As victims’ advocates, we strive to leave our community a better place at the end of each case. We also know that the world needs more than good legal help, so at Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire we are reaching out in ways that may seem unconventional for a law firm. Our aggressive outreach program is our way of sharing the rewards of a successful legal practice with those less fortunate than us by making their lives better.
If you win, the community wins. Our firm was founded to do good, for not just our clients, but for the entire community in and surrounding San Diego. Every year we set aside a portion of our earnings to fix problems that can only be solved outside of the courtroom.
Our victories in the courtroom benefit our clients, but our firm is also dedicated to using a portion of our courtroom success to benefit others who have experienced misfortune. From our pro bono work for victims of 9/11 to our outreach efforts to improve the health of impoverished children, we support community service projects with the same professional dedication that we show every client we have the privilege to represent.
Outside of the office, our staff and lawyers participate in projects that involve their hearts rather than their legal skills. Organizations like the Make-A-Wish Foundation, Big Brothers Big Sisters of San Diego County, St. Vincent de Paul Village Family Health Center and the Children at Risk Committee of the San Diego County Bar Association are some of the more than 36 social charities that we have supported financially and as volunteers. Members of the firm participate in various legal-oriented programs such as the American Inns of Court, Law Week, the Lawyers Club, Consumer Attorneys of San Diego, Friends of Legal Aid, Volunteers in Parole, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and other nonprofits that benefit both the public and the profession.
The pro bono legal project that has personally touched our staff the most is the work they’ve done on behalf of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
At 6:37 a.m. our time what began as a clear day in September almost instantly became the day of the deadliest terrorist attack in world history.
Before the day was over, the attack on 9/11 would become very, very personal for our firm.
Our involvement began when partner Kevin Quinn, who was in New York for a morning deposition, witnessed the destruction of the Twin Towers. Later that day, partner Mickey McGuire learned that his nephew, New York City firefighter Richie Allen, had died in the attack.
Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire was among the first law firms in the nation to volunteer as pro bono representatives for the 9/11 victims before the Special Master. Elite firms across the nation agreed to represent the victims on a pro bono basis, absorbing all the costs of doing so. One hundred percent of the funds awarded go to the victims’ heirs. Partner Kevin Quinn obtained $5.64 million for the family of David Berray. Partner Vincent Bartolotta negotiated $3.44 million for the family of Joseph Amatuccio. Associate Jill Cleary obtained nearly $3.3 million for her clients.
As survivors came forward and told their stories, Mickey McGuire discovered that Richie Allen died a hero when he ignored radio calls to personally evacuate and instead stayed behind to try and lead as many people as he could to safety in the remaining minutes before the tower collapsed.
His uncle, Bobby McGuire (Mickey’s brother and also a New York firefighter), suffered job-ending disabilities while participating in search and rescue operations. Mickey McGuire eventually obtained $1.45 million for the family of his nephew Richie Allen.
There were other uncounted heroes that terrible morning, but doing good seems to run in the Allen family blood in a way that even death cannot diminish.
Richie’s family later donated a portion of the funds to Richie’s high school and college to be used for scholarships for disadvantaged students.
Our involvement in the Clinica del Niños had its origin in the courtroom when Kevin Quinn won a surprisingly large personal injury verdict that far exceeded the client’s expectations. Our client, a humble and devout Catholic man from Mexico who had suffered a permanently disabling injury at work, asked Kevin to find a good way to share some of his unexpected fortune.
Kevin polled the partners and one of the things they all had in common was their blue collar backgrounds and the fact that the partners all had, at one time or another, worked in construction for summer jobs while growing up. That led to the decision to seek a construction-related project, and as word got out that the law firm was looking for a new project, a local doctor suggested that they visit a nearby orphanage that was in bad shape. The partners made a quick trip to the Primo Tapia area near Tijuana and decided on the spot to repair, refurbish and reconstruct the Primo Tapia orphanage.
As the Primo Tapia project neared completion, we received an invitation from the La Gloria orphanage to help perform similar repairs.
