When Manjari Chawla put out the call for volunteers to the Federal Pro Bono Project’s monthly housing clinic, she got a good response. Many lawyers have come by at least once to counsel distressed homeowners facing foreclosure.
But San Francisco solo Steven Miyake’s help has been off the charts. “He comes once a month, every single month,” advising homeowners about a fast-changing area of law, said Chawla, the supervising attorney for the project.
For his efforts Miyake has been named the project’s solo practitioner volunteer of the year.
Also honored were partner Steven Sutro and associate Jennifer Briggs Fisher of Duane Morris, and the DLA Piper law firm.
A joint effort of the Bar Association of San Francisco’s Volunteer Legal Services Program and the Northern District bench, the Federal Pro Bono Project has grown in importance as the number of unrepresented litigants surges. Judge Edward Chen said clients without counsel have increased from 20 percent of the docket to 35 percent over the last decade.
Sutro and Biggs represented a small, single-owner company who was facing a copyright suit from a much larger competitor. They forced the competitor to amend its complaint three times before finally agreeing to settle. “This was justice in accord with the oath of office that we take and that you take,” Judge Marilyn Patel said.
Partners Kathleen Kizer and Todd Toral accepted the award for DLA. The two have recently handled three cases to disposition, including a civil rights case against the S.F. Police Department, plus a limited-scope representation.
BASF Executive Director Dan Burkhardt said the bar is proud of the program. "Even in good times," he said, "there are always people who need help."
[Photo: Steven Miyake and Magistrate Judge Maria-Elena James]