On Monday, November 21st, we went to the Legal Aid’s 111th Annual Meeting at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown which was held at the Hilton on Lakeside Avenue East.
We were greeted by Ms. Ellen Schur Brown, Associate Director of Development, who helped Ms. Melanie Shakarian, Director of Development and Communications, arrange the affair.
Before we sat down we congratulated Judges Joan Synenberg and Francine Goldberg on their November 8th victories and learned from our friend former Judge Mary Jane Trapp that there might be a recount in the race for Ohio Supreme Court Justice between John P. O’Donnell and Pat Fischer because they were less than one percentage point apart in the final tally.
“Margaret W. Wong and Associates” had sponsored a table so we got to lunch with our colleagues Mr. Azaad Khaira, Mr. Crispin Kamucici, Mr. Michael Fungsang, and Mr. Jury Pychowicz. Also sharing our table was Mr. Frank Hickman from the law firm of Hickman & Lowder Co.” and Mr. Rob Anderle, Mr. Gary A. Ebert, and Mr. Daniel F. Goulash all from the law firm of “Seeley, Savidge, Ebert, & Gourash” (SSE & G).
Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson gave a very fine welcoming speech in which he recalled how, years ago when he was a city councilman, the Legal Aid society was an excellent resource when legislation was drafted against predatory lending. The Mayor also said that even though 111 years is a long time and the Legal Aid Society has made excellent use of it in terms of helping the community
Ms. Vanetta Jamison, President of the Board of Directors, and Ms. Colleen M. Cottner, the Executive Director of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, guided the program whose theme was based on the Alexander Hamilton quote, “The First Duty of a Society is Justice.” They referred to the current Broadway, “Hamilton” wherein the title character refers to America as “young, scrappy and hungry” which is how they like to think of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland which is over a century old but still young in spirit, and most definitely “scrappy” and “hungry.”
Several awards were presented to dedicated staffers including a Lifetime Achievement Award to Ms. Ann McGowan Porath who has been working with Legal Aid since 1982 and since 2005 has devoted herself to revitalizing the Volunteer Lawyers Program. It was noted that due to limited resources, the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland can only take on 43% of the cases of those who come to them for help.
Fortunately, our good friend Mr. Richard Pogue stepped forward and offered to match any donation given between this time and December 1st with a generous ceiling of $25,000.00. Mr. Pogue’s generosity and committment earned him a very deserved round of applause and it was said that the matching funds would enable the Legal Aid Society to hire another full-time staff attorney.
The highlight of the early afternoon was the presentation of the Louis Stokes Paradigm Award to former U.S. Attorney Steven M. Dettelbach. This award originated in 2015 and Mr. Richard Pogue happened to be the first recipient. As the program notes stated, this award was created in honor of the late Congressman Louis R. Stokes and “will be presented to individuals who follow in the Congressman Stokes’ path; who like him serve as models of excellence in their pursuit of justice.”
This award was presented to Mr. Dettelbach, who now practices at Baker Hostetler, LLP, by Ms. Karen Griffen, Vice President of the Board of Director of the Legal Aid Society, who reviewed some fine things that Mr. Dettelbach has done during his career including the successful prosecution in 1995 of human traffickers who enslaved 70 women from Thailand.
Mr. Dettelbach was pleased to be so honored and talked about how his parents were outstanding inspirations to him. He recalled how his father, an attorney himself, worked long and hard to obtain justice for a worker who was injured in a forklift accident through no fault of his own. Mr. Dettelbach said that his father used the practice of law “to fight for the future.”
Mr. Dettelbach introduced his wife and two children who were there on this day and hoped that he was able to do one-half as good of a job raising his children as his parents did raising his brother and himself.
He then addressed the issue of a community’s responsibility to obtain justice for those who inhabit it. He said that he had no patience for those who take the attitude, “what can one person do?” and use it as an excuse for shaking off their civic duties. He went on to uphold the career of Congressman Louis Stokes “who used the law and made the law to help people” and, what’s more, didn’t know the meaning of the word “quit” when he was fighting for what he believed in.
