Law Day Awards 2021
We are proud to announce our award winners for Law Day in 2021!
LIBERTY BELL AWARD
The purpose of the Liberty Bell Award is to recognize community service that has strengthened the American system of freedom under the law, and to accord public recognition for outstanding service in one of the following areas:
1. Promoting a better understanding of our Constitution and the Bill of Rights;
2. Encourage a greater respect for law and the courts;
3. Stimulate a deeper sense of individual responsibility so that citizens recognize their duties as well as their rights;
4. Contribute to the effective functioning of our institutions of government; and
5. Foster a better understanding and appreciation of the rule of law.
ELIGIBILITY: Any individual who has rendered outstanding service to his or her community in any of the areas mentioned above may be considered eligible. All fields of endeavor are intended for inclusion.
Minority Bar Association of WNY Criminal Justice Task Force
Minority Bar Association of WNY Criminal Justice Task Force Members include:
John V. Elmore, Esq., Law Office of John. V. Elmore
Samantha White, Esq., Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Inc.
Miles Gresham, Partnership for the Public Good
Anaiss Rijo, Esq., Children’s Legal Center, Buffalo
Natalia Marte, Esq., Assistant Appellate Court Attorney at N.Y.S. Supreme Court’s Appellate Division, Fourth Department
Robert C. Brucato, Esq., Counsel Press
Ryan G. Pitman, Esq., Goldberg Segalla, LLP
Linwood Roberts, Esq., Law Offices of Linwood Roberts PLLC & UB School of Dental Medicine: Director of Community Relations
Brittany Jones, Esq., MBAWNY Past President, 2019
De’Jon Hall, Executive Director at MOCHA
Alexandra Harrington, Esq., University at Buffalo School of Law
Larry Waters, Esq., Staff Attorney at Neighborhood Legal Services, and MBAWNY President-Elect 2022
Leah Halton-Pope, Senior Advisor to Majority Leader Crystal People-Stokes
Stephanie “Cole” Adams, Esq., The Law Office of Stephanie Adams, PLLC
Simone Grande (student at UB)
Anna Marie Richmond, Esq., The Law Office of Anna Marie Richmond
Jennifer Leonardi, Esq., Barclay Damon LLP
Our first awardee is the Minority Bar Association of WNY Criminal Justice Task Force. While the Task Force is a young organization, their work has addressed head-on many important issues facing our community. The purpose of this ad hoc committee, created on June 10, 2020, is to create written proposed reforms to the criminal justice system on a continual basis. The Task Force is responsible for reviewing current legislation, practices of the police force and any issue within the scope of criminal justice reform.
Led by John Elmore, Samantha White, and J. Miles Gresham, members of the Task Force include attorneys, professors and social justice activists. Since its inception less than one year ago, the Task Force has worked tirelessly to improve the local community through recommendations including: Ban body camera interference;
Cut court overtime; Enhance civilian review powers; Make police disciplinary hearings public; Get police out of schools; Pass Cariol’s Law; Name tag and badge numbers be required to be displayed on BPD officers’ uniforms; Right to Know Law.
Three of the Task Force’s criminal justice reform recommendations – the “Right to Know” law, passage of Cariol’s Law and “get police out of school,” have been adopted and/or enacted. The Task Force’s pursuit of enforcing change has had a tremendous positive impact on our community.
Say Yes Buffalo
Our second recipient of the Liberty Bell Award is Stephanie Peete. Ms. Peete is the Internship and Career Pathways Supervisor for Say Yes Buffalo. Ms. Peete connects low-income youth with employment opportunities and supports them throughout the application and interview process. In 2018, Stephanie Peete approached the BAEC to work with Say Yes to help place college age legal interns in the legal profession. She recognized that this diversity pipeline initiative was mutually beneficial for our legal community and the Say Yes scholars. Ms. Peete provided these students with the networks and the social connections to relevant professional opportunities. Ms. Peete works closely with the BAEC Diversity & Inclusion Committee to help successfully manage these intern placements in our legal community. Ms. Peete’s work ensures that our legal community has access to high quality scholars. More importantly, however, her work is ensuring that students of color are now able to access the “legal pipeline” at an early age.
SPECIAL SERVICE AWARD
PURPOSE: To recognize outstanding service to the legal profession thus strengthening the effective function of the legal profession, our institutions of government and the judicial system. The criteria include the following:
CRITERIA: The award will recognize service to the legal profession. Such service would include:
1. Courteous treatment of members of the legal profession;
2. Efficient handling of duties;
3. Cooperation with members of the legal profession; and
4. Willingness to extend himself/herself for the good of the legal profession and the public.
ELIGIBILITY: Any person who is not a lawyer who is connected with the courts or other governmental department or agency including administrative bodies.
