OAKLAND – The Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC) honored two attorneys and one paralegal at this year’s Family Law Awards held on July 24th at the Ronald Reagan State Building in Los Angeles.
LAAC recognized Kimberly Aston-Young of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles’ (LAFLA) Self-Help Center in Torrance, Courtney Black of Hueston Hennigan, and Grace Mitsuhata.
Since 2003, the LAAC Family Law Awards have been given to family law advocates in recognition of their outstanding dedication and commitment to legal services for low-income Californians. Honorees may be recognized in one of three categories: pro bono work, direct representation and family law facilitator or self-help provider.
Salena Copeland, LAAC executive director, said “The LAAC Family Law Awards Ceremony is an amazing opportunity to recognize the contribution of the real standouts in our community. Kimberly, Grace, and Courtney have all shown that they are willing to do the hard work of helping people who are in crisis navigate our court system. They help lead people toward justice, and they do so with understanding and patience.”
Kimberly Aston-Young, paralegal at the LAFLA Self-Help Center received this year’s Family Law Award for self-help center support.
For several years, Kim has been more than an asset to the LAFLA Self-Help Center. She helps families and individuals find solutions to divorce, custody, and other family law related matters. She also supports the center by training new volunteers, teaching them how to manage clients and setting an example of best practice in all that she does.
Nominator, Joan Arias, exclaimed “Kim is a model of the best customer service behavior and attitude. Our clients come to our center completely stressed and leave with a sense of confidence that they can help themselves. She is a born teacher.” Kim is revered by her colleagues at the Court who appreciate her hard work, positive attitude, and interpersonal skills, noting that clients and volunteers alike leave the court with more confidence and trust after speaking with her.
At the ceremony, presenter and colleague, Lisa Morris, recounted numerous occasions where clients would arrive to the center, anxious to see Kim, believing that only she was the right person to help them with their legal problem. Lisa also confessed that Kim’s compassionate and steady way with clients inspired some of her own interpersonal engagement at the center.
Courtney Black received one of this year’s two Family Law Awards for Pro Bono work and was graciously presented with her award by colleague Carmen McDonald.
Black works as a pro bono attorney and coordinator at Hueston Hennigan, where she not only carries an active caseload, but also recruits, trains, and mentors all Hueston Hennigan staff on pro bono related matters. She serves throughout the legal aid community and was nominated for the award by the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice.
After years of building a reputation as a talented litigator who served as counsel in numerous civil and criminal cases, in both state and federal courts, Courtney currently dedicates her professional life to pro bono work.
Her passion to serve vulnerable women and children have led her to work in family law, a track she believes is the #1 priority area of law useful in helping this population. Courtney’s colleague and nominator, Jenny Farrell shared “Ms. Black truly believes in helping mothers and children be safe from violence and this has driven her to be, far and away, our agency’s #1 pro bono volunteer on family law matters”
Courtney is also known within the legal aid community for being someone willing to take on difficult cases others pass, combining her passion and expertise to obtain substantial benefits for her clients.
Grace Mitsuhata also received the Family Law Award for Pro Bono work at both LAFLA and the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law.
Grace has been volunteering her services as a pro bono attorney since 2012. A retired real estate partner from the law firm of Bryan Cave, Grace has adapted to an entirely new area of law and demonstrated dedication by volunteering twice a week at LAFLA’s domestic violence clinic in Santa Monica and twice a month at the Harriett Buhai Center
Grace was presented with her award by two colleagues, Minty Siu-Kootnikoff (of LAFLA) and Cheryl Segal (of Harriett Buhai). Minty shared, “In an era when volunteers disappear as soon as the economy improves, Grace has been a treasure to our community over the past five years, in her unfailing commitment to domestic violence survivors and the low income population.” She also gave a touching speech about how Grace’s presence instantly eases the anxiety of an often bustling legal aid office, illustrating for ceremony attendees that Grace truly personifies all aspects of her name.
Cheryl also sincerely spoke of instances where Grace’s keen ability to focus on a case combined with her legal expertise led to the protection and security of their client’s life, clients who without Grace’s dedication were facing real danger.
In addition to accepting LAAC’s Family Law Award, Grace is also the recipient of the State Bar’s Wiley Manuel Award.
For more information about the 2017 Family Law Awards, please contact Salena Copeland at (510) 893-3000 x 106.
About Legal Aid Association of California
Founded in 1983, the Legal Aid Association of California (“LAAC”) is a nonprofit organization created to ensure the effective delivery of legal services to low-income and underserved people and families throughout California. LAAC is the statewide membership organization of nearly 100 nonprofit legal services organizations in the state. Our members provide high-quality legal services to our state’s most vulnerable populations.
These services to low-income and other underrepresented individuals form an essential safety net in California and often ensure that the programs’ clients have access to life’s basic necessities, such as food, safe and affordable housing, freedom from violence, health care, employment, economic self-sufficiency, and equal access to justice through the legal system.