The 2014 Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) is off and running, and this year the City Bar Justice Center (CBJC) is participating for the first time. What this means is that anyone who is a federal employee, including lawyers, can support the CBJC as part of their workplace giving.

What the CFC does is encourage and make it easy for federal government workers to ‘give back’ by providing them with a listing of qualified charities and allowing them to donate through payroll deductions or one-time contributions. The campaign runs from mid-September to mid-December each year.

You can find CBJC under the name “City Bar Fund” and our number is 50267 in the online and paper listing of charities provided by the CFC. We hope you will help us spread the word (and number)!

It is a great year for us to join the pool, because the CFC introduced “universal giving” with this campaign. Universal giving expands federal employees’ giving opportunities by allowing employees to donate to local charities that are not within the regions in which they currently work. Therefore, someone who works for a federal agency in D.C. is able to select us to be the beneficiary of his/her charitable workplace giving even though we are a New York City charity. The one requirement is that the contribution be arranged online rather than through the paper system.

CBJC staff have been attending charity fairs and employee education events organized by federal agencies to promote the campaign, distributing materials, addressing large groups, and speaking one-on-one  with attendees. The agencies include the General Services Administration, International Court of Trade, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Post Office, and Internal Revenue Service. It has been exciting to publicize the work of CBJC and the City Bar Fund, and we are finding a receptive audience.

If you have any questions, please email Marilyn Casowitz, CBJC’s Director of Development.

 

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The City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Women and Children Project recently met with a group of legal, labor rights and government agency leaders that work on issues of labor migration and human trafficking. The group was travelling with the Solidarity Center, a non-profit international organization that assists workers around the world struggling to achieve safe and healthy workplaces, family-supporting wages, social protections and a voice on the job. The leaders came from Bangladesh, India and the Maldives and work with migrant workers in the host, transit and destination countries and were uniquely situated to see the full effects of migrant worker exploitation.


Murshida Akter from the National Domestic Women Workers Union and Chandon Kuma Dey from the Bangladesh Independent Garment Workers Union Federation both work with workers from specific labor sectors and assist union leaders in advocating for workers.

Muslima Adter Roge and S K Rumana from BOMSA counsel migrant workers before they depart and coordinate with agencies in destination countries if workers experience exploitation or trafficking, to get them services and repatriate them. If migrant workers die while abroad, BOMSA assists in retrieving the bodies and ensuring that the workers’ families receive the pay that the worker should have received.

Fahmida Akther from the Bangladesh National Women Lawyers Association and Gayatri Jitendra Singh from the Human Rights Law Network in India work by providing legal services to victims of labor exploitation and trafficking and advocating with their respective governments to change the law and policy toward migrant workers.

Aishath Nafa Ahmed works with the Maldives Labour Relations Authority to change law and ensure adequate implementation to prevent human trafficking in a country where nearly half the population are migrant workers.

Jasiya Khatoon represents the Welfare Association for the Rights of Bangladeshi Emigrants, a workers’ rights organization that raises awareness of unlawful or unrelated recruiters and trafficking in order to improve conditions for migrants.

At the City Bar Justice Center, this group of activists, lawyers, and government officials were able to meet with New York-based lawyers and service providers to discuss the overlap in our work and our different strategies for assisting the victims of human trafficking.

 

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Since its inception in 2004, the City Bar Justice Center’s (CBJC) Pro Bono Consumer Bankruptcy Project (CBP) has been a highly successful initiative. The project recruits, trains and mentors law-firm attorneys who, working with Justice Center staff, provide free legal assistance to low-income debtors in bankruptcy matters.

Part of the success of this model was due to the issuance of a favorable Formal Ethics Opinion (2005-1) by the City Bar Committee on Professional and Judicial Ethics, wherein the committee concluded that under certain conditions volunteer lawyers from large commercial law firms could represent both low-income debtors in Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases and their creditors in unrelated matters without having a conflict of interest. This opinion removed a significant road block to law firm attorneys looking to volunteer with projects like the CBP. The opinion has also served as a model for pro bono programs in other jurisdictions such as Boston.

Recently the New Jersey Volunteers Lawyers for Justice (VLJ) created a low-income bankruptcy clinic using a model similar to that of the CBP and enlisted the help of volunteers from the firm of Lowenstein Sandler LLC, a New Jersey-based firm that already volunteers with the CBP. Because some of the prospective volunteers were concerned about possible conflicts of interest, the VLJ asked the New Jersey Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics (ACPE) to issue an opinion.

