Introduction of Russell J. Speidel

Introduction of Russell J. Speidel

Introduction of Russell J. Speidel at the 2003 Goldmark Award Luncheon
by Judith Lurie, Senior Attorney, Northwest Justice Project
Wenatchee, Washington
February 28, 2003

It is my real pleasure to introduce to you the recipient of this year’s Goldmark Award. In the short time that I have I want to tell as much as I can about the important work that Russ has accomplished, but I also want to tell you about the kind of person Russ is. The work that Russ has engaged in has significantly advanced the goals of the Access to Justice community. The person who Russ is shares many of the characteristics of Charles Goldmark in whose memory this award is made – dedicated, selfless and empathetic with the most vulnerable members of our communities.

Russ was born and raised in Wenatchee, Washington. He graduated from Wenatchee High School, went off to college at Stanford University, to Willamette for law school and headed east to earn his LLM in taxation at Boston University.

Then Russ came home to Wenatchee. He quickly established himself among the leaders if not the leader in North Central Washington in the area of Trusts and Estates. Today Russ is the principal of a two-attorney law firm: The Speidel Law Firm.

In addition to practicing law, and in addition to raising his four children together with his wife, Jean Speidel, Russ became wholeheartedly engaged in his community. The list of Russ’s community involvement occupies 3 single spaced typed pages. I wish I had time to tell you about it all, but I can’t because he did it all – everything from being elected to and serving on the Wenatchee School Board, to Co-Chairing the Wenatchee Brass Band. From Chairing his Church’s $ 350,000 fundraising drive, to meriting the Washington State Bar Association 2000 President’s Award for his leadership in making Law Week (A lawyer and Judge in Every School) a statewide success. From serving as a Board member of the Women’s Resource Center to, on a pro bono basis successfully annulling the election of a Mayor of Wenatchee because the candidate didn’t live in Wenatchee. The list goes on. Where there was a problem in the Wenatchee Valley, a project, a challenge, Russ Speidel seemed to not only get on the committee to solve it, but to lead the committee.

At some point we, the Access to Justice community, were lucky enough to get on Russ Speidel’s radar screen. This is how it happened.

In June 2001 Russ Speidel became President of the Chelan-Douglas County Bar Association. By fate it just so happened that on June 8 the Annual Access to Justice Conference was held in Wenatchee and naturally, Russ attended.

At that conference, Russ got the ATJ vision.

But in his own backyard, there was an access to justice problem.
A problem?
A challenge?
A project?
And to boot – an injustice! Russ signed up.

The problem:
In January of 2001 the pro bono legal services program that served both Chelan and Douglas Counties, ceased operating. It was being run out of a community organization, with little to no oversight by the local bar association. In fact, no one in the bar association even realized the program has stopped functioning until some five months after the fact – in May 2001.

This pro-bono program that had been idle for, by now, six months, was not icing on a cake. It was crucial. Chelan and Douglas counties have a poverty population of 33,200 people. To serve that population were 6 legal services attorneys. But not 6 legal services attorneys for 33,200. There were six legal services attorneys who served not just Chelan and Douglas counties, but a total of five counties. The ratio of poor people to legal services attorneys in the region was equal to 1 for every 18,000 poor people.

The pro bono program was a necessity. With it a willing and quite able bar association with a long history of pro bono assistance could be put to work on the ATJ vision.

Russ set to work. Within a month of assuming the Presidency of the Bar Association Russ began working to resuscitate the pre-existing pro-bono program. He himself signed up the lawyers to staff the advice and counsel clinics, he himself staffed the advice and counsel clinics when an attorney could not be found or canceled at the last minute. Then the community organization that had been running the pro bono program announced that it no longer wanted to do so effective January 2002. Chelan and Douglas Counties were once again faced with the termination of pro-bono services to low-income people.

