June 6, 2016 – Professor Emeritus Gary Blasi has received a California Lawyer Attorney of the Year (CLAY) Award for 2016. Professor Blasi, who also won a CLAY Award in 2015 for his work on behalf of the poorest welfare recipients in California, was part of a team of lawyers who won for their ongoing work on behalf of homeless veterans in Greater Los Angeles. The prestigious CLAY Award is given annually by The Daily Journal and California Lawyer to lawyers across the state whose work in different fields of law has had significant impact in the preceding year.
Professor Blasi, who serves as special counsel at Public Counsel, the nation’s largest pro bono law firm, was on a team of lawyers that brought a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs on behalf of homeless veterans with serious disabilities. The lawsuit charged that the V.A. was not serving the housing needs of homeless veterans with serious mental disabilities and had for decades misused a large parcel of land in West Los Angeles that was deeded in 1888 for the specific purpose of housing disabled veterans. Instead of housing veterans, however, the V.A. wrongly leased nearly 30 percent of the 387-acre site to private entities, or allowed the land to remain underused.
As a result of the legal team’s effort and the expansion of V.A. housing resources for veterans in the community, the number of homeless veterans in Los Angeles declined by 40 percent in the 12 months ending in January, 2016, while the overall numbers of homeless adults were increasing by 11 percent.
Lecturer in Law Melissa Tyner, director of the Homeless Veterans Project at Inner City Law Center, was also honored with a CLAY Award for her work as part of the legal team. Other team recipients include Ronald Olson of Munger, Tolles & Olson LLP; Mark Rosenbaum, Public Counsel; Elisabeth Layton, U.S. Department of Justice; David B. Sapp, American Civil Liberties Union; Laurence H. Tribe, Harvard Law School; and John C. Ulin, Arnold & Porter LLP.
Professor Blasi is one of the founding faculty members of UCLA School of Law’s David J. Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy. He practices, teaches, conducts research and writes about advocacy on behalf of children in substandard schools, homeless families and individuals, low income tenants, low wage workers and victims of discrimination. He has received numerous awards for distinction in the field of public interest law and for providing legal services to the poor. In 2007, he was named one of the top 100 lawyers in California, cited as the “go-to lawyer for community groups in need of advice.”