ACPE concluded that before volunteers could assist the VLJ, they would have to inform both prospective clients and obtain the consent of each to participate in the program. This condition would effectively prevent most volunteers from working with the VLJ. The VLJ appealed the opinion to the Supreme Court of New Jersey. The firm of DLA Piper LLP submitted an amicus brief to show the public benefit of pro bono representation for bankruptcy-related issues, and they asked the CBP to submit the City Bar Ethics Opinion and supporting statistics showing the need for, and value of, pro bono assistance in these types of matters.

On July 2, 2014 the Supreme Court of New Jersey issued a unanimous decision overturning the action of the ACPE. In doing so they cited the City Bar Ethics Opinion in support of their ruling and went on to state:

“Programs like the VLJ’s clinic help address this crisis [the inability to obtain legal services in civil matters], as volunteer lawyers try to pave the way for debtors to recover financially. We commend the lawyers in this and other pro bono initiatives who offer their skill and help at a time of need. By doing so, they help bridge the justice gap that leaves many low-income residents in New Jersey without legal services.”

This decision is a great victory in the fight for more pro bono legal services for those in need. The CBP is happy to have been of assistance to those organizations and firms who brought this case and fought for the successful outcome.

 

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Today the staff and director of the Immigrant Women and Children Project hosted a meeting with Tomomi Shimizu, Senior Program Manager of the Tokyo-based Kamonohashi Project.  The Kamonohashi Project is an anti-human trafficking organization with operations in Cambodia and India. They partner with local NGOs and the criminal justice system in order to gather data and coordinate efforts and training to raise awareness and provide support for survivors.

Tomomi Shimizu spoke about her program’s work in India, which they began in 2012. They studied the patterns of migration and found that nearly half of girls and women who are victims of sex trafficking in the region around Mumbai are originally from West Bengal in Northeast India. They focused their preventative work in West Bengal where they work with local partners toward an increased rate of investigation of inter-state trafficking and empowering survivors to testify in cases against their traffickers. Tomomi Shimizu is in the U.S. visiting other NGOs and government agencies to spread awareness of the Kamonohashi Project and learn from organizations engaging in similar work in the U.S.

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Karen* first became a client of the City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Women and Children Project (IWC) in 2010. She was a victim of severe labor trafficking and sexual abuse that started when she was brought to the United States at age 13 to help care for young children.

Karen’s family was poor back in her home country, and her stepmother made  arrangements  for her to come to the U.S. and work for a family she knew. She promised Karen that she would be able to go to school and work to earn some money. However, after Karen came to the U.S., she was never sent to school, nor was she paid for her work caring for children.

When Karen was about 20, and the children she cared for were older, she was able to escape her trafficker. The IWC helped Karen apply for a T Visa as a victim of trafficking, and when she was approved we subsequently helped her apply for permanent residence.  Since leaving her trafficker, she has obtained a GED and gotten vocational training.

Gaining status has been a stabilizing force in her life and the life of her young daughter, and she brought us this cake to thank us for our help!

IWC team, from left: Kelly Burnett, Summer Intern; Laura Berger, Staff Attorney; Suzanne Tomatore, Project Director; Aline Gue, Coordinator

(*Name changed to protect this trafficking victim.)

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The City Bar Justice Center is pleased  to be selected as one of Immigrant Justice Corps’ inaugural Justice Fellow Host Organizations. CBJC will host two Justice Fellows for a period of two years.

The Fellows will add legal muscle to the CBJC’s Immigrant Women and Children Project, which focuses on helping immigrants fleeing domestic violence and human trafficking, and the Refugee Assistance Project, which works with victims fleeing violence abroad. The CBJC is one of only two host organizations whose main model for delivering immigration services is to recruit, train and mentor pro bono attorneys to leverage scarce resources.

In addition to being closely supervised by the CBJC’s experienced immigration attorneys, volunteers will be provided by the Immigrant Justice Corps with a comprehensive immigration law training program at the start of, and throughout the course of, the fellowship.

With the emerging human rights crisis of unaccompanied children from Central America crossing the border and being released to relatives in New York, the fellows will help the CBJC develop pro bono programming in this important arena.  At the end of the fellowship, IJC Fellows will be experienced and well trained  to engage in high quality legal practice in the complicated field of immigration law.

The IJC’s goal is to use legal assistance to lift immigrant families out of poverty, helping them access secure jobs, quality health care and life-changing educational opportunities. Read more about the Justice Fellowships and about Immigrant Justice Corps here.

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LawHelpNY, the free, statewide resource for people facing civil legal issues, has launched a new text messaging campaign aimed at informing immigrant victims of domestic violence about their rights to shelter, healthcare and free legal services. LawHelpNY.org is part of the national LawHelp.org network of nonprofit legal information portals that empower individuals to help themselves.

