JACK BERMAN AWARD OF ACHIEVEMENT

About the Award

Each year, the California Young Lawyers Association (CYLA), a Committee of the California State Bar Association, recognizes a young or new lawyer for distinguished service to the public sector, the judiciary, or the public with the Jack Berman Award of Achievement.

The California State Bar established this prestigious award in 1992 to recognize the individual achievements of a lawyer who is either in his/her first five years of practice or age 36 and under.  The award is named in memory of Jack Berman, a young lawyer who demonstrated outstanding service to the profession and the public, and who was tragically killed in a San Francisco shooting. This annual award honors his dedicated service to issues of concern to the profession, especially its young lawyers.

The 2014 Award

The recipient of the 2014 Jack Berman Award of Achievement. Is Aaron J. Fischer, who is devoted to the rights of prisoners and of people with disabilities, both individually and through his practice at Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld. 

A 2006 graduate of Columbia Law School, Mr. Fischer began his legal career as a Skadden Fellow at the Children’s Law Center in Washington, D.C., where he advocated on behalf of children with disabilities and serious medical needs to secure appropriate special education services, safe housing, and public services.  He then served as a law clerk for two federal judges, first the Hon. Jack B. Weinstein in the Eastern District of New York, followed by the Hon. Kimba M. Wood in the Southern District of New York. 

In 2010, Mr. Fischer joined Rosen Bien Galvan & Grunfeld in San Francisco where he currently practices constitutional and civil rights, commercial and other complex litigation, and employment law.  Mr. Fischer’s commitment to the constitutional and civil rights of individuals and to integrity in the legal profession has established him as a respected member of the legal community and an outstanding litigator. His recent work has included litigation to improve conditions for California’s prisoners with mental illness, and community advocacy to protect the rights of individuals living with diabetes.

In 2013, Mr. Fischer was a key member of a litigation team that successfully fought to protect the rights of a class of California prisoners with mental illness to humane conditions, adequate mental health treatment, and relief from the toxic effects of prison overcrowding.  See Coleman v. Brown, 938 F. Supp. 2d 955 (E.D. Cal. 2013) (ongoing constitutional violations require continuation of federal orders); Coleman v. Brown, 922 F. Supp. 2d. 1004 (E.D. Cal. 2013) (enforcement of prison overcrowding orders). The Coleman court held that detention in California’s solitary confinement units presents significant risks for prisoners with mental illness, including suicide.  The court ordered the removal of the most vulnerable prisoners from solitary confinement, reform of the state’s use-of-force policies, and an end to the practice of placing prisoners with mental illness in solitary confinement for non-disciplinary reasons, such as administrative convenience.

Personal experience has deeply influenced Mr. Fischer’s advocacy work.  Having been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes at age 19, he recognized that many Californians with diabetes still face unfair obstacles to full participation and opportunity at work, in school, and in the community. Recognizing a need that was not being met, he founded the Bay Area Diabetes Legal Advocacy Committee, a partnership with the American Diabetes Association.  He presents regularly on the rights of people with diabetes, and has assisted multiple clients obtain meaningful remedies for diabetes-related discrimination. 

Mr. Fischer has also provided pro bono legal assistance in support of diabetes advocates’ legal victory in ANA v Torlakson (57 Cal.4th 570), assisting families of children with diabetes to receive the care they need to be safe and successful at school.  His efforts on behalf of individuals with diabetes were highlighted in the July 2014 issue of Diabetes Forecast.

The 2013 Award

As a 2006 graduate of the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a 2009 graduate of Whittier Law School, Ms. Melissa A. Tyner has devoted herself to issues affecting veterans and people with disabilities. She was nominated for the Jack Berman Award of Achievement for her work on behalf of female homeless veterans as a Senior Staff Attorney for the Los Angeles-based Inner City Law Center. Melissa’s public service accomplishments as a young lawyer, and particularly her substantial and impressive achievements in 2012 in serving Veterans, make her an outstanding twentieth anniversary year honoree of the California Young Lawyers Association for its Jack Berman Award of Achievement for Distinguished Service to the Profession and the Public.

The dearth of legal services for low-income and homeless Veterans is especially troubling because legal services are often essential to removing barriers to obtaining or retaining permanent housing, receiving needed healthcare, increasing income and opening doors to employment. Nationwide data show a veteran’s likelihood of success with claims for VA healthcare and other benefits increases dramatically when they are represented by an attorney. Ms. Tyner has impressively and effectively addressed this growing need for legal representation of Veterans.

In August of 2009, Ms. Tyner founded the the first legal clinic in the nation to provide legal aid to homeless female veterans at Inner City Law Center. ICLC is a nonprofit law firm focused on combating slum housing, preventing homelessness, and aiding homeless Veterans.ICLC provides a wide variety of legal services focused mainly on housing and homelessness to low-income individuals and families. ICLC employs a staff of 40 including 20 attorneys and remain the only provider of legal services on Skid Row.

