By Michelle Mowad
The extensive pro bono work by a Del Mar Heights attorney to qualify more low-income county residents access to health care coverage was recognized last month.
Fish and Richardson attorney Lara Garner was awarded the Fair Shake Award by the Western Center on Law and Poverty, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit dedicated to advances and enforcing the rights of low-income Californians. The ceremony was held June 17 in Los Angeles.
Each year, the Western Center on Law and Poverty selects two young professions who have partnered with the Western Center and advanced its mission in the areas of health care, housing or public benefits. Garner, a Harvard Law School graduate and Del Mar resident, was selected for her extensive efforts to improve health care services in San Diego County.
"I feel good representing people who might otherwise go unrepresented," said Garner, who specializes in patent litigation. "The Western Center does fabulous work and are always in need of help. So, certainly, I would partner with them in the future."
She first partnered with the Western Center in 2004. She was part of a litigation team in the lawsuit against San Diego County regarding the County Medical Services program. The class action lawsuit challenged the county's income cap for services. The county was ultimately ordered to broaden its policies to be more inclusive by raising its income cap.
When the class action was filed in January 2005, the income cap was $802 per month for a single adult, according to Fish and Richardson. Now a single person can get free care with income up to $1,411 per month. A single person may still qualify for health care services if their monthly income is less than $3,035.
"There are people who really need legal assistance and can't afford it," Garner said. "That is why the Bar Association encourages lawyers to give back because the legal system is really hard to negotiate and navigate if you don't have access to legal representation."
Garner said she has always been interested in doing pro bono work.
In addition, Fish and Richardson has donated $156,000 in attorney fees to the Western Center.
Stephanie Haffner, a supervising attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, also received the Fair Shake Award.