Bryan P. Timbers Pro Bono Award(s): These awards recognize the extraordinary pro bono efforts of small/solo practitioners, law firms, and public sector agencies toward closing the justice gap to Alaskans with civil legal needs.
Sue Ellen Tatter - Solo
Sue Ellen Tatter has devoted her legal career to public service. Her early years of private practice always had a pro bono component followed by her time at the Alaska Public Defender Agency, US Attorney’s Office, and Federal Public Defender’s office. And while technically retired, Sue Ellen practices under the Emeritus rule which means she practices law for the sole purpose of doing pro bono. She has focused her pro bono work in recent years to successfully represent numerous persons seeking safety and asylum in the United States.
Through her work at the Alaska Institute for Justice, she is currently representing two young woman who suffered horrific abuse and violence in their countries of origin; one fled from Central America, the other left Western Africa. Sue Ellen has pursued–and is continuing to pursue–their claims in Immigration Court and before the asylum office of the Department of Homeland Security. During the process, she has helped these young women obtain work authorization and identity documents for their young children.
Over the years volunteering with AIJ, Sue Ellen’s compassion and commitment to her clients from Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina has made a profound difference in their lives. Sue Ellen has said repeatedly that she’s gotten much from the law and does pro bono immigration work not only because it’s interesting but because she gets to represent great people.
Michael Lessmeier - Firm
Michael Lessmeier of Lessmeier and Winters is a favorite top litigator volunteer for the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. A volunteer since 2010, he took a complicated case right out of the gate that involved helping a sexual abuse survivor gain full custody. This was quickly followed by another thorny case that assisted an ANDVSA client safely leave a very abusive relationship and start a new life with her children.
In 2014, he took his keen courtroom skills to the classroom and began training ANDVSA volunteers at their annual CLE. Although initially asked to do a presentation, he quickly assessed that the volunteers would benefit from learning litigation skills through mock presentations. As a member of the Alaska College of Trial Lawyers, he engaged the help of his Alaska colleagues and for the last three years they have donated many hours of their time preparing a mock litigation scenario on various topics for the volunteer attorney seminar.
In 2015, Michael’s first ANDVSA client was brought back into custody litigation. For the last year and a half Michael has represented her in what Christine Pate, director of ANDVSA’s legal advocacy program, has assessed as the most litigated and complex custody case ever seen in the 18 years the program has existed. He has invested an enormous amount of time and emotional energy in this case and remains steadfastly committed to his client and her children.
At every step, Michael maintains a humble air and when thanked, defers to the courage and strength of his clients. Michael Lessmeier truly exemplifies the best of our profession.