February 2021 V.I.V. – Christell Casey
The VLP is pleased to announce that Christell Casey is this month’s V.I.V. – Very Important Volunteer.
Christell has been a resident of Spokane since 1984. She attended Eastern Washington University, and she started law school in 2010 through the Washington State Rule 6 Program. She practiced initially as a personal injury trial attorney, and in 2017 she started to practice family law. She works for The Law Office of Julie C. Watts. Christell has found practice in family law to be very rewarding. She has found that “family lawyers are more hands on, and help resolve everyday problems and conflict in very real ways, from beginning to end.”
Christell started volunteering with the Volunteer Lawyers Program in the area of family law in October 2020. She has supported VLP clients both through remote clinic appointments and at Status Conference. Christell volunteers because she believes that “volunteering serves families in distress, and helps the system move more efficiently by helping cases resolve, relieving the docket.” She finds that “the gratitude and relief of an overwhelmed person who could not afford a lawyer, and who was utterly lost, is very rewarding. Taking even two minutes to explain a concept to someone can make a significant difference in their lives.”
Christell has found that “The times that I have volunteered in the court room have gone very smoothly. I feel like I have access to the files and forms that I need to help. Like everything else, COVID has added difficulties, but I hope that will resolve soon.” When I asked Christell for recommendations for new volunteers, she said “Just do it. I have come across some situations that I don’t see very often, and was able to rely on the more experienced volunteers there with me, and that enhanced my own practice.“
Thank you Christell for your support for VLP clients. Your enthusiasm and support are valued and appreciated!
January 2021 V.I.V. – Gary Gainer
Gary is currently an attorney emeritus here in Spokane, who helps the Volunteer Lawyers Program with family law remote clinics. Gary consistently volunteers to help at least four clients each month because “it’s very satisfying to help someone through their problem.” As a long term volunteer, he’s adapted to volunteering remotely over the past year. In our conversation, he talked about how remote volunteering, “takes a little more time because you don’t get the body language and you don’t get the exchange. What I have to do is spend a lot more time to get the feel of it, and to let the client have their input.”
Gary started his legal career as a student at Gonzaga Law and retired after 52 years at Richter-Wimberley, P.S. He started there as a clerk during 2L at Gonzaga and eventually retired as a senior partner. Gary practiced in a variety of areas including personal injury and real estate. For the last 25 years of practice, Gary did mostly family law and family law mediations. Mediations were Gary’s favorite area. He told me he enjoyed mediations because, “it’s rewarding to help two people who sometimes hate each other come to some sort of an agreement.”
When I asked Gary what he’d tell a new volunteer he said he’d “recommend that they job shadow someone who’s done it, so that you get practicing talking with people. Often you have to deliver bad news that clients don’t want to hear. It’s also important to get a feel for how you have to respond to clients.” Gary also said that, “At the Volunteer Lawyers Program, our real goal is to talk to the client about how to get through the process. That said, it’s easy to slip into giving legal advice and that’s okay.”
Thank you Gary for your support for VLP clients. Your experience and efforts are valued and appreciated!
December 2020 V.I.V. – Gina Costello
Gina has practiced in Spokane for 20 years, primarily in family law with some work with dependencies and criminal defense. She started volunteering when she was an associate with now Judge Maryann Moreno, and is a current volunteer at the VLP’s Status Conference clinic. She likes volunteering because “there is a synergy in helping pro-ses which helps the court, which helps your fellow lawyers, which helps your cases.” “If the court has to take time to understand what a pro-se wants after presenting the wrong pleadings then we are all hopelessly stalled. If the pro-se is equipped and ready with the right pleadings they have access and are heard. Gina also loves how “every day is a surprise, since not one set of facts is the same. Sometimes you help people where just being in the same room helps them come to an agreed divorce.”
For new volunteers, Gina recommends to “really listen to what people are saying, because that’s going to change the pleadings, what people want. Often we get in such a hurry, that you fill something out or do something and then you find out that that’s not really how they want to go about it.” She mentioned how volunteering helps remind her to listen to her own clients and put in the time to understand their story. She also wanted to encourage everyone starting out in this practice to give their time, especially in this difficult time with COVID.
