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MLSC to honor the best in civil legal aid

MLSC to honor the best in civil legal aid

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Joe Surkeiwicz BigEvery December, the Maryland Legal Services Corp. honors the best of the best: the folks who dedicate their professional lives to helping low-income citizens with free civil legal aid.

They come from a group of professionals who are underpaid, work in under-funded programs that only reach a small fraction of the people who desperately need their help and fly under the radar as far as the general public is concerned.

All good reasons why they need to recognized and thanked.

The envelopes, please.

Retired Caroline Count Circuit Judge Karen A. Murphy Jensen will receive the Arthur W. Machen Jr. Award, presented to an attorney who has shown extraordinary effort in increasing access to justice for low-income Marylanders.

“She believes she is privileged to be a public servant upholding the best justice system possible,” her nominating letter said. “As such, access to services and opportunities is paramount. As the circuit court judge for Caroline County, Judge Jensen helped shepherd pro bono efforts on the Eastern Shore…it was largely through her vision and persistence that the mid-shore region successfully developed a regional pro bon program.”

Added a supporting letter: “Few members of the Judiciary have demonstrated such a longstanding, steadfast commitment to ensuring equal access to the justice system…and her dedication continues even as she has retired.”

The Benjamin L. Cardin Distinguished Service Award goes to two outstanding public interest lawyers who have dedicated their careers to providing or managing legal services programs that help low-income people.

Blaine A. Hoffman is director of legal services at Heartly House, a provider of comprehensive services to domestic violence victims in Frederick County. The services include protective orders and legal help with divorce and custody cases.

“Mr. Hoffmann’s dedication to and expertise in this specialty of law has helped countless poor and low-income victims achieve a far better and, most importantly, safer life then some clients ever imagined possible,” his nominating letter said. “Many of his clients have risen to new heights by pursuing and achieving educational and employment goals. And that can directly be attributed to Mr. Hoffmann’s provision of legal assistance.

Antonia K. Fasanelli, executive director of the Homeless Persons Representation Project, a statewide program based in Baltimore that provides legal services to homeless people and those at risk of homelessness, will share the Cardin Award.

Fasanelli “is a nationally recognized expert on issues of poverty and homelessness, having served as chair on the American Bar Association’s Commission on Homelessness & Poverty,” her nominating letter said. “She brings that expertise to the Homeless Persons Representation Project. …During her nine years as executive director, Ms. Fasanelli has secured increased funding, increased pro bono initiatives, and doubled the size of HPRP.

Pratt library cited

The Rising Star Award, a new category that recognizes an attorney who has practiced for 10 years or less, goes to Amy L. Petkovsek, director of advocacy for training and pro bono at Maryland Legal Aid.

Petkovsek is a member of the Maryland State Bar Association’s Veterans Affairs and Military Law Section, and volunteers in a wide variety areas, including the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law alumni board, the Carroll County 4-H, St. Ignatius Church homeless mission and others.

“These are but a few of the many examples showing her accomplishments, her superior initiative, service and goodwill to the legal community and the citizens of this state,” her letter of support said.

Joan M. Bellistri, director of the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Law Library, will receive the William L. Marbury Outstanding Advocate Award, given to a non-attorney for outstanding service or for expanding access to justice.

“She was essential to launching the ‘Ask A Lawyer in the Library’ program… which provides brief advice from volunteer attorneys for civil, non-family matters,” her nominating letter said. “There can be no doubt that Maryland’s low-income community has benefited tremendously through Ms. Bellistri’s efforts.”

The Herbert S. Garten Public Citizen Award is for an organization not usually engaged in the delivery of legal services. This year’s winner is the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

“With the EPFL’s support of Maryland Legal Aid’s Lawyer in the Library initiative, over 600 Marylanders were able to walk into their local library and receive immediate, free access to a lawyer to discuss urgent civil legal issues such as eviction, domestic violence, and access to public benefits,” the nominating letter said.

“In addition, by hosting, advertising and supporting expungement clinics in Baltimore City library locations since October 2015, the library has allowed over 1,000 Marylanders to receive legal information about their ability to clear their criminal records.”

In addition, outgoing MSBA director Paul V. Carlin with receive an award of special recognition, and former MLSC board members Bernard L. Jennings, Nancy A Sachitano and Baltimore City Circuit Judge Pamela J. White will be recognized for their outstanding service.

The awards and reception are Dec. 5 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Lord Baltimore Hotel in downtown Baltimore. The guest speaker is Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera. For more information, go to

Joe Surkiewicz is director of communications at the Homeless Persons Representation Project in Baltimore. His email is [email protected].

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