Defense of Activists Against Politician’s Lawsuit Tops List of Ballard Spahr Pro Bono Awards
A team of Ballard Spahr litigators who defended two political activists against a defamation lawsuit by a public official has garnered the annual Alan J. Davis Award, the firm’s highest pro bono honor, firm Chair Mark Stewart announced today.
Named for the late Philadelphia City Solicitor and distinguished Ballard Spahr litigator, the Alan J. Davis Award is among the honors Ballard Spahr presents each year to lawyers in recognition of outstanding pro bono service. The firm recently presented the awards for work during 2021.
The Alan J. Davis Award includes a $25,000 donation from the firm to the nonprofit recipient selected by the litigation team: the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association.
Led by litigators from the firm’s Media and Entertainment Law practice, the Ballard Spahr team represented two female activists who spoke out in support of a woman who accused a politician of sexually assaulting her years earlier. The politician denied the accusations and filed suit against his accuser and the activists. The case presented significant implications for citizens’ right to speak out about allegations of public official misconduct.
The team included Michael Berry, Kaitlin M. Gurney, Paul J. Safier, Elizabeth Seidlin-Bernstein, Izabella Babchinetskaya, and paralegal Ryan Relyea. The team was honored not only for their skilled lawyering, but also for the commitment and team work they demonstrated throughout the representation.
“I commend the winners of the Alan J. Davis Award for their outstanding effort to defend the rights of citizens to speak out,” said Pro Bono Counsel Lisa B. Swaminathan, who oversees the firm’s pro bono program. “As this case and the stories of our other awards demonstrate, Ballard Spahr is doing extraordinary pro bono work—throughout the country and across an incredible array of areas. Pro bono is infused into the culture and an integral part of what makes Ballard great.”
In addition to the Davis Award, Ballard Spahr recently presented the Leonard E. Lindquist Award to a team of more than 100 attorneys across Ballard Spahr offices and practices who have represented pro bono clients in seeking expungements and pardons of criminal records. The team is helping remove barriers that prevent clients from securing employment, education, benefits, and housing.
The firm presents four additional pro bono awards annually for outstanding pro bono service. Each of them and the Lindquist Award include a monetary donation to an organization of the team’s choice. This year’s honorees:
Community Health Initiative Team: Loan and Contracts for New Clinic
The team represents Community Health Initiative (CHI) for financing and real estate matters related to construction of a new clinic in New York, including time-sensitive loan closing, leases, and construction contracts.
Encircle Therapy Team: Opening Support Centers
The team is working with Encircle Therapy, a nonprofit serving LGBTQ+ persons and family members with mental health concerns, to open supportive centers for young people in Utah. The lawyers are drafting leases, seeking property tax exemptions, and addressing zoning concerns.
Oklahoma Debtors Prison Team: Investigation and Lawsuit
Working with co-counsel from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the team initiated an investigation into allegations that police in an Oklahoma town stop and arrest individuals, and judges then jail them, to generate thousands of dollars through improper fines and fees. The lawyers filed a complaint alleging violations of the Fourth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, and discovery is proceeding.
Team: Jason A. Leckerman, Laura E. Luisi Gavin, Izabella Babchinetskaya, Nikki A. Hatza
Philadelphia Youth Basketball: Groundbreaking on the Alan Horwitz “Sixth Man” Center
Ballard Spahr attorneys handled all of the extensive legal work for the transaction for PYB to acquire a former furniture factory in Philadelphia’s Nicetown neighborhood and convert it to a state-of-the-art facility for basketball, as well as extensive educational and social services.
Team: Matthew N. McClure, Bart I. Mellits, Eileen B. Quigley, Robert J. Clark, Richard N. Hudock, Christopher A. Jones, Mark S. DePillis, Joanne Phillips, Gregory L. Seltzer, Harry Weiss, and Christopher T. Cognato, as well as paralegal Tamara Loughery and Shirley Breslin of the Ballard Spahr staff.
Lifetime Achievement Award: Jean C. Hemphill
Jean C. Hemphill, leader of Ballard Spahr’s Health Care Industry Group, received the Lifetime Achievement Award for more than 20 years of representing pro bono clients that include a who’s-who of the Philadelphia-area nonprofit community.