MSBA Announces 2016 Bernard P. Becker Awards

The Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) Legal Assistance to the Disadvantaged Committee will present its annual Bernard P. Becker award for outstanding legal services to the following recipients at the April 22nd MSBA Assembly meeting.

  • Law Student: Krzysztof Wysokinski, University of Minnesota Law School
  • Advocate: Melissa Pfeiffer, Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
  • Legacy of Excellence: Mike Persellin, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid
  • Emerging Leader: Dori Streit, Volunteer Attorney Program

These honorees have demonstrated a commitment to providing zealous and skilled legal representation for low-income and disadvantaged Minnesotans, as illustrated in the following summaries of their significant contributions. Congratulations to the 2016 award winners!

Law Student: Krzysztof Wysokinski, University of Minnesota Law School
Mr. Wysokinski is a law student who has accumulated over 760 Minnesota Justice Foundation volunteer hours. His accomplishments include representing criminal defendants at the Neighborhood Justice Center, acting as the student director of the U of M Consumer Protection Clinic and chair of the U of M Student Criminal Justice League, volunteering at the Council on Crime and Justice (CCJ) Second Chance Saturday criminal expungement clinic, and representing criminal expungement clients through CCJ.

Non-Attorney Advocate: Melissa Pfeiffer, Immigrant Law Center
Ms. Pfeiffer is the Associate Director of the Immigrant Law Center (ILCM). She has over 11 years of experience working in civil legal services, and an additional four years of nonprofit service. She successfully managed a large expansion of ILCM's staff and service areas and was instrumental in navigating ILCM through the recession, when funding cuts threatened civil legal aid programs throughout the state. According to ILCM's Executive Director, "She has a deep passion and commitment to equity, justice and the protection of the vulnerable and victims of abuse. She sets personal and organizational expectations of excellence, has an uncompromising work ethic, and is one of the most patient, caring, funny, creative team players with the unique gift of making everyone around her better."

Legacy of Excellence: Mike Persellin, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid
Michael Persellin is a staff attorney with the Senior Law Project of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, specializing in consumer and benefits issues. He has worked in the civil legal aid field since 1983, at more legal services offices than any attorney in Minnesota. Mr. Persellin's current practice centers on Social Security, debt collection, and Medical Assistance appeal issues. He is co-chair of the MSBA Social Security Disability Section, and edit's the Section's newsletter. Since 2008, Mr. Persellin has maintained case law summaries and an index of Social Security cases within the 8th Circuit. His deputy director describes Mr. Persellin as having "a legendary career as an all-around utility player for Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid."

Emerging Leader: Dori Streit, Volunteer Attorney Program
Ms. Streit has been the executive director of Duluth-based Volunteer Attorney Program for the past four years. She is well-known for turning the organization around, and expanding coverage and local volunteer support, during a time of limited resources for civil legal aid programs. She has expanded staff and established a wildly popular annual fundraiser called "Lawlapalooza." Before working at VAP, Ms. Streit clerked for Battered Women's Legal Advocacy Project and the American Civil Liberties Union during law school. Following law school, she worked at Indian Legal Assistance Program (ILAP) for four years. She provided direct legal representation to low-income clients on civil matters, along with assisting with funding development work for the organization. As a staff attorney at ILAP, Ms. Streit established herself in the Duluth-area legal community and developed an understanding of the legal needs (and barriers to addressing those needs) of low-income community members in Northeastern Minnesota.

(L to R) Mike Persellin, Dori Streit, Melissa Pfeiffer, and Krzysztof Wysokinski

Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and U of M Center for New Americans Help Asylum Seekers

Last week, law students and staff from the U of M's Center for New Americans (CNA), along with attorneys from Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, and Faegre Baker Daniels, won stays of removal for asylum seekers caught up in surprise ICE deportation raids in Minnesota. The raids occurred around the country. The CNA team's efforts prevented the deportation of 12 families to countries where they faced immediate harm.

The student arm of the team was supervised by Rebecca Scholtz, staff attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and adjunct professor at the CNA, along with CNA teaching fellow Katherine Evans. Attorneys from Faegre Baker Daniels included Dianne Heins, pro bono counsel, as well as Lariss Maldonado and Sari Long.  Read the full story on the U of M's website.

National media coverage of the ICE raids can be found in the New York Times and the Washington Post