On this Veterans Day, the City Bar Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project presents the first video in an ongoing series intended to help veterans understand the benefits available to them from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

In this episode, Project Director Kent Eiler, an attorney and a Major in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, gives an overview of the basic eligibility requirements for receiving health care services from the VA:

More videos for veterans are coming soon. Click here and bookmark the page to view them all.

Veterans who reside in New York City: For free help with VA benefits for low-income veterans residing in NYC, please call 212-382-4722 or visit the Justice Center’s Veterans Assistance Project web page.


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The Justice Center kicked off the start of National Pro Bono Week on Monday night with the seventh annual Jeremy G. Epstein Awards for Outstanding Pro Bono Service. The reception hall at the New York City Bar Association was packed with family and friends celebrating the pro bono volunteers who went above and beyond in assisting disadvantaged New Yorkers with their complex legal problems.

New York City Bar President Debra L. Raskin started the evening with opening remarks and introduced the keynote speaker, Hon. Carol Bagley Amon, Chief Judge for the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York. Judge Amon described Jeremy G. Epstein’s unrelenting commitment to pro bono service and lauded the honorees’ achievements by stating:

“The attorneys we honor tonight have each found their own way to open the doors of justice to the communities they serve, and I am so impressed with their accomplishments. In learning about tonight’s recipients, I was reminded of the words of Pope Francis on his recent visit to New York in his speech at Madison Square Garden. He said:

‘In big cities, beneath the roar of traffic, beneath “the rapid pace of change”, so many faces pass by unnoticed because they have no “right” to be there, no right to be part of the city. They are the foreigners, the children who go without schooling, those deprived of medical insurance, the homeless, the forgotten elderly. These people stand at the edges of our great avenues, in our streets, in deafening anonymity.’

All of the award recipients tonight have, in their own way, noticed these faces and have heard their voices, lifting them up from that deafening anonymity.”

City Bar Fund Board Chair Jane C. Sherburne presented the awards to the honorees, pictured below:

 Jeremy G. Epstein Awards Honorees & Speakers
Back row, from left: Anna Karpman, BNP Paribas; Rustin Paul, Blank Rome LLP; Angela Ni, Paul Hastings LLP; Pia Williams Keevil, Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP; Jane C. Sherburne, City Bar Fund Board Chair; Fay Cleghorn-Stephens, Citigroup Inc.; Jennifer Kroman, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP; Mary Croly, McLaughlin & Stern LLP; Lynn M. Kelly, CBJC Executive Director; Chelley E. Talbert, NBCUniversal, Inc.; Santiago Assalini, Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP; Marissa Geannette, White & Case LLP; Richard Mancino, Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP; Hon. Carol Bagley Amon, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York

Front row, from left: Martin Bunin, Alston & Bird LLP; Amy Epstein; Peggy Collen, Attorney-at-Law; Debra L. Raskin, New York City Bar Association President; Lisa Koenig, Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP

The 2015 Jeremy G. Epstein Awards are a part of the City Bar Justice Center’s “Falling for Pro Bono” campaign celebrating National Pro Bono week.

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women and their families. The City Bar Justice Center (CBJC) can attest to this figure, as 30% of clients assisted by the Legal Clinic for the Homeless have been victims of or affected by domestic violence.

Attorney General Schneiderman has issued a helpful new brochure—“Victims of Domestic Violence: Know Your Rights!”— to inform domestic violence victims and survivors about their legal protections.

In the announcement of the brochure, the Attorney General stated, “Protecting New Yorkers from domestic violence – and the housing and job discrimination that victims often face in the wake of such abuse – is a key part to stopping the cycle of violence in our state and our nation.”

The brochure includes information on fair treatment in the workplace and rights to fair housing, such as the following guidance:

  • Under New York State’s Human Rights Law, it is unlawful to discriminate against someone because that person is a victim of domestic violence.
  • It is illegal for a landlord to refuse the federally subsidized housing vouchers of domestic violence victims.

You can download the “Victims of Domestic Violence: Know Your Rights!” brochure here.

