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Baker Donelson Recognizes 15 Attorneys for Pro Bono Work

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Baker Donelson has announced its annual Pro Bono Attorneys of the Year Awards, recognizing 15 attorneys throughout the Firm for their pro bono work.

Baker Donelson's Pro Bono Shareholder Samuel T. Bowman said, "Baker Donelson has a storied history of leading the way to address the access to justice gap faced by so many in our country. These attorneys have all heeded the call and shown the same commitment to meet that need that our Firm has consistently demonstrated. We're proud to recognize their exemplary work and their spirit of service toward legal access and equity."

John G. Calender was named the firm-wide 2020 Baker Donelson Pro Bono Attorney of the Year. A shareholder in the Firm's Washington, D.C. office, Mr. Calender was recognized for his service as the primary counsel for the largest homeless shelter in Washington, D.C. Mr. Calender has spent hundreds of hours each year working with the shelter's resident leadership to protect the rights of the homeless. His work has included coordinating efforts with other advocacy groups; negotiating with government agencies, private interests, and the shelter's neighbors; and providing guidance for the shelter's leadership.

Baker Donelson also recognized attorneys in many of its individual offices for their pro bono efforts.

  • Dylan W. Howard, Atlanta Pro Bono Attorney of the Year: Mr. Howard was involved in the representation of a Somali immigrant in an appeal of a deportation order to the Bureau of Immigration Appeals. The client, who had moved to the United States as a child and a refugee many years ago, was among the "Somali 92," 92 Somali deportees who were reportedly abused on an aborted U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement deportation flight. Mr. Howard, along with a large team of volunteers around the country representing other Somali deportees from the same flight, were recognized with the Advocates for Human Rights' 2019 Human Rights Volunteer Award and the American Immigration Lawyers Association's 2019 Arthur C. Helton Memorial Human Rights Award.
     
  • Cynthia Blake Sanders, Baltimore Pro Bono Attorney of the Year: Ms. Sanders has devoted a substantial amount of time to serving on the board of Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and assisting artists and other arts-related organizations. Her work in the last year includes supporting a retired police officer who runs an "out of school" program for children from ages five to 18 and fundraising for a youth center in West Baltimore; assisting a local arts non-profit with their employee handbook and various other efforts; as well as assisting numerous artists with copyright and intellectual property issues.
     
  • Christopher Vitenas, Baton Rouge Pro Bono Attorney of the Year: Mr. Vitenas helped manage Baker Donelson's involvement in Louisiana's Access to Justice Program, which aims to develop the next generation of access to justice leaders through a focus on the civil legal needs of low-income individuals. Mr. Vitenas served as a mentor for four students, one from each law school in Louisiana, who were selected for the program. The goal of the program was to understand the challenging issues facing Louisiana's poor communities regarding access to legal assistance.
     
  • Madeline Hughes, Birmingham Pro Bono Attorney of the Year: Ms. Hughes has been instrumental in numerous pro bono cases, including a First Amendment case and a Rule 32 death penalty case. Ms. Hughes was also part of a Baker Donelson team involved in the representation of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and three statewide organizations in filing an amicus brief in a lawsuit seeking ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment.
     
  • Richard B. Gossett, Chattanooga Pro Bono Attorney of the Year: Mr. Gossett provided more than 200 hours responding to questions on FreeLegalAnswers, the American Bar Association's virtual legal advice clinic. This online platform allows persons of limited means who have no access to legal services to submit questions that are addressed by volunteer lawyers. In terms of hours contributed to FreeLegalAnswers, Mr. Gossett was among the largest contributors in Tennessee.
     
  • Susan Mathews, Houston Pro Bono Attorney of the Year: Ms. Mathews has assisted with pro bono projects for an organization that provides parenting classes to at-risk families. She has served on the board of directors as its legal counsel for five years and has consistently been a go-to resource for this organization on projects such as contract negotiations for the purchase and later the sale of their building. She has also handled general corporate and employment matters for the organization and advised the board when the organization had to suspend parenting classes due to financial conditions which were exacerbated by COVID-19.
     
  • Lott Warren, Jackson (Mississippi) Pro Bono Attorney of the Year: Mr. Warren has had a years-long commitment to the Jackson City Court Mediation Program. Under this program, local municipal judges identify civil cases involving unrepresented litigants that appear to be good candidates for settlement. Every month, Mr. Warren organizes a team of young lawyers who meet with the litigants in an attempt to resolve their disputes. Through this program, successful mediations alleviate the strain on Jackson's under-resourced municipal court system while also providing a valuable service to local residents who would not otherwise have access to an attorney.
     
