The MBF Begins a New Chapter

As part of the celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Multnomah Bar Association in 2005, a group of our fellow members, including Kelly Hagan, Jeff Matthews, Robert Neuberger, Bob Newell, Penny Serrurier and then MBA Executive Director Judy Edwards, officially established the Multnomah Bar Foundation (MBF). The initial mission of the MBF was as simple as it was important to our profession: “promote community understanding and access to the justice system.” As the MBF now enters its 14th year in existence, the noblest of intentions in crafting that original mission have borne out, and continue to be at the forefront as the current board looks to the year ahead.

One of the shining stars of the MBF is CourtCare, a partnership between the MBF and Volunteers of America that provides free dropin childcare at the downtown and East County courthouses for those attending a court proceeding. Since its inception, CourtCare has served nearly 17,000 children, and averages about 100 children per month. The vast majority of these children are in the courthouse due to domestic disputes or custody issues, situations which would only be complicated if the children were present during the proceeding itself. CourtCare offers relief in some measure to the adults, the children and the courthouse staff. I am sure you will hear more about CourtCare’s good work during its annual fund drive in May, but the survey responses from those who relied on the program in 2018 paint a very positive picture of its importance: 100 percent of the participants were extremely satisfied with the program. We are grateful for the contributions of time and money many of you have made to make this program the success it is.

Over the past few years, the MBF board has developed a new program designed to promote that portion of its mission related to civic education and public awareness of the legal system. The program, CourtConnect, pairs a lawyer with a Multnomah County judge to visit with a community organization to discuss the legal system and answer questions about it. CourtConnect volunteers have met with groups at Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, Sponsors Organized to Assist Refugees (SOAR), and Lutheran Community Services Northwest. For 2019, we have reached out to these groups again, and to Catholic Charities, Lao Buddhist Center Northwest, Latino Network, Muslim Educational Trust, and Hispanic Metropolitan Chamber. We are always looking for lawyer volunteers to accompany our judges, as well as suggestions for new community organizations that would benefit from one of these sessions.

In 2018, the MBF Board voted to sunset the Civic Education Fund. The fund was established in 2006, and annually raised money from the bar to provide grants to nonprofit organizations whose civic and law related education programs promoted civic education and engagement. Over 12 years, the CEF awarded more than $468,000 in grants. Last year alone, the MBF awarded over $50,000 in grants to organizations like Elders in Action, for its Civics 101 class; to Northwest Family Services, for its Peer Court; and to SOAR, for its voter education project to newly naturalized citizens. The grants enabled many of those programs to get off the ground and improve our community’s civic awareness, and the partnerships developed between those organizations and the MBF will last well into the future.

The new courthouse has given the MBF an opportunity to work with Presiding Judge Stephen Bushong and Trial Court Administrator Barbara Marcille on a new project that will support the MBF’s mission to improve the quality and administration of the legal system here in Multnomah County. Although the project - like the courthouse itself - is still a work in progress, we hope to improve access to information and services at the new courthouse, and create a welcoming environment for the public. You’ll hear more about this program as the year progresses, and as we all anxiously await the opening of the new courthouse in Spring 2020.

None of these worthy programs would be possible without the overwhelming support we receive from you, the members of the bar. And I would personally like to thank the individuals who have devoted their time to the MBF over the last year by serving on the board of directors: Matt Donohue, Abby Wool Landon, Dana Scheele, Emilee Preble, Holly Johnston, Jen Wagner, Jim Oliver, Judge Xiomara Torres, Julie Vacura, Mackenzie Hogan, Sarah Bond and Tim Resch. And I’d like to welcome our new board members Richard Vangelisti, Jeanne Sinnott and Victoria Blachly. The next time you run into one of these folks at a bar event, be sure to ask them about the latest from the MBF.


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