The Minnesota State Bar Association’s (MSBA) Access to Justice Committee has conferred its annual Bernard P. Becker honors for outstanding legal work for low-income clients to five winners. The awards were presented to the 2019 honorees at the MSBA Assembly meeting in Minneapolis on April 26, 2019.
Advocate: Georgia Sherman, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services
Law Student: Kim Boche, University of St. Thomas
Emerging Leader: Jocylyn Poehler, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services
Legacy of Excellence: Michele Garnett McKenzie, Advocates for Human Rights;
Steve Wolfe, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services
Legacy of Excellence: Michele Garnett McKenzie and Steve Wolfe
The committee recommended two awardees because the strength of the nominations in this category made it impossible to select just one winner.
Michele Garnett McKenzie: For nearly two decades Michele has been an advocate for low-income and vulnerable communities at Advocates for Human Rights. Michele has provided pro bono legal assistance to asylum seekers and detained immigrants, and advocated for policy change in the areas of immigration and trafficking. She is now the Director of Advocacy and one of the organization’s Deputy Directors. Her advocacy efforts have led to broader systemic changes that improve the lives of trafficking victims in Minnesota. While serving clients and contributing to the larger community, Michele also inspires volunteers to join the effort, expanding her impact exponentially.
Steve Wolfe: For 40 years, Steve has served at Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) in St. Paul, touching the lives of thousands of low-income seniors. Early in his career, Steve breathed new life into SMRLS’ Seniors Law Program. He has advocated at the legislature and co-counseled on major senior law cases. When massive budget cuts in the early 1980s took a toll on staffing at SMRLS, Steve worked with the Ramsey County Bar Association to strengthen the volunteer attorney program, making it into one of the best volunteer programs in the Midwest. He also helped create the second phone hotline in the country. Steve has made a positive difference not only in the lives of low-income people, but also within SMRLS, the broader legal services community and the organized bar of Minnesota.
Advocate: Georgia Sherman
Georgia began working at the St. Paul office of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services 40 years ago, before computers, FAX machines and voicemail. She was soon promoted from secretary to supervisor of all support staff, and supervision of intake and physical plant management as well. Georgia is flexible, creative, and innovative. She is a master fixer, whether she is repairing office furniture, organizing space for volunteers, moving the entire office - twice, or organizing holiday parties. She shows her compassion every day, which helps her staff and coworkers do the same for SMRLS clients. SMRLS places its highest priority on being client-centered and Georgia epitomizes this ideal.
Emerging Leader: Jocylyn Poehler
Jocylyn has worked at the Winona office of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services for seven years, serving first as a family law attorney, then as a senior attorney and now as a Lead Family Law attorney. In addition to the difference she has made representing clients in contested courtroom matters, Jocylyn manages the SMRLS Winona office, serves as co-chair of the SMRLS Racial Justice Committee, and was appointed by the City of Winona to serve on the city’s Human Rights Commission. According to her nominators, Jocylyn embodies all the qualities one hopes for in a legal aid attorney: a tireless determination, a passion for justice and a dedication to serving low-income clients.
Law Student: Kim Boche
Kim, a second-year law student at the University of St. Thomas, was nominated by The Advocates for Human Rights for her work as a legal intern in their Refugee and Immigrant Program. Kim has used her organizational skills, fluent command of Spanish, and passion for protecting asylum seekers who survived abuse, abandonment and neglect to complete often difficult asylum applications and briefs for clients. She also planned a trip to the US-Mexico border with several other UST students where thy advocated for asylum seekers.
Congratulations to the 2019 award winners!