Posted October 25, 20149:39 pm
One year ago, Lake County Domestic Relations Judge Colleen Falkowski had a vision.
She would shut down her court four times a year and devote those days to helping as many low-income people filing for divorce as possible.
Earlier this week, Falkowski held her largest Brief Advice Clinic yet. Forty-two people in Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula counties who could not otherwise afford attorneys signed up to get legal help from more than 25 lawyers who volunteered their services.
A combined 110 people have been helped through the clinics, which assist participants with everything from proper court dress and behavior to filing their divorce papers pro bono — or free of charge.
Falkowski was honored for her efforts Oct. 24 at a special judicial forum held at Willoughby Municipal Court by The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. The event coincided with National Celebrate Pro Bono Week.
“Judge Falkowski’s clinics are a shining example of how to meet the needs of the self-represented,” said Chief Ohio Supreme Court Justice Maureen O’Connor. “It is truly a remarkable service.”
O’Connor encouraged the 157 lawyers in attendance to continue to rise to the challenge of helping the less fortunate.
“Ohio attorneys do a great job,” she said. “In 2013, more than 100,000 hours of pro bono services were reported — that represents $13 million worth of billable hours. Ohio attorneys realize Legal Aid has to be supplemented. Funding is a crucial problem, and more people are in need. Pro bono is kind of a duty — a special calling. Become advocates for those who can’t fight for themselves, regardless of whether they can pay or not.”
The chief justice’s remarks were among the highlights of the forum, which was a free continuing legal education presentation for pro bono attorneys.
Ann Bergen, a Lake County attorney and Legal Aid’s board president emeritus, said the event was designed to help bridge the enormous gap between low-income people who can’t afford attorneys and Legal Aid’s budget.
“This represents all the people who represent those who have no voice,” she said.
Recognition awards were also given to Darya Klammer and Anna Parise, co-chairs of the Lake County Bar Association Family Law Committee, for their “extraordinary pro bono service to Legal Aid and its clients.”
Other speakers included Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French, 11th District Court of Appeals Judge Timothy P. Cannon, and various judges of Lake, Geauga and Ashtabula common pleas and municipal courts.
Attorney Mary Jane Trapp and Lake County Common Pleas Judge Joe Gibson hosted a one-hour session on professionalism.
“It’s important to give something back to the lawyers who donated their time pro bono,” said Willoughby Municipal Court Judge Harry Field. “It’s an honor to host this.”
Falkowski said she was stunned when the chief justice singled her out for her efforts and gave her a Waterford crystal bowl as a token of her appreciation.
“It’s the most cherished award I’ve ever received,” Falkowski said. “But the clinic isn’t work at all. It’s a labor of love.”
For more information on Legal Aid, visit lasclev.org.