CBJC offers the following additional advice and resources for victims of domestic violence:

  • If you are in need of immediate help, please call 911.
  • If you are an immigrant survivor of domestic violence, child abuse, trafficking or sexual assault, CBJC’s Immigrant Women and Children Project (IWC) may be able to help. IWC assists clients with the preparation of immigration applications, including special immigration relief under the Violence Against Women Act or U & T nonimmigrant status. Contact the IWC at (212) 382-4711.
  • CBJC’s Legal Hotline offers legal information, advice and referrals to low-income New Yorkers on a range of civil legal issues, including domestic violence. The Legal Hotline phone number is (212) 626-7383.
  • The New York City Domestic Violence Hotline can be reached by calling 1-800-621-HOPE, or by calling 311 if you are in New York City.

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October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and, in an effort to encourage women to utilize this important screening tool, Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert (JALBCA) is sponsoring free mammograms in New York City. If you are a woman aged 40 or older, have never had a mammogram, or have not done so in the past year, here are some reasons why you should visit their SCAN VAN.

1. One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

2. A mammogram can detect early signs of breast cancer and can show changes within the breast before the patient or doctor can feel them. Mammograms are the most powerful and accurate method currently available for detecting breast cancer.

3. Early detection saves lives. According to studies, breast cancer in younger women – between the ages of 40 and 50 – tends to be more aggressive than in older women; therefore early detection is particularly crucial for this age group.

4. Mammograms lower the risk of dying from breast cancer by 35% in women aged 50 and over. While women in this age range tend to have slower-growing breast cancers, they make up eighty-five percent of new diagnoses.

5. Approximately 75 percent of patients who are diagnosed with breast cancer have no discernible risk factors, making mammograms a vital factor in early detection. Since 1990, mammograms have reduced breast cancer mortality in the United States by nearly one-third.

JALBCA’s SCAN VAN will be at the following locations in Queens on Monday October 26th:

Queens Family Court, 151-20 Jamaica Avenue, from 8:00a.m. to 12:00p.m.

Long Island City Court House, 2510 Court Square, starting at 1:30p.m

Appointments are necessary.  To make an appointment, call 1-800-564-6868.

By: Vivienne Duncan, Director, Cancer Advocacy Project, City Bar Justice Center.

CAP is supported by funding from JALBCA.


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The City Bar Justice Center, the pro bono affiliate of the New York City Bar Association, has announced the winners of the seventh annual Jeremy G. Epstein Awards for Outstanding Pro Bono Service. Honoring the most outstanding volunteer attorney in each of the Justice Center projects, the awards will be presented at a Celebration of Service reception on October 26th from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m., at the New York City Bar Association, 42 W. 44th St., as part of National Pro Bono Week.

This year’s awardees are:

Santiago Assalini, Rich Mancino, Pia Williams Keevil, Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP
Martin Bunin, Alston & Bird LLP
Fay Cleghorn-Stephens, Citigroup, Inc.
Peggy Collen, Solo Practitioner
Mary Croly, McLaughlin & Stern LLP
Marissa Geannette, BNP Paraibas
Lisa Koenig, Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy LLP
Jennifer Kroman, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP
Angela Ni, Paul Hastings LLP
Rustin Paul, Blank Rome LLP
Chelley E. Talbert, NBCUniversal, Inc.

Hon. Carol Bagley Amon, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, will deliver a keynote address and Jane C. Sherburne, City Bar Fund Board Chair, will present the awards. City Bar President Debra L. Raskin will provide introductory remarks. Lynn M. Kelly, Executive Director of the City Bar Justice Center stated “The 2015 Epstein Pro Bono Award winners represent the range of New York City’s vibrant legal community engaged in pro bono work to assist the disadvantaged – from attorneys in corporate legal departments and global law firms to a solo practitioner. Their dedication and commitment to their pro bono clients represent the very best in the profession and we are so proud to work with them.”

Jeremy G. Epstein, who passed away in May 2009, was a partner at Shearman & Sterling LLP and a board member at the City Bar Justice Center, The Legal Aid Society and the Fund for Modern Courts. He logged over 5,000 hours of pro bono and public service over 20 years.

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Scenario: Judy is retired and her long-term companion Mavis has been unable to work in her later years because of a disability. They have no children and live alone in a modest co-op apartment that Mavis purchased decades earlier. Both contribute their fixed income to the maintenance fees and other shared expenses. They watched with some interest the marriage equality movement but never thought marriage was right for them. While they know they can benefit from speaking with a lawyer to get their affairs in order, the legal fees are beyond their means and there always seems to be some more pressing financial obligation.