Ms.Tyner’s practice focuses on disability rights and disability benefits law. In January of 2012 she was promoted to Senior Staff Attorney at ICLC. In this role, Ms. Tyner has also expanded ICLC practice to include other areas of law relevant to disabled Veterans including discharge upgrades, expungement of minor criminal offenses, ticket clearing, and various other matters.

To date, under Ms. Tyner’s supervision, the ICLC Homeless Veterans Project secured more than $1.3 million in retroactive benefits for veterans. Ms. Tyner leads monthly legal clinics for veterans at five area homeless shelters. ICLC has served as a national model for providing veteran services. Ms. Tyner has also partnered with medical service providers and homeless shelters to provide legal services and she has reached out to law firms to leverage the talent and resources of attorneys to help secure more benefits for veterans. Ms. Tyner’s work has been featured in the New York Times, CNN, National Public Radio, and several other media outlets.

Melissa demonstrates distinguished service to the profession and the public through her dedicated advocacy on behalf of disabled and homeless Veterans. Driven by the ICLC principal that ‘’each person should be treated with dignity and respect, Ms. Tyner works for long term, positive and meaningful change.” Ms. Tyner’s service, dedication, expertise, energy and results on behalf of one of the most vulnerable and deserving populations is truly outstanding and worthy of recognition as the recipient of the 2013 Jack Berman Award of Achievement.

The 2012 Award

2012 Jack Berman Award of Achievement recipient Ana de AlbaWe're pleased to have presented 2012 Jack Berman Award of Achievement to Ana de Alba

To say Ana de Alba is zealous about workers’ rights is an understatement.  Starting at the age of six, Ana spent her summers toiling alongside her family picking tomatoes in California’s Central Valley.  When she and other field workers complained about the grimy, brackish water provided in the fields that summer, they were threatened with a raid from Immigration and Naturalization Services. Understandably, no one dared complain about the water again.  A few years later when she was nine, Ana’s mother spent an entire summer working on a cucumber farm while being promised she would be paid “next week.”  Unfortunately for Ana’s family, “next week” never came. 

Because Ana was so indignant about this maltreatment, her oldest brother, whose wisdom belied his age, encouraged her to become an attorney to fight for the rights of other workers. With the single-mindedness of a child, Ana did just that.  She excelled academically and graduated from UC Berkeley and UC Berkeley School of Law, Boalt Hall.  Ana then returned to the Central Valley to begin her legal career at Lang, Richert & Patch.  Although she has only been practicing for five years, Ana has already made her mark in the pro bono community. Locally, she serves on the Board of Directors for Central California Legal Services, Inc. (“CCLS”) and is a member of the Fresno County Bar Association’s Pro Bono Services Section.  In 2009 she was appointed to a three year term on the California State Bar Standing Committee for the Delivery of Legal Services and in 2010 she joined the California State Bar Pro Bono Coordination Committee. 

In addition to sitting on committees, Ana has taken a leadership role in designing and implementing the Central Valley Pro Bono Challenge, launched in 2009 by then California Supreme Court Justice Ronald George. The Challenge encourages attorneys in the Central Valley to provide pro bono assistance to the underserved.  Most recently, Ana has served as a driving force behind the Workers’ Rights Clinic in Fresno.  The Clinic is sponsored by CCLS, Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center, and the Consulate of Mexico in Fresno.  It is the largest project Ana has spearheaded to date and is one that she hopes will change the landscape of pro bono in the Central Valley.  The Clinic assists low-wage workers every month with a myriad of employment issues.   In addition to meeting the demands of raising a family and being an associate with billable hour requirements, Ana still fervently takes part in weekly telephone conferences, numerous meetings, and several television and radio appearances to promote the Clinic. 

“I could not have accomplished any of this without the support of my family, law firm, and the mentorship of some of its most senior partners,” she says.  “The collaborations that I have been able to form with local organizations are a direct result of the goodwill Lang, Richert & Patch has built in the legal community.  I am honored to be able to utilize that to try to make justice more accessible for all.”

This award was presented at the 2012 Annual Meeting.

The 2011 Award

Emily Arnold-FernandezThe CYLA Jack Berman Award of Achievement was presented to Emily Arnold-Fernandez, the founder and executive director of Asylum Access. A lawyer who has advocated nationally and internationally for the human rights of women, children, and other vulnerable individuals, Emily first became involved in refugee rights in 2002, when she represented refugees in United Nations proceedings in Cairo, Egypt. Among many honors for her innovative approach to the global refugee crisis, Emily was honored by the Dalai Lama as one of 50 "Unsung Heroes of Compassion" from around the world (2009). The award was presented at the Annual Meeting on Friday, September 16 from 5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m. at the Hyatt Regency Long Beach. For more information, see 2011 Award.

Past Recipients

For information about recipients prior to 2010, see the Awards page for the Jack Berman Award.