He praised Mr. Pogue for his financial challenge and urged us all to take him up on it before producing his own check.
Mr. Dettelbach concluded his remarks by saying that we are all Americans, Ohioans, and Clevelanders and if we are out boating on Lake Erie and we see a storm approaching we don’t cower in fear but, instead, we vigorously row towards “a better day.”
He promised to “do my best to keep fighting for justice.”
“Margaret W. Wong and Associates” was also a sponsor of Monday’s evening event which was the American Lebanese Community Council’s “6th Annual Celebration of Lebanon Day” in the City of Cleveland which recognized the 73rd anniversary of the Independence of Lebanon.
Thus we were among the large number of people who gathered in the Rotunda of Cleveland City Hall where, as a sponsor, we had our own table and were even allowed to display the “Margaret W. Wong and Associates” banner.
Once again, Mayor Frank Jackson was present as was his aide, Ms. Beth Zietlow-DeJesus who was with him earlier at the Cleveland Legal Aid Society luncheon. We waved to each from across the room.
Mayor Jackson was the first speaker and he contended that even though Lebanon achieved its independence 73 years ago, whenever he thinks of Lebanon he thinks of a great people and a culture that has existed for thousands of years. Accordingly, he was proud of the fact that many Lebanese immigrants have settled in the Cleveland area and have contributed to our diversity.
The term “diversity” was also on the mind of Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish who expressed dismay over the “dark, divisive words” that were spoken during this year’s U.S. Presidential election. He said that we are now entering a “period of uncertainly” but he was proud of Cuyahoga County’s rich and diverse culture because it all comes together for the benefit of everyone and he was very honored to be part of a celebration like Lebanon Day.
Cleveland City Councilman Brian Cummins echoed the comments of Mayor Jackson and County Executive Budish when he said that it was our diversity that makes us “strong.” He had special praise for the Lebanese people of this region because they have chosen very fine people to lead them before he paid tribute to our good friend Mr. Pierre Bejjani who is both the president of CAMEO and of the American Lebanese Community Council (ALCC).
Mr. Bejjani, himself, immigrated to the United States from Lebanon 35 years ago and publishes a newspaper so his word carried a lot of weight when upheld the relationship that the two countries share. He contended that the freedoms of the United States attracted many Lebanese immigrants who came here, worked hard, and achieved success. He smiled as he said that their relatives back home in Lebanon were quite proud of them.
Mr. Bejjani then gave special citations to two outstanding Lebanese Americans who were Mr. George Maloof and the late Mr. Joe Coury whose family accepted for him.
Most importantly (we think) he then recognized his own wife, Mary, with whom he is celebrating 24 years ofmarriage. We know for a fact that Ms. Mary Bejjani is quite active in CAMEO and other organizations that Mr. Pierre Bejjani is involved with and were quite happy to see her share the stage with her husband because they are a wonderful team.
Next Ms. Natalie Ronayne, Chairperson of the Lebanese Cultural Garden Committee, presented a short slide show concerning the plans for the upcoming Lebanese Garden. Ms. Ronayne said that this project meant a lot to her since her own father immigrated to the United States from Lebanon when he was a very young man. Among the people she introduced who will play a key role in the Garden’s development was Mr. Thomas F. Zarfoss, a landscape architect, whose concept is drawing praise from all quarters. She noted that ALCC was accepted as a sponsoring organization by the Cleveland Cultural Gardens Federation back in 2012 so it is now time to make the plans into a “reality”.
We were then treated to a Lebanese dinner and entertainment by the “Lions of the Desert Dance Company” and the “Ajyal Dance Group.”
The last speaker was Ms. Julia Bejjani, the daughter of Mr. Pierre and Ms. Mary Bejjani who made a special pitch for the young people of Lebanese descent to get involved with ALCC. Before we left, we took Miss Bejjani’s photo and told her, “Julia, you are the future!”
Margaret W. Wong & Assoc. Co., LLC