On January 7, 2016, after eight years as executive director, Dianne Van Voorhees left her role at Metro Volunteer Lawyers to serve the Arvada community as a part-time municipal court judge and to start a private practice. Although we are all very happy for Dianne and this new phase in her legal career, she will be sorely missed at MVL. Dianne recently reflected on her tenure at MVL, stating: “Leading MVL has been one of my happiest experiences. Our clients get the assistance they need to prevent potentially devastating consequences. I am enormously proud of the staff, too. Our little team of five is responsible for ensuring that we could handle over 1,400 cases this year. It is a pleasure to work with dedicated professionals, and we could not do it without our volunteers — our legal community is exceptional. I know that MVL will continue to thrive and grow, and I am excited to see what the future brings.”
How do you adequately thank someone who has given her heart and soul over the past eight years to the betterment of Metro Volunteer Lawyers? “Thank you” doesn’t seem quite enough to recognize and honor the many contributions of Dianne Van Voorhees, but I’ll try to convey the debt of gratitude that we owe her. In thanking her, let’s recall some of her many contributions and how they impacted MVL. From the outset, Dianne’s goal was to raise awareness of MVL within the legal community and the community at-large. She was innovative on many fronts, including creating and maintaining MVL’s website and social media accounts and involving MVL in Colorado Gives Day to allow individual fundraisers to solicit and collect donations for MVL electronically.
Dianne also raised awareness of MVL by being acutely attuned to the legal community and attending every local meeting and access to justice event, where she tirelessly advocated for MVL and its clients. She achieved this not with an overbearing presence but with a poise and warmth that reflects her true gracious nature. To refuse Dianne is unthinkable, not for fear of any repercussions but because she is so highly respected. Having such a command of others based on integrity and mutual regard is a rare commodity these days; it is one to be remembered and emulated. Thank you for always being there for MVL and representing us well, Dianne!
While raising the profile of MVL, Dianne also expanded programming and created significant new programs. The Post-Decree Clinics serving parents coping with parenting time, child support and maintenance issues expanded beyond Denver and Jefferson counties to include Adams and Arapahoe. Dianne also added more law firm partners to the clinics, including the Attorney General’s Office, thereby expanding the number of volunteers and the clients served. The Post-Decree Clinics are the only clinics of their variety in Colorado and now accept approximately 260 clients annually. From the Post-Decree Clinic clients and volunteers, thank you, Dianne!
In 2012, Dianne, along with MVL Board Member Danielle L. Demkowicz, also pioneered a monthly walk-in clinic at the Denver Indian Center. As a descendant of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, the project was close to Dianne’s heart. Her experience with a wide variety of legal areas and specific experience with Native issues added depth to this clinic by addressing the needs of a chronically underserved community and one of the biggest gaps in access to justice in the state. The first legal clinic was held on April 4, 2012. It has since continued as a monthly event. From the Denver Indian Center and clients, thank you, Dianne!
As executive director, Dianne also managed staff responsible for the acceptance of approximately 1,800 cases annually on a wide range of civil legal issues for clients who could not otherwise afford representation. She managed more than 400 annual volunteers and expanded staff and capacity for interns and externs to work with MVL. Such administration is a daunting task, and Dianne researched and advocated for a new, scalable, relational case management system for MVL that also enhances and improves direct intake communication with Colorado Legal Services. This is a technological improvement that will carry MVL well into the future.
Dianne further provided oversight to two essential MVL programs: the Family Law Court Program (FLCP) and the Rovira Special Programs created by the Rovira Scholar Fellowship, which Dianne helped develop. The FLCP assists pro se clients with uncomplicated, uncontested divorce or custody matters, where the other party is also pro se. The Rovira Programs are special programs and include the Power of Attorney Clinic, which partners with community nonprofits and low-income senior housing facilities to assist seniors with completing powers of attorney and living wills, and the Fostering Success Legal Clinic, a quarterly clinic aimed at helping current and former foster kids navigate legal issues.
Dianne’s responsibilities also included working closely with students, interns, the MVL Governing Board, the CBA/DBA, Colorado Legal Services and the Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network. Thank you, Dianne, for always making it look easy. You leave MVL a better organization for which we are forever grateful. Good luck and Godspeed, Judge Van Voorhees.
As for the future of MVL, we welcome Philip Lietaer as its new director. Philip knows that he has big shoes to fill (at least figuratively), and he is definitely up to the task. Philip is intimately familiar with the inner workings of MVL, having served in multiple positions within the organization. He first began working at MVL in 2013 as a Rovira Scholar Fellow, and in 2014, he became the Family Law Court Program Coordinator, where he has done an outstanding job working with clients with sensitive issues. To borrow Philip’s words, “It is an honor to be selected as MVL’s new director. I have come to know the organization very well, and I look forward to the honor and challenge of continuing to improve our ability to provide quality help to a large number of people in need.” We look forward to working with you, too, Philip. D
Candace Whitaker is Pro Bono Manager at Faegre Baker Daniels LLP. She has served on the MVL Board since 2010 and is current Board Chair. In her varied career, she has worked as an Assistant Public Defender, a private attorney in the areas of criminal defense, family law and appeals, and also as an Adjunct Professor at Stetson University College of Law. In her spare time, she enjoys adventure travel and scuba diving with her husband of 28 years, Tim Kelly.