ABA and Nlada To Present 2004 Harrison Tweed Awards for Leadership in Expanding Legal Access to The Poor

CHICAGO, May 21, 2004 – The State Bar of Georgia and the Mecklenburg County Bar (Charlotte, N.C.) will each receive a 2004 Harrison Tweed Award for achievement in preserving and increasing access to legal services for the poor.

The award, given annually by the _ Standing Committee on Legal Aid and Indigent Defendants and the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, will be presented during the ABA Annual Meeting in Atlanta on Friday, Aug. 6, at a joint luncheon of the National Conference of Bar Presidents, National Association of Bar Executives and National Conference of Bar Foundations. The luncheon will be held at 12:20 p.m. at the Atlanta Marriott Marquis.

The Harrison Tweed Award was created in 1956 to recognize the extraordinary achievements of state and local bar associations that develop or significantly expand projects or programs to increase access to civil legal services for poor persons or criminal defense services for indigents.

The State Bar of Georgia is being recognized for the work of its Indigent Defense Committee, which has been instrumental in raising awareness and identifying the need for major reform of Georgia’s indigent defense system. The committee played a key role in formulating a plan for reform, which culminated in the passage of the Georgia Indigent Defense Act of 2003 transforming Georgia’s entire indigent defense structure.

Scheduled for full implementation in 2005, Georgia’s restructured indigent defense system will shift from a collection of 159 county-based systems with little state funding and few uniform standards of performance and accountability to a circuit-based public defender system that will have uniform performance and caseload standards. The 2003 act also created an Office of the Capital Defender to manage indigent defense representation in all new Georgia death penalty cases filed after January 1, 2005. The office will be funded by the state and staffed by experienced death penalty lawyers.

“The State Bar of Georgia’s Indigent Defense Committee demonstrated exceptional leadership in working to reform Georgia’s indigent defense system,” said Standing Committee Chair Bill Whitehurst. “Their vision, dedication and hard work were instrumental in the development and passage of the 2003 act, and provide a wonderful example of the vital role bar associations can and should play in addressing the crisis facing our indigent defense system.”

The Mecklenburg County Bar is being recognized for the work of its Volunteer Lawyers Program. Since 1983 the VLP has dedicated itself to providing pro bono legal services to the county’s indigent residents, and in the past 18 months has expanded its services and developed two new programs – Pro Bono for Nonprofits Program and Project PillowTex – in a continuing effort to provide unique legal services.

Pro Bono for Nonprofits Program matches business lawyers with charitable organizations that need legal assistance in handling routine business transactions and other legal matters that they otherwise would not be able to afford. Project PillowTex is a special pro bono service provided to the many people whose lives and families were affected by the August 2003 closing of PillowTex Corporation. The approximately 5,500 layoffs was the largest job loss in North Carolina’s history. VLP identified foreclosure as the most-pressing issue faced by the former PillowTex employees and their families, and Project PillowTex lawyers worked diligently to assist laid-off workers in their efforts to safeguard their homes.

“The importance of VLP’s work in Charlotte and throughout Mecklenburg County cannot be overstated,” said Whitehurst. “They have been invaluable over the years in providing pro bono legal services, and their most recent efforts, Pro Bono for Nonprofits and Project PillowTex, are creative and innovative approaches to the newly identified legal problems confronting their community.”

The _ is the largest voluntary professional membership association in the world. With more than 400,000 members, the ABA provides law school accreditation, continuing legal education, information about the law, programs to assist lawyers and judges in their work, and initiatives to improve the legal system for the public.

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