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HCBA Recognizes Members for Pro Bono Service
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NEWS RELEASE: February 17, 2015

Minneapolis: -- Each year, the Hennepin County Bar Association (HCBA) recognizes three attorneys who have made a significant contribution through pro bono service. The Pro Bono Publico awards are presented to lawyers in recognition of the time, knowledge, and devotion given in service to the community. Recipients of the 2015 awards will be honored at the 35th annual Bar Benefit on Thursday, March 19, where family, friends, and colleagues celebrate the high ideals represented by these individuals:  attorneys John Koneck, Dorinda Wider, and Larry Espel.

Three distinct award categories honor the dedication of volunteer services. 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.

John Koneck is this year’s recipient of the Distinguished Service Award. For more than 30 years, Koneck of Fredrikson & Byron has helped clients with all types of debtor-creditor and real estate transactions and throughout those years he also lent his expertise and skill to pro bono clients. As a regular volunteer at two Volunteer Lawyers Network clinics, Koneck has now taken over 200 local cases dating back to 2002.

As managing partner of the firm, Koneck not only sets a clear example to other lawyers about pro bono service, but helped establish a culture of service at the firm. 

His commitment to justice reaches beyond the local community. He was one of three lawyers who, for 12 years, represented Dobie Gillis Williams, a death row inmate in Louisiana—ending in Mr. Williams’ execution in 1999. This case was highlighted in Sister Helen Prejean's book, The Death of Innocents, a few years ago. She wrote, "After the tragedy of Dobie's execution, the firm did what few others have done: almost immediately they agreed to represent another Death Row inmate, and then a third."

Dorinda Wider is the recipient of the Pro Bono Publico Award for Excellence by an Attorney in the Public/Government/Judicial Sector. Over her three-decade career with Legal Aid, Wider has been an advocate for vulnerable Hennepin County tenants. In addition to serving hundreds of clients in routine housing matters, she has undertaken impact litigation in state and federal courts and is nationally recognized as a housing expert, particularly on tenants' rights in subsidized housing programs.

Wider is also a committed champion for those victimized by sexual assault and domestic violence. She assisted Senator Franken's office in work to expand the housing protections provided in the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Then she served as a liaison between the legal services and victim advocate communities, drafting and providing policy support which led to passage of state legislation that increased protections for victims.

The 2015 Pro Bono Publico Award for Excellence by an Attorney in the Private Sector recognizes Larry Espel of the Greene Espel law firm where his practice centers on complex litigation. He has volunteered as a pro bono attorney with the Children’s Law Center (CLC) for 14 years, during which time he has represented 30 clients and invested thousands of hours of pro bono service. These are children who have been removed from their homes because of severe abuse, neglect or abandonment. Because of the trauma they have experienced they are extremely vulnerable, often struggling with conflicting emotions, and they have a difficult time trusting adults. CLC volunteer attorneys represent their clients for all proceedings the entire time they are in the foster care system, which can be up to 1I years.

Espel also helps CLC recruit and train new volunteers who wish to work in the child protection system. In 2007, CLC teamed with the National Institute for Trial Advocacy for a training program entitled Training the Lawyer to Represent the Whole Child. He has written articles and presented on volunteer attorney panels, eloquently and passionately describing what it is like to represent foster care youth.  

The HCBA proudly recognizes these members, each highly deserving of honor, as individuals who rise to the call and volunteer their time and knowledge for the benefit of our community.  The HCBA also proudly supports legal access for all through a variety of direct service programs, through its support and partnership with Volunteer Lawyers Network, and through significant grants made to legal service providers by the Hennepin County Bar Foundation.  .


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