Helping Hands

Four local lawyers have a soft touch and a long reach

Published in 2007 Oregon Super Lawyers Magazine — November 2007

It is not a prerequisite for admission to law school. It’s not quantified as part of the LSATs or required for admission to the Bar. But it is a quality shared by many Oregon lawyers. Call it altruism, empathy, volunteerism: the desire to give back to their community—or to the needy in other nations. Four local attorneys are shining examples of this impulse.
 
Paul Fortino: crossing cultures
The tie between Paul Fortino and Elham Battayev could hardly be more tenuous. Fortino, 62, is a partner in the Portland offices of Perkins Coie. Elham Battayev is 33 and grew up in Kazakhstan. 
 
After graduating from the University of Michigan, Fortino signed up for the U.S. Navy in 1967. He got a law degree from Notre Dame Law School while in the military and joined the Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps. Fortino then moved to Seattle, where he was stationed at Sand Point Naval Air Station. In 1980, he left the Navy and joined Perkins Coie’s Seattle office. Three years later, the trial lawyer arrived in Portland to open the firm’s office there. 
 
Battayev ran a small trading business in Kazakhstan. While traveling in Tajikistan in 2001, he was abducted and turned over to the Taliban, and forced to work as a camp cook. Shortly after 9/11, Battayev was picked up by the Northern Alliance and turned over to the United States as an enemy combatant. Battayev was held at Guantanamo Bay for more than four years.  
 
It was there that he came to the attention of Fortino, who had volunteered to work with trial attorneys trying to deal with what they perceived as injustices in the detainee system. “One of my overriding concerns,” Fortino says, “is the protection of civil liberties. We have a system which may not be the best in a perfect world, but it is the best we know.”
 
Battayev, in his forced labor for the Taliban, “happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time,” Fortino says. “Anytime a person spends four years in confinement without a hearing is egregious. I’m not a bleeding-heart liberal, but I’m in favor of constitutional protection. You can’t just say, ‘He’s a prisoner of war.’ Was he actually in combat?” 
 
Fortino, working with a dozen other attorneys, filed a habeas corpus petition and gained Battayev’s release in December 2006. Battayev is now back with his family in Kazakhstan. The lawyers received the Learned Hand Award for contributions to the legal profession from the American Jewish Committee in Oregon. “I’m a realist,” Fortino says. “I recognize, in wartime, that you can’t have a bunch of lawyers running around slowing things up. But you can’t just take people, lock ’em up and throw them away till the war is over.”
 
Fortino also fund-raises for Metropolitan Family Service, which provides assistance to children and the elderly in need, and works with the river-preservation group Oregon Trout. “I believe every lawyer has a role to give back to the community,” he says.
 
Nena Cook: early activist
While other children her age were watching The Berenstain Bears on TV, Nena Cook, 41, was fixated on the Watergate hearings. “I knew early on I had an interest in politics,” recalls Cook, a partner at Sussman Shank in Portland. “I remember watching Nixon’s resignation speech. Something big was happening. I knew it was the end of an era.” Cook says that fascination led her to her career as an attorney. “I realized many politicians were lawyers.” 
 
However, the other experiences of growing up in an economically stressed single-parent home, a member of a minority religion in Mormon-dominated Salt Lake City, sparked Cook’s passion for advocacy. “I’ve had to face a lot of issues: gender issues, economic issues,” Cook reflects. “I didn’t have access to privilege, and all that gave me a desire to have a positive impact on others.”
 
Her on-the-clock work for Sussman Shank focuses on commercial litigation. She chairs the firm’s litigation- and employment-law group , with a focus on defending companies against complex discrimination and harassment claims. She has been named as one of Oregon’s top five women business leaders, and has been recognized for her leadership in business and civic affairs. 
 
“From the first day I was sworn in as a member of the Oregon bar,” Cook explains, “I vowed to give back.” 
 
That she has done in a big way. Cook serves on the advisory board of the Campaign for Equal Justice, whose focus is access to justice. She also was chosen as president of the Oregon State Bar in 2005, becoming the third woman, and the second youngest lawyer, to hold that position. “When I was considering running for bar president, I didn’t want it to be meaningless,” she says. “I wanted to be passionate about it.” Cook set two major goals. The first was creating the Loan Repayment Assistance Program. “This helps new lawyers repay their [college] loans, and sometimes defers debt for pubic-service work.”
 
Her second goal was more ambitious: to increase the opportunities for women and lawyers of color to speak at big functions and write for law journals. This culminated in the formation of the State Bar Leadership College last year. “It accepts 25 to 30 lawyers, with at least three years of practice.” The program trains participants to become leaders in their communities. “This is one way I hope to continue Bar focus on developing opportunities for people who haven’t had them,” she explains. “It’s becoming a really successful program—in the second year, we had double the number of applicants.”
 
