Pro Bono Kick-Off honors distinguished alumni, inspires students
The Honorable Vieri Volterra ('59) and Namita Mani Paes ('03) receive the 2012 Victor J. Garo Public Service Award
On Thursday, October 11, nearly 100 BU Law students, faculty, alumni and friends gathered for the annual Pro Bono Program Kick-Off to honor distinguished alumni Honorable Vieri Volterra (’59) and Namita Mani Paes (’03) with the 2012 Victor J. Garo Public Service Award. Dean Maureen O’Rourke instituted this annual distinction—awarded to one more recent almnus/a and one more experienced alumnus/a—in 2007 to honor Garo’s 30-year pro bono commitment to a wrongful conviction case.
“Part of the reason we named the award for Victor is because we ran out of awards to give him,” said Dean O’Rourke in her opening remarks. “We couldn’t think of anything better to do then name an award in honor of a man who devoted 30 years of his life to someone that no one else really cared too much about or cared that he had been imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit.”
Upon acceptance of their awards, Volterra and Mani spoke about how their pro bono work has impacted their careers, and of the inspiration and motivation they take away from doing such work.
“Pro bono work is not about making money. That’s not what counts in life,” Volterra remarked. “But being good to people is the most important thing—to treat everybody with dignity and character that they deserve to have. My philosophy when I was a judge on the superior court was that it didn’t matter how little the case was, the litigants deserved the same respect that’d you’d give to IBM or Microsoft.”
Mani Paes stated that she felt indebted to BU for giving her the skills to be successful in her career and for allowing her to form lifelong friendships. In addition to being personally rewarding, she believes that pro bono work has helped her professional development.
“Pro bono work has given me opportunities that I would not have otherwise had in a large law firm, and it’s made me a better lawyer,” Mani Paes commented.
In addition to honoring the award recipients, the Pro Bono Kick-off provides an opportunity to celebrate BU Law’s flourishing Pro Bono Program. In her comments, Dean O’Rourke noted that over the 2011-2012 academic year, students completed over 4,100 hours of pro bono work collectively. She also reported that 48 1Ls have already signed the Pro Bono Pledge, which compels students to do a minimum of 35 hours of pro bono work during their three years of law school.
Associate Director for Public Service Programs Carolyn Goodwin congratulated the honorees and encouraged current students to take inspiration from Garro, Volterra and Mani Paes.
“The legal profession is unique in its commitment to perform pro bono services. For many people in our communities, pro bono legal assistance is necessary for basic needs such as government benefits, income, shelter, utilities, child support protection. At BU, students who engage in pro bono service increase the availability of these legal services,” Goodwin said.
The Honorable Vieri Volterra is a graduate of Brown University and the Boston University School of Law. He was admitted to practice in Massachusetts, the U.S. District Court for Massachusetts and the First Circuit Court of Appeals. He served in the U.S. Army between college and law school.
Judge Volterra is a retired justice of the Massachusetts Superior Court where he served for 20 years. Prior to that, he was the presiding justice of the Taunton District Court for eight years. Before serving in the courts, Judge Volterra was an assistant district attorney for the Southern District (Bristol, Barnstable, Dukes and Nantucket Counties), and a staff attorney with the Massachusetts Defenders Committee, now the Committee for Public Counsel – Public Division. He also was corporation counsel for the Community Development and Model Cities Programs of the City of New Bedford.
As a Superior Court judge, he tried many complex and serious civil and criminal cases before and without juries. Following his retirement from the courts in 2002, Judge Volterra was associated with the private law practice of Volterra, Goldberg & Jacobs in Attleboro, Massachusetts, where his brother Max is a partner. He concentrated on civil and criminal litigation and municipal law. He also specialized as a neutral in mediation and arbitration matters.
Judge Volterra left private law practice in 2009 to represent indigent civil litigants in family law disputes who were referred by the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association. In that capacity he was able to rely on his working knowledge of the Spanish language.
Namita Mani Paes employs her legal skills to assist a wide range of clients on a variety of matters. She has provided pro bono representation to indigent criminal defendants, combat veterans in military benefits cases, applicants to the 9/11 compensation fund, and Haitian immigrants seeking temporary protected status. Additionally, Ms. Mani Paes served as the vice chair of Morgan Lewis’ New York Office Pro Bono Committee. During her two years as vice chair, Namita worked with the chair of the committee as a liaison to local legal services and other organizations to help facilitate pro bono opportunities for firm attorneys.
Ms. Mani Paes took a personal interest in a few cases in which she represented children seeking educational accommodation in their public school districts. In one such cases, Namita represented a five-year-old bilingual girl with Down Syndrome. The child’s parents and teachers believed she would benefit from an additional year of preschool. However, the school district recommended she move to kindergarten immediately. The specific kindergarten placement, lacking the proper accommodations for a student with her needs, would have been ill equipped to serve the child at that stage in her development. Namita, through her pro bono representation of these clients, filed a hearing request on the girl’s behalf. The judge ruled in the clients’ favor, and the child was allowed to stay in preschool for another year. Namita was invited to speak about her wonderful work with this student at an awards reception with Advocates for Children of New York. In addition, the preschool administration was very pleased with the result and reached out to Namita directly for help with another case involving a low-income student.
The BU Law Pro Bono Program enables students to engage in pro bono work on the state, national and international levels. By taking the Pro Bono Pledge, J.D. students commit to completing a minimum of 35 hours of law-related work over the course of their three years in law school. LL.M. students commit to a minimum of twelve hours. Upon completion of pledged hours, students are recognized for their participation by receiving a notation on their final law school transcripts and in the graduation program. In addition, the J.D. student and LL.M. who complete the most hours receive an award at the year-end celebration.
The Pro Bono Program is housed in the Office of Career Development and Public Service. It partners with various organizations to assist students in identifying opportunities of interest and coordinates spring break service trips, in which students work nationally and locally on pro bono projects during the break.
Reported by Elyssa Sternberg
October 17, 2012
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