Liberty Hill Foundation’s annual Upton Sinclair Dinner celebrates and honors community leaders working for a more just and equitable city for all Angelenos. This year’s recipient of the namesake Upton Sinclair Award is the executive producer of high grossing comedies, The Hangover series, and juvenile justice reform champion Scott Budnick. Vice President of Local Public Affairs for Southern California Edison Veronica Gutierrez will receive the Founder’s Award and respected independent film producers Albert Berger & Ron Yerxa will receive the Creative Vision Award.
The 2014 fundraising gala takes place on April 22 at the Beverly Hilton. Liberty Hill, L.A.’s public foundation, brings together community organizers, donor activists and allies advancing social justice, and expects more than 700 supporters to join in celebration of their 2014 honorees. All proceeds will support Liberty Hill’s mission of change, not charity.
The Upton Sinclair award is given annually to a person whose crusade for equality and justice inspires us. This year Liberty Hill is proud to present the award to Scott Budnick, executive producer of The Hangover films, for his inspirational and tireless work to reform the juvenile justice system. Budnick recently left Todd Phillips’ Green Hat Films, home to The Hangover movies, where he worked for 14 years, rising from casting assistant on 1999’s Road Trip to his current phenomenal success. In his post Green Hat Films career he will focus on making socially and politically relevant films as well as continuing the social justice work he thrives on. Budnick founded The Anti-Recidivism Coalition, and has been honored by Governor Jerry Brown as California’s Volunteer of the Year. He lobbied for two legislative bills that granted parole hearings and a chance at sentence modifications to approximately 6,500 California inmates serving life sentences for crimes they committed as juveniles. To many, the inmates touched by Budnick’s work are among the least sympathetic in the criminal justice system. As juveniles, they committed crimes, most of them violent, allowing prosecutors to try and convict them as adults. Until Budnick began lobbying in Sacramento, they were serving life sentences without hope of parole, or any opportunity to lessen their sentences through evidence of rehabilitation. The bills Budnick helped lobby for have changed that.
This year the recipient of the Founders Award, given to those whose philosophy and philanthropy embodies the spirit of “Change, Not Charity,” is Vice President of Local Public Affairs for Southern California Edison (SCE) Veronica Gutierrez. At SCE she is responsible for community and government relations at the municipal and county levels, and for licensing for SCE’s major transmission projects. Previously Gutierrez was vice president of Corporate Communications responsible for all SCE communications and community involvement. She was director of Public Affairs for Edison International (EIX), responsible for advancing initiatives and outreach efforts on the company’s behalf and focused on company efforts to positively influence global warming issues and advance new infrastructure development. Gutierrez also served as director of Regulatory Compliance for SCE where her responsibilities included company efforts to comply with regulatory decisions and affiliate transaction rules. She worked as a manager and lobbyist for SCE in San Francisco focusing on low-income customers, safety, customer service, and the environment, and in Washington, D.C. on California’s electricity crisis and EIX low-income housing and infrastructure investments. Before joining SCE, Gutierrez worked on the staffs of Los Angeles City Councilmember Jackie Goldberg and Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina. She practiced civil rights law with Litt & Marquez, where she focused on police abuse, housing discrimination, and employment discrimination. Gutierrez earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Princeton and a law degree from University of California at Berkeley Boalt Hall. Ms. Gutierrez has served on several non-profit boards, including Liberty Hill, the Center for Law and Justice, and LA Works. She has been an active advisor to the Madres del Este de Los Angeles, founded by her mother, Juana Gutierrez.
Liberty Hill is proud to present this year’s Creative Vision Award to film producers Albert Berger & Ron Yerxa for bringing their political values and inspired vision to independent American films. Berger & Yerxa formed Bona Fide Productions in 1993. They have recently been nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award for their 2013 film, Alexander Payne’s Nebraska. They have produced numerous other films with Oscars and nominations in various categories including Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Little Children (2006), Cold Mountain (2003), and Election (1999). They also produced Steven Soderbergh’s King of the Hill (1993), The Wood (1999), directed by Rick Famuyiwa, Bee Season (2005), The Ice Harvest (2006) and others. They executive produced I Am Trying to Break Your Heart (2002), directed by Sam Jones. After graduating from Tufts University, Albert Berger returned to his native Chicago where he owned and managed the Sandburg Theater, a revival showcase for obscure and classic films. He attended Columbia University Film School before moving to Los Angeles to write scripts for Paramount, TriStar, MGM, Orion, and producer Roger Corman. Berger went on to serve as vice president of development for Marvin Worth Productions at Paramount Pictures, where he worked on several projects, including Malcolm X. Ron Yerxa taught in the inner-city and worked as a journalist before starting a film career at CBS and Sovereign Films. Bona Fide Productions just celebrated its 20th anniversary.