More than 160 guests including members of the bench and bar and Chapman University Dale E. Fowler School of Law alumni, students, faculty, and administrators gathered last Thursday for the annual PILF Gala Dinner and Silent Auction at the DoubleTree Hotel in Orange. Hosted by Chapman’s Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF), the event raised more than $10,000 to fund PILF’s Summer Grant Program, which supports Fowler School of Law students interested in pursuing unpaid summer positions in public interest.

The evening began with welcome remarks from Fowler School of Law Dean Matt Parlow, followed by an introduction by PILF President Breanne Reguly (JD ’17) and a student testimonial from PILF Fundraising Chair Lindsay Joanou (JD ’18).  “Your presence here tonight helps us provide a solution to the critical need of access to the legal system that so many lack. From the bottom of my heart I would like to thank you,” said Reguly.

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PILF Fundraising Chair Lindsay Joanou (JD ’18) and PILF President Breanne Reguly (JD ’17)

“Last summer I worked at the Children’s Law Center as a law clerk – an unpaid position,” Joanou told the crowd. “I had to move to Los Angeles for the job and the PILF grant I received was immensely helpful. As I took on one of the most valuable experiences of my career thus far in law school, I was grateful to PILF for the opportunity to say ‘yes’ to the job I had always wanted.”

In addition to its support for summer grants, the evening also honored two members of the local legal community, alumna Antoinette Balta (JD ’06, LL.M. ’11) and the Honorable Kathleen E. O’Leary, Presiding Justice of the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three.

Associate Dean for Student Affairs and Administration Jayne Kacer presented the PILF Award for Excellence in Public Service to Balta, saying, “there are a lot of terms that one could use to describe Antoinette Balta: advocate, entrepreneur, military officer, public interest attorney, fundraiser, educator, legal community leader, activist, and, as I often describe her, a force of nature.”

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PILF honorees Antoinette Balta (JD ’06, LL.M. ’11) and the Honorable Kathleen E. O’Leary, Presiding Justice of the California Court of Appeal, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three

Balta is the president and co-founder of the Veterans Legal Institute, a public interest law firm in Santa Ana dedicated to serving the needs of low-income veterans. It is one of the only non-profit public interest law firms in the nation dedicated exclusively to the legal needs of current and former military members. Balta also serves as a reserve JAG Captain with the California State Military Reserve, and is a Department of Veterans Affairs-accredited educator who regularly lectures on legal topics affecting veterans. In recognition of her commitment to veteran-related projects and other accolades, The Orange County Register recently named her one of 2016’s Top 100 Most Influential People (read more).

Balta recognized the strong support of her many colleagues, family members, and friends in attendance, saying, “as you can see tonight, I have a lot of help – I’ve got a huge support system. I’m going to dedicate it to you all – to my village. I appreciate it and fight on!”

The M. Katherine Baird Darmer Commitment to Public Interest Award was presented to Justice O’Leary by her colleague on the court, the Honorable Richard D. Fybel, who before awarding it, acknowledged his strong friendship and deep appreciation for the activism and public interest work of the award’s namesake, the late Chapman Law Professor M. Katherine Baird Darmer.

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The Jazz Execs

Justice O’Leary was appointed to the California Court of Appeal in 2000. Prior to her appointment, she served as a judge on the Orange County Superior Court, where she became the first woman to serve as a presiding judge of the court. She has consistently worked to improve the administration of justice, court operations, and accessibility. She has served as a member of the Judicial Council of California and on a number of the council’s advisory committees and task forces. She currently serves as co-chair of the council’s Committee on Providing Access and Fairness and as chair of the council’s Committee on Financial Accountability and Efficiency.

Upon receiving the award, Justice O’Leary addressed the crowd: “We need to use our legal training to make the world a better place. We need to be committed to eliminating injustice wherever we see it. Eliminating injustice was the focus of Katherine Darmer’s life. So I think it is incredibly fitting that this award is named for Professor Katherine Darmer. She didn’t just talk the talk; she walked the walk.”

The dinner was sponsored by Phillips, Whisnant, Gazin, Gorczyca & Curtin, LLP, John B. Hurlbut, Jr. of Rutan & Tucker, and the Fowler School of Law Student Bar Association. Live music was provided by the Jazz Execs, an ensemble of musicians from Orange County’s legal, business and academic communities who donate 100% of their fees to arts education for local children.