The central mission of the LGBT Advocacy Project is to address unmet legal needs of the most vulnerable low-income lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender New Yorkers. The project partners with community organizations and operates a free helpline to determine the community’s needs and how best to address them. The lack of sufficient life-planning services for the elderly is an area of particular concern the project has identified.

Life planning is generally the long view of how an individual may live his or her life securely and to its full potential, taking stock of goals and challenges. For a young person, it may be securing stable housing and employment. For a transgender person, it may be changing one’s name to match self-identified gender. For an elderly person, it may be to ensure healthcare and end-of-life decisions are in place and loved ones are protected in the case of death or illness.

Far too often, a gay or lesbian senior comes to the project when his or her life partner or close friend gets sick or passes away and there has been inadequate or no planning. If Mavis, for example, gets sick and is no longer able to make healthcare decisions for herself, someone else will have to step in. Without any formalized relationship or legal documentation, Judy has no say in what happens with Mavis, even if Mavis made clear her wishes. Even worse, Judy could potentially be kicked out of her home she shared with Mavis if a hostile family member, even a distant cousin, appears and takes control of the estate after Mavis passes away.

A spouse or domestic partner is presumed to make some of these decisions, but if a person is not partnered or his or her relationship is not formalized, a healthcare proxy, living will and power of attorney can allow a trusted friend or companion to make these important health and financial decisions. A will can ensure that a person’s property—whether the contents of an apartment, retirement account or the apartment itself—is distributed as wished.

If you are elderly or suffer from a serious illness or disability, you should consult with an attorney to get your personal and financial affairs in order so that your wishes can be carried out when you are unable to do so. The LGBT Advocacy Project can provide legal advice and may match you with a trained volunteer attorney to assist you with preparing a healthcare proxy, living will, power of attorney, and will. To speak with a project coordinator to request such services, call the LGBT Advocacy Helpline at 212-382-6759.

If you are an attorney and would like to volunteer with the LGBT Advocacy Project, please email the project coordinator, David Preciado. The CBJC is providing a free training titled “Will Preparation for Low-Income New Yorkers” on October 1, 2015, from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. You can find more information at this link: http://bit.ly/1NrS5WJ

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Angelica (names changed for privacy and safety) came to the City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Women & Children Project (IWC) in 2013 seeking legal assistance because she was a victim of international labor trafficking. IWC works with immigrant survivors of violent crimes, including domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, hate crimes and human trafficking to secure immigration and other civil legal relief.

Back home in the Philippines, in 2006, Angelica had responded to a job posting seeking hotel workers in the United States. She applied for the job and was selected for an interview. Because there were fees to go through the process and additional fees if she were offered the job, she borrowed hundreds of dollars. She was offered the position and secured a visa to come to the U.S., eager to begin working and to send money home to her husband and children. She did some calculations and thought that she would be able to pay back the loans within a few months.

When Angelica arrived in the U.S., the job conditions were nothing like what she had been promised.  The recruiting agency in the Philippines and a labor agency in the U.S. worked together to force Angelica to work for over two years at upscale hotels in the U.S. for very little money and made her live in pre-arranged, crowded, and overpriced housing. Angelica worked at hotels in three different states before she realized that the agencies had defrauded her and that she would not be able to pay back her debt. She escaped and came to the City Bar for help.

Staff at the City Bar Justice Center helped her gather documentation and put together her application for T nonimmigrant status as a victim of trafficking. Angelica was able to include her husband in the petition, as well as her three children who were still living in the Philippines. In January 2015, Angelica’s application was approved and she got work authorization. Unlike the visa that she had when she worked for the hotel chains, the T status for victims of trafficking allowed her to find a job in any industry and did not tie her down to one employer. The City Bar Justice Center worked with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to help Angelica’s children travel to the United States, and they arrived here in June. They had been apart for eight years. Angelica is now reunited with her family and working to build a new life for them in the United States. Her children will be starting school in the fall and the family is looking forward to a new life together.

“It was very touching and I can’t help to shed tears,” said Angelica. “I am so proud of the story and the staff of the City Bar Justice Center who helped me accomplish my dreams of a decent and happy life together with my family….Thank you so much.” As a token of appreciation, her children brought with them a small gift for attorney Laura Berger, a model jeepney, a form of public transportation that has become a symbol of Filipino culture and art for its brightly colored decorations.

