By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
On the surface, the scene inside the historic Fairmont Miramar on Saturday, May 7 felt like something out of the Grand Casino in Monte Carlo. In fact, all the poker playing, blackjack dealing and roulette spinning raised funds for multiple great causes.
Yes, the third annual Los Angeles Trial Lawyers’ Charities (LATLC) Casino Night and Texas Hold’em Tournament was the nonprofit’s most successful outing yet, far surpassing last year’s $215,000 total. While over 900 people made the official guest list, organizers estimate over 1,000 were in attendance. The event cleared $325,000 before the silent auction.
The evening’s driving engine: Scott J. Corwin of SJC Law. As the current head of LATLC—a 501c3 nonprofit organization formed in 2006 by seven trial lawyers headed by Bruce Traney and past president Joseph Barrett—the longtime Palisadian has helped grow Casino Night and LATLC’s membership to over 3,000.
The personal injury attorney came with wife and 2014 Golden Sparkplug winner Susan Corwin, vice chair of Vista Del Mar Child & Family Services, as well as son Joshua Corwin, 23, who was instrumental in launching Vista Inspired Teens.
“We’ve always believed in helping,” Scott Corwin said of himself and his wife of 25 years.
Upstairs, festivities included a Texas Hold’em Poker Tournament and buffet dinner. Downstairs, the fun continued with massages, manicures, reflexology, henna tattoo artists, tarot card readers and magicians while Maria De La Vega and the Wayward Five performed classic jazz and blues from the 1930s through ’50s.
Thi Nguyen works in healthcare but she returned as her attorney boyfriend’s date for her third consecutive year.
“It’s grown so much in the last two years,” said Nguyen, in between a massage and manicure.
With Sen. Ben Allen, Reps. Mike Gatto and Matt Dababneh and LA City Attorney Mike Feuer on the guest list, the event was able to live up to its official credo: “Justice in the Courtroom, Service in the Community.”
As Feuer told the Palisadian-Post, if there’s “a lot of skepticism” toward lawyers, “this organization and event is the antidote.”
The event drew a cross-section of LA’s legal industry. Eric Kingsley, a principal of Encino’s Kingsley and Kingsley firm, said he welcomed the chance to participate in this legal-world benefit.
“Giving back to the community shows that trial lawyers do well,” Kingsley said.
For longtime Palisadian Kathy Volz of Empathy Law, LATLC’s monthly volunteering efforts are a main reason she supports this organization.
“They provide hands-on outreach,” Volz said. “They don’t just write a check. They actually go there and engage.”
“I love this event because it allows us to get a different view of what attorneys are really about,” said Carmen Sabater. “This gives us a chance to dispel some of those myths.”
Before working at Marina del Rey firm V. James DeSimone Law, Sabater worked with inner-city kids while an NYPD police officer.
“Kids are the future. We have to give them positive direction,” Sabater said.
As Palisadian Steve Mindel observed about his profession, “Trial lawyers do a lot of good, create a lot of progress with safety in cars and airplanes. Big companies don’t change unless they get sued.”
Guests lauded Palisadian Corwin for his efforts.
“He’s a prolific political fundraiser, and he’s a mensch to the 10th degree,” said LATLC Past President Minh T. Nguyen, who oversees student scholarships. “I can’t do Scott [Corwin] justice: the energy, the commitment, the time, the sacrifice he’s put into this organization.”
Corwin’s friend of 25 years, Leo Madnick, brought wife Amy Madnick and daughter Becca. Other LATLC Palisadians included Spencer Lucas and Lisa Maki.
The evening’s emotional centerpiece was when 11 college-bound students from area schools gathered onstage. Each of them was the recipient of a $5,000 scholarship.
Some of them hail from low-income areas such as Stanford-bound Maria Vargas of Southgate’s South East High School and incoming Pepperdine student Ikechukwu Egwuonwu of Narbonne High School in Harbor City.
“I was very thankful to receive it,” said a beaming Starlett Francis of Long Beach’s Cabrillo High School, whose family is struggling to make ends meet.
In addition to its focus on education, LATLC also makes donations to organizations that assist battered women and that work to end homelessness. The organization facilitated the donation of $235,000 worth of food to provide 115,000 meals at LA Mission and Food Bank of California.
“Since January 2015, we’ve given back to the community with grants, gifts and goods totaling $1.4 million,” Corwin said.
Corwin is no stranger to fundraising for causes that he’s passionate about. He has canvassed financial support for Hillary Clinton, John Kerry and Antonio Villaraigosa.
“I was brought in to do my thing,” Corwin said. “I had heard of their organization, and I had been to a couple of their small events.”
Casino Night outgrew 2014’s Casa del Mar digs, which only holds about 400 people. Hence, the change in 2015 to the Miramar.
“We took over the entire lower level—5,000-6,000 additional square feet—and moved our spa downstairs and created a speakeasy room with Maria’s band, a specialty scotch bar and burlesque dancers,” he added.
At last year’s sold-out Casino Night, guests included such Palisadians as Drs. Morteza and Karen Khaleghi, Thomas and Liza Zaret, Lucas, Mindel, the Madnicks and UCLA freshman Sarah Popelka. Congressman Ted Lieu and LA City Councilman Paul Koretz also attended last year’s event.
Moneys raised went to a roster of nonprofits including Venice Family Clinic ($25,000), Clare Foundation ($20,000), Vista Del Mar Child & Family Services ($20,000), Los Angeles Mission ($15,000) and Downtown Women’s Center ($10,000).
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