Julie Saffren and Fariba Soroosh were honored in the December 2006 issue of California Lawyer magazine as two of California's outstanding pro bono lawyers. They were chosen to receive an "Angel Award" in recognition of a program they developed called Domestic Violence Limited Scope Representation (DVLSR), where volunteer attorneys and certified law students represent low-income litigants in Family Court on domestic violence matters. DVLSR is offered though the Pro Bono Project of Silicon Valley in San Jose, under the supervision of executive director John Hedges.
Conceived by Soroosh in 2004 to utilize new limited scope representation rules, DVLSR is unique legal services model for DV families because it can provide representation to both sides of the conflict. The program launched in court in January 2006, after more than a year of planning, testing and working with partners like Next Door, a local domestic violence agency. Grant funds were obtained from the Santa Clara County Bar Association and FIRST 5, but the largest source of funding was Blue Shield of California Foundation, under their Blue Shield Against Violence program.
Santa Clara University School of Law has been an important component of DVLSR from the beginning.
- The majority of cases are heard in front of Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Mary Ann Grilli ('73) in her specialized domestic violence court, which provides an array of resources and services to the self-represented litigants that comprise the majority of the calendar.
- SCU alumni Sharon Bashan and Eleanor Donohue are key staff members of the DVLSR team at Pro Bono Project.
- SCU law students, including Yamin Maung, Rachel Hsiao, Tabitha Huang, Pami Vyas and Sandra Sepulveda, have handled DVLSR cases under Saffren's supervision.
- SCU alumni were among the volunteer attorneys trained and mentored to take cases, including Jody Hucko, Gil Gallardo, Sam Maverick, Anna Heinkel and Todd Jones.
- SCU adjunct faculty Steve Baron, MFT, is a key component of the DVLSR training team, ensuring attorneys and students understand the complex nature of family violence.
- Even the limited scope representation rules, which permit California lawyers to enter a case on specific issues, are advocated statewide by M. Sue Talia, attorney, author (A Client's Guide to Limited Legal Services) and SCU undergraduate.
Sharon Bashan, Director, Domestic Violence Representation stated "Santa Clara University emphasizes the importance of helping those in need, and equips students with the skills to do so. The clients served have indicated they are so grateful for the high caliber of legal assistance they have received from DVLSR's volunteer attorneys and law students -- many of whom have roots at SCU."
According to Saffren, "The influence of SCU runs throughout our program. We were able to implement DVLSR because we had the combined efforts of many SCU alumni and students. It's been especially gratifying to work with SCU law students and to see their dedication to the safety of victims and children". Soroosh recalled "I remember Prof. Eric Wright connecting us a student from the Public Interest program (Peter Castle) to attend our earliest planning meetings. Today, SCU certified law students are regular participants in DVLSR. My idea would not have become a reality without the commitment of students, DV advocates, private attorneys, local law firms, court administration and judicial officers. Working together, this collaboration has improved the system for those litigants least able to afford representation."
Law School Dean Donald Polden said "Santa Clara's law school has a rich history of educating some of the outstanding community leaders and public interest lawyers. The school's faculty has traditionally encouraged students and graduates to serve the needs of their communities through pro bono legal work. The article recognizes Santa Clara law graduates who have done just that and we are very proud of them."
Both Saffren and Soroosh speak highly of their SCU training. "We both have the law school to thank for our grounding in public interest law" said Saffren. According to Soroosh, "My first exposure to providing free or low cost legal services was when I took Law Clinic at SCU as a law student in the summer of '91 with Cookie Ridolfi at the helm. And the rest is history!"
Soroosh ('92) is the Family Law Facilitator in Santa Clara County's Family Court, where she manages a staff of attorneys and clerks who assist self-represented litigants in navigating Family Court without an attorney. She was appointed to the Santa Clara County Domestic Violence Council by the Board of Supervisors in August 2004 and is on the Board of Directors of Pro Bono Project. Saffren ('02) is a solo practitioner in San Jose and was formerly staff attorney at Support Network for Battered Women in Mountain View. She returned to the law school as adjunct faculty during fall semester, co-teaching the Domestic Violence Seminar with Judge Eugene Hyman ('77). Both Soroosh and Saffren are members of the William A. Ingram American Inn of Court.
They look forward to expanding DVLSR in 2007 and urge more attorneys and law students to join them in Family Court to provide these critical pro bono services. For more information about DVLSR, see www.probonoproject.org.