Part-time Lecturer Pat Novotny receives Light a Fire Award

Seattle Met's first annual celebration of individuals and organization in the nonprofit community. Published Oct 12, 2012.

Extraordinary Pro Bono Contribution
Pat Novotny
Legal Voice, legalvoice.org

Legal Voice, the scrappy local women’s advocacy group, turns to a powerhouse appellate attorney when their cases, oh you know, wind up in the state supreme court: Her name is Pat Novotny.

Novotny, a private practice family law appeals attorney, started out as a volunteer back in the ’90s, helping to vet possible cases for the group to advance its fight against sex discrimination. She has now argued three landmark cases for the group in the state’s top court in the last decade. With all the research and brief writing that comes with the task of sparring with the justices, her pro bono contribution is valued at around $100,000 a year.

In the state supreme court, Novotny argued and won a defining case for nonbiological parents (think lesbians, gay men, and plain-old step parents), establishing precedent for parents who were previously ignored when it came to things such as visitation rights. She argued and lost a landmark domestic violence case to help victims keep restraining orders in place and the famous case to legalize gay marriage. But only for a second.

When Legal Voice helped raise both issues with the legislature, it relied on Novotny’s expert research and savvy talking points to pass bills for the win: The burden of proof for lifting restraining orders now falls to the abuser (that’s right, it used to fall on the victim) and legislators legalized gay marriage.

Legal Voice staff attorney David Ward says Novotny “takes the tough cases where you’re trying to push the law, and you don’t always win the first time, but as we’ve seen, it helps move the conversation forward. Novotny doesn’t quit until she wins.”