Denver Bar Association
May 2008
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2008 Barristers Ball Honorees

by Dianne A. Van Voorhees

MVL spotlights helpful paralegal, driven single parent and respected mentor

 

Every year, the Board of Directors of Metro Volunteer Lawyers chooses three volunteers who have gone beyond the call of duty offering pro bono legal assistance. This year, the board focused on MVL’s Family Law Court Program volunteers.

The following honorees will be celebrated at the Denver Bar Association’s Barristers Benefit Ball on May 3 at the Hyatt Regency Denver Tech Center.

Charleen Castro is the first paralegal ever to be named as a Barrister’s Benefit Ball Honoree. On top of her regular duties at Ham & Ortiz, Castro prepares documents for MVL clients in Arapahoe County before they go to court. Through volunteering, her employer said, she quickly sharpened her own skills and gained a broader perspective. It’s important to be caring and patient while helping people through the process of obtaining a divorce or custody order, she said.

Charleen Castro

"It’s not the best time in someone’s life. They sometimes just really need to be walked through it," said Castro. "MVL clients are so grateful for the help."

Castro graduated from Temple University in 1985. She always knew she belonged in family law, and in 2001 dove into an intensive, six-month long paralegal training program at the Denver Paralegal Institute. She then began working for Greg J. Ortiz, continuing on with his team in the formation of Ham & Ortiz.

Asked why she began volunteering for MVL, Castro credits her boss. Ortiz is an active member and leader in the ABA’s Family Law Section, and has participated in MVL’s mentor program. He didn’t bat an eye when Castro said she wanted to help clients voluntarily. Not all families can afford attorneys, Ortiz said, and legal professionals have a duty to help.

"We get back what we give," Ortiz said.

Volunteering adds meaning to her work. The firm’s support of Castro’s pro bono service and continuing legal education is a simple and inexpensive way to enhance and enrich her job, Ortiz said.

Attorney Susan Grauer stands out to MVL leaders because she insists on taking the most complicated MVL cases. Her story begins as the daughter of Holocaust survivors, who ended up in Chicago after World War II. The family moved to Denver when Grauer was 15. She graduated with a degree in education from the University of Colorado at Boulder. There were more teachers than jobs in the early 1970s, so she substituted. During that time, she got married and had a daughter and a son. She was later divorced.

Susan Grauer

In 1989, Grauer began law school at the University of Denver. She graduated in 1991.

She received the American Jurisprudence Award for Post Trial Procedure, and was sworn in as a member of the Colorado Bar in April 1992 — a couple months before her 40th birthday. Grauer started taking divorces cases, and experienced early success at trials.

"After a few years, I realized that I had ended up with exactly the right job — I liked writing, had a background in education, and knew about children’s best interests," Grauer said. "I was a single parent, so I had some understanding of my clients’ situations. At the same time, I also was struck by how lucky I was to be part of the legal profession."

With luck — and gratitude — on her side, she said it was time to start giving back.

"I liked the idea of Metro Volunteer Lawyers — going to court once a month with people who could not afford to hire counsel, but whose cases were just complicated enough so that they really did need representation," she said. "I don’t think I have ever represented a client at MVL and not come away learning more about the law," said Grauer.

Presently, she serves as the Chairwoman of the Conducts and Ethics Committee for the Denver Unit of the American Contract Bridge League.

Terry Kelly of Kelly, Garnsey, Hubbell & Lass is a mentor to other MVL volunteers. He helps MVL handle tough issues, and he perseveres through MVL clients’ cases that have grown too complicated for the FLCP to handle.

Terry Kelly

Kelly received his J.D. from the University of Notre Dame in 1968. He worked as a Staff Attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Multnomah County, in Portland, Ore., and then as a Staff Attorney and Managing Attorney for the Legal Aid Society of Metropolitan Denver. At his firm, Kelly negotiates and litigates complex civil law and family law matters.

His associate Jerremy Ramp serves on MVL’s governing board and represents MVL clients on a regular basis.

"It is a personal and professional blessing to have a mentor — in fact, an entire firm of mentors — that supports and encourages involvement with MVL and other pro bono endeavors," Ramp said. "From a young lawyer’s perspective, it is excellent training in the art and mechanics of dealing with clients, opposing parties and the court."

Kelly said MVL clients keep him grounded, because they offer perspective on the issues facing his other clients from other communities. MVL practice helps him understand judges and the judicial system.

"I liken it to surgery. It is hard to be a good surgeon if you aren’t regularly in the operating room," said Kelly. "I ask our young lawyers to get involved for the selfish reason of getting themselves into a courtroom on a regular basis. Smell the paint. Locate the podium. Pick up on the unwritten customs. Learn to be helpful. Practice empathy. It doesn’t hurt to have judges see you helping them with this work."  

To learn more about Metro Volunteer Lawyers and the annual Barrister’s Benefit Ball, visit our webpage at http://www.metrovolunteerlawyers.org/.


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