Tonkon Torp presented the inaugural Don H. Marmaduke Pro Bono Service Award to attorney Steven Wilker at its 2019 annual retreat. The Pro Bono Committee chose Steven as the first recipient of the award in recognition of the hundreds of hours he has dedicated to civil rights cases through the Oregon chapter of the ACLU.
Steven began doing work on ACLU matters in the early 2000s. He joined the Lawyers Committee of the ACLU of Oregon in 2006 and has been a member since. He also served on the ACLU Board of Directors from 2009 – 2015 and on its Executive Committee as Vice President for Litigation from 2010 – 2015. As Vice President for Litigation, he served as Chair of the Lawyers Committee. He continued as Vice Chair of the Lawyers Committee after his board term from 2015 – 2017.
The Lawyers Committee decides which cases the ACLU of Oregon will take for either direct representation of a client or for purposes of filing an amicus curiae, or friend of the court, brief in support of a particular position or party in litigation. Once the Lawyers Committee decides to pursue a case, the staff of the ACLU identifies a cooperating attorney to represent the party or the ACLU on a pro bono basis.
Over the last 15+ years, Steven has committed over 2,200 hours of pro bono service to ACLU clients as a cooperating attorney, as well as another 800 hours in connection with his service on the ACLU of Oregon Board and Lawyers Committee. Steven’s ACLU work includes a case against the United States Secret Service that he argued all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. During the course of working through ACLU cases, Steven has consistently made a point of involving young lawyers, giving them opportunities to develop their trial skills and encouraging them to take part in the important work of protecting our civil liberties.
Service to the community is a core Tonkon Torp value, and the award was created to recognize the pro bono services that the firm’s lawyers provide. It is named in honor of late founding partner, Don Marmaduke, who passed away after the award was named and presented to Steven. In 1965, Don was among about 20 Oregon lawyers who answered then Attorney General Bobby Kennedy’s call to serve on the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Don traveled to Mississippi with his fellow Oregon volunteer lawyers to take on cases no one else would touch, such as a case against the KKK, and another against a white chief deputy sheriff involved in the ‘Freedom Summer Murders.’ Don’s most prominent case during the civil rights era resulted in the desegregation of the Neshoba County Courthouse in Philadelphia, Mississippi, giving African Americans the ability to register to vote at the courthouse.
“We are proud of Don’s unshakable commitment to civil rights and decided it was very fitting to name the award after him,” explained attorney James Hein, who chairs the firm’s Pro Bono Committee.
The Don H. Marmaduke Pro Bono Service Award recognizes a Tonkon lawyer who exemplifies the standard set by founding partner Don Marmaduke, as shown by the nominee's:
- Commitment to providing pro bono legal services to low-income individuals, organizations that support those individuals, and organizations that protect civil liberties or public rights
- Number of pro bono hours, and number of matters, in recent years
- Consistent commitment to pro bono services over the duration of the nominee's practice
- Championing of pro bono services by others in the firm or community.
“I could not be more honored and humbled to receive this recognition, particularly given who the award is named for,” said Steven. “Don was one of my original mentors at Tonkon Torp and his example of public service is one I have strived to follow throughout my career.”