in the healthcare arena.

Frequency:
Annual
Year:
2015
Recipient(s) name:

Richard Rothschild, Western Center on Law & Poverty, and Kenneth Rose, The Center for Death Penalty Litigation

Where presented :
Exemplar Award Dinner
Reason for selection of recipient(s):

Richard Rothschild is recognized for nearly 30 years of extraordinary public service in California serving those who cannot afford to pay for legal representation. He is recognized for his tremendous impact as a premier appellate lawyer on the over eight million low-income children, people with disabilities, immigrants and other vulnerable groups living in the state. In addition to winning high impact litigation defending or expanding the rights of low-income families and individuals, Rothschild has supported and shared his expertise with countless legal service organizations and their attorneys.

Kenneth Rose is honored for his life-time commitment to public defense work for nearly 35 years in Georgia, Mississippi, and North Carolina. Rose has spent his entire career representing low-income clients on death row, many of whom are mentally ill and intellectually disabled. He has played a key role in advocacy efforts to limit the death penalty, helping to enact one North Carolina statute barring the death penalty for persons with intellectual disabilities and another that allowed death row prisoners to present statistical disparities and other evidence to show that race played an impermissible role in their cases.

Frequency:
Annual
Year:
2014
Recipient(s) name:

Ellen Katz, William E. Morris Institute for Justice, and Edward Ungvarsky, Office of the Capital Defender for Northern Virginia

Where presented :
Exemplar Award Dinner
Reason for selection of recipient(s):

Ellen Katz is honored for more than 34 years of extraordinary public service on behalf of America’s most at-risk populations. With awe-inspiring passion, Ellen has dedicated her entire career to changing the justice system to promote access and opportunity for all.

Since 2003, Ellen has worked for the William E. Morris Institute for Justice in Phoenix, Arizona, a non-profit public interest program whose mission is to protect the rights of low-income individuals. Numerous statewide improvements have resulted from her active representation, including the expansion of language access services in all courts, increased access to Medicaid, and the implementation of fee waiver and deferral court policies for low-income Arizonans. She has also engaged in effective administrative advocacy and litigation in areas such as landlord-tenant law, unemployment insurance, public benefits, domestic relations and more.

Despite operating in often challenging conditions, Ellen consistently tackles those issues affecting the largest number of low-income people. She works tirelessly, persistently, and effectively, to empower people and give them a voice. Through incredible resourcefulness and determined advocacy, Ellen has personally affected systemic change, ensuring needed services for so many individuals experiencing hardship while significantly improving their life outcomes.

 

 

Frequency:
Annual
Year:
2013
Recipient(s) name:

Lisa Krisher, Georgia Legal Services Program, and Sandra Levick, Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia

Where presented :
Exemplar Award Dinner
Reason for selection of recipient(s):

Lisa is honored for her “lifelong vision and commitment” to the Georgia Legal Services Program (GLSP). Starting in 1978, she represented clients in the most challenging circumstances of a rural southern state with entrenched poverty and ongoing civil rights issues. Lisa has created major institutional changes to address systemic barriers to the well being of those she represents. 

Lisa has spearheaded the development of advocacy strategies designed to support the critical needs of clients during harsh economic periods. She led the GLSP Food Stamp Action Team and filed federal civil rights complaints after identifying almost insurmountable barriers for seniors and persons with disabilities to apply or recertify for benefits, as well as shocking practices by the state to investigate alleged food stamp fraud. The federal complaints resulted in extensive adverse findings on the Georgia food stamp program and forced major changes. 

Lisa has tackled the most difficult cases while taking on a leadership role to advocate on behalf of underserved populations. She has had an enormous impact on farmworker rights, enjoying a notable victory in litigating on behalf of eighty individuals for back wages and other relief. She has enjoyed similar success leading the Latino advocacy group, driving the Georgia Department.of Labor to provide critical documents and services in Spanish.

Sandra is honored for a 31-year career in which she has made a profound difference in the lives of her clients through direct representation, and to the national debate about forensic science reform. Recognized for “unwavering passion”, “mastery of the law” and “meticulous fact investigation”, Sandra’s impact is significant and lasting. 