Anne M. Noble & the BAEC Staff
Bar Association of Erie County
During a year of unimaginable challenges, uncertainty and incredible stress, the BAEC team was nothing short of extraordinary. They were responsive to the shifting times and made sure that services were delivered. Not only did the team “keep it all going,” they instituted new initiatives including virtual CLE programs and BAEC meetings, an informative COVID-19 page on the BAEC website, and the 21-day Diversity Challenge. During a year when we did not think we would be able to gather to celebrate excellence in our profession, the BAEC team hit it out of the park with the Annual Awards at the Transit Drive-In. These are only a few of the numerous examples of their exceptional work. Because of Anne Noble and her BAEC team’s commitment to excellence and dedication to the Bench and Bar, we were able to continue our work, and feel a strong sense of belonging to our very special community. To quote one Awards Committee member, Anne and her team did “one hell of a job.” If there was ever a time to give thanks back in a public way, this is it.
POLICE OFFICER AWARD
Nominations for this award go first to the Criminal Law Committee which then makes a recommendation to the Awards Committee. The purpose of this award is to recognize law enforcement service which strengthens the effectiveness of the American system of justice and freedom. The award is given to recognize outstanding law enforcement service in keeping with the spirit of the Constitution which imposes upon police officers the unique duty to balance the rights of society against the rights of the accused. Among the activities, achievements and qualities to be considered are the following:
1. Conduct which demonstrates an understanding of the Constitution and, especially, the Bill of Rights;
2. Conduct which encourages respect for the law and the rule of law;
3. Conduct which promotes and contributes to a better understanding of, respect for, and effective functioning of the judicial process;
4. Cooperation with the legal community; and
5. Conduct which demonstrates a concern for society and appreciation for the dignity of all persons.
Buffalo Police Department
Police Officer Anthony LeBron, has enjoyed a lengthy career with the Buffalo Police Department. Officer LeBron is being recognized today for his work within the community, for his dedication and work ethic that shines especially when dealing with incredibly difficult situations. In particular, Officer LeBron has treated challenging clients, often with mental health issues, in Buffalo Housing Court with empathy. He is known to spend time working with these individuals to help them avoid becoming homeless. As the pandemic has taken over our world, with one consequence being an increase in unemployment claims and evictions, landlords have taken to self -help measures to remove lawful tenants from their homes, including illegal lockouts and turning off utilities. Officer LeBron has educated himself and his colleagues to understand the eviction laws to assist tenants in stressful matters like these. He goes above and beyond in these situations-even if it’s mediating the matter between landlords and tenants, or calling appropriate legal agencies to assist. He is the epitome of an officer who is protecting and serving the community.
In addition to his duties as a police officer, Officer LeBron is heavily involved with planning the Brothers in Blue Bash. The proceeds of the Brothers in Blue Bash benefit the New York Law Enforcement Assistance Program which offers mental health services to first responders. This program was created by peers for peers to fill the void of treatment especially when those first responders have been exposed to trauma during their career. Officer Anthony LeBron’s passion to assist the community and his peers goes above and beyond the call of duty.
Buffalo Police Department
Captain Steve Nichols, a 22-year veteran of the Buffalo Police Department, has dedicated his career to community policing, recognizing early on the benefits of a more progressive approach to policing, certainly well before it was the national trend to do so. Captain Steve Nichols honors the value of neighborhood policing and fosters a better relationship with citizens and police officers. His work has had a major impact on the City of Buffalo and the BDP culture.
Captain Nichols has worked with anti-violence groups such as SNUG, Peacemakers and religious and community leaders to strengthen the ties between law enforcement and our community. He has been instrumental in working with groups such as “kidseventtickets” and “victory sports” that enable underprivileged children the opportunity to attend Bills and Sabres games, and provide sporting equipment to youth across the city.
He is beloved and respected by our community and his colleagues. Captain Jeff Rinaldo observed that, “Captain Nichols exemplifies what a community police officer is. His caring, compassion, drive and professionalism has made a difference in not only the communities in every area of Buffalo but also in thousands of lives that his programs and work has touched. … His work will live on in every department as the foundation of community policing for years to come.”
Lt. Craig Macy, a former recipient of this prestigious award, also spoke of the positive impact Captain Nichols has had on him and on the Department. “Captain Nichols always made time to check on his officers. His guidance… made a big impact on… all the officers that worked at the Neighborhood Engagement Team as well as the community police officers city wide. His positive impact … will be enjoyed for many years to come.”
The Justice Award, to be presented from time to time, to an individual, lawyer or nonlawyer, whose efforts have substantially contributed to the improvement of the justice system.
Hon. Robert T. Russell, Jr.
