News & Insights

Dykema Attorney Receives Michigan State Bar’s Highest Honor For Pro Bono Service

August 17, 2009

Ann Arbor

Dykema, a leading national law firm, today announced Joseph C. Basta has been selected by the State Bar of Michigan to receive the John W. Cummiskey Award, the organization’s highest honor for pro bono service. Basta, a member in Dykema’s Litigation practice in Ann Arbor, will be honored with the award at a reception in September.

"We are proud the Michigan State Bar has recognized Joe’s unyielding commitment to pro bono work and his dogged dedication for his clients," said Rex E. Schlaybaugh, Jr., Dykema’s Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. "He is a tireless advocate for each individual he represents, and truly deserving of this award. We congratulate him on this recognition."

The Cummiskey Award is presented annually to a Michigan lawyer who has made a significant pro bono contribution delivering legal services to the poor. The award was established in the name of John W. Cummiskey of Grand Rapids, a leading advocate and activist in the cause of making legal services available to all, without regard to economic status. Past recipients of this prestigious award include Dykema attorneys Joel Kellman and Margaret Costello. Dykema is currently the only law firm with three recipients of this honor.

Throughout Basta’s 33 years at the firm, he has been an active participant in the firm’s pro bono program and has spent over 1,500 hours of his legal career on pro bono matters. His first pro bono case with the firm involved pursuing a prisoner rights case. He later accepted the firm’s first death penalty case, that of Robert Newland, which Basta saw to conclusion earlier this year.

Newland was convicted of murder in Glynn County, Georgia, in 1987 and was on death row for over twenty years. The ABA Post-Conviction Death Penalty Project recruited Basta to represent Newland in post-conviction proceedings. As with many death penalty cases, Newland’s previous lawyers had failed to adequately represent their client and preserve arguments through the appeals process, complicating the avenues for appeal. Despite these complications, Basta pursued all arguments, including claims of ineffective assistance of counsel, the failure to adequately raise mitigating factors at the sentencing phase, and other serious constitutional errors. Basta also pursued all avenues of appeal, including filing petitions for writs of certiorari to the United Supreme Court. When these final steps proved unsuccessful, Basta traveled to Georgia to assist in arguing for clemency before the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles. Although clemency was denied and Newland was executed, throughout the entire process Basta provided his client with outstanding counsel and access to justice that he had previously been denied.

"Joe’s work on this death penalty case required a dedication and a stamina that is incomparable to anything else he’ll be involved in through his legal career," said Charles LeMoine, Chairman of Dykema’s Pro Bono Committee. "Despite an uphill battle, Joe remained committed to the case and to his client for over 20 years by ensuring he had access to his basic legal rights. We’re proud of Joe’s dedication to pro bono service and his commitment to protect the rights of those whose voices are denied or ignored."

Basta has also been active with the Wayne Mediation Center, a community dispute resolution center that serves the needs of persons and organizations in Wayne County. Since 2004, he has contributed more than 500 hours to the organization as a pro bono mediator and has mediated a broad array of cases ranging from small claims and general civil matters, to complex multi-party cases sent by the Probate Court involving adult guardianship, child custody and estate distribution. Basta is also on the board of the Dispute Resolution Center in Washtenaw and Livingston County. The DRC serves the local community and also relies on volunteer mediators to provide a low cost option to resolving legal and other disputes.

Basta's practice focuses on complex commercial litigation with emphasis on business, environmental, and intellectual property disputes. He also has extensive experience in jury and non-jury trials and appeals in many fields: personal injury, wrongful death, and product liability involving chemicals, pharmaceuticals, aircraft, automotive and industrial products; automobile dealer relocation and contract termination.

He received a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and a B.A. summa cum laude from Boston College.

Dykema’s Longstanding Commitment to Pro Bono

Dykema believes the practice of law, especially in a large corporate firm, is a privilege that carries with it profound societal responsibilities. Performing legal services for those who cannot afford to pay for them – or for organizations that benefit such persons – is a central part of the firm’s effort to improve the quality of life for the underserved in its community.

Last year, Dykema attorneys and support staff performed 11,252 hours of pro bono work. The firm has earned several prestigious awards for its pro-bono work, including the 2006 American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Michigan Pro Bono Law Firm of the Year, 2005 Community Development Award, the 2005 Legal Aid and Defender Firm of the Year Award, and the 2004 Community Legal Resources Award.

Click here for more information on Dykema’s pro bono program.