  • Savannah Dabney McCabe, Knoxville Pro Bono Attorney of the Year: Ms. McCabe has focused her pro bono efforts on working with an organization that helps refugees become fulfilled and contributing members of society after overcoming persecution before coming to Tennessee. Her work has included helping refugee clients in obtaining legal guardianship and conservatorship over family members. In addition to these efforts, Ms. McCabe regularly works with the University of Tennessee College of Law Homeless Project by providing free legal advice to homeless citizens of Knoxville, and she has assisted Legal Aid of East Tennessee in obtaining a conservatorship over a client's mother suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
     
  • Mark M. Mercante, Mandeville Pro Bono Attorney of the Year: Mr. Mercante, whose practice is focused on construction law, offered construction contracting advice to a number of nonprofit institutions serving indigent and underserved communities, including the design and construction of Dowdell House in the Faubourg Treme neighborhood of New Orleans. When completed, Dowdell House will serve as a community center, creating space for after school programs to teach at-risk youth, partnering with Sylvan Learning Center.
     
  • Kavita Goswamy Shelat, Memphis Pro Bono Attorney of the Year: In recent years, Ms. Shelat has served as the president of the board of directors of a downtown Memphis daycare. As president, she devoted more than 100 hours of legal services for handling employment issues, working to create a new corporate entity and a new non-profit tax ID, and updating policies and procedures to incorporate best practices for early childhood development. Ms. Shelat recognizes the importance of having high-quality childcare for the employees of downtown Memphis.
     
  • James DeLanis, Nashville Pro Bono Attorney of the Year: For years, Mr. Delanis and his assistant Teresa Marlow have devoted numerous hours of work for the Nashville Humane Association. He currently is the secretary of the board of directors. In addition, Mr. DeLanis and, at his request, countless other firm lawyers have advised the Humane Association on numerous occasions on a pro bono basis over the years. The Baker Donelson staff have also been strong supporters of the Humane Association and its events.
     
  • Lacey Rochester, New Orleans Pro Bono Attorney of the Year: Ms. Rochester has devoted a substantial amount of time toward work for the New Orleans Pro Bono Project, a non-profit that helps low-income families, individuals and the elderly in need gain access to lawyers who can help them resolve civil legal issues. She has been a member of the organization's board of directors since 2018, and currently co-chairs its annual fundraiser, the Justice for All Ball. She has also taken on pro bono cases in a variety of areas including transgender rights, construction fraud, and interdiction issues.
     
  • Ralph DeMeo, Tallahassee Pro Bono Attorney of the Year: Mr. DeMeo handled a petition for a prisoner incarcerated in a notoriously violent Alabama State Prison who, after he was assaulted, sought less threatening confinement. Mr. DeMeo not only filed the petition for panel hearing but also took on the role of filing a petition for en banc hearing. As a result, the prisoner was moved to a safer prison, which the state of Alabama was unwilling to do prior to the petition. Mr. DeMeo has also been involved in efforts to shut down a Florida kitty mill breeder which was selling sick and neglected animals. Having successfully convinced the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation to open an investigation into the unauthorized practice of veterinary medicine by the breeder, Mr. DeMeo is now suing to have the breeding operation shut down permanently.
     
  • Christie Hayes, Tri-Cities (Tennessee) Pro Bono Attorney of the Year: Ms. Hayes, who consistently logs more than 100 hours of pro bono work annually, was recognized this year for her role as lead counsel in the adoption of a child from an assignment obtained from Legal Aid and for her service with the local advisory board for the Salvation Army.

Through its commitment to pro bono representation, Baker Donelson provides legal services to groups and individuals whose resources are limited. For decades, the Firm's attorneys have provided a variety of counsel to many underserved populations that have had no options for legal representation. Baker Donelson's efforts include work on a wide range of matters, such as advocating for the homeless and organizations that serve the homeless, providing corporate legal services to non-profit organizations, collaborating with our clients to address particular community needs, and much more. The Firm has been instrumental in efforts such as expanding the Homeless Experience Legal Protection (HELP) program across the Southeast; creating courts dedicated to handling minor legal matters common among the homeless; assisting persons of limited means with obtaining driver's licenses, an essential need in helping these individuals reintegrate into society; and spearheading and organizing volunteer lawyer programs across Baker Donelson's footprint.

Baker Donelson has led the way in the legal industry by being one of the first law firms in the Southeast to create a Pro Bono Committee and designate a Pro Bono Shareholder. To further its commitment to pro bono, Baker Donelson also designates Pro Bono Committee Office Chairs in most of its 21 offices. These chairs are best suited to address local needs while coordinating with the Firm's Pro Bono Shareholder for global pro bono initiatives. This structure ensures Baker Donelson is well-suited to further its goal of addressing broad spectrum needs across the Firm's footprint and beyond.

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