Buffalo City Court
Judge Robert T. Russell, Jr., is a true Pillar of Justice in Buffalo and Western New York. He is one of the longest serving judges in the history of Buffalo City Court since his first election to the Bench in 2001. Throughout his career, Judge Russell has been a judge of many firsts. In 2002, Judge Russell established and presided over Buffalo’s Mental Health Treatment Court. In 2008, Judge Russell created and began presiding over the nation’s first Veterans Treatment Court. Nearly 20 years before the creation of these two specialized treatment courts Judge Russell founded Buffalo’s Drug and Treatment Court. “Drug courts use a collaborative approach to treatment involving defense attorneys, prosecutors, treatment and education providers, and law enforcement officials. Non-violent offenders voluntarily enter the program in which rules are clearly defined and a contract between the offender, attorneys, the District Attorney and the court is signed.” There is no question that Judge Russell’s decades-long innovative approaches have substantially contributed to the improvement of the justice system in Buffalo.
This award is presented to recognize achievements in print and electronic media and products in media and the arts which strengthen our system of justice and the freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution.
The Investigative Post
Throughout 2020, our next award winner has played a role as an independent voice in our community, providing consistent, hard-hitting investigative journalism, and demonstrating a deep commitment to human and civil rights. As an independent voice, the non-profit Investigative Post has pursued stories that expose economic corruption, environmental degradation, police misconduct and discrimination. The Investigative Post offers Buffalo and WNY in-depth, public interest journalism making for an informed citizenry. Their work is distributed on their website and through partnerships with local radio and TV stations. Their work reaches up to 175,000 readers, viewers and listeners per story. Led by Jim Heaney and his talented team of reporters, the Investigative Post has provided investigation and analysis on stories important to our region including the Buffalo Police Department, COVID-19 outbreak at ICE detention centers and the Erie County Holding Center, and the economic status of the City of Buffalo, to name a few. These issues have considerable public relevance and, oftentimes, no other outlet prioritizes them. We are pleased to recognize the Investigative Post.
REV. A. JOSEPH BISSONETTE PRO BONO AWARD
This award honors the memory of Father Bissonette, who received the Liberty Bell Award posthumously in 1987. Created through the generosity of Raymond Bissonette, Father Bissonette’s brother, the award recognizes and memorializes Father Bissonette’s life’s work with the inner city poor and his commitment to social justice. Therefore, this award recognizes a lawyer’s dedication to pro bono over the course of their career. The award included a $1,000 stipend.
PURPOSE: To recognize an attorney who has demonstrated exemplary pro bono services. CANDIDATE SELECTION: Nominations shall be requested by letter to Managing Attorney of the Volunteer Lawyers Project, Inc. each year.
Robert S. Stephenson
Robert S. Stephenson was selected for this special recognition because of his extraordinary commitment to providing pro bono legal services to those individuals in need in our community.
Bob Stephenson is an experienced Matrimonial and Family Law attorney who retired from private practice in 2018. He has a long and rich history demonstrating his dedication to pro bono dating back to the early days of VLP when he served on the VLP Board of Directors for several years. Bob’s dedication to VLP and ensuring access to justice for all has been evident throughout his career. In addition to his work on the VLP Board, Bob provided exemplary pro bono representation to at least 82 VLP clients since 1991, which is as far back as VLP computer records go.
Bob handled full representation pro bono cases for VLP clients including at least 26 divorce matters and one bankruptcy. Many of the cases were difficult ones that many lawyers would have shied away from. Bob, however, could always be counted on to take on the difficult cases and to provide caring and excellent representation. This led to his receiving the 1997 VLP Pro Bono Award.
In addition, Bob has been a trusted and reliable volunteer at the VLP Family Court Help Desk since it opened in 2015, where he continues to volunteer even after closing up his private practice. His expansive knowledge of the law makes him a valued resource to not only the Help Desk clients, but also to law student interns. He mentors the students, discusses each case, and gives valuable insight into establishing a successful career in family law. Bob has already helped 55 low-income clients at the Family Court Help Desk, and he deservedly received the VLP 2020 Family Court Champions for Justice Award.
Robert Stephenson’s 30+ years of dedicated pro bono service make him the ideal candidate to receive this honor bearing Father Bissonette’s name.
Law Day Awards 2020
LIBERTY BELL AWARD
Hon. Kevin M. Carter and Hon. Brenda M. Freedman
Erie County Family Court
SPECIAL SERVICE AWARD
Alicia M. Tabliago
Resource Coordinator, Buffalo Human Trafficking Intervention Court
POLICE OFFICER AWARD
Chief D.J. Granville
Detective, Erie County Sheriff’s Office
Aimee L. Neri, LMSW
Senior Liaison, New York State Child Welfare Court Improvement Project
Margaret M. Sullivan
Media Columnist, The Washington Post
REV. A. JOSEPH BISSONETTE PRO BONO AWARD
Joshua Dubs, Esq.
Volunteer Lawyers Project