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March 3, 2010

2010 John Minor Wisdom Awards Recognize Pro Bono and Public Service Efforts

The _ Section of Litigation will recognize Martha Bergmark of Jackson, Miss., the law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP and the Pittsburgh Pro Bono Partnership with the annual John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award for their contributions to public service. The awards will be presented at a special luncheon during the section’s annual conference on April 23 at 12:45 p.m. in the Mercury Ballroom at the Hilton New York Hotel.

“The Section of Litigation encourages our members and all lawyers to follow the examples set by these remarkable lawyers and organizations.  The awards, and these outstanding recipients, are a fine tribute to the memory of Judge Wisdom who worked tirelessly to ensure access to justice for those most in need.  It is our commitment to his principles, as individuals and as a section, that make the justice system work.  We applaud Martha Bergmark, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and the Pittsburgh Pro Bono Partnership for their efforts to make ‘justice for all’ a reality,” said Section Chair Lorna Schofield of New York.

Bergmark, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice, is being recognized for her advocacy, leadership and commitment to equal justice.  She worked at the Legal Services Corporation in Washington, D.C. and later at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association.  In 2002, she returned home to Mississippi and was a founder of the Mississippi Center for Justice, where she continues her advocacy to expand racial and economic justice. She was instrumental in mobilizing resources to help obtain legal services for victims of Hurricane Katrina and has demonstrated her commitment to helping those in need.

In the last year, more than 330 lawyers from WilmerHale’s U.S. offices dedicated more than 84,000 hours to pro bono work.  The firm’s commitment to access to justice has been demonstrated in its strong support of the Innocence Project and its work to provide death penalty representation and legal services on behalf of the homeless. The firm has also provided advocacy on civil rights and voting rights. WilmerHale has been instrumental in working to establish the constitutional right to habeas for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and represents six of the detainees.

The Pittsburgh Pro Bono Partnership is a collaboration of 32 law firms, corporate and government legal departments and associations dedicated to providing and expanding legal services to low-income constituencies. The partnership, founded in 2001, brings together lawyers and paralegals to increase pro bono services to the poor.  Their efforts have focused on predatory lending, child custody, health care, and veterans’ concerns. In 2009, the participants contributed more than 25,000 hours of pro bono service.

Named for a renowned Fifth Circuit judge and civil rights pioneer, the John Minor Wisdom Award recognizes lawyers who have made a significant contribution to the quality of justice in the legal profession and in their communities by making legal assistance accessible to people with low incomes, the disenfranchised and other underrepresented groups.  The award honors lawyers from all areas of practice, including career public interest lawyers, lawyers from private firms and corporate counsel.

For more information about Judge Wisdom, the award and the recipients visit www.abanet.org/litigation/committees/probono/jmwa.html.  For information about the conference, including a complete listing of all programs, visit the section’s Web site at www.abanet.org/litigation/sectionannual.

The ABA Section of Litigation represents about 68,000 lawyers, judges and others involved in all aspects of litigation and the dispute resolution process. It is the national voice for litigators and a leader in advocating improvements in the justice system.  The section provides tools and resources to assist lawyers to be better litigators as they serve their clients. It offers opportunities for growth, learning and networking through its professional communities. Its activities reflect and support the commitment of its members to a strong, diverse and vibrant profession, a fair and accessible justice system, and the continuing obligation to achieve both through a wide range of pro bono activities.

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