She is well known for securing the high profile exonerations of three innocent men that had collectively served over 70 years in prison. All three convictions relied on microscopic hair analysis which Sandra exposed as ‘junk science’. Her dedication to these cases caused the Department of Justice to announce a nationwide review of at least 21,000 cases to investigate whether the improper practice resulted in false convictions.

 Another career highlight is her important appellate work in Winfield v. United States where a District of Columbia appellate court held that evidence of another’s guilt presented in one’s own defense need not be subjected to a heightened standard.

Frequency:
Annual
Year:
2012
Recipient(s) name:

Abigal Turner, Legal Aid Justice Center, VA, and Kim Dvorchak, Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition

Where presented :
Exemplar Award Dinner
Reason for selection of recipient(s):

Abigail Turner has spent 35 years focused on civil rights and redressing poverty. As a newly minted attorney in 1975, Turner joined the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in Washington, DC, working as counsel in national litigation concerning race discrimination in the expenditure of federal revenue sharing funds. She continued her civil rights focus as a staff attorney with the Legal Services Corporation of Alabama and in 1989 assumed the position of litigation director at New Hampshire Legal Assistance. Since then, Turner has racked up victories on behalf of civil rights groups and low-income clients in Massachusetts, Minnesota and Charlottesville, VA, earning her a bevy of awards along the way. She has provided testimony before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights during Oversight Hearing on Civil Rights Enforcement of the Department of Agriculture; the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution on the Extension of the Voting Rights Act (1982); and the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights.

Kim Dvorchak began her legal career in 1996 as Colorado’s deputy state public defender, where she represented adults and juveniles accused of misdemeanors and felonies in county court, juvenile court, and district court. Prior to that, Dvorchak had already built an impressive pro bono resume while in law school at City University of New York School of Law, Queens, NY, where she spent a significant amount of time working on the ACLU National Prison Project, the Legal Aid Society of New York Prisoner’s Rights Project and Prisoner Legal Services. Dvorchak also spent five years in New York in the criminal defense division of the Legal Aid Society, where she provided indigent defense in felony cases in trial court; was a member of the Juvenile Offender Unit representing 13-15 year old youth in adult court; and was a member of the hospital arraignment team representing injured and mentally ill clients at Bellevue Hospital. In 2010, Dvorchak founded the Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition (CJDC) where she is currently the executive director.

Frequency:
Annual
Year:
2011
Recipient(s) name:

Wendy Pollack, The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and Samuel S. Dalton, Solo Practitioner, Jefferson Parish, LA

Where presented :
Exemplar Award Dinner
Reason for selection of recipient(s):

Wendy Pollack completed a four-year apprenticeship with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America in 1982, starting a fascinating career that would lead to significant advancements in careers for women and protecting their legal interests. She led the Chicago Women in Trades in its successful strategies against race and sex discrimination and harassment. When she decided on a legal career, she attended Harvard University Law School, provided clinical legal services and gave an assignment to a younger student named Barack Obama. She later joined the Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago and focused on welfare-to-work issues. She left the organization in 1996 to join the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services and formed what is now The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law. Highlights of her legal career include class-action victories reforming child support enforcement, striking down unconstitutional rules, resisting closure of an important trade school and eliminating waiting lists for the child care subsidy program. “Perhaps her most remarkable body of work, however, involves her comprehensive set of
victories on the policies, procedures, rights and services regarding victims of domestic and sexual violence,” John Bouman, president of The Shriver Center, said in his nominating letter. “She combines the hard-won wisdom of a discriminated-against worker in a physically demanding trade and an in-the-trenches high-volume direct service lawyer, with the top-notch intellect, sophisticated skills and seasoned judgment of an excellent policy advocate."

Sam Dalton traces his lineage to the notorious bank-robbing Dalton Gang of the Wild West on his paternal side and to the first governor of Tennessee on his maternal side. Hewas born in Tuscumbia, Alabama in 1927, graduated from Loyola University Law School in 1954 and has represented poor defendants for nearly six decades. He has worked on more than 300 capital cases and estimates that he personally has saved 15 men from execution. He founded the Jefferson Parish Indigent Defense Board in 1976 and has built a reputation for integrity, creative legal theories and compassion for the downtrodden. He is known for his lengthy court filings that are thorough and rich in constitutional law. New Orleans Times-Picayune Columnist James Gill praised Dalton as the “old lion” of Louisiana courtrooms, at a time in which he had filed an ultimately successful suit stopping the state from imposing extra fees on people released from jail on bond. In 1994, Dalton received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Loyola University, which recognized his “great heart,” “great conscience,” “enormous compassion” and “legendary” legal assistance to the poor. “Mr. Dalton is a veteran defense attorney and strident death penalty opponent known for his expertise in death penalty cases, both at trial and on appeal, including post-conviction relief for death row inmates,” Louisiana State Public Defender Jean M. Faria said in her nominating letter. At age 84, he continues to represent poor citizens accused of crimes even while undergoing chemotherapy the past several years.

