Public Counsel, the nation's largest pro bono public interest law firm, held its annual William O. Douglas Award dinner on Sunday, April 22, raising more than $2.5 million to provide free legal services to those in need. Last year, the organization helped more than 30,000 residents of Southern California with services ranging from adoptions out of foster care, assistance to abused teens and impact litigation targeting housing discrimination.
Elie Wiesel accepted the organization's highest honor, the Douglas Award, speaking extemporaneously about the importance of the law to society. The survivor of Nazi death camps told the audience of more than 1,000 that no one should sleep well while there is suffering. He thanked his wife Marion, for urging him to accept the award, and told the audience, simply, to "continue."
Public Counsel CEO Hernan Vera said the night represented a dream come true for him. As a law student, he tacked a quotation from Dr. Wiesel to his wall, words that have guided him in leading the organization. "Professor Wiesel is the greatest thinker to have fought the perils of indifference in the 20th century," he said. "You, Professor Wiesel, have taught us how to hope. And even in the face of our human condition, you urge us to meet despair with hope, suffering with action."
Sullivan & Cromwell and partner Michael Steinberg received the "Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year" award for the firm's work on behalf of detained immigrants with mental disabilities. Warner Bros. general counsel John Rogovin accepted the "Corporate Achievement Award" for its contributions to public interest work and announced a new alliance with Public Counsel. Longtime Public Counsel board member David Johnson was honored with the Founder's Award, only the fifth time the organization has bestowed that recognition. Johnson has been a prodigious fundraiser for the organization and recently helped establish its Impact Litigation division.