LAAC recognized Mélody Saint-Saëns of Bay Area Legal Aid, Dana Schumacher of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and Robert Uriarte of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP as recipients of the 2015 Family Law Awards.
Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC)
May 14, 2015
For release January 2015
LAAC recognized Mélody Saint-Saëns of Bay Area Legal Aid, Dana Schumacher of the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, and Robert Uriarte of Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP as recipients of the 2015 Family Law Awards. The awards ceremony took place during the 2015 Family Law/Self-Help Conference, held at the Judicial Council Conference Center in San Francisco.
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.
“Mélody, Dana and Robert all exemplify extraordinary dedication to California’s families,” said Salena Copeland, LAAC executive director. “Thanks to their dedication and that of others like them, thousands of California’s families receive the legal assistance—and access to justice—that they deserve.”
Robert Uriarte, managing associate at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, will receive this year’s pro bono Family Law Award.
Uriarte worked with Bay Area Legal Aid attorney Brenda Star Adams on a complex interstate custody case, during which he contributed more than 400 volunteer hours. Ultimately, the case led to a positive outcome.
“Our client was able to keep her children and was empowered in the process,” Adams said.
“She went from homeless to housed, penniless to supported, from victim to survivor, and Rob had a very big hand in that.”
Adams said that without support from Uriarte and Orrick, the costs alone of deposing witnesses—some in New Mexico—would have been prohibitive. Uriarte’s involvement proved crucial during trial as well, as he argued motions and took sole responsibility of examining many of the witnesses.
“He spent weekends driving out to witnesses’ houses, drinking their tea and convincing them to testify for our client, despite fear of the repercussions,” she said.
“Rob has an unmatched work ethic, a perfect blend of empathy and aggression, and is unquestionably loyal. In other words, he is not only an exquisite lawyer, but he is a truly honorable person.”
Mélody Saint-Saëns will receive the Family Law Award for direct representation in legal services.
Saint-Saëns works as a family law attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid, where she has given clients direct help in more than 1,000 cases. She coordinates the organization’s Contra Costa County Domestic Violence Restraining Order Clinic, which serves more than 500 people every year.
“Mélody’s passion and dedication to serving the most vulnerable populations in Contra Costa County is inspiring,” said Genevieve Richardson, managing attorney at Bay Area Legal Aid.
“She works tirelessly on behalf of survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, providing holistic family law assistance.”
Many of her clients speak limited English, and Saint-Saens champions language access in Contra Costa County, Richardson said. In addition, she trains community partners on best practices and strategies for cultural competency and working with domestic violence survivors.
“Her reputation in the community is so strong that she is often the first person organizations reach out to when they have a client in need,” Richardson said.
“Each of Melody’s clients receives top quality family law help, never walking away without at least an assessment, but often direct assistance with a wide range of collateral legal issues. She ensures that her clients and their children have a true opportunity to escape violence and build an independent secure future.”
Dana Schumacher will receive a Family Law Award for her work as a self-help service provider.
Schumacher, an attorney at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles, coordinates the Self Help Legal Access Centers located in Los Angeles County courts.
Schumacher has worked tirelessly to facilitate family law services and to support innovative delivery models, said Karla Barrow, managing attorney at Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles.
Schumacher’s collaborations have led to increased workshops, including partnerships with legal services providers. She works to expand services as well, including a new workshop in Khmer following successful outreach to the local Cambodian community.
“Dana has been very proactive in her desire to broaden the services that Self Help offers, and she has been very successful in that endeavor,” Barrow said.
“Her achievement of those goals has led to greater access and strengthened relationships that ultimately benefit the community in such urgent need of services.”