A longtime Benton-Franklin Legal Aid Society board member and a legal newcomer who’s taken on six custody cases this year were honored Friday for their service to the nonprofit.
Bob Schultz and Amy Crider were surprised to be in the spotlight at the organization’s attorney recognition luncheon.
Schultz, a past president, received the Al Yencopal Award, named for a longtime Superior Court judge who died in 1993.
“It’s probably the most important award that I’ve ever received because the purpose of Legal Aid is to receive effective access to justice,” Schultz said.
Crider, admitted to the bar just 14 months ago, was the recipient of the Gene Schuster Award. It is in memory of a lawyer who took pro bono work for Legal Aid and helped plan attorney seminars to generate money.
“It means a lot to be recognized by (Executive Director Barb Otte) and Legal Aid,” Crider said. “It is so special. I’m happy.”
The Legal Aid Society each year recognizes Mid-Columbia lawyers who either supported the organization or found time aside from their paying caseloads to accept low-income clients who otherwise might be denied access to legal help.
People in need of free legal service are screened to see if their civil matters qualify.
Typically, attorneys charge thousands of dollars if privately retained for such cases. The Legal Aid applicant must have an income that falls below national poverty guidelines.
Executive Director Barb Otte said 95 cases have been assigned to lawyers for full representation in 2015.
Additionally, lawyer Bronson Brown helped 41 people through the family law clinic, she said.
Both Schultz and Crider are Tri-City natives who went on to Washington State University.
Schultz — with Leavy, Schultz, Davis & Ruff of Kennewick — said he recognizes that attorneys are expensive. Legal Aid fills that need for people who can’t afford representation, but it’s also beneficial to the community and the court.
The civil attorney said the mission of the organization is important to the bar, and couldn’t believe he was picked for the top honor when looking around the room filled with about 100 other equally worthy lawyers.
Crider — with Defoe Pickett Law Office in Kennewick — was in the Rule 6 Law Clerk Program for four years with the law firm and came to realize her passion is in family law.
A majority of the pro bono work she did this year was for grandparents who were trying to get custody of their grandchildren because the parents were not able to care for the kids.
The law can be confusing and is difficult to navigate, Crider said, so she is proud to help these clients who often are very appreciative in return.
Plaques were awarded to mediator Debra Brown, who mediated 15 cases for the organization, and “Legal Aid cheerleader” Pat Chvatal.
Legal Aid operates mostly on grants and fundraisers, but does welcome private and public donations.
Chvatal pushed her fellow attorneys Friday to reach into their wallets or to make monthly or yearly donations to the organization.
Certificates were handed out to attorneys who took two cases or more this year: Pam Peterson, Erica Davis, Richard Whaley, Rob McMillen, Ed Shea Jr., Kari Hayles-Davenport, Kolleen Ledgerwood, Allison King, Mathew Purcell, Brian Davis, John Schultz, Jerry Davis, George Telquist, Katherine Sierra-Kelly, Steve Defoe, John O’Leary and Alan Tindell.