On Wednesday, May 10 at The Venue in downtown Asheville the 28th Judicial District (Buncombe County) Bar and Pisgah Legal Services recognized four local attorneys for exemplary pro bono service to help Pisgah Legal’s low-income clients. The attorney volunteers recognized were (pictured above L-R):
• David Hillier, Gum, Hillier & McCroskey;
• Ben Scales, solo practitioner; and
• Johanna Fowler, solo practitioner;
• Zephyr Jost Sullivan, Dungan, Kilbourne & Stahl.
These attorneys are being recognized for their volunteer service through the Mountain Area Volunteer Lawyers (MAVL) Program, which is administered by Pisgah Legal Services.
Through MAVL, more than 300 private attorneys provide free civil legal services each year to low-income people to help them meet their most basic needs, including housing, health care, income, safety from domestic violence, and consumer protection.
In 2016, MAVL attorneys helped 3,132 people in Western North Carolina. Volunteer attorneys donated 2,624 hours of legal services to help PLS clients, which is valued at more than $656,200. MAVL stands out across the state as a model volunteer attorney program. Local attorneys, both as individuals and as firms, have been recognized numerous times at the state level for their tremendous volunteer commitment.
David Hillier, Ben Scales and Zephyr Jost Sullivan have been nominated for statewide pro bono service awards made annually by the North Carolina Bar Association.
Highlights of the contributions of award nominees include:
David Hillier has been an active volunteer attorney with the MAVL since the 1980s. David has volunteered to help more than 300 Pisgah Legal clients. Most of these cases have been to help low-income families with bankruptcy. David has contributed more than 2,000 hours of pro bono service by representing clients and by providing advice to PLS clients by phone through the Pro Bono Legal Hotline. As a Hotline attorney, David has advised hundreds of low-income people about housing problems, consumer protection and debt, and other areas of law. David’s MAVL clients remark on his compassion and commitment to assist them, noting that he does everything possible to help them even though they are not paying for his services.
Ben Scales has volunteered with the MAVL Program since 2006. In the past two years, Ben has assisted 27 MAVL clients. The majority of Ben’s MAVL cases have been domestic violence cases in which he has secured court protective orders and other legal remedies for victims. He has also taken expunction cases, an elder abuse case and advanced directives cases. He has contributed more than 175 hours of pro bono services to help Pisgah Legal clients.
Johanna Fowler joined MAVL in 2007 and has taken 17 cases, contributing 349 hours of pro bono service. Pisgah Legal Services and the 28th Judicial District Bar have nominated her for a new “Client’s Choice Award” because of her outstanding work with a client named Monica, a single mom of three who was permanently and severely disabled in a workplace accident that severed her spine and has undergone 14 surgeries due to her injury. Monica had filed paperwork to have her student loans forgiven due to her severe disability and thought that the issue was resolved until she received notice of a judgement against her worth tens of thousands of dollars for these loans. This judgement created tremendous stress and anxiety for Monica, as she had no way to pay this debt. Johanna spent 50 hours on a legal case to remove the judgement and get the loans forgiven.
Monica says, “Ms. Fowler was a remarkable person, so kind and understanding. Once we got news that the loans had been forgiven, it was just almost like a 1,000 pound weight had been lifted off of your shoulders. I didn’t have to worry about losing everything, or that your kids would have a place to live or that you would have a way to get them to school or to sports or their music concert. It was a relief you can’t understand unless you’ve been in a situation where you’re struggling day to day.”
Zephyr Jost Sullivan has been a member of the legal community in Buncombe County for just three years, but in this short time she has shown extraordinary leadership and engagement, particularly related to the delivery of legal services to people in WNC who are in need. Upon moving to Asheville to begin her career in law, Zephyr volunteered full-time at Pisgah Legal Services and worked on housing and domestic violence cases. When she began working at Dungan, Kilbourne and Stahl, she immediately signed on as a volunteer for the MAVL Program. As a MAVL volunteer, Zephyr has taken 21 pro bono cases for low-income people and provided more than 70 hours of service.