Three local attorneys and two Washington, D.C., law firms received the John Carroll Society’s 2019 Pro Bono Legal Service Awards for volunteering with the Catholic Charities Legal Network that serves low-income people in the Washington region. The honorees received their awards on Oct. 6 at a brunch at the Capital Hilton that followed the annual Red Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral seeking God’s blessings and guidance on those involved in the administration of law, as the Supreme Court begins its new term. Msgr. Peter Vaghi, the society’s chaplain, also received a surprise award for his service to the Legal Network.

The awards are given out each year by the John Carroll Society, a Washington area organization that provides spiritual, intellectual, charitable and social opportunities for Catholic professionals and business men and women in service to the archbishop of Washington.

The honorees are all volunteers with the Catholic Charities Legal Network. Through the generosity of volunteer attorneys and the support of area law firms, the Legal Network offered free legal assistance at several locations in the District of Columbia and in the surrounding Maryland counties in the 2018-19 fiscal year to more than 3,500 people, all of whom are below the poverty line. In addition, the network offers free legal education seminars to the community. More than 700 individual attorneys and more than 45 law firms volunteered pro bono hours worth an estimated total value of more than $3 million.

The John Carroll Society’s 2019 Pro Bono Legal Service Awards were presented to three attorneys – Deacon Darryl Kelley, Andrew Larsen and Carolyn Ruyak – and to two law firms, Kirkland & Ellis, LLP, and Sidley Austin, LLP.

Deacon Darryl Kelley has accepted about 10 pro bono cases from the Catholic Charities Legal Network in less than two years in areas such as family law and bankruptcy. After his diaconate ordination this past June at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, Deacon Kelley chose to be assigned to the Legal Network as his charitable service assignment. He also serves as a deacon at St. Philip the Apostle Parish in Camp Springs, Maryland, and he and his wife Evelyn are the parents of three grown children. He formerly served as a Maryland state delegate for the 26th District. Deacon Kelley, a licensed attorney in the District of Columbia and Maryland, routinely agrees to accept pro bono cases from the Legal Network while managing a general law practice with his wife, who is also an attorney. Deacon Kelley is a graduate of the University of Maryland Carey School of Law, and he received an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia.

Andrew Larsen has been conducting in-person client intake for the Legal Network since 2017. He also assists the program’s director with evaluating the program’s more difficult cases for legal merit and proper disposition. He frequently devotes time each week to assisting the Legal Network and its clients.

Larsen, now a lawyer at the United States Department of Commerce, grew up in the Washington, D.C., area and is a 2001 graduate of Gonzaga College High School, and he received his undergraduate degree from Ursinus College. He received his law degree from Washington and Lee University School of Law, and is licensed in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. Larsen and his wife, Rita Marie, are parishioners at St. Augustine Parish in Washington.

Carolyn Ruyak was initially recruited to the Legal Network by her father-in-law Robert F. Ruyak, Esq., a former and initial member of the Legal Network’s Advisory Council. Carolyn Ruyak worked as a staff attorney at the Legal Network from 2006-09. After leaving the Legal Network to pursue a full-time role as a wife and mother of three children, she has continued to volunteer at the Legal Network to conduct in-person intake with the program’s Spanish-speaking individuals, helping them obtain access to pro bono services. Ruyak, a licensed attorney in the District of Columbia and Maryland, received her undergraduate degree from Georgetown University, and is a graduate of the University of California’s Hastings College of Law. She and her husband, Robert, and their three children are parishioners of the Church of the Little Flower in Bethesda, Maryland.

The Legal Network has had a longstanding association with the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP, since the network formed in 1989. Over the past 30 years, the firm has accepted pro bono cases from the Legal Network on a variety of civil law matters. The Legal Network Advisory Council’s first chairperson, the late Milan C. Miskovsky, Esq., served on the council for more than 10 years. Presently, James Gillespie, Esq., serves as chairperson of the Advisory Council. In addition, Bridget O’Connor, Esq., another partner at the firm, is also serving on the Advisory Council. Thomas Yannucci, Esq., also a partner in the firm, is a past member of the Legal Network’s Advisory Council. Attorneys from Kirkland & Ellis LLP volunteer to conduct in-person intake once a month for the Legal Network. The firm has also supported the Legal Network’s annual golf tournament, which has been the program’s major fundraiser for many years. Kirkland & Ellis LLP attorneys have also recently begun volunteering with telephone intake once a month. Gillespie and O’Connor represented their firm in accepting the award. 

The law firm of Sidley Austin LLP has offered strong support to Catholic Charities Legal Network over the past 30 years and is a major financial supporter of  the Legal Network’s Msgr. Peter J. Vaghi Endowment. Msgr. Vaghi, formerly an attorney at Sidley Austin, LLP, collaborated with Washington Cardinal James Hickey to establish the Legal Network in 1989. Terence Hynes, Esq., senior counsel at Sidley Austin LLP, was formerly on Catholic Charities Legal Network’s Advisory Council from 2010-12. In the fall of 2017 and 2018, Sidley Austin LLP loaned new associate attorneys to volunteer with the Legal Network for three month periods. Both newly-minted attorneys worked with the staff, volunteers, and clients on the program’s pro bono cases.

Msgr. Peter Vaghi, who was ordained as a priest of the Archdiocese of Washington in 1985, has been an active supporter and member of the Legal Network’s Advisory Council since the Legal Network was established by Cardinal James Hickey, who served as the archbishop of Washington from 1980-2000 and who died in 2004. Msgr. Vaghi, who before entering the seminary served as an attorney at Sidley Austin LLP, created the Legal Network’s Advisory Council in 1989. Since then, hundreds of lawyers and law firms have been involved with the program to promote access to first-rate pro bono legal services for low-income and homeless individuals residing throughout the Archdiocese of Washington. The Legal Network has received many awards over the years, such as the Justice Potter Stewart Award from the Council for Court Excellence in 2001 and the DC Bar Foundation’s Jerrold Scoutt Prize, which was awarded to the program’s director in 2014. Msgr. Vaghi has personally recruited many outstanding lawyers and law firms to participate in the Legal Network. As a result, the network and its volunteer attorneys and supporting law firms have served more than 10,000 clients over the past 30 years.

James Bishop, the director of Catholic Charities’ Legal Network, announced the surprise award to Msgr. Vaghi, noting the priest’s work in the founding and the growth of the network, and in his advice that “whoever comes through your door, treat with dignity, respect and compassion, because they are human beings, and that is what our Church stands for.”

After receiving the award, Msgr. Vaghi said, “It was all the inspiration of Cardinal Hickey. I was just a foot soldier.”  

The Archdiocese of Washington is home to more than 655,000 Catholics and includes 139 parishes and 93 Catholic schools located in Washington, D.C., and five Maryland counties: Calvert, Charles, Montgomery, Prince George’s and St. Mary’s.