Brooklyn Boro

Volunteer Lawyers Project celebrates 25 years of service at gala

May 21, 2015 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Andrea E. Bonina presented the Brooklyn Bar Association’s Executive Director Avery Eli Okin with the Partnership Award on behalf of the association. See for more photos of the event. Eagle photos by Rob Abruzzese
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Hundreds of lawyers and judges packed the Brooklyn Academy of Music for the 25th annual Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) gala, where nine different honorees were presented with awards.

“Twenty-five years ago, three visionary leaders of the Brooklyn Bar, the Executive Director Avery Eli Okin, Hon. Miriam Cyrulnik and the late Allen Lashley, worked together to establish and incorporate the Volunteer Lawyers Project,” said the evening’s mistress of ceremonies Andrea E. Bonina.

“Their goal was to ensure that the needs of the underprivileged would be served here in Brooklyn. Their dedication formed the foundation of the group that we are here celebrating tonight.”

The gala honored the Brooklyn Bar Association as well as Hon. Allan L. Gropper, Henry B. Gutman, Karen Patton Seymour and Samuel W. Seymour, and Betty Whelchel. TD Bank Champion of Justice Awards were also presented to Fernando A. Bohorquez Jr., Muhammad U. Faridi and Gregory M. Starner.

“I’m so pleased to see what has been accomplished over the past 25 years,” said Okin upon accepting the Partnership Award on behalf of the Brooklyn Bar Association.

Judge Gropper took time in his speech to point out that the lawyers currently volunteering to help the VLP are the real honorees, a sentiment echoed by many of the other honorees. Gropper also took the time to point out the great work that the Bankruptcy Bar has done pro bono.

“The people who really should be getting this award are the professionals in the legal services community,” Judge Gropper said upon receiving the Community Leadership Award. “Organizations such as this are critically needed.”

“The people we gather here tonight to honor, the true bridge builders, are not the honorees, they are the women and men of the VLP who work hard every day to provide first-rate legal assistance to those in our community who need it most,” Gutman said.

Whelchel pointed out the daunting task many people deal with when representing themselves without legal help or training when she thanked the VLP.

“A recent Times article highlighted a daunting statistic — 70-90 percent of the state court cases involving life-changing situations, like the potential loss of one’s home, family or livelihood, involve at least one unrepresented litigant. If you think about that, it’s extraordinary. Everyone knows that the deck is stacked high against people who try to navigate our legal system without the benefit of legal training or advice.”

For more photos from this event, visit

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