In what must have been the largest gathering of lawyers in Los Angeles without a member of the O.J. defense team present, Public Counsel celebrated its 25th anniversary Monday at the Century Plaza. A homogeneous expanse of gray- and black-suited men and women filled the Los Angeles Ballroom.
"It feels like a party for lobbyists in Washington," said one woman from the entertainment industry. "I always wear my most conservative clothes when I go there, and I always end up feeling like a floozy."
What drew the 1,300-strong crowd to the fund-raiser for the nation's largest pro bono law office was U.S. Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, who received the William O. Douglas Award. The ambassador has a long history with legal aid groups, beginning with his first job out of law school with South Florida Migrant Legal Services.
"We've not had a problem in this country understanding how important it is to provide the right to vote for every American," said Kantor. "Access to the judicial branch is just as important. And you can't have access without lawyers."
To provide that entree, more than $635,000 was raised Monday to fund Public Counsel's work. This can include protecting victims of consumer fraud, setting up an adoption-assistance agreement for a special-needs child or arranging tax-exempt status for a small nonprofit organization. "All of these require legal assistance that can be prohibitively expensive," said Executive Director Steve Nissen.
The dinner, chaired by International Creative Management's Jeff Berg, began after a silent auction at which one of the more striking items was a red-and-black portrait of Judge Lance Ito. It went unsold.
The program kicked off with brief remarks by co-chairs Lawrence May and Morgan Chu and the presentation of the corporate pro bono award to AT&T. William Devine accepted.
Other awards went to the law firm of Heller, Ehrman, White & McAuliffe; to Jane Olson, and to John Romano and Ronny Cox of the "Sweet Justice" television show.
The evening closed with the presentation by former L.A. Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner of Kantor's award, then 20 minutes of remarks by the ambassador in which he reiterated his belief that "no great nation can remain great without providing access to justice for everyone."