At the 2016 Pro Bono Awards held Oct. 25, at the Mint Museum in Charlotte, John “Buddy” Wester, a business litigator with Robinson Bradshaw in Charlotte, was awarded the Distinguished Pro Bono Service Award by the Council for Children’s Rights, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont and Legal Aid of North Carolina.
The awards are meant to honor local attorneys and advocates of underserved individuals and families facing legal issues.
“We are proud of John and his commitment to pro bono service,” said Robinson Bradshaw’s managing partner, Allen Robertson. “His relentless dedication to standing up for those without a voice sets an outstanding example for us all.”
A notable case including Wester’s involvement was Hyatt v. Shalala, a 1980s class-action that lasted two decades and led to the finding that the Social Security Administration’s sudden policy change regarding who was eligible for benefits was secret and unlawful. About 150,000 North Carolinians received new disability hearings under new standards and the SSA revised its national regulation on disability.
The American Bar Association in 1984 presented its first pro bono award to Robinson Bradshaw. The firm’s lawyers contributed more than 4,500 hours to Hyatt.
Wester and his partners donated their awarded fees — $450,000 — to the Mecklenburg County Bar Foundation.
Many cases don’t receive the recognition Hyatt did, Wester said, but there are stories being written every day, albeit out of the public eye, by agencies like the Council for Children’s Rights,, Legal Services of Southern Piedmont and Legal Aid of North Carolina.
During his acceptance speech, Wester noted that over the last several years, state funding for legal service programs has declined by more than 50 percent. The need for volunteer lawyers to join forces with the organizations’ full-time lawyers is greater than ever, he said.
“All that stands between the clients of these organizations and eviction, wage garnishment, foreclosure, deportation or domestic violence is the dedication and perseverance the lawyers in these organizations bring to bear for every client, every day,” Wester said. “Their service brings renewed reverence to the term ‘first responder.’”