California Bar Journal
CBJ - September 2009 #03.
Public interest career driven by high ideals, imagination
California Bar JournalSeptember 2009Public interest career driven by high ideals, imaginationBy Diane CurtisStaff Writer Gnaizda After five years as a trial tax attorney, Robert Gnaizda set his legal sights on helping those for whom justice and equality are too often a distant dream, and he has never looked back. In 1966, the then-30-year-old Yale Law grad co-founded California Rural Legal Assistance, which fights for economic justice and human rights on behalf of California's rural poor. In 1971, he co-founded Public Advocates of San Francis-co, a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization for the poor, minorities and the underserved. And in 1993, he co-founded the Greenlining Institute, which aims to empower minorities and the disadvantaged through economic and leadership development, civil rights and anti-redlining activities. All three organizations are still active, major forces in the legal services community.
In recognition of his commitment and significant work in extending legal services to the poor, Gnaizda, 73, is the recipient of the 2009 Loren Miller Legal Services Award, the State Bar's most prestigious honor.
Gnaizda "is the most imaginative public interest lawyer in the United States," says State Bar President-elect Howard Miller, who has known Gnaizda for 40 years and will be sworn in as the 2009-10 president at this month's annual meeting in San Diego. "He has an instinct that makes dramatic change in people's lives."
"I'm very appreciative," Gnaizda said of the award. "I'm looking forward to both thanking the bar and making some suggestions, because I'm always going to use an award as a platform."
Gnaizda "has had an enormous impact," says Anthony Kline, presiding justice of the First District Court of Appeal in Northern California who is also one of the founders of Public Advocates. Sid Wolinsky, co-founder and director of litigation for Disability Rights Advocates, concurs. Gnaizda, Wolinsky says, "probably has more ideas per hour than most of us have in a year ... Bob always seemed to have a knack for the right idea at the right time."
Those ideas have helped immigrant farm workers to become members of established unions, African Americans to become firefighters, women and...