Nation - ABA announces award recipients

The American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities named civil liberties and human rights attorney Paul M. Smith as the recipient of this year's Thurgood Marshall Award, which will be presented Aug. 7 at the ABA Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

A partner in the Washington, D.C. office of Jenner & Block, Smith is one of the country's leading lawyers in the areas of First Amendment litigation and appellate advocacy. He has presented oral argument in more than a dozen Supreme Court cases, including his groundbreaking advocacy in Lawrence v. Texas, the landmark gay rights case that is often compared in significance to the Brown v. Board of Education case, which was argued and won by Thurgood Marshall.

Smith has not only led the way in advancing LGBT civil rights, but he has also been a leading advocate in addressing voting rights issues, including arguing three times before the U.S. Supreme Court in voting rights matters since 2004. His most recent argument was in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, a 2008 case challenging an Indiana voter ID law, which has been called the most significant election law case to reach the Court since Bush v. Gore in 2000. Smith has also been a leader in advancing freedom of speech, especially with regard to the application of the First Amendment to the Internet and video games.

The Thurgood Marshall Award recognizes substantial, long-term contributions to the advancement of civil rights, civil liberties and human rights in the United States. The section established the award in 1992, conferring the inaugural award upon U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

The American Bar Association Section of Litigation will recognize Martha Bergmark of Jackson, Miss., the law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP and the Pittsburgh Pro Bono Partnership with the annual John Minor Wisdom Public Service and Professionalism Award for their contributions to public service. The awards will be presented at a special luncheon during the section's annual conference on April 23 at 12:45 p.m. in the Mercury Ballroom at the Hilton New York Hotel.

"The Section of Litigation encourages our members and all lawyers to follow the examples set by these remarkable lawyers and organizations. The awards, and these outstanding recipients, are a fine tribute to the memory of Judge Wisdom who worked tirelessly to ensure access to justice for those most in need. It is our commitment to his principles, as individuals and as a section, that make the justice system work. We applaud Martha Bergmark, Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and the Pittsburg Pro Bono Partnership for their efforts to make 'justice for all' a reality," said Section Chair Lorna Schofield of New York.

Bergmark, president and CEO of the Mississippi Center for Justice, is being recognized for her advocacy, leadership and commitment to equal justice. She worked at the Legal Services Corporation in Washington, D.C. and later at the National Legal Aid and Defender Association. In 2002, she returned home to Mississippi and was a founder of the Mississippi Center for Justice, where she continues her advocacy to expand racial and economic justice. She was instrumental in mobilizing resources to help obtain legal services for victims of Hurricane Katrina and has demonstrated her commitment to helping those in need.

In the last year, more than 330 lawyers from WilmerHale's U.S. offices dedicated more than 84,000 hours to pro bono work. The firm's commitment to access to justice has been demonstrated in its strong support of the Innocence Project and its work to provide death penalty representation and legal services on behalf of the homeless. The firm has also provided advocacy on civil rights and voting rights. WilmerHale has been instrumental in working to establish the constitutional right to habeas for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and represents six of the detainees.

The Pittsburgh Pro Bono Partnership is a collaboration of 32 law firms, corporate and government legal departments and associations dedicated to providing and expanding legal services to low-income constituencies. The partnership, founded in 2001, brings together lawyers and paralegals to increase pro bono services to the poor. Their efforts have focused on predatory lending, child custody, health care, and veterans' concerns. In 2009, the participants contributed more than 25,000 hours of pro bono service.

Named for a renowned Fifth Circuit judge and civil rights pioneer, the John Minor Wisdom Award recognizes lawyers who have made a significant contribution to the quality of justice in the legal profession and in their communities by making legal assistance accessible to people with low incomes, the disenfranchised and other underrepresented groups. The award honors lawyers from all areas of practice, including career public interest lawyers, lawyers from private firms and corporate counsel.

Published: Fri, Mar 5, 2010