The PBEye

Pro Bono As We See It
February 11, 2011

A Champion For Pro Bono

The PBEye is sad to report that we’ve lost a wonderful champion for access to justice. Leroy R. Hassell, former chief justice of the Virginia Supreme Court, died Feb. 9, in Richmond.  During his last year on the bench, Justice Hassell called for and presided over a pro bono summit in Virginia, which was held in the Supreme Court chambers.  We covered the details of the summit in the Pro Bono Wire, back in May.

In his remarks last year on the state of the judiciary, Chief Justice Hassell acknowledged the crisis in civil legal services and called for a statewide pro bono summit to expand the availability of legal services for the poor. . . Preceded by regional meetings organized by the Virginia Bar Association and attended by Supreme Court justices, the Summit included formal presentations to the Court and the attendees on the findings of those regional meetings. . . Justice Hassell’s passion for and commitment to access to justice was evident. He noted that Constitutional guarantees and protections of rights are meaningless if there is no legal assistance available to enforce those guarantees and protections. The chief justice spoke movingly of the impact of the lack of availability of counsel in cases like those involving the termination of parental rights. The lack of counsel in those cases impacts not only the individuals involved, but has an impact that lasts generations. He also noted that without lawyers, our democratic system of government would disappear.

The Pro Bono Institute is honored to have assisted Justice Hassell and the planners of the summit, and is delighted to report that one of the most exciting outcomes of the event has been a proposal by both Virginia bars to ease obstacles to pro bono participation by in-house counsel. These concrete actions from the pro bono summit comprise an enduring legacy for Justice Hasell.