Volunteer Attorneys of the Month

Each month on our Facebook page, ANDVSA spotlights one of its dedicated volunteer attorneys. We archive the posts here.

Judith Conte

Judith Conte arrived in Alaska in 1997 and has practice family law since that time. Through Judith’s work for ANDVSA clients she has seen how “abuse can continue in the litigation process,” and how by volunteering attorneys have an “opportunity to seek justice for economically vulnerable victims.” For victims, seeking justice requires bravery—they have to escape abusers, often with little or no economic means—get set up on their own, and then they have to fight again in court, Judith remarked.

“Throughout the course of my professional life, I’ve always done family law, and I’ve represented numerous victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in the past,” Judith noted. “But domestic violence is still going on, victims are still not being listened to in court.  Here we are in 2019, and judges still need to be educated. It’s an opportunity.”

Judith credited members of the ANDVSA Legal Team for their availability and support through waves of emergency motions and a looming trial. “I said yes because I was inspired to say yes, and I’m sure glad I did.” To other attorneys considering volunteering with ANDVSA, Judith said that in addition to positive affirmation and the opportunity to get good at civil procedure, this work gives you a reality check. “It puts life in perspective.”

When she’s not seeking justice for victims as an ANDVSA volunteer or maintaining her private family law practice, Judith has the great honor and pleasure of living with a beautiful golden retriever. She enjoys a good cup of coffee, navigates Anchorage on foot, and is finishing a book about a how a boy, against all odds, navigates what it means to live your best life.

Thank you, Judith!

Judith Conte, November 2019

Tali Birch Kindred and Jon Katchen

Congratulations to our October Volunteer Attorneys of the Month, Tali Birch Kindred of Oil Search Limited and Holland & Hart LLP, and Jon Katchen of Hollard & Hart! Their extraordinary teamwork has led to powerful results for their clients, the impact of which they are well aware of. “It’s something tangible, that does work, that can change the trajectory of people’s lives,” Jon says. Tali agrees, “the most rewarding part [of volunteering with ANDVSA] is the interactions with the clients, and the ability to get them across the finish line of something that has made a huge difference in their life.”

Tali, a lifelong Alaskan, chose to pursue the practice of law because of her interest in the management of natural resources and how they shape the Alaskan economy. That path led to a job as a District Attorney for the State of Alaska for four years, during which she most enjoyed the cases in which she was working with survivors. “Powerful connections emerged from talking to people about the worst days of their life. I had a lot of passion to be able to do what I could to be able to do what I could to help those people who had gone through something terrible.”

Jon moved up to Alaska after college to work in a domestic violence prevention program, a move that would change the trajectory of his life. He pursued the law due to his interest in criminal justice, began working as the intergovernmental coordinator for the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, and then in the Attorney General’s office. On the importance of pro bono work, Jon noted “DV and SA are the most pressing social issues in Alaska. It’s embarrassing, it’s shameful, what’s happening to victims in this state… There’s such an underserved population that needs help, and lawyers should step up to the plate.”

Fortunately for Tali’s and Jon’s clients, they have stepped up to help tackle the crisis that Alaska faces. ANDVSA is grateful for their continued hard work. When they’re not balancing a full plate, Jon likes to hike, Tali enjoys running and skiing in the mountains, and both enjoy spending time with their families.

Tali Birch and Jon Katchen, October 2019

Cam Leonard

Congratulations to Cam Leonard, ANDVSA’s September Volunteer Attorney of the Month!

Cam has worked with ANDVSA as a pro bono attorney since 2017, taking on cases involving divorce, sexual assault and custody and getting results that positively impact lives. Recently reflecting on the experience, Cam noted “If I can say anything, I would encourage other attorneys to just take a chance on it, take a case. I guarantee their client will be better off with them helping her than trying to do something on her own. They will learn as they go, and I bet it will be a satisfying experience for them. I’m hoping others take the plunge that I finally took.”

Cam Leonard grew up in Massachusetts and attended Deep Springs College in California, which changed the trajectory of his life. He followed the advice of a classmate to check out Alaska after graduating from law school at University of California Berkeley and moved up to Fairbanks in 1983 where he has spent his legal career since.

After clerking for Alaska Supreme Court Judge Jay Rabinowitz, Cam started out as a public defender for a year and a half, accumulating trial experience as a young attorney. Post-Exxon Valdez, the State of Alaska expanded its environmental protection enforcement across the board and a new position opened at the Alaska Department of Law in the Environmental and Natural Resources sections. Twenty-four years later, Cam left the Alaska Department of Law after serving as Senior Assistant Attorney General. For the past six years, Cam has been working at Perkins Coie representing clients appearing before the agencies he used to represent, noting “it’s a pretty special place and there’s a strong commitment to pro bono. It’s a progressive firm and I’m lucky to have ended up there.”

