Herb Ely to receive 2011 MLK Servant-Leadership Award
Herb Ely, longtime Phoenix attorney who is known as a tenacious fighter for the underdog, will receive the 2011 Martin Luther King Servant-Leadership Award from ASU on Jan. 20. The honor will be presented at the university’s annual MLK celebration breakfast in Tempe by President Michael Crow and the ASU MLK committee.
In more than 50 years as a practicing trial lawyer in Arizona, he has stood up for the rights of individuals who lack money or power to pursue issues of social and human justice. His deep sense of fairness is legendary.
Ely, who is with the firm of Ely, Bettini, Ulman and Rosenblatt, continues to represent citizens in all walks of life, both within his law firm and on a pro bono basis. His passion for advancing equality spans race, age, religion and life circumstance.
When Ely arrived in Phoenix in 1958 he immediately joined the Phoenix Council for Civic Unity, which worked to eliminate discrimination, and he became legal counsel and vice president for the local NAACP. Soon he was providing counsel to black youths who participated in sit-in demonstrations, and he often joined them on picket lines.
Ely drafted Arizona’s civil rights bill that was signed into law on April 1, 1965, prohibiting discrimination in voting, employment, labor union membership and places of public accommodation.
He was active in the Phoenix Anti-Defamation League, launching a successful fight to eradicate restrictions against Jews at Arizona resorts. He participated in boycotts, pickets and strikes with Cesar Chavez and others in the struggle to improve working conditions and pay for farm workers in Arizona.
Ely also won the case that established that Native Americans could use peyote in religious ceremonies. He has successfully fought for the rights of nursing home patients, veterans and the mentally ill. The list goes on and on.
His legacy in Arizona was cemented in 1974, when he co-founded the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, the most successful non-profit public interest firm in the United States. For this and for his other service to the public, he received the American Bar Foundation’s first Pro Bono Award.
Most recently he received the American Jewish Committee’s 2009 Judge Learned Hand Community Service Award, for his sustained contributions to the advancement of equality and democratic principles.