Schnader Honors Bruce P. Merenstein and Judith F. Olson With Harrison AwardsOn August 21, 2008 by Schnader in News
Merenstein receives the 2008 award for outstanding pro bono service; Olson receives the inaugural award for outstanding community service.
August 21, 2008 – Philadelphia, PA – Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP is pleased to announce that Bruce P. Merenstein is the 2008 recipient of the Earl G. Harrison Pro Bono award, and Judith F. Olson is the inaugural recipient of the Earl G. Harrison Community Service award. Both Mr. Merenstein and Ms. Olson were given their respective awards and recognized at a reception held on July 15, 2008.
“The Firm is very proud of both Bruce – for his dedication to pro bono matters – and Judy – for her commitment to community service,” remarked Ralph Wellington, Chairman of Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP. “Despite a busy case load, both find the time to dedicate themselves to public service and do so with passion and skill. In all that they do, Bruce and Judy both exemplify the principles and legacy of Earl G. Harrison.”
Mr. Merenstein has been actively involved in pro bono matters since his arrival at the Firm as an associate, and his level of commitment is matched only by the level of his conviction. His pro bono work includes a case from 2002, in which Mr. Merenstein – together with Schnader’s Nancy Winkelman – won a landmark ruling from the Third Circuit on behalf of a prisoner, Samuel E. Brown, which clarified the meaning of the “exhaustion” requirement of the Prison Litigation Reform Act. Brown alleged that he had been severely beaten by other prisoners, that prison officials had shown deliberate indifference to serious medical needs, and that they had unlawfully retaliated against him for filing a grievance asserting inadequate medical care. All of Mr. Brown’s claims had been dismissed in the District Court. Mr. Merenstein handled the oral argument before the Court of Appeals, which later ruled in his favor.
Recently, he has spent many hours seeking justice for Florencio Rolan. After a team of Schnader lawyers succeeded in making sure Mr. Rolan – who had previously been hours away from execution – would no longer receive the death penalty, Mr. Merenstein and another Schnader attorney, Sam Silver, took the case to federal court with a habeas petition challenging the underlying conviction. Mr. Merenstein took the lead at the evidentiary hearing, claiming that Mr. Rolan’s original trial counsel was ineffective in failing to investigate and call two witnesses identified by Mr. Rolan who would have corroborated his claim of self-defense. Although it is very difficult and unusual to win a habeas petition, United States District Court Judge Berle Schiller granted the motion, vacating Mr. Rolan’s conviction and ordering a new trial on the ground that his trial counsel was ineffective.
When the Commonwealth appealed, Bruce again took the lead before the Third Circuit, and was again victorious as the Third Circuit upheld Judge Schiller’s decision. When the Commonwealth then decided to re-try Mr. Rolan in Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, Mr. Merenstein sat second chair to Sam Silver. The murder trial proved frustrating and full of setbacks – including the trial court’s refusal to explain to the jury why they were being asked to decide a 25 year old killing, and the assistant district attorney’s taking full advantage of all of trial counsel’s original mistakes. Although the jury found Mr. Rolan guilty of murder, a later discussion with one of the jurors proved that the jury was indeed misled by the prosecutor. When this juror found out the truth, she was horrified at their decision. Bruce did not give up, immediately appealing to the Superior Court, where the case remains. It is hoped that with Mr. Merenstein’s assistance the client will someday soon see justice served in his matter.
These are just two examples of the commitment and passion that Mr. Merenstein has exhibited in engaging in the noble pursuit of justice. He has also lent his expertise in supervising pro bono matters, in immigration, prisoner rights, and other areas at both the trial and appellate levels. He is also frequently asked to provide his greatly respected opinion on a multitude of pro bono matters, and is always wiling to help out. His dedication to those without access to the justice we expect from our legal system is an inspiration for us all.
Ms. Olson is the inaugural recipient of the Earl G. Harrison Community Service Award, a new award created to recognize individuals who have demonstrated an unfailing commitment to helping others in the community and who have set an example for others to follow with regard to volunteering and giving back.
Ms. Olson perfectly illustrates the ideals behind the award, as she has shown a longstanding commitment to a variety of community organizations and tirelessly volunteers her time. Triggered by her own daughter’s medical needs, she has dedicated herself to the American Heart Association and its cause in extraordinary ways. At the National level, she has been a Member of the Board of Directors for the American Heart Association since 2006 and a member of the Audit Committee since 2007. For the Regional Chapter of the American Heart Association – the Great Rivers Affiliate – Ms. Olson has served as a Member of the Development Committee, a Member of the Board of Directors, and a Member of Business and Corporate Operations Committee.
At the local level of the American Heart Association, she has served in a variety of roles, including serving as a member of the Board of Directors (1996-present), Chairman of Development Committee (1996-1998), Secretary to the Board of Directors (2000-2002), Vice President of Board of Directors (2002-2004), Co-Chairman of Pediatrics Committee (2002-2004), President of Board of Directors (2004-2006), and Chair of the Heart Ball Gala (2005).
Notably, however, her commitment to community service goes beyond her work with the American Heart Association. From 2005-2006, she served as a Mentor for Career Literacy for African American Youths (CLAA Y). In addition, she has served the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh in a variety of important roles, including serving as Co-Chairman of Children’s Challenge Campaign (2000 – 2002), as a member of Children’s Challenge Campaign Steering Committee (2003 – 2005), as a member of Family Forum (2001 – present), as a member of Ethics Committee (2004 – present), and as a member of Pandemic Flu Ethics Task Force (2007-present).
Additionally, Ms. Olson has served the Diocese of Pittsburgh as a member of Bishop Zubik’s Pastoral Council, and was on the Board of Advisors of Operation Good Neighbor Foundation. An active member of Sts. John and Paul Catholic Church, she has served as Vice President of Pastoral Council, President of Pastoral Council, and as a Member of the Steering Committee. All of this while working an active case load at Schnader, taking on leadership mentoring roles within the Firm, and remaining dedicated to her family. She is a shining example of the ideals and standards set by Earl G. Harrison.
The Earl G. Harrison Pro Bono Award – named for one of the Firm’s original named partners – is presented annually to a Firm attorney or staff member who has a distinguished record of pro bono service. The Firm selects an honoree with a demonstrated record that consists of a single outstanding achievement of enduring value to the public good, a leading role in inspiring and sustaining pro bono service by other firm personnel, or a sustained record of personal pro bono service over a number of years. Similarly, going forward, the Earl G. Harrison Community Service Award will be presented annually to a Firm attorney or staff member who has a distinguished record of community service. Both awards reflect the tradition and collective belief of the Schnader firm: that law is more than a business, and it should include using our skill, talent and wisdom to improve access to justice for every individual and to advance the common good. Earl G. Harrisonâ€š in whose memory the Firm gives this Awardâ€š was both a great lawyer and a remarkable humanitarian, who – after World War II – worked to convince the western nations to both open their own borders to those displaced persons liberated from the Nazi concentration campsâ€š and to support the creation of the State of Israelâ€š where Jews who could not face returning to their former homes could emigrate.
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Caroline Brobeil Nassan
Public Relations Manager
Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis LLP