Cam’s experience in the legal system and his openness to learning has made him an invaluable asset to the individuals and families to whom he has provided pro bono services. But he didn’t always know how much of a difference he could make because of perceptions about expertise. “For years, I had a theoretical commitment to pro bono, but I felt like I didn’t have the expertise to help where it was most needed, which seems to be in the family law arena.” Through his own tenacity and ANDVSA support, Cam was able to challenge previously held notions about who belongs in the pro bono family law practice sphere. According to Cam, “It certainly seems to me that there are a lot of folks out there who would benefit from any attorney stepping up to help them, whether that attorney has any expertise in family law or not. Some of these folks, they’ve maybe never been in a court room, they don’t know what an exhibit is. You know, I think attorneys who are hesitant to sign up and handle some of these cases are maybe undervaluing the assistance they can give as an attorney and a person comfortable with the court system. It’s been really rewarding, the two clients I helped have been really appreciative, you can see how much it means to them to get custody over their kids, or a restraining order against an abusive husband. That’s a different feeling, a more personal connection.”

Cam is in the process of slowly retiring. He tries to get out on some of the many rivers in and outside of the state in between gardening and learning to playing the guitar. Over the next few weeks, Cam will spend time far from his home in Fairbanks, exploring the Okavango Delta and Zambezi River. When he gets back, he hopes to keep doing pro bono work into retirement.

Cam Leonard, September 2019

Ben Brown

Ben Brown is our December Volunteer Attorney of the Month! Ben is a star of our Information and Referral Hotline; almost every month he helps field calls from domestic violence victims across the state. He has also previously represented individual clients for ANDVSA.

A lifelong Alaskan, Ben began practicing law in 2001. “I had a few clients placed through the Network at which point I came to realize how serious the need for legal assistance was among victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The work has such a tremendous effect to help victims and their children break the cycle.”

In his current position as a commissioner on the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, Ben is unable to represent individual clients and so dedicates his time to the hotline. “The hotline is a little bit like what Forrest Gump said about a box of chocolates, you never know what you are going to get,” he says. When asked about what advice he has for other attorneys thinking about volunteering for ANDVSA, Ben says: “It’s really rewarding, and being afraid of the unknown is not a good reason not to do it. ANDVSA is very good at helping attorneys take on volunteer work.”

Ben lives in Juneau with his spouse Nicholas, and is a company member at Perseverance Theater. He also serves as Chairman of the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Thank you Ben for your dedicated service!

Ben Brown, December 2016

Bonnie Coghlan

Bonnie Coghlan of Downes, Tallerico, & Schwalm is our November Volunteer Attorney of the Month! Bonnie has taken five cases for ANDVSA since starting to work with us in 2015, but that only begins to demonstrate her commitment to providing free legal services to victims of domestic violence. From 1978 to 1998, Bonnie ran her own family law practice, where nearly she estimates that she represented about half of her clients at reduced or no cost.
She says she is drawn to domestic violence work in part because of her own upbringing. Bonnie grew up in Wasilla and she says that addiction struggles and emotional abuse within her own family “gave me a lot of insight and empathy for people suffering from this cycle of violence.”
To other attorneys thinking about volunteering in domestic violence cases, Bonnie says “there can be a lot of cynicism in cases when both parties seem problematic. Regardless of that, if you can make the cycle stop, you can protect not only your client but also the other party, and any children involved. These can be rather simple filings that some people just don’t have the tools to do on their own, but these simple things can do a lot.”
Bonnie lives in Fairbanks, enjoys hiking and bicycling, and sings in choruses four days each week. Thank you Bonnie for your continued service!

Bonnie Coghlan, November 2016

Jon Katcher

ANDVSA congratulates Jon Katcher on receiving the Attorney General’s Award for Pro Bono Service!
Since 2000, Jon has been one of our most dedicated volunteer attorneys, taking on eleven of our cases and eleven cases for the Alaska Legal Services Corporation, both by personally representing clients and by mentoring other attorneys through the process.
Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth presented Katcher the award at a ceremony at Anchorage’s AWAIC Shelter proclaiming October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Jon has helped many clients through custody cases. Survivors often stay in their abusive relationship because they have been told they would lose their children in a custody battle if they leave or because they don’t have the economic means to leave. Jon’s work helping clients to get full custody of their children and solid child support awards has meant the difference between leaving and staying for many survivors.
In one particular case, Jon represented a woman whose husband was physically abusive and refusing to return their young son. Jon persuaded the court to award custody of the boy to his mother. The boy went on to become an exemplary student and athlete, and he is now studying aeronautical engineering in college.
“It’s hard work and it’s easy work,” Jon says. “The law itself is fairly easy to understand, but it’s hard work because you are dealing with people in crisis. Nevertheless, because you are making a difference in their lives and the lives of their children, it’s continually fulfilling.”
Thank you Jon for your years of service!
Jonothan Katcher, October 2016