 

 

Frequency:
Annual
Year:
2010
Recipient(s) name:

Alan Alop, Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago, and J. McGregor Smyth, The Bronx Defenders

Where presented :
Exemplar Award Dinner
Reason for selection of recipient(s):

Alan Alop is the deputy director for Intake Offices, Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago in Chicago, IL. Alop has made advocating for and representing low income people his life’s work. He began his career litigating statewide
welfare class actions in Florida. Shortly thereafter, he began to specialize in consumer law cases that targeted low-income families. Most recently, with healthcare in a state of both crisis and reform, Alop went to work assisting uninsured indigent patients who were being charged double or triple what insured patients were charged. Alop collaborated with labor unions and media to highlight the injustice. Taking what he learned from his work, he developed a nearly 300-page primer for legal aid attorneys with clients facing the same daunting challenges. Alop continues to intervene on behalf of victims of consumer fraud and abusive collection tactics. 

“Alan is a consummate collaborator, always willing to share his expertise and never looking to be in the limelight. Sometimes, however, the limelight finds him … In short, Alan is a quiet, honest, steadfast, good-humored hero of the legal services movement,” stated nominator Diana C. White, executive director of the Legal Assistance Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago. “His 39-year-long career deserves our highest recognition and thanks.” 

J. McGregor Smyth Jr. first joined The Bronx Defenders in 2000 as a Skadden Fellow. As part of his fellowship, Smyth brought to The Bronx Defenders a project designed to address the collateral consequences clients endure as the result of an arrest. The combination of his skills and expertise as a civil attorney with those of his criminal defense colleagues soon proved to be a winning combination, allowing for the successful reentry of people coming from the criminal justice system into Bronx communities. Such holistic representation helped to address the gap in legal services that people need to cope with the aftermath of criminal proceedings and helped to mitigate the damaging collateral consequences families endure when a loved one becomes entangled in the criminal justice system. Smyth has also dedicated his career to working on behalf of people who find themselves the victims of unjust evictions and wrongful arrests. He has worked tirelessly to protect the rights of the marginalized and to secure critical settlements on behalf of his clients.

“McGregor’s compassion and dedication to our clients is irrefutable, and his commitment to enhancing the legal services available to low-income communities is steadfast. He fluidly transitions from working on the theoretical aspects of his practice to listening and talking to individual clients,” stated nominator Robin G. Steinberg, executive director of The Bronx Defenders. 

“Whether he is working to prevent the eviction of a whole family from public housing, crafting and executing a pitch to a skeptical funder, or fighting for the civil rights of thousands in a class action, McGregor works tirelessly to prevent injustice."

Frequency:
Annual
Year:
2009
Recipient(s) name:

Julie Levin, Central Office of Legal Aid of Western Missouri, and Danalynn Recer, Harris County, Texas

Where presented :
Exemplar Award Dinner
Reason for selection of recipient(s):

As a legal aid champion for 32 years, Julie E. Levin has provided solace to clients, transformed public housing in Kansas City and imparted knowledge and leadership toward improving public housing programs across the nation. Levin, who has served as managing attorney of the Central Office of Legal Aid of Western Missouri in Kansas City since 1982, first became interested in public service while in college through volunteer work and became more focused on her field in law school, when she made poverty law her primary subject area. Upon her graduation from the University of Kansas Law School, she joined Legal Aid of Western Missouri, first as a staff attorney with its South Office in Joplin, Missouri from 1977-1979, followed by service as an attorney with the Housing Litigation Unit from 1979-1982, before moving into her current position. 

