Pro Bono Spotlight: MoFo’s Will Stern Honored by Justice in Aging

On Thursday, April 26, 2018, Justice in Aging presented senior counsel Will Stern of Morrison & Foerster its Justice Award for the firm’s pro bono work on the class action case Hart v. Colvin.

Together with Justice in Aging and the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, MoFo filed a class action lawsuit in 2015 on behalf of the lead plaintiff Kevin Hart, a permanently disabled grandfather, as well as more than 7,000 California residents. All had suffered denials or terminations of disability benefits by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The case challenged the agency’s reliance on the medical reports of a disqualified physician to make disability benefits decisions.

On April 17, 2017, Judge Jon S. Tigar of the Northern District of California granted final approval of the settlement agreement, which has allowed many plaintiffs to have their disability status redetermined.

In his acceptance speech, Will drew from the Golden State Warriors’ motto “Strength in Numbers,” noting that the relief achieved was only possible through a class action, which, in turn, depended on Mr. Hart’s courageous decision to serve as the lead plaintiff. He also credited the attorneys from Justice in Aging and the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County, as well as the full team at MoFo, for their indispensable contributions.

“For Mr. Hart, who often worked 6 to 7 days a week as a laborer until he was permanently disabled by a hit and run car accident and no longer able to make a living, and for the countless other Bay area residents represented in this case alongside him whose livelihood relies on financial relief from the SSA, the outcome of this class action is not just significant—it is potentially life changing,” said Will.

“The Social Security Administration’s disability determination process needs to work in a fair and transparent way, especially for individuals with limited resources who are less likely to be able to fight back when something goes wrong,” said Trinh Phan of Justice in Aging. “The settlement we achieved in this case gets us closer to the kind of monitoring needed in the program, so that people with disabilities are not unfairly denied or terminated from benefits.”

The MoFo team, including lead counsel Will Stern and lawyers Claudia Vetesi and Elizabeth Balassone, and former MoFo attorney Robert Petraglia attended the celebration, as did Mr. Hart and his family. State Senator Scott Weiner and Jennie Chin Hansen, formerly the President of AARP and the Chief Executive Officer at the American Geriatrics Society, were also honored at the event.

More information about the case can be found here, including the press release announcing the settlement agreement as well as a video, showcasing Kevin’s brave journey on this case.

Justice in Aging is a national non-profit legal advocacy organization that fights senior poverty through law. Formerly the National Senior Citizens Law Center, since 1972 the organization has worked for access to affordable health care and economic security for older adults with limited resources, focusing especially on populations that have traditionally lacked legal protection such as women, people of color, LGBT individuals, and people with limited English proficiency.   To support the important work of Justice in Aging, please visit its website.

MoFo senior counsel Will Stern (pictured left) pins the Justice in Aging Justice Award ribbon on lead plaintiff, Kevin Hart (pictured right).

MoFo lawyers Will Stern (pictured center) and Claudia Vetesi (pictured left) and lead plaintiff Kevin Hart (pictured right) celebrate together at the Justice in Aging Awards Celebration.

MoFo associate Elizabeth Balassone (pictured left), Kevin Hart (pictured center) and former MoFo attorney Robert Petraglia (pictured right) and MoFo partner Claudia Vetesi (pictured front) enjoy a photo booth moment together at the Justice in Aging Awards Celebration.