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2015 Dicus Award Nominations



“Service With a Joyful Heart” 

The Award

The SCWLA Foundation is proud to partner with the Dicus family to honor Martha Browning Dicus by creating an annual public interest law award in her name.  Nominations are accepted each calendar year for presentation of the award during SCWLA’s annual conference.  Selection criteria include the nominee’s distinguished and noteworthy service using law and/or advocacy in public service or public interest to advance justice and social change in the lives of vulnerable individuals and/or underserved communities; achievement of professional excellence in the legal services, public interest, public defender, non-profit, government or pro bono fields; and involvement in activities that encourage others to participate in public service.

 The Namesake

Martha Browning Dicus (1949-2012) enjoyed a thirty-four year career as a front-line legal aid lawyer and Public Defender.  She considered herself fortunate to defend the poorest among us, which she considered both a privilege and a tremendous responsibility.  Martha worked tirelessly on behalf of her clients with a joyous happy heart, describing the responsibility of giving a voice to the powerless: “You must tell his story for you are the only one with the ability to make others care about him.” She was exceptionally bright – a great reader and thinker who loved and often quoted poetry. Martha’s zest for life and fun was unmistakably unique and woven seamlessly into her work.

            Martha graduated from Meredith College and worked as a social worker before entering the University of South Carolina -- School of Law.  She was a Public Defender first in Richland County and then at the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming.  Upon returning to South Carolina, Martha was a legal aid lawyer in three different S.C. counties. Yale Law School invited Martha to serve as the Attorney Counselor for Public Interest. She again returned to South Carolina and joined the Charleston County Public Defender’s office where she served for sixteen years before her untimely death from ovarian cancer.

            Martha’s awards include the South Carolina Women Lawyer Association’s Jean Galloway Bissell Award; the American Bar Association’s Dorsey Award (for the nation’s most outstanding Public Defender or Public Interest lawyer); the South Carolina Bar’s Legal Services Lawyer of the Year Award; the Meredith College Outstanding Alumnus Award, and selection as a Harvard Law School Wasserstein Fellow.   

The Inaugural Recipient

The first Dicus Award winner was Sue Berkowitz, who was selected by acclamation.  It is particularly fitting for Sue to be the first recipient of the Dicus award, as she literally followed in Martha’s footsteps at South Carolina/Palmetto Legal Services, where she took over Martha’s office when Martha left for Yale. 

Sue is a graduate of the University of South Carolina and Western New England School of Law cum laude.  She served as a staff attorney with Palmetto Legal Services and the Department of Social Services.  In 1989, Sue joined South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center, where she serves as its director, managing the largest independent public interest law organization in South Carolina.  At Appleseed, Sue advocates for low income South Carolinians to overcome social, economic and legal justice. 

Sue’s practice focuses on health, welfare, hunger and consumer issues. She has worked on the passage of numerous pieces of legislation, including the eligibility increase for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (2007), the High Cost and Consumer Home Loan Act of 2003 and the Family Independence Act of 1995. Sue works with state agencies on policy issues that affect the low income community including changes to Family Independence, Medicaid and Food Stamp rules.  She has authored defenses to foreclosure chapter for a manual produced by the South Carolina Bar.

Sue’s other awards include the Order of Palmetto and the Woman of Achievement Award by the SC Commission on Women for her work on predatory lending and poverty issues.

The 2014 Recipient

The second Dicus Award winner was Pamela DeFanti Robinson.  In keeping with Martha’s theme of selfless public service, she literally provided a home to Sue Berkowitz and what would grow to become the South Carolina Appleseed Legal Justice Center after they were ousted as a result of restriction on programmatic legal services work.

Pam is a graduate of Clemson University and the University of South Carolina School of Law.  Since 1989, Pam has served as the director of the law school’s Pro Bono Program.  The Pro Bono Program is a nationally recognized, academic-based volunteer program integral to the professional development of law students.  It is the first voluntary pro bono program in a law school in the US.  Pam is also the faculty advisor for the Women in Law group. 

As its Director, Pam is the heart and soul of the Pro Bono Program.  She motivates and organizes law students to contribute to their community and develop a commitment to public service which they can take with them into their careers as lawyers.  Pam also seems to know everyone in law in South Carolina and provides assistance to both students and lawyers, mentoring them and providing contacts about not only pro bono matters, but also substantive law and career information. 

Pam’s other awards include the National Volunteer Administrator of the Year, the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Richland County CASA Program, the University of South Carolina’s Social Justice Award and has been recognized at the White House 5,000 Point of Light Celebration.

The Nomination Process

Nominations should include specific examples of how the nominee has used law and/or advocacy in public service or the public interest to advance justice and social change in the lives of vulnerable individuals and/or underserved communities and influenced other lawyers and particularly women lawyers to pursue public service and/or public interest careers.   In addition, the nomination should describe the nominee’s career, excellence, and service to the bar and community.  If you have questions contact Liz Zeck at [email protected] . To obtain a nomination application click hereNominations may be accompanied by letters in support of the nominee and any other documentation you believe evidences why the nominee is deserving of this distinction. The deadline for nominations is August 7, 2015.