We’re excited to honor five of our most dedicated pro bono attorneys and professionals at our Annual Pro Bono Appreciation Event, on October 26, 2017. All five of these individuals have committed their time and talent to tirelessly advocate for detained immigrants in Arizona. In doing so, they have expanded access to justice for men, women, and children in immigration detention, and they have ensured that hope, justice, and freedom cannot be detained. It was so difficult to select only five of our dedicated volunteers, and we appreciate all of our pro bono attorneys, medical professionals, interpreters, and supporters. Here is a bit more about each of our awardees:
Seth Goertz, Esq., Kercsmar & Feltus, PLLC
Adult Pro Bono Attorney of the Year
Seth took his first pro bono case with the Florence Project in 2015 while he was working as an attorney at Snell & Wilmer. A colleague who was involved with the Florence Project told him about the opportunity to do pro bono work, and he jumped at the opportunity. He had taken several immigration law classes while in law school at the University of Iowa, and was very interested in immigration issues.
His first client was a legal permanent resident who was detained and facing deportation. The first time they met, his client had already been detained for nearly two years. This client had been living in the U.S. for many years, with a family of his own, and was caught in a system that failed to consider his positive equities and strong ties to the U.S. This particular case was even more legally complicated in light of precedent that questioned the decisions of the court. Fortunately, thanks to Seth’s advocacy, his client won, was able to retain his green card, and has remained in the U.S. with his family.
Seth has been a zealous advocate for detained immigrants throughout his time as a pro bono with the Florence Project, though his commitment to immigrant rights goes back much further. When Seth was growing up, his grandmother was a legal permanent resident, and immigration was a part of his family history. While he was in middle school, his grandmother became an American citizen. Seth credits his interest in immigration law and immigration policy to his grandmother’s story.
Seth remarks, “I have tremendous respect and admiration for the Florence Project. The attorneys there have been an invaluable resource to me. It’s an honor to be a part of this organization, and it’s one of the more meaningful things I’ve done.”
Katherine May, Esq., Perkins Coie, LLP
Adult Pro Bono Attorney of the Year
Katherine has been working with the Florence Project as a pro bono attorney for nearly two years, since taking her first case on in December 2015.
As an attorney at Perkins Coie, she had the opportunity to attend a seminar her firm co-hosted with the Florence Project and the University of Arizona Law School’s Immigration Law Clinic. At the seminar, the presenters discussed representing detainees with domestic violence asylum claims. Leaving the presentation, Katherine says she was hooked and felt compelled to get involved.
“For me, it’s a no brainer to dedicate my time as a pro bono attorney to the Florence Project,” Katherine said.
Katherine noted that the clients with whom she’s worked are fighting for their freedom and, in many cases, their lives, but they are not guaranteed legal counsel. She feels as an attorney that she has a duty to fill the need for legal representation. “The crisis of unrepresented detainees is too big and too pressing to leave it all to the few organizations and individual practitioners with expertise in immigration law.
“I can’t think of anything that is more rewarding and inspiring than helping people fight for their freedom.”
Kristina Holmstrom, Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, PC
Children’s Pro Bono Attorney of the Year
Three years ago, Kristina received an email about an immigration case. The opportunity caught her eye, and she signed up as a pro bono attorney with the Florence Project to represent a client who was detained in Florence. “That first experience was so positive,” Kristina said. “I really enjoyed making a difference in someone’s life.”
She remained committed to doing more immigration work over the course of subsequent years, but the last presidential election hardened her resolve. She made an internal commitment to have at least one immigration case on her plate at any given time.
As an attorney at a defense oriented firm, Kristina uses the opportunity to do pro bono work as a way to give back to her community. Immigration politics and policies have always been at the forefront of life in Arizona, and there is an immense need for legal representation for detained immigrants across the state.
Although Kristina’s practice is not in immigration law, she’s become a tireless champion for detained immigrants alongside Florence Project staff. “The Florence Project provides the resources to allow me to serve as a pro bono attorney,” Kristina said. “Without the support and knowledge provided by the pro bono team at the Florence Project, I wouldn’t feel comfortable.”
Kristina has been consistently inspired by the clients she has met through the Florence Project. “Working with the Florence Project and alongside these inspiring individuals has been very rewarding, and I feel so fortunate to be able to give back to my community in this manner.”
Juan Rocha, Esq., Rocha Law Office
Pro Bono Attorney of the Year
“All of my clients have a story of overcoming a difficult situation, and it’s a great feeling to play a small role in that story,” remarks Juan, who took his first pro bono case with the Florence Project in 2013. At the time he had just left his job as an Assistant Federal Public Defender where he had met several members of the Florence Project team.
His first client was a legal permanent resident who had lived in the United States for decades. The case was complicated and involved several appeals, but eventually the client won the right to retain his green card and received a second chance.
When Juan worked at the Federal Public Defender’s Office, he worked closely with Florence Project attorneys on many different occasions. “The support of Florence Project attorneys was immensely helpful to me as I secured good results for my clients. Partnering with the Florence Project as a pro bono attorney is my opportunity to say thank you for all the support during my time as a Federal Public Defender,” Juan said.
John J. Toma, PhD, Biltmore Evaluation & Treatment Services
Lifetime Achievement Award
For over a decade, Dr. John Toma has worked tirelessly on a pro bono basis with Florence Project clients. He took his first case after meeting a Florence Project staff member at a HealthRight training in 2006.. As a forensic psychologist, he believes his skill is mostly in assessment and wanted to offer his services where he felt they would be most useful.
“I think that pro bono work is an important way that I can give back to my community,” Dr. Toma said. “I also wanted to model to the students I was teaching, that there is great value in volunteering one’s time in service to the community.”
For Dr. Toma, the Florence Project was the right fit. Through his pro bono work he was able to provide services to those in need, who otherwise likely would not have had access. He found the cases he took on to be a challenging, both legally and psychologically, and deeply enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about many different cultures.
“I have the opportunity to meet and work with a remarkable, diverse population of clients, all of whom teach me something, but I especially love working with the people at the Florence Project. I tell each student when we are about to do a case together, ‘You’re going learn a lot from the client if you allow them to teach you, and you’re going to love working with the people at the Florence Project.’”