In her work, she has enjoyed major accomplishments in the area of low-income housing in Kansas City, including in Tinsley v. Kemp, which resulted in the Housing Authority of Kansas City being placed in receivership and thousands of housing units revitalized, resulting in lower vacancy and crime rates in the public housing communities. In Tinsley, she became only the second attorney to successfully force a Housing Authority into receivership, setting a standard for advocates nationwide and creating a model of success. Levin’s strategy has been successfully replicated in Washington, DC; Chester, PA; Chicago, IL and several other cities. She has also litigated numerous other housing cases, including nine other class actions, to improve housing conditions and the quality of life for low-income people living in public, private and subsidized housing in Kansas City. 

Levin has also been active in employment law, including arguing a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, Wimberly v. Labor and Industrial Relations Commission of Missouri, involving unemployment benefits for mothers who take maternity leave but are terminated before returning to work. While the case received an unfavorable verdict, she was still able to get the Missouri legislature to change the law to correct the issue.

Danalynn Recer has spent 18 years improving the standard of care in capital cases. Most remarkably, she has spent the last seven years bringing her vision, courage, innovation and determination to defending clients in Harris County, Texas, which as a single county accounts for more executions than any individual state except for Texas, through the Gulf Region Advocacy Center (GRACE), where she serves as director and founded as the first office in Texas devoted to capital trial work. Her work in Texas has brought dismissals or plea agreements for seven capital clients, while as retained counsel for the government of Mexico, she has served as counsel for 74 capital pre-trial cases in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma during the last six years and has prevented 73 of them from going to trial with the death penalty. 

Recer first became interested in death penalty work as a graduate student in the African-American Studies Department at the University of Texas, where she was conducting research into lynching and the death penalty in the state. Initially, she became involved in the work through the Texas Resource Center (TRC), which was seeking information on the history of racial violence in the state. Enthralled by the work of Texas death penalty attorneys such as Joe Margulies and George Kendall, she decided to fight capital punishment instead of study its historical roots. She joined TRC as a volunteer in 1991, stayed as a mitigation investigator while in law school and became a law fellow when she graduated. Because of her own personal life experience, which resembled that of many clients, she became an expert in working with clients who for a variety of reasons were resistant to help. When TRC was de-funded in 1995, she moved to New Orleans where she continued her capital trial work at the Louisiana Crisis Assistance Center (LCAC). AT LCAC, she secured life-saving pleas or reductions in charges for 13 capital clients and helped win life sentences or better in 10 trials. In 2002 she returned to Texas to represent, free of charge, Calvin Burdine in a retrial for a death penalty conviction handed down in 1984. 

Recer received her law degree from the University of Texas School of Law in 1993 and received her masters and bachelors degrees from the University of Texas and is currently a doctoral candidate there.

Frequency:
Annual
Year:
2008
Recipient(s) name:

Charles F. Elsesser, Jr., Florida Legal Services, Inc., and Eileen Hirsch, State of Wisconsin Office of The State Public Defender

Where presented :
Exemplar Award Dinner
Reason for selection of recipient(s):

Elsesser has spent most of the last 33 years as an advocate for low-income people covering a wide swath of legal issues, from affordable housing to welfare. After earning his law degree from St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, Pa. in 1971, Elsesser joined California Rural Legal Assistance as a staff attorney representing clients on a range of litigation issues, including government benefits, healthcare and housing. From 1974 to 1984, he served as senior counsel and directing attorney at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and in 1984, he opened a private law office and primarily dealt with civil rights litigation. From 1986 to 1989, he returned to the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles as director of litigation, where he had oversight for all major litigation in the program. And, for the three years following, Elsesser worked in government as an expert on affordable housing, both on the Senate Rules Committee of the California State Senate and then for the city of Santa Monica. In 1992, he joined Legal Services of Greater Miami as senior attorney, where he worked on litigation related to affordable housing and homelessness. Since 1997, he has served as senior litigation attorney with Florida Legal Services, Inc., where he represents community organizations in complex and class action litigation in federal court involving housing and disaster-related issues, as well as naturalization and public benefits.