A few weeks later, another happy reunion between mother and child took place. Maria met Jose in 1993 in Tenancingo, Mexico, when she was twenty years old. They began dating and from the beginning he was very abusive.  He soon forced her into prostitution. When their son was born, he allowed her to take some time off to care for him. After a few months, Jose placed the child with his family and told her that they were going to the U.S. so that she could make more money. They went to the U.S. and he continued to demand that she work in prostitution and he took all of her earnings, which he sent home to Mexico. After a few years, she convinced him that their son would be better off helping her parents on their farm so she was able to move him to their home.

In 2010, Maria was finally able to escape Jose’s abuse and control when he returned to Mexico. She instructed her parents never to let Jose take their son or to let him into their home. Maria came to the City Bar Justice Center on the advice of a friend back in 2011. I prepared her application for T nonimmigrant status and included her son as a derivative. The case was approved in 2013 but there were challenges getting Jorge to the U.S. He had a visa, but he was not able to obtain a passport without the permission of both parents. Maria had not been in touch with Jose for several years and wanted to keep it that way.

I contacted a Mexican human rights organization called IMUMI that works to support the rights and safety of migrant Mexican women. I had met their staff a few years ago at the Freedom Network conference (a national network of service providers who work with survivors of human trafficking) and was impressed by their anti-trafficking work. They put me in touch with an attorney who agreed to bring a case in Family Court in Mexico to allow Maria’s sister to petition for her nephew’s custody, which would allow her to help him apply for a passport. The process took more than a year and a half and had many roadblocks. During this time we reached out again to the IOM to see if they could help coordinate Jorge’s travel to the U.S. and accompany him throughout the process.

Maria’s son wanted to finish out the school term and flew to the U.S. in July. He is finally living with his mother again and his two-year-old half brother. Maria is overjoyed at having her family finally living safely with her and she is optimistic about their future.


IWC leverages additional resources through pro bono support from the private bar. To make a donation to the City Bar Justice Center’s programs, please click here.

Suzanne Tomatore is director of the Immigrant Women and Children Project at the City Bar Justice Center.


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Ann Smith (not her real name), a senior in her 60s, lost her job and soon found herself struggling to pay the bills. Despite her best efforts to keep things going, she gradually fell behind with the rent and was evicted from her apartment. She left with only what she could carry. All the rest of her belongings, including furniture, almost all of her clothing and other irreplaceable mementos, were bundled up and put into storage by her landlord.

Ann spent nine months in a shelter until she was finally offered a place at a Single Room Occupancy (SRO) residence.

As the weather turned cooler and she continued to wear the small selection of clothes she had taken with her, Ann worried about the fate of her property. Since the landlord had paid just one month’s fees to put her items into storage, several months of payments were overdue on the unit.  As a result, Ann was not permitted to enter the unit and, worse, the facility was threatening to auction off her belongings unless she paid the outstanding amount. She was now facing winter with her possessions being ‘detained’ in a different borough where, even if she could have paid the fees, it was difficult for her to get to.

Ann had been requesting help from the NYC Human Resources Administration (HRA), which, among other services, provides financial assistance to eligible individuals in Ann’s situation. In particular, they can cover monthly storage fees and arrears, and the costs of moving to an alternate location. However, trying to navigate HRA’s convoluted system, and its duplicative demands, had exhausted Ann and she despaired of ever recovering her belongings.

Ann was directed to one of the free legal clinics run by the City Bar Justice Center’s Elderlaw Project, which is staffed by attorneys from the law firm Reed Smith, LLP. Ann met with Evan Farber, and explained her predicament. Although, on the face of it, she was eligible for the benefits she was seeking, when Evan followed up he soon encountered the same bureaucratic obstacles Ann had run into.

Over a period of months, Evan advocated with HRA on Ann’s behalf, while also mediating with the storage facility to dissuade them from auctioning off of her belongings. There were constant promises by HRA that they would cover the monthly storage fees, but payments were extremely sporadic and did little to satisfy the storage company. While Ann’s case inched its way through HRA’s system, she found an alternate, conveniently-located storage unit, which she was in danger of losing unless she received assistance from HRA. Faced with the impending auction of her possessions, Evan and Ann joined forces with Priom Ahmed, a staff member at NYC Council Member Daniel Garodnick’s office, to challenge the continuing bureaucratic road blocks.