LawHelpNY.org is an online source of free legal aid referrals, know-your-rights information and a variety of self-help tools. It is maintained by the New York LawHelp Consortium, a collaboration of 12 legal aid and bar associations, including the City Bar Justice Center and Pro Bono Net, the site developer and a nonprofit leader in increasing access to justice for the disadvantaged through technology.

This new SMS campaign, through the use of text messages provided in English and Spanish, will guide immigrant victims of domestic violence to emergency hotlines, shelters, local free legal assistance, and emergency health and medical care.

This will allow cell phone users to receive referral information without the need for a data plan, and will allow cell phone users with a data plan to access legal information directly from their phone. This pilot program focuses on three New York counties, The Bronx, Orange and Suffolk counties. Outreach about the plan will focus on bi-lingual programs, health services, Head Start Centers and other community and social services providing immigrant support. The main message of the campaign is “No one has the right to abuse you, even if you are undocumented.”  To get help, text SAFE to 877877. For help in Spanish, text SEGURA a 877877.

“With this innovative texting program, we hope domestic violence victims will be safer while asking for help via the privacy of a mobile phone, since the text can be deleted and victims can quickly contact a hotline or free legal service while on the go,” said Leah Margulies, Project Director of LawHelpNY.

LawHelpNY.org was launched in 2001 and now serves more than 350,000 visitors a year. LawHelp.org was redesigned with support from the Legal Services Corporation Technology Initiative Grant program.

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Since the onset of the Great Recession, thousands of people in the United States have been diagnosed with some form of cancer. For many of them, obtaining the most effective treatment is bound up with a host of interconnected concerns such as obtaining effective treatment, dealing with the financial burdens of out-of-pocket expenses (co-pays, deductibles, etc.), and preparing life-planning documents that reflect their wishes – an especially important consideration for those with minor children.

Another frequently expressed concern involves job-security, a heightened fear in tough economic times. As many people still obtain health insurance coverage through their workplace, the consequences of a job loss can be particularly challenging for those diagnosed with cancer, even with the new options available under the Affordable Care Act. The Cancer Advocacy Project (CAP) receives many calls from cancer patients who, before revealing their diagnosis at work, had received no performance-related complaints, but afterwards found their work criticized and every action scrutinized. Informing cancer patients and survivors about their rights in the workplace is an important element of CAP’s services.

Earlier this year, the Family Care Center at Calvary Hospital hosted a CAP employment rights presentation for patients, survivors and medical service providers. Arnold Pedowitz, a founding partner of Pedowitz & Meister, LLP, a recipient of the City Bar Justice Center’s 2013 Jeremy G. Epstein Award for Pro Bono Service, and longstanding CAP volunteer, gave the presentation. He addressed key legislative protections, including the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and answered commonly asked questions such as: “Should I disclose my diagnosis to all my work colleagues or only key people?” “Can my employer fire me if I need time off?” “How much time can I take and what should I say when asking for leave?” “What happens if they refuse my request?” “Can my employer fire me if I need to work fewer hours or modify my work when I return?”

A common and potentially dangerous misconception for cancer patients is the belief that an employee with cancer cannot be fired for any reason. As the presentation made clear, an employer has the right to terminate an employee, including someone with cancer, if he or she cannot perform essential job duties. Individuals with a disability as defined by the ADA may ask for reasonable accommodations that would enable them to carry out their work duties. However, an employer may terminate an employee if the requested accommodations would impose an undue burden on the business. Similarly, a cancer patient or survivor will not be protected from termination where the problem behavior or actions are unrelated to their disability, such as theft and other serious breaches.

With support from Judges and Lawyers Breast Cancer Alert (JALBCA), the City Bar Justice Center’s Cancer Advocacy Project (CAP) offers free community presentations and workshops for cancer-related groups and organizations in New York City on a number of topics, and has developed a range of useful informational guides.

If you would like a copy of CAP’s Employment Rights for Cancer Patients guide or a list of our other guides, or to schedule a presentation or to learn about volunteer opportunities for attorneys, please call us at 212-382-4785, or email us here.

Vivienne Duncan is Director of the City Bar Justice Center’s Cancer Advocacy Project

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A terrific leap forward for justice has happened in New York City. The City Bar Justice Center applauds the New York City Council’s allocation of $4.9 million in new funding for the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP) in this year’s city budget. The funding will establish the nation’s first public defender system for detained immigrants. By 2015, NYIFUP should be able to provide deportation defense to over 1,300 immigrants. The funding is going to three public defender organizations with experience in the overlap between criminal and immigration law and to Vera Institute for Justice, which coordinates the project.

