Community turns out to honor equal justice champions in our valley
I didn’t fully appreciate the level of commitment to equal justice among our local lawyers until I had the opportunity to attend the 2018 Law Day Awards luncheon at the Wenatchee Convention Center. The theme of the luncheon put on by Chelan-Douglas County Volunteer Attorney Services was “Justice for All: Celebrating our collective investment and responsibility.” It was a remarkable community celebration for a number of reasons, such as we live in a valley where 30 percent of our neighbors live in poverty and all too often don’t have access to legal advice in civil matters.
Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez set the tone as the keynote speaker by making the case for doing more to provide equal access. “The struggle in this nation is our effort to keep that promise,” Gonzalez said.
He quoted Abraham Lincoln’s letter to a slaveholder in 1855 in which he pointed out that for all practical purposes, “all men are created equal, except negroes.” He went on to say that “when the know-nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence (sic) of loving liberty.” When lawyers take up the case of someone who cannot afford it, they are delivering on the promise of equal justice, Gonzalez said.
I would point out that Gonzalez, a brilliant legal mind with impeccable credentials, ran for the Supreme Court six years ago against someone who was eminently unqualified and, in North Central Washington, voters in our counties preferred the incompetent one, proving that we still have work to do here.
During the ceremony, some important awards were announced. One of the highlights was that Robin Gaukroger was honored with the professionalism and civility award. Gaukroger, through his years of service, has epitomized lawyers who can be tough and at the same time collegial and fair. The Chelan-Douglas Bar Association has renamed the award in Gaukroger’s honor. Here’s another impressive fact. Gaukroger’s three sons donated funds so that a group of high school students who had the chance to meet with Gonzalez and talk after the ceremony.
Wes Hensley, who flew helicopters into hot landing zones in Vietnam, was honored as the first Commitment to Community award winner for his efforts supporting veterans through the Vets Serving Vets program. So many of our veterans struggle in our society and champions like Hensley make all the difference. Angelica Estrada of SAGE, the domestic violence center, was the legal services champion honoree, the pro bono attorney of the year award was presented to David Kazemba and Travis Brandt gave the president’s award to Judith McCauley, the longtime Douglas County District Court judge who is retiring.
In chatting with retired Chelan County Superior Court Judge Chip Small, he observed that the level of collaboration, civility and professionalism in our two counties is recognized statewide as a model for bar associations. The best news of all is that the attendees donated funds that will allow for 150 hours of free legal help in our community. For our neighbors in need, that can give them hope and a shot a justice.
Taking care of our neighbors is a civic responsibility and it’s inspiring to know that our attorneys are doing their part. It’s one more reason why this is such a special place.