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Maryland Access to Justice Commission Names Fourth Annual Awards Program Winners

(ANNAPOLIS, Md. – October 10, 2014) The Maryland Access to Justice Commission has named the recipients of its fourth annual Maryland Access to Justice Awards. “The Access to Justice awards recognize individuals, programs and entities that improve the ability of all Marylanders to access the courts or to get legal help in civil legal matters so they can benefit from the rights, protections, services and opportunities that the law provides,” said retired Maryland Court of Appeals Judge Irma S. Raker, Chair of the Commission.

The commission named the following recipients:

Robert M. Bell Judge of the Year Award:
Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Pamela J. White has been named the Robert M. Bell Judge of the Year. From the beginning of her career at the law firm Ober|Kaler, to the present, Judge White has demonstrated a strong commitment to improving access to justice for all Marylanders. During her term as Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) president, Judge White exercised extraordinary leadership to support the adoption of revised pro bono rules recommended by the Maryland Judicial Commission on Pro Bono, which included the adoption of mandatory pro bono reporting for all Maryland attorneys. As a judge on the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, Judge White has expanded her leadership to improve access to justice inside the courthouse. She has overseen the court’s Civil Alternative Dispute Resolution Program since 2009, has served as the pro bono committee liaison for the Circuit Court bench for the past six years, and remains actively engaged on the local pro bono committee.

Judicial Branch Excellence Award:
The Maryland Court Interpreter Program (MCIP) will receive the Judicial Excellence Award.  Since its inception in 1996, the MCIP has ensured equal access to the courts by removing language barriers to communication for persons with limited English proficiency (LEP). The MCIP has continually evolved in its response to the sustained growth of the foreign born population in the state and provides the Maryland Judiciary with highly qualified and trained interpreters in keeping with the Judiciary’s commitment to fair and equal access to the courts for LEP witnesses, victims, and defendants. There are currently 380 interpreters on the Court Interpreter Registry representing 78 languages. The program is staffed by Program Director Deborah A. Unitus, Court Interpreter Program Administrator Ksenia A. Boitsova, Court Interpreter Program Specialist Lorena Sevilla Somoza, Administrative Assistant Christie A. Richards, and, until recently, Debra L. Kaminski, now with the Human Services Department.

Outstanding Program of the Year Award:
The Maryland Court of Special Appeals Alternative Dispute Resolution Division (ADR) has been named the Outstanding Program of the Year. The ADR Division was launched by the Court of Special Appeals as a pilot mediation project in late 2009. Under the leadership of Director Mala Malhotra-Ortiz, the program has become a permanent and critical part of the appellate process, and is one of the top such programs in the nation.

Executive Branch Award:
Mary Denise Davis, Chief Attorney of the Baltimore Central Booking and Intake Facility, Office of the Public Defender, will receive the Executive Branch Award. Davis’ efforts on behalf of the under-served civil and re-entry clients of the Office of the Public Defender advance the mission of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission to enhance the quality of justice in civil legal matters for persons who encounter barriers in gaining access to Maryland’s civil justice system. She handles walk-in civil expungement services for any Office of the Public Defender client and tirelessly examines every past criminal matter to determine if the case can be expunged. Additionally, each year Davis assumes the sole planning role in the Office of the Public Defender’s “Back to the Neighborhood” event. At this event she brings together assistant public defenders with civil legal service providers, local re-entry groups, and other service organizations to provide individuals with free legal advice and connections to services to help make their re-entry successful.

Legislator of the Year Award:
Maryland House of Delegates Guy J. Guzzone has been named the Legislator of the Year. Delegate Guzzone has served in the Maryland General Assembly House of Delegates since 2007, at which time he was elected as a representative of Legislative District 13, Howard County. Since that time, Delegate Guzzone has worked tirelessly on behalf of his constituents. During the 2013 Maryland General Assembly session, Delegate Guzzone was instrumental in securing additional funding for the Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC). As a member of the House Appropriations Committee and Chair of the Subcommittee on Public Safety and Administration, his leadership was also essential to the successful passage of legislation that increased the allocation MLSC receives from the State’s Abandoned Property Fund.

Special Recognition Award:
In making the award announcements, the Commission also wants to afford special recognition to the Maryland Legal Services Corporation for their continuing critical role in generating support for civil legal services in our state. The corporation currently provides operating grants to 35 nonprofit grantees in Maryland to ensure the eligible clients in all areas of the state have access to legal services.

The honorees will receive their awards on October 23 during the 2014 Maryland Judicial Conference, which will be held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in Prince George’s County.

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