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Price gives back

FD attorney defends poor and abused

November 12, 2012
By JOE SUTTER, , Messenger News

As a lawyer, Thomas Price believes he has a duty to give back.

That's why Price was recently honored for his pro bono work in a ceremony at his alma mater, the University of Iowa College of Law.

Price has devoted significant hours of volunteer time to represent women who have been abused and are facing issues of child custody, visitations, child support, spousal support and property division.

"These are people who are really pretty desperate, parents that deal with the really crushing problems," Price said.

Price won the UI Alumni Service Award for 2012 on Oct. 19. In the past, he's received recognition from the Iowa Supreme Court and the Iowa State Bar Association's Public Service Project.

He's not one to sing his own praises.

"I'm not the only one in the community who does this. All lawyers do work for clients for which they don't get paid," he said. "I don't want you to think I'm somehow unique."

Price gets his pro bono cases through the ISBA's Public Service Project, which matches needy clients with lawyers throughout the state who volunteer their time.

Price joined the group shortly after it was formed in the early 1980s. "I made a commitment to keep three cases going at one time, which would not interfere prohibitively with the rest of my practice," he said.

Lawyers are encouraged to give 20 volunteer hours a year, he said, though it's not required.

Last year, Price gave more than 50 hours.

Throughout his career, he's donated 742 hours, according to Brett Toresdahl, executive director of the Public Service Project.

"These statistics do not represent the countless clients we know Tom has assisted outside of the organized pro bono programs," Toresdahl wrote in a letter to the college recommending Price for the award.

Why take the time?

"One, I'm a privileged person, and I should do it," Price said.

"Two, I consider it an extension of my personal oath. Three, I am a graduate of the University of Iowa Law School, and public service was - there was an expectation that we would do public service."

Everyone has a right to legal representation, he said. A courtroom can be quite traumatic without it.

In many divorce cases, the woman has a hard time because the man is the primary breadwinner, but she deserves custody of the kids, Price said.

"In a divorce where the husband worked full time ... his standard of living will go up, hers goes down, because she doesn't have that job. All of a sudden, she is responsible for her three children and herself. She has four people to look after. He has one."

In a written transcript of his acceptance speech for the Service Award, Price offered more details.

"In representing the poor, one must remember where there is so very little, the stakes are extremely high," Price wrote. "So when in chambers, before trial, a judge looks at you and says he refuses to divide freezer contents, you must be prepared to respectfully say that the food is critical to the mother and children, and that you will be trying that issue on the record."

Mark Cady, chief justice of the Iowa Supreme Court, also wrote to the college recommending Price.

"(Price) has performed this service for years, long before the program even began to receive public attention," Cady wrote. "He never seeks attention or expects recognition. He does his work with passion and because he cares for our courts and the people that need access to our courts."

Price has raced bicycles and done long-distance riding, although at age 75 he said he doesn't bike as much as he used to. He has a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, but he often walks the two miles to his office. He has four children and 10 grandchildren.



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