Eileen Hirsch has been championing the rights of juveniles in Wisconsin’s criminal justice system since her career in law started. After getting her law degree from the University of Virginia Law School in 1977, she joined the Youth Policy and Law Center in Madison, Wis. and served as a staff attorney from 1978 to 1982 and was promoted to associate director in 1982. In this position, she worked in training, technical assistance and policy advocacy for children in the juvenile justice system. In 1986, she joined the Wisconsin State Public Defender and has held several positions since that time, including chief legal counsel and deputy state public defender. She was promoted to her current position as the assistant state public defender of the appellate division in 1995. In her current position she leads a staff that provides representation in all public defender staff-assigned juvenile appeal cases in the state, through which she has argued nine cases in the Wisconsin Supreme Court, with successful results in seven.

“Ms. Hirsch’s record of achievement in the courtroom stretches back to the beginning of her career as an advocate,” said her nominator Janice Pasaba. “Even in those formative stages of her career, she initiated successful actions to improve conditions of confinement for juveniles.”

Frequency:
Annual
Year:
2007
Recipient(s) name:

William C. McNeill, Legal Aid Society - Employment Law Center, and Dennis R. Murphy, Legal Aid Society (New York, NY)

Where presented :
Exemplar Award Dinner
Reason for selection of recipient(s):

For nearly 40 years, William C. McNeill, III has litigated civil rights and employment cases designed to advance the rights of minorities and marginalized communities in the workplace. Since 1988, he has handled employment cases at the Legal Aid Society - Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC) where he is the managing attorney and director of the Racial Equality Program. McNeill provides key legal guidance, strategic advice and oversight for a staff of 32, including 13 attorneys who handle a docket of public interest cases on core issues affecting low-wage and marginalized workers, such as immigration and national origin, gender equity, language-based discrimination, disability, domestic violence, sexual orientation and family leave. He initiated the Racial Equality Program, which addresses critical issues affecting people of color, particularly racially discriminatory employment practices and policies. Recognizing the critical intersections of race and gender that invariably occur in exclusionary workplaces, McNeill has established two initiatives addressing affirmative action and “non-traditional” employment, which have tackled the obstacles faced by women and minorities attempting to enter or move up in blue-collar occupational areas that are predominantly Caucasian and male, such as the trades, the construction industry and fire and police departments. 

In the landmark case, Fontaine Davis, et al. v. City and County of San Francisco, McNeill worked for nearly a decade with a broad coalition of groups to integrate the city’s fire department. The consent decree from this case led to increased opportunity for people of color and women in hiring and promotions and the appointment of the first African-American chief in the city’s history. More recently, Morgan v. Amtrak took him and co-counsel to the Supreme Court, where they received a decision that in cases involving hostile work environment claims, all relevant evidence can be heard by a jury, no matter when the events took place. Ultimately, the jury found in Mr. Morgan’s favor that he was discriminated against in job opportunities, subjected to racial slurs and was retaliated against when he protested the treatment. Currently McNeill is preparing to litigate 76 individual cases in Southern Mississippi on behalf of African-American shipyard workers who have endured decades of discriminatory employment practices and a hostile work environment at the state’s largest private employer, Northrup Grumman. 

He has received two honors from the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, Inc. for his litigation work combating employment discrimination. 

Dennis R. Murphy is the director of training for the criminal practice at the Legal Aid Society, New York, NY. Previously, he worked and practiced law in Washington, D.C. (as chief of indigent defense services for the U.S. Department of Justice in the 1970’s, a federal prosecutor and clinical law professor) in Tucson, Arizona (as a private criminal defense attorney and public defender for eleven years), and, since 1996, in New York City (where he was attorney-in-charge of the Legal Aid Society’s Criminal Defense Division, a capital defense lawyer for the New York State Capital Defender Office for seven years and a senior trial lawyer for the Legal Aid Society in Manhattan). As a mental health advocate, he has particular expertise in clients with disabilities, especially serious mental illnesses.

Murphy has devoted substantial energy to teaching and mentoring law students and lawyers dedicated to working with indigent clients. In 1981, he was hired by former Kutak-Dodds winner Steve Bright as a supervising attorney at D.C. Law Students in Court and took over as executive director when Steve became director of the Southern Center for Human Rights. He has taught, lectured, or testified on legal or mental health and the law subjects in schools (high school, community college, university, law school, medical school, and business school), before legal groups (including NLADA and the National Defender Investigator Association) and state legislatures. 