Gina wanted to focus this article on the VLP’s role at Status Conference during the pandemic. When we spoke, Gina mentioned that what really astonishes her is just how many people wanted the attention of the court but weren’t really willing to wear a mask. She also wanted to say, “I’m grateful for the people that have helped especially during this pandemic. I’m grateful for the leadership that the VLP has shown, making safety calls, and looking out for volunteers. No volunteer is going to say, I’m not going to volunteer because I’m concerned for our safety. Most people are going to say, if everyone else is there, then I’m going to be there. Leadership in keeping everyone safe is really important, so I’m grateful for the VLP.”
Thank you Gina for your support for VLP clients. Your experience, time, and legal expertise are valued and appreciated!
August 2020 V.I.V. – Kate O’Neil
After 11 years working as a hearing examiner in Seattle, Kate retired and moved to Spokane, where she found herself attending a Guardian Ad Litem training. Soon after, she started as a GAL. Kate explains she was drawn to GAL work because it is “very collaborative, very satisfying. You feel like you’ve helped this vulnerable person.”
Kate ties this into why she is so excited to help with weekly Status Conferences: “It’s collaborative. The clerk, the volunteers, the judge, everyone is working together to get this pro se person through the process.” She also explains that she has learned a great deal and feels she still has much to learn through volunteering. As a newer attorney in the Spokane area, she has come to know other attorneys and learned to navigate the courthouse better through volunteering.
Still new to family law, Kate emphasizes the importance of volunteer assistance for clients. She points out that these are individuals who otherwise would not be able to access professional legal assistance and explains “a lot of clients come in agreement. They just don’t understand what they need to do to finalize.” Attorneys can walk them through that process, reviewing paperwork and advising clients about how best to proceed. Whether in the courtroom or during one of the VLP’s scheduled clinics, the support that clients receive from VLP attorneys is a vital part of local families finding stability in the midst of their family law cases.
Thank you Kate for the support you give VLP clients. Your time, expertise, and commitment to the community are appreciated!
June 2020 V.I.V. – Chris Zentz
Chris has been practicing law for nearly ten years. His primary focus is on energy law: federal energy and energy transactions. Chris reached out to the VLP in April after reading about the increase in domestic violence issues during the pandemic and associated stay-at-home orders. Despite limited experience with family law, Chris wanted to help meet the growing need for lawyers to assist community members in these situations. He found that volunteering with the VLP allowed him the opportunity to offer meaningful support to those who most need it most.
In just a few months Chris has been able to assist several VLP clients over the telephone, giving them critical legal advice, answering questions, and helping them navigate their paperwork.
Chris says, “As the recipients of a Juris Doctorate degree, it is important to recognize that we have been given an enormous responsibility and privilege.” Chris believes it is important for lawyers to use this privilege and access to the judicial system to help others, especially “during this time of social unrest associated with the numerous injustices against minority groups and those in need.”
For any attorney who is looking for an opportunity to help, even in a small way, Chris highly encourages you to reach out to the VLP and offer your services. “The VLP has made my transition to volunteering seamless and easier than I could’ve expected, particularly for someone (like me) who comes to these issues with very limited background knowledge or experience. As I’ve learned the VLP will accommodate your skillset and can find ways to deploy it in a way that provides meaningful help to those who are desperate for even the simplest legal guidance.”
Thanks Chris for your willingness to learn and for dedicating your time and energy to helping VLP clients. The VLP appreciates all you do!
May 2020 V.I.V. – Robert Bulanda
When the VLP switched to telephonic appointments and clinics due to COVID-19, the VLP was mentioned in a Washington State Bar Association article about how legal aid programs across the state are adapting to the pandemic. Robert, a Seattle-based attorney, saw the article and reached out to the VLP about volunteering. Since early April, Robert has made himself available on Monday afternoons to speak with VLP clients about their legal issues, options, and paperwork.
Robert strongly believes that “volunteering is important to help the most vulnerable members of our community. The people who often need help the most are often the ones who can least afford it.” In addition to volunteering with the VLP, Robert also volunteers as an AmeriCorps member with Providence Hospital of Seattle in their Transitions Program. In this position, he especially enjoys working with elderly and seriously ill clients to help them navigate the changes in their health.
