Let's pause this Veteran's Day to honor our military and the lawyers who have served them pro bono publico in time of need.
We all remember.
In the fall of 2001, the likelihood that the United States soon would be engaged in military action in Afghanistan was uppermost in our minds. The scars of the 9-11 attacks were still fresh. As we celebrate Veterans Day 2011, we pause to honor all those who have answered the call to keep our country secure, not just over the past 10 years, but since the nation's founding.
Bringing it closer to home, I want to pay special tribute to members of the Illinois State Bar Association who currently serve, or have served, in the uniformed services. Their service deserves our recognition. Some of them are highlighted on this page.
Also deserving of recognition is another group of ISBA members - lawyers who answer the call to provide pro bono legal services to military personnel and their families when they encounter legal problems military lawyers are unable to address. The ISBA Standing Committee on Military Affairs, created at the first meeting of the Board of Governors following the 9-11 attacks, has achieved many things during its brief existence, chief among them the creation of an informal network of lawyers willing to assist military families. The following are just two examples of how ISBA lawyers have helped:
• Eric was on active military duty in Afghanistan when his wife, Paula, received the news. Bank of New York Mellon was filing for foreclosure on their Harvey, Illinois, home. Alone and fearful, Paula contacted the JAG officer at her husband's unit who, unable to provide direct representation, reached out for help.
Enter Steven B. Bashaw of Lisle, well known to many ISBA members as an experienced real estate lawyer, and, coincidently, the proud father of a Naval officer. With a notice of motion hearing scheduled within a week in Cook County Circuit Court, Steve entered an appearance for the defendants as their pro bono counsel. He successfully asserted the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) to stay all proceedings until Eric's end of active duty date. At the same time, he invoked provisions of SCRA to reduce the interest rate on the note retroactive to Eric's deployment date and to recalculate the monthly payments to a rate Paula could afford.
"My daughter is out there serving our country. I was immensely proud to be able to honor her service by assisting someone facing a dilemma because of another soldier's military service," Bashaw said.
• A tragic car crash on Interstate 74 in Champaign County claimed the lives of an older couple and left their daughter, on leave from the Army, critically injured. Also in the car were the soldier's nine-year-old daughter and four-year-old son. Doctors said the mother's injuries likely would prevent her from ever again caring for her children.
With the death of her parents, she had no other extended family members. Her ex-husband, also a member of the Army, was stationed overseas but was granted emergency leave to fly to Champaign to care for the children. The legal complication was that he was not the biological father of the four-year-old boy and, in fact, the father's identity was unknown. The boy would have to be placed in foster care unless the husband could be named guardian.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, hoping to avoid adding foster care to the child's situation, contacted the legal office at the Illinois National Guard in Springfield for help. Through a plea circulated by ISBA's Bench & Bar Section chair Tom Bruno, pro bono counsel was quickly found in the person of Sami L. Anderson, a family law practitioner in Champaign. In two days' time, Sami was able to have the boy placed in the temporary guardianship of the girl's father, keeping the siblings together rather than causing further trauma to the family. Judge Brian L. McPheters and his clerk, Angela Lusk, recognized the urgency of the situation and made the matter a top priority.
Heidi Gulbrandson, Intact Supervisor at the DCFS Urbana Field Office, wrote Sami and ISBA: "Thank you all so much for your hard work with this family. I think it is wonderful that people were able to pull together to help this family and support this child."
Our men and women in uniform prove every day that they deserve our respect and unwavering support. It's a point of pride that so many in our profession have been there for our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in time of need. Take a moment on Veteran's Day to salute them all.
Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas R. Fitzgerald (2000-2010) often spent Saturdays volunteering at a soup line in the Chicago area. Other attorneys working the line caught his ear with accounts of the difficulty veterans from Illinois were facing in their efforts to qualify for disability benefits, in large part because of a lack of lawyer involvement in the appeals process. Out of those Saturday morning conversations grew a commitment by Justice Fitzgerald, himself a Navy veteran, to try to solve the problem.
As Chief Justice, Fitzgerald helped spur the creation of a pro bono project through the Veterans Legal Support Center at The John Marshall Law School to match trained lawyers with veterans in need of legal assistance.