Murphy has been engaged in state and national scope indigent defense matters throughout his career. In the beginning of his career in Washington, he worked closely with the National College of Criminal Defense Lawyers, NLADA and other groups, promoting defense system improvement and pretrial justice. He worked closely with NLADA in the creation of seven statewide appellate defender offices and with NLADA’s Training Directors Council in the preparation of model training for defender offices. Through the Spangenberg Group, Murphy has been a consultant to public defender organizations and communities experiencing difficulties in the funding and delivery of quality legal representation to the indigent accused and assisted in related impact litigation. In 2006, he worked closely with national defense leaders in the initial design of intensive training for capital defenders. He has been on the boards of state and national organizations, including as a founding member of the Arizona Attorneys for Criminal Justice, the Pretrial Services Resource Center and the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys. 

 

Frequency:
Annual
Year:
2006
Recipient(s) name:

Sharon Dietrich, Managing Attorney for Public Benefits and Employment for Community Legal Services, Inc., and Melinda Pendergraph, Appellate Attorney, Missouri Public Defender System

Where presented :
Exemplar Award Dinner
Reason for selection of recipient(s):

Sharon Dietrich has spent nearly 20 years as an advocate for the employment unit at the Community Legal Services (CLS) of Philadelphia. Soon after joining CLS in 1987, she became active in a variety of litigation, ranging from federal court class actions to civil service and unemployment compensation hearings before administrative law judges. At the time she started, the unit dealt primarily with traditional employment law such as discrimination, wrongful discharge and labor relations claims, but Dietrich worked to gradually create and implement a new vision of legal services employment practice. She did this by focusing on issues such as access to work and benefits for the lowest-paid workers. She has represented individual clients and handles a demanding caseload despite her local management responsibilities, which include serving in state and national leadership roles. 

Dietrich’s direct impact in legal services employment work are primarily seen through three channels. She built a local Philadelphia legal services employment unit at CLS that is a model for the country, strategically addressing a broad range of employment, unemployment, training and employment-related benefits issues. She has worked as a national legal services support and back-up attorney, addressing national employment policy issues and helping set the agenda for national legal services employment work. And finally, she has led a national effort to develop employment legal services work across the country, inspiring legal services directors and leaders to move into this area of work and training and supporting frontline legal services advocates as they take on client representation in this area. 

Catherine C. Carr, CLS executive director, said Dietrich’s work has extended far beyond Pennsylvania. “Sharon has been very influential in getting employment law work started in other legal services programs around the country. She has repeatedly spoken at national and regional meetings and, with her CLS unit, has designed and implemented the annual employment law track at NLADASubstantive Law conferences. She has provided training at
legal services statewide conferences from Georgia to California.” 

Melinda Pendergraph has built her career out of looking at death in the face. As an appellate attorney for the Missouri Public Defender System, she is often the last hope her clients have when facing the death penalty. Pendergraph joined the Missouri Public Defender System in 1986, shortly after she passed the bar and was licensed as an attorney. At the time, the Missouri system was just beginning the transformation from a system of contract counsel to a true public defender system. Pendergraph was one of three attorneys who were assigned death penalty cases, a calling she continues to this day by representing indigent death row inmates. 

Some of the cases she has handled include Butler v. State (1997), which was the first case where the Missouri Supreme Court found ineffective counsel in a death case, and Chaney v. State (1998), where Pendergraph convinced the Missouri Supreme Court that the death sentence was disproportionate; only the second victory of this type since the death penalty was reinstated in Missouri. She was also the first attorney in Missouri to present a “justice for sale” argument before the Missouri Supreme Court with Hutchison v. State in 2004. In that case, Brandon Hutchison’s co-defendant had been given a term of years after agreeing to pay the victim’s family a large sum of money. That argument did not succeed, but it did impact the court and they granted Hutchison relief on another issue. Pendergraph’s work has benefited numerous clients by getting them new trials, new penalty phases and death penalty reversals. 

Pendergraph has been on the faculty at appellate skills workshops, death penalty training and training of professional ethics. Co-worker Nancy A. McKerrow, assistant public defender with the Missouri Public Defender System, describes Pendergraph as a caring, committed attorney. “No one outside the death penalty and appellate defender community may know Melinda Pendergraph’s name. She is not famous and certainly is not getting financially rich from the vocation she has chosen. But she has brought a wealth of skill and caring to her clients and co-workers and deserves recognition from her peers.”