When asked why he decided to volunteer for the VLP, Robert stated that he “wanted to use [his] legal skills and knowledge to contribute to our community’s well-being during this challenging time.” The VLP is fortunate to have volunteers like Robert who continually support VLP clients even during uncertain and difficult times such as these.
Thank you, Robert, for all you do for the VLP and its clients!
April 2020 V.I.V. – Darren Digiacinto
Darren has been practicing law for 13 years; he has a bankruptcy/insolvency practice and handles civil litigation in the areas of business, construction, and real property. Since becoming a VLP volunteer in early 2020, Darren has already taken on two direct representation cases.
Darren attributes much of his success to his support system: his fantastic wife, two crazy dogs, great parents, and a team at Winston & Cashatt with whom he loves to work. Darren sees volunteering as a way to give back to those who haven’t had as much, or any, of the support and opportunities that he has enjoyed.
It was a “no-brainer” for Darren to take on bankruptcy cases for the VLP because “It is evident that one of the major purposes of the Bankruptcy Code is to allow honest debtors a chance at a fresh start, but not everyone who needs a fresh start is able to navigate the process on their own.” With assistance from volunteers like Darren, they can successfully get through the bankruptcy process and move on with their lives. According to Darren, the results for these clients can be life-changing.
Thanks, Darren, for all your hard work and for the life-changing impact you’ve had on VLP clients.
March 2020 V.I.V. – Michael Cressey
The VLP is excited to recognize Michael Cressey as this month’s V.I.V. – Very Important Volunteer.
Mike has been a lawyer for 36 years. He practiced in California for the majority of his career, defending hospitals and doctors in medical malpractice litigation and defending manufacturers in product liability cases. In Washington he primarily handled labor & employment litigation and commercial transactions. Mike’s last jury verdict was in Sacramento Superior Court in 2018; he decided it was a good win to finish on and is now mostly retired.
On the 3rd Monday of each month, Mike dedicates his morning to helping individuals on the Unlawful Detainer docket as part of the VLP’s Housing Justice Project (HJP).
Mike was introduced to the VLP by long-time HJP volunteer Rob Rowley in 2004, shortly after he moved to Washington. He found that the HJP was not only “a great way to meet the judges in a new town” but also “a unique opportunity to make a difference in the lives of folks experiencing our justice system one step away from literally being thrown out on the street.”
The VLP is so appreciative of Mike’s dedication to the HJP as well as his willingness to fill in for other volunteers when needed. His devotion to the HJP has not gone unnoticed and has earned him the distinction of HJP Volunteer of the Year in 2007 and 2015.
Thank you, Mike, for all you do for the VLP and its clients!
If you are interested in being a part of an important legal service, want more exposure to landlord/tenant court proceedings, and want to “get in good with the judges who will be hearing your civil cases,” volunteer for the HJP! Committing to one morning per month makes a huge difference. As Mike says, “The Judges will love you for it, as will the clients you serve. It is good for the soul.”
February 2020 V.I.V. – Charity Rotinski
Charity is currently a student at Spokane Community College pursuing her paralegal degree and plans to start the Limited Licensed Legal Technician program in the fall of 2020.
Charity assists the VLP in numerous ways, from conducting client intakes to helping with annual events like the VLP Holiday Auction. Of all her volunteer activities with the VLP, Charity’s favorite is supporting clients at legal advice clinics. According to Charity, “So many people come to these clinics feeling lost and overwhelmed. I enjoy helping them navigate their paperwork and helping them see that they are not alone.”
For as long as she can remember, Charity has had a passion for serving others. She has sought to instill her passion for service in her five children; they often volunteer as a family. When she had the opportunity to volunteer for the VLP, she was “thrilled.”
When asked why she volunteers for the VLP, Charity said, “I want to help people navigate what can be the most stressful and overwhelming experience of their lives, while empowering them to gain the confidence they need to work through their legal issues.”
Thank you for all your hard work, Charity! We appreciate the positive difference you make for the VLP and its clients.