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And justice for all

By Vance Sanders

2001 was a year of events that saddened and challenged us personally, professionally, and as a nation. The Alaska Legal Services Corp. (ALSC) was not spared.

Our program was shaken by the June 9 death of its beloved executive director, Robert Hickerson, who died at the age of 50 following a courageous and long-fought battle with a recurrent brain tumor. Robert's legacy lives on in the strength of the organization and in the talent and dedication of its staff and board members who gave so much during the past year. In memory of Robert, and in honor of his 20-year career with Alaska Legal Services Corporation, Governor Knowles has issued an executive proclamation declaring 27 January 2002 as Robert Hickerson Day and encouraging all Alaskans to recognize the great contributions Robert Hickerson made to Alaska in ensuring equality for all the people of the state. A copy of the proclamation can be viewed at ALSC's web site.

When Robert became ill in February, ALSC's board called on five stalwarts to cooperatively manage our program. Although we all hoped Robert would soon return to the helm, and that this would be a short-term endeavor, it turned out to be almost a year of dedicated service. In that time, Beth Heuer (who nominally is employed as our Administrative and Technology Coordinator, but is really the backbone of our program), Michael Sturm (who has ably served as our controller since 1981), William Caldwell (who has been a star program attorney since 1984, and now is a star in our statewide litigation efforts), Andy Harrington (more about him below) and, in Andy's absence, Mark Regan (who has also been a star staff and supervising attorney for all but a few years since 1984) literally kept our program going. Their selfless work on behalf of Alaska's poor is an example to which each of us should aspire. Without their efforts, delivery of our services would have been seriously jeopardized, and our clientele would have needlessly suffered. With their efforts, ALSC has emerged an even stronger organization.

ALSC Selects A New Executive Director
Following an extensive executive director recruitment and search process, on December 8 the ALSC board of directors unanimously selected Fairbanks Supervising Attorney Andrew R. Harrington to serve as the new executive director. Andy joined ALSC in 1982 as a staff attorney in Fairbanks and became supervising attorney in 1996. Andy began his public service career while in law school, serving as a law clerk for South Mississippi Legal Services in 1977-78. His career in Alaska began in Fairbanks with a clerkship for Chief Justice Jay Rabinowitz in 1980-81. Andy then served as an associate attorney with the Law Offices of Charles E. Cole in 1981-82 prior to joining the ALSC staff. It is with great pride in Andy's accomplishments and talents, and in recognition of the high regard in which Andy is held by staff, board, and members of the legal community at large, that I announce the selection of ALSC's incoming executive director. Andy will begin his new position around February 1 and will be based in Fairbanks, where he and his family have many ties with the community.

Partners in Justice Campaign
ALSC's annual fundraising campaign is in full swing for 2001-02. The campaign was re-named Robert Hickerson Partners in Justice and began with a mail solicitation in December. Local chairs for this year's campaign are Janine Reep and Keith Levy in the First Judicial District; Robert Bundy in the Third Judicial District; and Charlie Cole in the Second and Fourth Judicial Districts.

As in previous years, the campaign targets attorney members of the legal community and encourages attorneys to donate the dollar equivalent of at least two billable hours. This year, we are also reaching out to non-attorneys and support businesses with ties to the legal community. Gifts may be designated as individual gifts, firm gifts, or anonymous donations. Unless otherwise designated by the donor, 10 percent of each donation is placed in a long-term endowment fund established to provide a secure source of funding for ALSC operations in future years. (As of December 2001, our endowment totaled just over $100,000. We encourage attorneys representing clients in estate matters seeking charities to which to contribute to meaningfully consider recommending ALSC as such a program.)

Information on regular or endowment donations to Robert Hickerson Partners in Justice can be obtained by sending an e-mail to donor@alsc-law.org or by visiting the campaign web site, which is www.partnersinjustice.org.

New LawHelp Web Site Project
ALSC recently received a $50,000 Legal Services Corporation technology initiative grant that is being used to develop a statewide web portal. The Legal Services Corporation, which is the source of federal funding for ALSC, has set a goal of establishing one comprehensive web portal per state through which low-income and modest-means clients, and the attorneys and advocates who serve them, can find self-help, referral, and advocacy information on a variety of legal content areas. A nine-member stakeholder committee has been established to provide advice and guidance in the development of the site, which will provide content posted not only by ALSC but also by other advocacy organizations, social services providers, health care providers, housing groups, disability advocates, and immigration service providers. The client-oriented resource section of the site will be developed first, followed by an advocate-oriented resource section that will be launched late this spring.

Changes at APBP, Inc.
The Alaska Pro Bono Program, Inc.'s Executive Committee recently hired Madeleine R. (Loni) Levy to act as executive director through May 2002, subject to an earlier expiration date at the discretion of the board. In the meantime, the executive committee will search for a permanent executive director. As you may know, Loni has a long history of service to ALSC and to APBP, notably as the chair of the APBP Barristers Ball in May 2001 and, until May, had served as a member of the boards of both ALSC (where she ably served as our president) and APBP.

Conclusion
A recent article in the Juneau Empire documented and discussed Alaska's growing poverty population. Even in the wake of unprecedented national and local wealth, many tens of thousands of Alaskans lack basics we take for granted, such as food, clothing, shelter, and access to health care, education, or the courts. It is not coincidence that Robert Hickerson Day follows closely on the news of our expanding population of poor persons. But you and I do not have to be Robert Hickerson to help. We can take pro bono cases when called. And we can contribute financially to the one program in Alaska with a proven track record of meaningful legal representation for all poor Alaskans: Alaska Legal Services Corporation. It is a great way to begin 2002. And it is an even better way to honor the memory of Robert Keith Hickerson.

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