Colleen S. Welch Receives 2018 Curtis E. Coker Access to Justice Award
September 17, 2018
We are pleased to announce that Director Colleen S. Welch has been honored with the 2018 Curtis E. Coker Access to Justice Award from the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project. The award was presented at the organization’s Pro Bono Reception on Sept. 13 held at the Museum of Mississippi History and The Mississippi Civil Rights Museum.
Named in honor of the late former Mississippi Bar President Curtis E. Coker, the award is presented annually to an attorney, law firm or other organization that has provided outstanding pro bono legal service during the past year. Welch, a volunteer with MVLP since 2007, was honored with the award in recognition of the legal counsel she regularly donates to advance the legal needs of children, particularly through guardianships and adoptions.
“MVLP is truly thankful for the hard work and dedication Colleen gives to the clients that are processed through our program,” said Gayla Carpenter-Sanders, Executive Director and General Counsel, Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project. “She is a shining example of why the legal profession is as great as it is. We have caring, licensed professionals in the state of Mississippi who understand and appreciate the plight of our fellow Mississippi residents and are enthusiastic about giving back.”
The Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project was established in 1982, during Coker’s term as Mississippi Bar Association president. Maron Marvel Bradley Anderson & Tardy member Thomas W. Tardy III recalled Coker as a leading advocate for making legal counsel available to all.
“Curtis Coker was an excellent attorney and a World War II hero who was committed to ensuring that all Mississippians had access to legal justice, regardless of their ability to pay,” said Tardy. “We are very proud that Colleen has been honored with the award that bears his name, and congratulate her on this well-deserved recognition.”
At Maron Marvel, Welch focuses her practice on corporate defense, primarily in the areas of product liability, toxic tort, silica, and asbestos. She began volunteering with MVLP, which focuses on providing domestic legal services, as a way to help families solve legal issues that prevent them from flourishing.
“Helping Mississippi’s most vulnerable children secure safe, loving homes is deeply rewarding for me, as it is for the many other attorneys who donate their time and legal talents to the Mississippi Volunteer Lawyers Project,” said Welch. “I am honored to accept this award and hope that it encourages any attorney who is thinking about volunteering to contact MVLP now. People always think ‘somebody else will do it.’ But we are the somebody else. We have to step up and do it.”
Maron Marvel director Beau Cole knows just how important that is. A longtime MVLP volunteer, he received the Coker award several years ago in recognition of his own pro bono service, and congratulated Welch on being its newest recipient, praising her dedication to Mississippi’s children.
“The Coker award is quite an honor, and receiving it was quite an experience for me and, I’m sure, for Colleen,” said Cole. “There are so many families who need legal help and just can’t afford it, particularly here in Mississippi. There’s a moral imperative for lawyers to give back to society, and MVLP gives us a vehicle to do that.”
Many of both Cole’s and Welch’s pro bono cases through MVLP have involved securing guardianship rights for grandparents who are stepping in to raise their grandchildren when the parents can’t or won’t. The volunteer lawyers help the grandmothers and aunts and other relatives – who most often are women – secure the legal rights they need to perform the most basic tasks, such as registering a child for school or taking them to a doctor. Without legal guardianship rights, those relatives often are forced to seek out an emergency court order simply to care for the child on a day-to-day basis.
Indeed, Welch said one of her most memorable cases from the past year was the adoption by a grandmother of her 8-year-old granddaughter, giving the girl much-needed stability.
“This little girl is standing with her grandma, telling the judge she wants to be a judge someday,” said Welch. “The judge said ‘I want to see you in that black robe one day.’ That’s why I do this; for that little girl, who now has a place that is her home. She won’t be pawned off to foster home after foster home. And that’s good for all of us. I want to leave society better for my kids and for all children, and this is one way I can do that.”