In 2008, fitness instructor and entrepreneur Tim Haft approached  the City Bar Justice Center’s Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) seeking legal assistance. Four years prior, he had founded Punk Rope, a fitness company best known for its fitness class of the same name, which combined intense cardio with a fun and playful attitude. Having grown up in New York City, Haft was familiar with the endless fitness options available to the average New Yorker but found that nobody was doing what he wanted to do–have fun while working out in a carefree environment for adults, “kind of like recess.”

Haft’s rope-jumping based fitness class focused on increasing strength, stamina, and coordination. After hearing a lot of no’s from potential venues, he found allies in community centers such as the YMCA and JCC that were willing to give his idea a shot. Within four years, he got Punk Rope off the ground with consistent weekly classes across the city as well as certification workshops throughout the U.S. As his business expanded, Haft knew he needed to craft some sort of plan in order to protect his innovative intellectual property.

Despite growing interest in Punk Rope from major fitness chains and some exciting media attention, Haft’s business was not profitable enough to afford private counsel. At the recommendation of a friend, he reached out to NELP for assistance.

NELP connected Haft with volunteer attorney Randi Kassover of Merrill Lynch, who reviewed contracts for Punk Rope to use with its instructors and facilities. Kassover also assisted with licensing issues for a fitness DVD Haft was in the process of creating. She helped him license music from bands for the DVD and crafted a disclaimer for its opening credits.

As Punk Rope celebrated its fifth anniversary in 2009, fitness trainers in Europe reached out to Haft with interest in becoming Punk Rope-certified so they could teach their own Punk Rope classes across the pond. Given the hands-on manner of operating his business, Haft was initially reluctant to launch a distance certification program. When he decided to proceed, NELP connected Haft with two solo practitioners, Irena Mykyta and David Leyden, who helped him navigate the international market. They created a contract for him to use with overseas fitness instructors interested in licensing the Punk Rope concept. The first overseas instructor to become certified was in the Netherlands. Since then, Punk Rope has certified instructors in England, Canada, and New Zealand.

On the role NELP played in his business development, Haft says, “NELP’s volunteers are really motivated, knowledgeable, and willing to share their expertise and make time. To this day, all these years later, the foundation that they laid was really significant and so important for a young business. If your foundation is weak, there are going to be cracks down the road and you’ll have to backpedal to figure things out.”

Punk Rope classes are now offered across the country in California, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New Jersey, and New York, as well as abroad. Punk Rope has been featured on national television in the United Kingdom and in a variety of major publications within the U.S. In 2013, Punk Rope was invited to present a workshop at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s prestigious Summer Teacher Institute. Punk Rope’s Rope Jumping for Maximum Fitness DVD has sold more than 1,000 copies. To find a Punk Rope class near you, visit http://punkrope.com.

 

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In recent years, the problem of sexual assault within the military has gained national attention.  At the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project (VAP) we hear from dozens of veterans who were assaulted while in the military. As demonstrated by these clients’ stories, the harms caused by sexual violence do not end after discharge from the military. Military Sexual Trauma victims (MST) will likely carry with them the psychological trauma caused by a sexual assault for the rest of their lives. Conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, or anxiety can have long-term effects on a veteran’s ability to engage in meaningful work and lead a full, productive civilian life.

VAP represented a veteran from the Vietnam era who was violently attacked and sexually assaulted by a fellow serviceman. The victim was hospitalized following the assault and reported the incident to his doctors and to the military police; however, to his knowledge, there was no investigation. The client had repeatedly filed for benefits for PTSD on his own, but had been denied. The VA claimed they were unable to find his service medical records. The pro bono attorney working on his case was able to locate a fellow service officer who had served with the client and remembered the incident. This officer drafted an affidavit corroborating the assault. The VA agreed to grant benefits for PTSD and the veteran was awarded nearly $95,000 in retroactive benefits.

In another VAP case, a woman who served in the 1970s was continually harassed and eventually sexually assaulted by her commanding officer. Immediately following this incident, the victim attempted suicide by jumping onto a highway. She was hospitalized after the suicide attempt for a broken ankle and psychiatric distress. However, she never reported the sexual assault because she feared retaliation from her commanding officer. She pushed through and continued her service. Her pro bono attorney was able to argue that the veteran, who had a sound record of military service, would not have attempted suicide if this incident had not in fact occurred. The veteran’s claim was granted and she received enough in retroactive benefits to pay debts that had accrued due to her medical issues and inability to work. Over the course of our representation, this veteran also became an active advocate for other veterans and started a group for female veterans who have faced sexual harassment and discrimination in the military.

