Attorneys Michael A. Castner and Colleen P. Murphy Receive Pro Bono Publico Awards

06/20/2017 - Established in 1987, this award recognizes the outstanding efforts of attorneys who have provided equal access to justice to the needy through the Volunteer Lawyer Program during the past year.  Award criteria includes:  case type and difficulty, the number of hours served, and the total number of cases.  Length of service through the program and attorney’s professionalism, compassion and commitment to public service are considered.

Michael A. Castner, Esq. received his BS from San Jose State University and is a graduate of the Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems, Program Management College. He earned his law degree from Roger Williams University School of Law.  In addition to Rhode Island, he is admitted to the Bars of Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia.   After a 20 year engineering career with Raytheon, Attorney Castner did not retire.  Instead, his professional focus became representing those in greatest need, strictly on a pro bono basis. In 2014, he began volunteering with South Coastal Counties Legal Services in Massachusetts, and joined the RI Bar’s Volunteer Lawyer Program and Public Service Involvement Committee in 2015.  Through the Bar Association’s VLP and Elderly Pro Bono Program, he has accepted 60 cases and devoted 300 plus hours for the indigent and homeless in numerous areas of law including family, housing, consumer and probate. When feasible, Michael firmly believes in employing collaborative problem solving to remove obstacles for settlement.  “My business/technical experience in negotiation has been an asset in facilitating creative, equitable resolutions for my clients.”  

On a personal note, a favorite story of Michael’s is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.   He has drawn inspiration to volunteer from the following excerpt:
“Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

Some of the highlights of Michael’s outstanding pro bono efforts include securing the return of two children to their mother after they were abducted by the father, negotiating a housing settlement that allowed a quadriplegic survivor of violence to keep his section 8 voucher, halting an eviction of a couple from a mobile home park that was their home for 25 years, settling a 6 year contested divorce/custody matter that involved 2 disabled children, and procuring dismissals of creditor claims against elderly and disabled fixed income individuals.  Attorney Castner also donates his time and expertise as a Volunteer Counselor at the Care Center at Christ Church in East Greenwich, where he provides advice and social service agency referrals.


Colleen P. Murphy, Esq.
earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia with High Distinction. She was selected for Phi Beta Kappa and for the Harry S. Truman Scholar from Virginia.  She received her law degree from Yale Law School where she was the Editor of the Yale Law Review and Director of the Yale Moot Court of Appeals.  Colleen has been a Professor of Law at Roger Williams University School of Law since 2000 and was recently selected 2017 Professor of the Year by the graduating class.  Her distinguished career includes being the author of numerous scholarly articles published in the nation’s leading law reviews on issues pertaining to civil procedure, remedies and the right to jury trial.    Her many and varied public service endeavors most recently include being a member of the Policy Council of East Bay Head Start, the Planning Committee for the 2016 District Court Conference for the US District Court for the District of Rhode Island, and membership in the Bar Association’s Volunteer Lawyer Program (VLP).

Beginning in early 2015, Professor Murphy accepted a VLP client for a divorce matter.  Subsequently, DCYF proceedings were brought against the client months later as well as a related probate matter.  Although she could have returned the case to the VLP because of the unexpected complications, she chose to continue to assist the client with these critical issues and reached out for mentors. She devoted a phenomenal 278 hours of pro bono service that resulted in a positive outcome for a family in tremendous need who would not have had the means to achieve justice without her outstanding dedication to these cases.  Professor Murphy nicely summarized her VLP experience:

After 25 years as a law professor without an active legal practice, I was daunted by the prospect of stepping back into court, especially with respect to legal proceedings I had never handled before.  But I received exceptionally helpful mentorship from members of the Rhode Island Bar: Neville Bedford with respect to the divorce proceedings, Frances Munro with respect to the DCYF proceedings, and Mark Heffner with respect to the probate court proceedings. It was enormously gratifying to assist a wonderful client and to be so well supported by other members of the Rhode Island Bar.