As a result of their tenacious joint advocacy, HRA finally covered the storage arrears and moving costs to the new facility which, after a year, totaled over $5,000. This financial assistance was crucial in allowing Ann to move beyond the devastating experience of being evicted, living in a shelter, and almost losing everything that she owned. After months of constant stress she now has a safe place to live and ready access to her property.

Expressing her happiness to Evan and Priom, she wrote “Miracles happened after a lot of hard work from both of you. How could I thank you enough!  I am all moved in to my storage unit and it all fits with room left over.  Amazing…thank you so much!”

To contact the Elderlaw Project, call 212-382-6658 or email them here.

Vivienne Duncan is Director of the Elderlaw & Cancer Advocacy Projects at the City Bar Justice Center

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The New York Immigration Court, like most immigration courts around the country, continues to be inundated with young Respondents who have fled their home countries in Central America.  As a result, the courts have chosen to prioritize newly arriving unaccompanied minors and adults with children through what has been dubbed the “surge docket.”  As the number of children seeking refuge in the United States continues to grow, so too does the need for competent counsel.

Danny Alicea, Fragomen Fellow at the City Bar Justice Center, with one of the youngest respondents the Justice Center has ever seen.

The role of an attorney is crucial: helping clients navigate the immigration court process, screening them for forms of immigration relief, and getting them connected with medical and social services providers.  A great portion of these “surge docket” respondents qualify for humanitarian relief such as asylum, withholding of removal, or Special Immigrant Juvenile Status–relief, that for many would be impossible to obtain without counsel.

Another value that comes with having an attorney is the sense of security that many feel when they have an advocate preparing them for the immigration proceedings and accompanying them throughout the process.  Legal service providers have stationed themselves in immigration courts during “surge dockets” to ensure that Respondents on the priority docket are screened for relief, and in hope of finding them pro bono counsel.  The City Bar Justice Center has sent volunteer attorneys to assist with such screenings and has also taken on many new cases involving minors. Our Immigration legal team regularly volunteers at these dockets and holds trainings on this topic.


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When Sophia Sylvester’s two children started experiencing severe dry skin that no cream or prescription could cure, she took matters into her own hands and decided to concoct her own lotion.

The products she had found in stores contained obscure ingredients she couldn’t pronounce and ended up making her children’s skin worse. Wanting to create an all-natural product for her children, she researched “healing butters and oils” and started making her own body butter at home. Miraculously, her children’s skin improved.

Sophia had been a medical assistant at a local Brooklyn hospital, but she stopped working after getting injured on the job. The unexpected unemployment gave her the time to continue making the butters at home, along with massage oils, soap bars, and soy candles. She started selling the products at her doctor’s office and sharing samples with her friends and family. Receiving widespread praise and positive feedback, Sophia decided to focus on her business full-time and knew she had to take steps to protect it.

Sophia approached the Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) in 2010 for trademark assistance for her business name, “Brooklyn Flavors” as well as for some of her product names, which were based on historical locations in Brooklyn. NELP paired her with volunteer attorney Ana Alba of Alba Law Firm, P.C. Although initially there was a concern that Sophia couldn’t trademark her business name due to its widespread use, Ana eventually filed two successful trademark applications.

In 2013, Sophia found a storefront in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. She came back to NELP for assistance with reviewing and negotiating the commercial lease. NELP paired her with Matthew Schneid, formerly an associate at DLA Piper LLP, and she opened her storefront in August 2013. “He worked out a great lease for us and really fought for us,” Sophia said. “He did such a great job that even the landlord was wondering where I got the money to get an attorney from this high-end law firm.”

Sophia said that NELP “made it possible for my business to take the next step. It was smooth sailing and really great. I have recommended NELP to friends and will continue to do so.”

NELP was launched by the City Bar Justice Center in 2003 to provide low- to moderate-income micro-entrepreneurs with the legal services necessary to get their businesses started off on as sound a footing as possible. To date, NELP has partnered with more than 100 law firms, 25 corporate legal departments, and 30 community-based organizations to assist more than 14,000 clients through the provision of brief services, direct representation, legal clinics, and community presentations.

Sophia’s all-natural skincare products can be purchased online at www.brooklynflavors.com or at her store located at 820 Washington Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11238.

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