Some 14% of the cases VAP opened in the last six months involve an MST claim. While Department of Defense statistics indicate that women are proportionally more likely to face sexual assault in the military, our Project has seen about an equal number of men and women filing MST claims over the years. This may be because a higher number of men have served in the armed forces in our nation’s history. VAP serves veterans from World War II and Korea all the way through the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our experience on VAP has shown that legal representation can be instrumental in ensuring that claims involving MST are decided correctly by the Veterans Administration.

Caitlin Kilroy is Staff Attorney for the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project.

 

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As anyone who has been through it knows, the stress of losing a family member is compounded by the details that must be attended to in its wake. The City Bar Justice Center’s Planning and Estates Law Project (PELP) has helped more than 270 low-income New Yorkers since 2013  with important legal issues when a family loses or is about to lose a loved one. Following is a checklist that could be helpful to many families:

  1. When making funeral arrangements, keep a copy of the funeral bill marked “paid.”
  2. Request a minimum of three death certificates from the funeral home.
  3. Safeguard and inventory the deceased’s personal belongings.
  4. Search the deceased’s home for important items and papers, including a will, bank statements, safe deposit box key, and post office box key.
  5. If you locate a will, determine whether it is the original will or a copy.  IF YOU LOCATE AN ORIGINAL WILL DO NOT UNSTAPLE IT.  Keep the will in a safe place. If you locate a copy of the will, try to locate the original, including by reviewing the will to determine whether the signing of the will was overseen by an attorney. If an attorney is identified, contact the attorney to determine whether the attorney has the original will.
  6. Make arrangements for the collection or forwarding of the deceased’s mail. The deceased’s mail should be routinely reviewed to determine whether the mail discloses any of the deceased’s assets.
  7. Determine whether the deceased had a pension, individual retirement account, or life insurance policy. Contact the institution to determine whether the deceased named a beneficiary of the pension, account, or policy
  8. Make a list of the deceased’s closest family members.
  9. Notify or contact social security, the Veteran’s Administration (if applicable), and the deceased’s employer to determine whether death or survivor benefits are available.
  10. If you are low-income, contact the Planning and Estate Law Project – PELP – at the City Bar Justice Center for help probating the deceased’s will or petitioning for letters of administration to handle the deceased’s estate if a will cannot be located for the deceased.

When a Family Member is Very Sick, Terminally Ill or Incapacitated
It is best to address personal estate planning matters and obtain information and documents when a family member is living and competent. Ascertain whether the family member has a will, health care proxy, power of attorney, or direction regarding organ donation or disposition of remains. If the family member has any of these documents, ascertain where the documents are and safeguard them. If the family member does not have any of these documents, have the family member contact PELP at the City Bar Justice Center for help in preparing these documents.

To contact The Planning & Estates Law Project, call  212-382-6756.

 

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January 12, 2015 Training on Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Certain Nationals of West Africa

Due to the ebola virus outbreak in West Africa, nationals of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia who reside in the United States and meet certain criteria may now apply for Temporary Protected Status.

The registration period for TPS applications has already begun. Starting in January, the City Bar Justice Center will host several TPS application assistance clinics for West African foreign nationals. Assisting with TPS applications is a straightforward opportunity for attorneys who are looking to volunteer a few hours of their time.

Attorneys interested in volunteering at our TPS clinics but unfamiliar with the TPS process can sign up for an hour-long TPS training the Justice Center will be conducting in partnership with the HIV Law Project.

The training will take place on the evening of January 12, 2015 from 6:30-7:30pm at the New York City Bar Association at 42 West 44th Street.

To RSVP for this training, email the City Bar Justice Center’s Fragomen Fellow, Danny Alicea, here.

 

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As the CFO/Assistant Treasurer of the City Bar Fund, I consider giving to charity to be a vital and noble practice. Some pundits say that those who make philanthropic gifts live longer. To follow the path of charity and at the same time add years to one’s life is clearly a wonderful win-win situation, but I leave the proof to others.

For those who own securities, though, there is another great win-win situation associated with charitable giving that I am happy to promote and document: gifting appreciated long-term securities to a nonprofit.

A gift of appreciated securities held for more than one year may provide significant benefits to you as a contributor, such as:

  • Entitling you to a charitable income tax deduction for the fair market value of the gifted securities as of the date of the gift.
  • Eliminating capital gains tax that would ordinarily become due if you sold the appreciated securities on the open market and donated the proceeds to charity.
  • Claiming your charitable deduction against up to 30% of your adjusted gross income.  Any unused deductions can be carried forward over the next five years.
  • Providing a way to help you to achieve your long-term financial objective of reducing your income and estate taxes.

