California Bar Journal
CBJ - October 2012 #04.
Melinda Bird's journey from tenant to tenants' rights advocate earns her top honors
The California LawyerOctober 2012Melinda Bird's journey from tenant to tenants' rights advocate earns her top honorsBy Amy YarbroughStaff writerMelinda Bird found her passion in life by way of a negligent landlord.
Not long out of college, Bird was barely making ends meet working as a community organizer while living in a women's collective in a tough neighborhood in Washington, D.C. When a second-story toilet began leaking, the landlord refused to do anything about it - not just for a few days, but for months.
A visit to Antioch Law School's student clinic convinced the tenants to go on a rent strike. It also inspired Bird to become a lawyer.
"I was really impressed that this was the way to do the social change work I had been doing already and make a living at it," she said.
More than three decades later, Bird's career move has helped thousands of disabled and low-income Californians. Now director of litigation for Disability Rights California in Los Angeles, she will be honored with the 2012 Loren Miller Legal Services Award for lifetime achievement on Oct. 12, during the State Bar's Annual Meeting.
Named for the late African American judge, lawyer and civil rights leader, the Loren Miller award recognizes attorneys who have made a long-term commitment to legal services and have done extraordinary work to provide legal services to the poor.
In a letter supporting Bird's nomination, Cooley partner Maureen Alger wrote that she could "think of no attorney more deserving than Melinda to receive this important recognition.
"She is particularly adept at legal strategy - developing strong, effective and creative legal arguments, and knowing which battles to fight and which to finesse " according to Alger, whose firm recently took on its second impact litigation as co-counsel with Disability Rights California.
"Melinda brings a remarkable combination of professionalism, integrity, determination and grace to her advocacy on behalf of our state's most vulnerable citizens," she added.
Although pleased to receive the award, Bird is modest about her achievements.
"I feel humbled," said Bird, who is quick to point out that key court victories she's credited with were truly a team effort.
"I never did any...