Minneapolis (3-18-05): -- Each year, the Hennepin County Bar Association (HCBA) recognizes three attorneys who have made a significant contribution through pro bono service. These awards are presented in recognition of the time, knowledge, and devotion given over the years utilizing legal skills for the good of our community. The Pro Bono Publico awards were presented at the 25th annual Bar Benefit on Wednesday, March 16. Attorneys Gregory Merz, Karen Canon, and the Hon. Bruce Peterson were recognized for their commitment to pro bono service.
Three distinct award categories honor the dedication of volunteer services provided by Hennepin County lawyers. The Distinguished Service Award recognizes an individual for career-long volunteer work on behalf of the community and the two Excellence Awards recognize current or recent excellence in service by individuals–one from the private sector and one from the public sector.
Gregory Merz, recipient of The Distinguished Service Award, committed to take on a pro bono case even before he was officially admitted to the bar. That case—the first of his career—began a career dedicated to pro bono work. Merz has volunteered his time and knowledge for a 10+ year representation in a death penalty case for a Texas inmate, a class action suit against the State of Wisconsin raising constitutional claims on behalf of mistreated and neglected children in foster homes, and representation of a hearing impaired woman in a disability discrimination claim.
Despite carrying a considerable level of client work, Merz is committed to maintaining his pro bono practice. He credits the experience he has gained through his pro bono work with honing his litigation skills; he “would not give up the pro bono work for anything!”
Karen Canon of US Bancorp was the recipient of the Private Sector Pro Bono Excellence Award for her commitment to pro bono services. In the late 1990s, Canon was the driving force in creating a volunteer partnership between US Bancorp and the Dorsey & Whitney law firm to serve the Brian Coyle Legal Clinic in south Minneapolis where she herself has volunteered countless hours. Besides volunteering her personal time, Canon also recruits many of her co-workers to volunteer at the clinic as well.
Canon’s commitment to pro bono work extends well beyond direct legal services. In the past year she also served as chair of the Volunteer Lawyers Network, as a member of the Legal Services Review Task Force of the HCBA, as a member of the statewide Legal Services Review Commission, and as a member of the Legal Assistance to the Disadvantaged Committee of the Minnesota State Bar Association, where she chaired the Pro Bono Council Subcommittee.
The Hon. Bruce Peterson received the Public Sector Pro Bono Excellence Award. This is the second time that Judge Peterson has been honored by the HCBA for pro bono work. In 1997, as a private attorney, he received the Private Sector Pro Bono Excellence Award in recognition of his extensive volunteer work.
After being appointed to the Hennepin County bench in 1999, Judge Peterson continued his commitment to ensuring equal rights to justice for the poor and disadvantaged. He continues to be active on committees devoted to improving access to legal services for indigent litigants. He currently serves on the HCBA’s Delivery of Legal Services Committee and the Legal Services Review Task Force.
Judge Peterson has written and lectured widely on issues of law and social policy, including capital punishment, AIDS litigation, welfare reform, responsible fatherhood programs, white collar crime, judicial elections, and criminal procedure and police liability. In addition to this HCBA award, he is a recipient of the Minneapolis Award and a volunteer award from the Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights.
Last year’s shrinking public funding for legal services brought unprecedented attention to legal needs. These needs are always magnified by downturns in the economy, and this has certainly been the case over the last few years. But there has also been an unprecedented response to those legal needs through a variety of initiatives by the legal community as lawyers reiterated their commitment to public service. The HCBA is proud to recognize these members as citizens who rise to the call and volunteer their time and knowledge for the benefit of our community.
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Photos of award recipients are available by contacting Colleen Klungseth at (612) 752-6615 or firstname.lastname@example.org