There are some things to keep in mind. If you have securities that have declined in value over the years and are interested in donating them to charity, you may find it more advantageous to sell the securities first and contribute the proceeds to charity as opposed to donating the securities outright.  This strategy should allow you to claim a deduction for both the loss from the sale of the securities and the charitable gift.

If you are considering donating stock that is subject to a cash merger or tender offer, it is important for you to note that you will be subject to tax on the capital gain even though the shares were transferred to the charity before the tender offer became effective.

There may be particular circumstances relevant to your financial position, so it is always important to consult your tax advisor.

If you are interested in making a gift of securities to the City Bar Fund or one of its departments, please email either me or Marilyn Casowitz to obtain the stock transfer instructions.

All the best for the holidays!

*          *          *

A copy of the City Bar Fund’s most recent annual financial report may be obtained from the City Bar Fund or the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, ATTN: FOIL Officer, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271.

 

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These days, it is not uncommon for attorneys to work abroad for periods of times. We are a peripatetic group. Certain ties, however, continue to bind. We maintain allegiances to particular places and causes.  Perhaps you are an attorney working in the U.K. but admitted in New York and you want to make a year-end charitable gift to a U.S. legal services organization that provides legal services to the poor and underserved. You may be interested in supporting this critical philanthropic purpose, as well as in satisfying the pro bono reporting requirements on your New York biennial attorney registration. We hope you will consider the City Bar Justice Center (CBJC).

Recently, CBJC was asked by a London-based lawyer to register with the CAF American Donor Fund (CADF) so that the lawyer could make a gift. CBJC is now an approved charity to receive grants from CADF, which is a subsidiary entity of the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF), a family of charitable organizations registered in the U.K. Giving through CADF, a donor advised fund, may allow donors who pay tax in both the U.S. and U.K. to benefit from the incentives that encourage support for nonprofits both here and abroad. These donors may otherwise find that U.S. tax rules invalidate U.K. tax breaks on charitable giving and vice-versa. For more information about CADF, please visit www.cafonline.org/americandonorfund.

It is important to consult your tax and/or financial advisor about tax-advantaged giving. If you have questions or want assistance with making a gift, please contact CBJC’s Director of Development, Marilyn Casowitz, at 212.382.6661 or mcasowitz@nycbar.org.

(A copy of our most recent annual financial report may be obtained , upon request, from the City Bar Justice Center or the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, ATTN: FOIL Officer, 120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271.)

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Over the last few years, the Consumer Bankruptcy Project (CBP) of the City Bar Justice Center had to advise rent-stabilized tenants considering filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief in New York that there was a risk that they could lose their apartment if they filed for bankruptcy. A rent-stabilized lease protects a tenant from excessive rent increases, requires a landlord to offer renewal leases to the tenant, and allows qualified family members living with the tenant to remain in the home if the named tenant passes away or moves out. For many of CBP’s clients the possibility that filing for bankruptcy might result in being forced out of the affordable apartments where they’ve lived for many years, often for more than 30 years, was traumatic.

In a recent landmark opinion, Santiago-Monteverde v. Pereira (In re Santiago-Monteverde), 2014 NY Slip Op. 8051 (N.Y. Nov. 20, 2014), the New York State Court of Appeals, responding to a certified question from the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, has concluded that a rent-stabilized apartment is exempt from a debtor’s bankruptcy estate.

In the Monteverde case, the Chapter 7 Trustee relied on Section 365 of the United States Bankruptcy Code, allowing the Trustee to assume and assign the lease to the landlord for a value, which would have resulted in the tenant losing her apartment. The Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York ruled in favor of the Trustee. The debtor in the Monteverde case appealed to the Second Circuit and that Court in turn certified the question to the NYS Court of Appeals. The NYS Court of Appeals’ opinion now makes it clear that a rent-stabilized apartment is exempt from a debtor’s bankruptcy estate as a “local public assistance benefit” defined under Section 282 of New York’s Debtor and Creditor Law, because it protects a class of tenants who could not otherwise afford skyrocketing rental prices in a limited housing market.

This opinion is scheduled to go back to the Second Circuit for inclusion in that Court’s final decision. Once this is done, rent-stabilized tenants will finally be able to take advantage of the financial relief offered by a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing without the threat of losing their homes.

A generous grant from The New York Community Trust has enabled the CBP for the past two years to extend its reach to larger numbers of consumers considering Chapter 7 bankruptcy relief, among them many rent-stabilized tenants which it has counseled about the risk of loss of their apartments. Once the Monteverde decision is issued by the Second Circuit, CBP expects a significant increase in its caseload, as those who refrained from seeking bankruptcy relief will be able to move forward to obtain the economic fresh start they need.

