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THE RECORD
44th Street Notes


STAY THE COURSE


Nov 2002

What an example of humanitarianism — the very best of humanity responding to the barbarous acts of the very worst of humanity. What an example of professionalism — lawyers licensed in a public calling responding to a cry for help, fulfilling their time-honored responsibility to render pro bono service.

Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye

We are in the second year of the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks. Thousands of lawyers have devoted enormous efforts to helping the victims of this tragedy. This Association, through its September 11th legal initiative, has coordinated the work of over 3,000 lawyers.

The initial outpouring of assistance was unprecedented. We still marvel at the willingness of over 700 lawyers to respond on 24 hours notice for a training program to expedite the processing of death certificates. Thousands volunteered to serve as “ facilitators ” for 1700 individuals and families and 700 small businesses with legal needs resulting from the September 11th attacks. These facilitators provide holistic legal assistance, addressing the range of legal problems facing their clients, handling those in their areas of expertise and finding other lawyers to handle the rest.

Volunteer lawyers spent countless hours at the Family Assistance Center, helping victims and their families cope with the maze of agencies which were assisting the victims, identifying legal issues that needed immediate attention and providing comfort and human support to those dealing with heretofore unimaginable problems and personal tragedies.

One year removed from the attacks, the need for legal services keeps growing, and the legal issues facing the victims persist and often grow more complex. Yet it is hard to maintain the adrenalin rush of the first few months. Many of those who are providing this exceptional pro bono service have had to get their second wind. They now especially need the support of their colleagues at the bar, to help shoulder some of the burdens of the increasing legal needs that are emerging.

Here are only two of many examples of the intricate web of issues facing victims and their pro bono attorneys. As has been our model throughout this crisis, the facilitators helping these clients have been working to address the legal needs within their areas of expertise, and asking other volunteers to handle the remaining issues.

1. We were contacted by Myra, a young woman who wanted to know her “ rights ” now that her immigrant father, a former Windows of the World employee, was killed in the World Trade Center. Myra´s father, Jaime, had divorced her mother and re-married another woman whom Myra claimed her father had also divorced. Jaime´s new wife was claiming that, in addition to being the father of the two children she had with Jaime, Jaime had also begun adoption proceedings to adopt two of the woman’s other children; hence there was an “ equitable adoption” under New York law. Myra only spoke Spanish so we assigned her to a pair of attorneys, one of whom speaks Spanish. The team identified that the young woman had immigration, housing, worker´s compensation, trusts & estates, family, health, and benefits issues, and needed representation before the federal Victim Compensation Fund.

2. MH had a jewelry repair business that he ran out of his apartment on Fulton Street. MH fell behind on his rent and utilities. The landlord sued him in Landlord /Tenant Court. Upon meeting with MH, it was discovered that he also needed assistance in appealing grant denials from various agencies as well as Disaster Unemployment Assistance. MH is also contemplating filing for bankruptcy since his creditors are losing patience. It is clear that the need for legal assistance is great, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. We continue to receive calls each day from people only now reaching out for legal help, as the effects of the attacks continue to ripple throughout our City. This is a critical time for the legal community to renew our dedication to helping the victims of this terrible tragedy.

Our profession has taken on the daunting task of helping the victims of the September 11th tragedy. It is our professional and civic responsibility to stay the course and finish the job. Fellow New Yorkers, our neighbors in need continue to look to us for support and advice. Those interested in helping should contact the City Bar Fund at 212-382-4714, or online at cpsn@abcny.org.

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