Construction continued into the fall months, and it became a big attraction to the Primo Tapia working poor who had nothing better to do than to arrive in droves each day to watch the group of loco gringo abogados cut wood, pound nails and pour cement.
Poverty comes in scales of neediness. Since our daily ritual was already a de facto fiesta, we decided that it would be fun to go all-in and hold a Christmas celebration every year for the needy in the area. This included taking presents to the town dump and distributing them to the “los niños de basura” – or, the “children of the garbage” – who, with a parent or sibling, spent their days picking through the trash at the town dump looking for clothing, food scraps that were not too rotten to eat and things like soft drink bottles that could be redeemed for a few cents.
Each got a present that included a new article of clothing, a brand-new toy, a new toothbrush with toothpaste, a bar of soap and a bottle of shampoo. Santa Claus was there to pass out handfuls of candy, and Mrs. Claus gave each child a box lunch.
During one of our Christmas parties at the orphanage, we heard about a nearby clinic that needed help. Some of the partners made an inspection of the facility, and it was decided that we would work out a way to keep the clinic’s doors open.
Through voluntary payroll deductions matched by the law partners in the firm, we were able to generate enough contributions to allow the Clinica del Niños in Rosarito Beach to treat the children of impoverished families throughout the year. Additionally, hundreds of children who live in the neighborhood near the clinic are invited each Christmas to a holiday party. On the day of the party, the firm rents two buses, and every available member of the firm attends to hand out gifts, an article of clothing and a toy to each child.
Over the years, as word of our efforts got out, we became aware of the Mercy Outreach Surgical Team (MOST). MOST is a medical outreach project through which doctors volunteer their free time to travel to cities and remote country villages throughout Mexico, seeking out and treating victims of cleft palates, burns and other (mainly facial) deformities.
Some of the patients being treated were children who had been screened by Clinica del Niños. Because of the lack of facilities and the children’s grave deformities, they needed to go to San Diego for surgery. Even with Mercy Hospital donating a suite of operating rooms and doctors and nurses donating their skills, the program had many other expenses.
For the MOST program to be successful, someone needed to transport as many as 70 patients or more at a time across the border and feed and shelter them before and after the surgeries. Mercy Hospital simply did not have the staff, the beds or the budget to handle the high number of serious cases that began coming in as word of the surgery’s success began to spread and demand grew.
We saw a great opportunity to support this project financially and to become personally involved by taking on the task of coordinating the overall pre- and post-surgical care. But could we pull it off in only six months? How does a top law firm take over the serious task of running a 24-hour-a-day post-op recovery center for almost 100 patients and their families?
One thing founding partner Vince Bartolotta learned during his training as a Marine is that to be a U.S. Marine, you never give up, and surrender is not an option. Instead, you adapt and overcome. Vince had risen to the rank of major after serving in Vietnam, and he stayed in touch with his buddies still in the Corps, so he knew what he needed to do.
He called in the U.S. Marines to help.
Marines at Camp Pendleton had provided some of the labor and logistics to build the orphanage in Mexico. A close friend and ally from Vince’s active duty days, Lieutenant Colonel Dallas Elliott was in charge of a supply battalion at the Marine base. Lt. Col. Elliott found volunteers among the Marines and Navy Hospital personnel who would donate their free time and skills to what was rapidly becoming an international program of understanding and goodwill.
St. John’s Roman Catholic Church donated its parish hall for use as a recovery ward, and the Marines found the cots and supplies to run it. In a massive logistical effort that took months of advance planning, the partners and staff of Thorsnes Bartolotta McGuire volunteered to transport the patients, assist with their care in the hospital recovery room until they could be moved to the parish hall recovery ward, cook their meals and entertain the children during the post-surgery recovery period of five to seven days.
The post-9/11 tightening of the border made it easier for Mercy’s doctors to go to Mexico instead of bringing entire families to San Diego. The MOST program continues annually on the Mexican side of the border, but we are no longer in charge of the recovery area.