 

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On November 13, 2014, as part of the New York City Immigration Advocacy Initiative’s (NYCIAI) final clinic for the year, over sixty participants in the Children’s Aid Society’s programs received free immigration consultations from experienced practitioners.

Since its inception in 2007, NYCIAI, a collaboration between the City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Outreach Project, the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), and Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP, has conducted several dozen such clinics.  NYCIAI partners with community-based organizations throughout New York City to conduct clinics where practitioners advise members of New York City’s underserved immigrant communities.

The City Bar’s Immigrant Outreach Project, led by the new Fragomen Fellow Danny Alicea, and twenty four practitioners rushed uptown after work to volunteer at the clinic.  “Coming into this role, I inherited the longstanding tradition of facilitating clinics with great organizations like the Children’s Aid Society. They rallied up the families; we brought the lawyers,” said Alicea.  The Children’s Aid Society transformed a large junior high school lunch room into office-like private work stations, innovatively using folded cafeteria tables as dividers.  With great finesse, they mobilized clients to attend the clinic—an overwhelming task, considering it was also the night of city-wide public school parent-teacher conferences.

The twenty four volunteer attorneys ranged from recently admitted attorneys to practitioners with more than ten years of experience. Among them were Martine Cuomo, a partner at Fragomen, and Matthey Bray, AILA’s pro bono committee chair.  Volunteers advised primarily on family-based immigration issues, but because so many expert practitioners were in attendance, we were able to provide roadmaps to individuals with all kinds of immigration issues, ranging from U-visa eligibility, asylum, naturalization, and complicated waiver inquiries.  “I was amazed at the variety of issues.  I really enjoyed the challenge and being able to help so many clients,” said Cuomo.

The City Bar Justice Center, Fragomen, and AILA will continue their community outreach activities through the NYCIAI collaboration.  The planning stages for the NYCIAI’s 2015 series of clinics has already begun.

 

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Suzanne Tomatore, the project director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Women & Children (IWC) Project, was one of only four U. S. representatives from service providers to attend  the U.N. Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) October 22 & 23 meeting in Vienna, Austria, on the role of recruitment fees and recruitment agencies in trafficking in persons. Recruitment fees are often mentioned as a factor that can fuel trafficking in persons.

A group of 25 experts attended from various countries including Serbia, Mexico, The Gambia, Zambia, Uganda, and several throughout Europe. About half the group was government officials or agents, including a police chief from Germany and an immigration official from Spain, and a third of the group consisted of representatives from UN affiliated agencies that work on policy.

The meetings were informal and all participants had the opportunity to present and comment on various subtopics. UNODC has contracted with consultants from Verité and others to draft a report on recruitment and trafficking that will be ready next year.

In her presentation, Suzanne shared her first-hand experience at IWC  working with survivors of labor trafficking. She included an overview of U.S. trafficking laws on labor and foreign labor recruiting and case studies from her docket at the City Bar Justice Center. She also presented some examples of recent U.S. civil cases.

At the end of the second day, the meeting group came up with some goals to strive for in connection with these issues, including:

  • Transparency for both the recruiter, the employer and the employee
  • No identification documents should be withheld
  • Freedom to change employment
  • Access to remedy
  • Safe working conditions
  • Workers are to be timely and directly paid

Suzanne called the meeting a very valuable opportunity for shared learning and policy recommendations. “Israel, for example, has an agreement with the Thai government to recruit foreign workers and has promoted a bilateral agreement as a way to curb exploitation and fraud in labor contracting,” she said. “Overall, it was a very interesting and engaging discussion on fair labor practices and trafficking. I look forward to the final report, in particular, to help us better assist our pro bono attorneys in working on these cases.”

 

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The City Bar Justice Center’s Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project is pleased to partner with the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCO) along with ten other legal service organizations to host a Small Business Academy (SBLA) at Brooklyn Law School on November 19. The SBLA is a comprehensive one-stop shop for small business owners to learn how to proceed with their ventures.

This is the second annual SBLA in which the Justice Center has participated. The first was held last year at Harlem’s Apollo Theater, where over 200 entrepreneurs received free legal counsel from volunteer attorneys representing nearly 35 top NYC law firms. This year’s SBLA is expecting nearly 100 attorneys to volunteer in addition to the legal service providers, financial consultants, and City and State agencies that will be providing free services to the fledgling businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs who may otherwise not have the means to receive expert counsel.

For more information and to register, please click here.

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