I won’t bore you with the blow by blow, but trust me – it took persistence. By my count there were five different roads we went down. Four of them were dead ends. Each strategy/solution involved innumerable meetings, phone calls, emails, negotiation sessions, brain storming. After the fourth try, everyone could have thrown up their hands, everyone could have walked away and not taken ownership of the problem. The 20 some year history of pro bono in Chelan-Douglas counties could have easily come to an end right there.

But it didn’t. Because Russ was determined, he was not wedded to doing things the way they were always done, he was not afraid to take risks. Russ had the respect of his colleagues on the bench, and in the private bar to carry it forward. Because Russ was persistent and willing to devote his time selflessly there are now more pro-bono legal services being provided to more low-income people in Chelan and Douglas Counties than ever before.

After the existing pro bono program ceased operating in January 2002, the following took place in rapid succession and under Russ’s leadership:

The Chelan-Douglas County Bar Association voted to create a 501(c)(3) organization: The Chelan-Douglas County Volunteer Attorney Services. VAS.
The VAS applied for funding from the Legal Foundation of Washington. LFW.
LFW announced that VAS would be funded.
The position of the part time executive director was advertised, over thirty candidates applied, Russ and other members of the VAS interviewed candidates, and an Executive Director, Javier Barajas, was hired.
Russ secured a site for the program, office equipment, computers, fax machines, phones, donated supplies… And on July 8, 2002, the VAS opened its doors and held it first advice and counsel clinic.

What has happened since?

Since VAS opened its doors 258 low-income people in Chelan-Douglas Counties who would never have had the opportunity to meet face to face with an attorney DID meet with an attorney to consult on a legal problem and more than 17 have been fully represented by a volunteer attorney.

This was made possible not only because of Russ’s efforts in creating the VAS, but his continuing daily efforts to make the VAS an outstanding program. Russ is now President of the Board of Directors of the VAS. He is involved in the day to day operations of the VAS, as is his wife, Jean Speidel. Jean, a CPA and Harvard Business School graduate, is our accountant plus.

I want to close, by sharing with you one other quality that, I believe, made the creation of the VAS possible. I’ve already told you about Russ’s persistence, dedication, and his selfless devotion of time. But I want to close by describing to you one other quality of Russ’ that is very special. I call it his energetic empathy.

Let me remind you again that Russ Speidel is a trusts and estates lawyer. The clients of the VAS are not people who would ever be a client of Russ’s. Yet Russ is remarkably oblivious to that distinction.

I want to share with you a few examples of the extent to which Russ regards the VAS clients as equal to his T& E clients.

Before the creation of the VAS, and during the period in which Russ was trying to reinvigorate the pre-existing VAS, it was unacceptable to Russ that an advice and counsel clinic be canceled at the last minute. The VAS clients’ appointments were as important as a paying client’s appointment. So Russ filled in and VAS clients had perhaps their first ever opportunity to meet with a lawyer to discuss their civil legal problem.

Out of this same energetic empathy, Russ was uncomfortable when it came time for the VAS to, “set priorities” to decide who will be helped and who won’t, what type of legal problems are more pressing and what legal problems are going to have to go unanswered. Russ was frustrated: why can’t we help everybody? Why can’t we take every case?

Because of his energetic empathy Russ was impatient for the full representation component of the VAS to be up and running. Remember, we had just set up shop, we were in the midst of setting up an office, training a new Director, establishing from nothing an entirely new program from scratch. And we were doing this with one part time employee.

It was in this start up phase and before CDCVAS had set its full representation priorities that one of our honorable Superior Court Judges asked Russ why he hadn’t seen any of these volunteer lawyers in his court room. Where were they? What were they doing?

But Russ didn’t answer by recounting all of the hard work that was going into getting the program up and running. Russ answered in this way:

Your honor, the next time you have an unrepresented litigant in your courtroom who truly needs help, send that case to me.

Of course, that case arrived on Russ’s desk in very short order.

And Russ represented that client, with all of the energy and with all of the respect and with all of the expertise and professionalism with which Russ represents his T & E clients.

Why can’t every low-income person in Washington State have a lawyer when they need one? Because we are not all like you, Russ. And we thank you for challenging us with your example.