The creation of the NYIFUP is the result of dozens of groups—and much of the legal community, including law schools, bar associations like the New York City Bar Association and pro bono groups like the Justice Center, along with private attorneys—working together with the Katzmann Study Group to find a solution to the growing number of immigrant New Yorkers deported without access to counsel. This problem had existed for a long time, but under the Obama Administration the number of immigrants detained and deported, including in New York, has soared. As of January 2014, there were 49,539 pending cases in New York City immigration courts—nearly double the amount at the end of fiscal year 2008.

The Justice Center responded to the lack of counsel for detainees by starting a pilot pro bono project in 2009, which included a weekly clinic in the Varick Street detention facility. We issued a report on the cases reviewed, finding that 39% of detained immigrants had a possible legal claim but no attorney to represent them. Thanks to the global immigration law firm Fragomen, a series of Fragomen Fellows at the Justice Center have managed collaborations with AILA NYC Chapter, The Legal Aid Society, NYU School of Law’s Immigration Clinic and others to train dozens of volunteer attorneys from leading New York City law firms to staff the clinic and handle cases on pro bono assignment from the City Bar Justice Center.

The Justice Center and our pro bono volunteers have together won release of 21 immigrants from detention and won cancellation of removal claims for 18 of them, reuniting loved ones with their families. This showed us what a difference trained counsel could make, a conclusion arrived at by many other recent studies of the unfairness in the immigration removal system, where many poor clients lose their cases because they cannot afford counsel.

Just a few weeks ago, the New York City Bar Association welcomed the issuance of NERA Economic  Consulting’s report “Cost of Counsel in Immigration: Economic Analysis of Proposal Providing Public Counsel to Indigent Persons Subject to Immigration Removal Proceedings.” NERA’s report, by Dr. John Montgomery, affirms the City Bar’s longstanding support for appointed counsel in immigration removal proceedings. The report finds that a national immigration federal public defender system’s benefits could offset the federal government’s costs, through detention, foster care and transportation savings, even without quantifying other likely fiscal, social and administrative benefits. As Dr. Montgomery said, “When we conducted our analysis, we found that under plausible assumptions, providing counsel to indigent respondents could pay for itself.”  We congratulate the City Bar Immigration and Nationality Law Committee, chaired by Lenni Benson, for requesting this report, and WilmerHale LLP for retaining NERA and providing extensive pro bono assistance to the City Bar in its immigration reform advocacy.

Building a local immigrant defender system will prove a wise move for New York City. The cost savings that will accrue may be enough to convince Washington and the rest of the country not to continue denying due process rights to family members that become ensnared in the tangle of our complex immigration laws. Sometimes doing the right thing is also the cost effective course of action, and that is all the more reason to provide representation to detained immigrants.

Lynn M. Kelly is Executive Director of the City Bar Justice Center.

 

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The City Bar Justice Center is pleased to be hosting ten interns this summer. Our interns will all be working on different projects at the CBJC, including the Veterans Assistance Project, the Elderlaw/Cancer Advocacy Project, the Immigrant Women and Children Project, the Legal Clinic for the Homeless, and more. The work of each intern will vary from project to project; some will be writing and researching, while others will work directly with clients.

CBJC interns

Top row: Matthew Fields, CUNY School of Law; Hyun Kim, Princeton University; Janelle Greene, Cardozo School of Law; Kelly Burnett, CUNY School of Law. Bottom row: Anna Low-Beer, Bard College; Megan Gallagher O’Toole, Wake Forest University. Not pictured: Lynn-Samantha Severe, graduate of John Jay College of Criminal Justice; Atif Sabur, St. John’s School of Law; James Bejjani, Fordham School of Law; Elizabeth Krauthamer, Wellesley College.

The CBJC summer interns arrived with diverse interests in justice that connect to our organization’s mission of providing legal services to low-income clients. Kelly Burnett, a rising 2L at CUNY Law School from Buffalo, NY, was drawn to work with the Immigrant Women and Children Project  because she is passionate about domestic violence prevention as well as the issues surrounding human trafficking. Matthew Fields, another CUNY Law School student from Oceanside, NY, hopes to gain experience working with clients in the Veterans Assistance Project. His work with veterans this summer will advance his career goal of becoming a member of the military Judge Advocate General’s Corps.

With a busy summer ahead and many clients to serve, we are thrilled to welcome these budding professionals to our organization.

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