Robert Newell: mission of Mercy
Robert Newell, 60, does his lawyering in Portland, as an accomplished trial attorney. His work for the poor, though, takes him all around the world. “I am both a lawyer and an activist. They are two separate roles for the most part,” says Newell, a partner with Davis Wright Tremaine. He was a founding member of the international relief organization Mercy Corps, and has spent most of his free time for nearly three decades involved in its activities.
 
Newell says he started talking with four friends about taking a new approach to tackling poverty. Newell recalls, “We wanted to focus on economic development, and we wanted our efforts to be sustainable and self-directed.” Newell and his colleagues began with a clothing program in the Honduras. “We’d sell the clothing, so it would have some value, and it would provide money to do other things,” he explains. When the Honduras effort combined with the Save the Refugees organization in Seattle, Mercy Corps, which was formed in 1979, became the far-reaching relief organization it is today. 
 
Newell has served on the board ever since, and just finished a term as chairman. For the last 20 years, he has visited Mercy Corps programs across the globe. 
 
Newell takes what he calls “sabbaticals” to participate more extensively in Mercy Corps programs. “I taught at the first private law school in the former USSR, which Mercy Corps had helped found,” he says. “I also helped the government of Kazakhstan write the country’s constitution. That travel and those experiences are different from what I do—it’s weirdly refreshing, and a complete break.” The trips have had a profound impact, he says, giving him a deep appreciation of this country’s legal institutions. “It has demonstrated how fortunate we are to live under the rule of law, with things like contracts and a banking system. That’s not true in Third World countries.”
 
The impulse to give back is in a sense congenital with Newell. He grew up west of Portland on what he describes as a “very poor farm—chickens, pigs, cows and a lot of timber. We didn’t have anything. No money, no indoor plumbing.” When he got to high school, Newell says, he started thinking about college, but his options were limited. However, he received a scholarship to Harvard in 1965. Newell says, “I decided to give forward when I settled down.”
 
Settling down took a while. Newell’s college graduation coincided with the Vietnam War, and he was a prime candidate for the military draft. He applied to become a conscientious objector and ended up going to Vietnam to work in a hospital. “While I was in college,” Newell says, “I thought about teaching history. My dad said I was so argumentative that I should be a lawyer.” After completing his conscientious-objector requirements, Newell received his degree from the University of Oregon. 
 
He has worked in commercial litigation for three decades, handling such work as a trade-secrets case between Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. And he still finds time to do pro bono work. Currently, Newell is involved in an attempt to overturn a death-penalty sentence in Nevada.  However, Mercy Corps with its global mission is his main focus. “My interest [in relief work] grew out of my involvement with the Friends Church when I was young, and as a Presbyterian in college. It’s an appropriate role for a citizen of the world.”
 
Penny Serrurier: soft touch for nonprofits
“I sometimes think I have a full-time practice of non-billable work,” confesses Penny Serrurier, a Stoel Rives attorney specializing in estate planning and tax-exempt organizations. “I can’t even tell you how much time I’ve spent [on pro bono work]. I can’t thank my partners enough.”
 
Serrurier, 43, who is involved in numerous Portland-area nonprofit organizations, has an abiding fondness for animals. “I grew up on a small farm [in Vermont] and I’m a total animal person. There are so many great causes for me, but the two which I’m most devoted to are the Guide Dogs for the Blind, and the Oregon Zoo.”  The Zoo Foundation, which she chairs, has been the focus of most of Serrurier’s extracurricular efforts the last two years. 
 
As for the guide dogs, Serrurier says,  “My mom has been a puppy-raiser for guide dogs for years, so I’m familiar with the ideas. The organization is pretty unknown in the community, but they do such great work.” Serrurier credits her family as the inspiration for her charitable work. “I’ve always had a strong sense of civic responsibility,” she says. 
 
Her interest in law came a bit later in life. She attended college in Vermont, then traveled west to Taos, N.M., to teach skiing. There she taught a group of lawyers, and they encouraged her to take the LSAT.  “I was attracted by the notion in law that you would acquire a skill set that would help you make changes in the community.” 
 
During her time in law school at Cornell, Serrurier took a clerkship at Stoel Rives’ Portland office in the summer, which allowed her to pursue a new passion—windsurfing on the Columbia River. Then the Northwest imbedded itself even deeper into her life.  “I thought I was going to move back to Boston, but I married a fifth-generation Oregonian, and he’s not planning to leave.”
 
All the better for Oregon. Her skills make her an extremely valuable commodity for local organizations trying to raise money or encourage estate donations. “My practice area lends itself to working with nonprofits; half my work is for 501(c) corporations, so I’m very familiar with regulations and planned-giving rules.
 
“One of the most empowering things about being at a firm like Stoel Rives is not the paid work but the high quality of the people, and the time the firm will give you to do work that changes the community.”  
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