Local Advocates and Attorneys to be Recognized on May 10

Posted May 8th, 2018 by Jen  Category: Arts & Entertainment


Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. (ABLE), Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Inc. (LAWO), and the Toledo Bar Association Pro Bono Legal Services Program will honor three individuals for extraordinary service within public interest law, community advocacy, and distinguished service. The awards will be presented at the Annual Access to Justice Awards Dinner on Thursday, May 10, 2018, at the SeaGate Convention Centre.
The 2018 award recipients include Community Advocacy recipient, Dr. Celia Williamson; Public Interest Law recipient, Gretchen DeBacker, Esq.; and Distinguished Service recipient, R. Michael Frank, Esq.

Dr. Celia Williamson is the 2018 Community Advocacy Award Recipient. Dr. Williamson, founder of the Lucas County Human Trafficking Coalition, earned the honor for her work in the area of human trafficking with particular attention to domestic minor sex trafficking. Williamson has garnered national attention to northwest Ohio through her research, articles, and speaking engagements, including a piece on ABC Primetime. Dr. Williamson serves as Executive Director of the Human Trafficking and Social Justice Institute. In her nomination, attorney Patricia Fugee said, “Dr. Williamson is one of the most selfless, inspiring and humble people that I know, while also being fierce, fearless and passionate. In her work, Dr. Williamson has given a voice to so many who would not otherwise have one… Dr. Williamson has inspired encouraged, led, bullied and begged to successfully move mountains of institutions, governments, and people, leading the change in laws, academia, research and social justice. She is a force of nature. We are incredibly fortunate to have Dr. Williamson as one of our great community advocates.”

Attorney Gretchen DeBacker is the 2018 Public Interest Law Award Recipient for developing and providing leadership of the Mom’s House Sisters in Law Program. Sisters in Law is a group of female lawyers who work toward improving the lives of mothers and their children at Mom’s House. The attorneys provide pro bono legal services as well as mentoring and life and career coaching to these young women. “After attending Access to Justice Dinners for many years and learning of so much good work in our community, I am tremendously honored to receive the Public Interest Law Award. I am excited to have the dedication of our attorney mentors be recognized,” said DeBacker. Her involvement with Mom’s House motivated her to ask 22 female attorneys to participate in Sisters in Law. DeBacker currently serves as the Legislative Director for Mayor Wade Kapszukiewicz.

The Distinguished Service Award was established in 2001 to recognize individuals whose commitment to access to justice in the community specifically influenced the work of the presenting organizations. R. Michael Frank, 2018 Distinguished Service Award Recipient, served as the first Executive Director of ABLE in 1968. Under his leadership, ABLE attracted talented and dedicated attorneys that built its national reputation. In 35 years of private practice, Frank represented countless clients in civil rights cases, protecting and defending their right to be free of discrimination and unfair practices. Frank and his team filed landmark civil rights cases that made the community and the State of Ohio more just and equitable for all. Successful legal challenges to discriminatory hiring practices in the City of Toledo’s police, fire, and other divisions, the establishment of the rights to due process for public utilities consumers and juveniles in confinement, and legal precedent establishing the rights of tenants—later codified in Ohio law—are only a few examples of the quality, ground-breaking work Michael Frank inspired and supported.

The Annual Access to Justice Awards Dinner is an event led by the northwest Ohio legal community with proceeds to support legal services in our community. Toledo-born and a legal assistance advocate, University of Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh will serve as the 2018 Access to Justice Awards Dinner keynote presenter. Coach Harbaugh serves on the Leaders Council of the Legal Services Corporation, the single largest funder of civil legal aid for low-income Americans in the nation. Sponsorship opportunities and individual tickets are available. For more information, contact Jen Skeldon at ABLE: (419) 930-2306 or

OUR MISSIONS: Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc. (ABLE) and Legal Aid of Western Ohio, Inc. (LAWO) are non-profit regional law firms that provide high-quality legal assistance in civil matters to help eligible low-income individuals and groups in western Ohio achieve self-reliance, and equal justice and economic opportunity. The mission of the Toledo Bar Association is to advance the professional and personal lives of our members through outstanding services, unmatched collaborative opportunities, and professional development.

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