This summer we hosted seven great law school and college interns for our summer intern program.

Justice Center Summer Interns 2013They are, from left to right, top to bottom: Andrew Lippman, CUNY Law; Faina Savich, Fordham Law; Megan O’Toole, Wake Forest; Ellen Rehnberg, Mt. Holyoke; Jill Westerberg, CUNY Law, Ryan Brachter, University of Oklahoma Law; and Janeen Hall, Brooklyn Law.  Among many other accomplishments, our interns helped carry out our mission of serving low-income New Yorkers by: conducting client intake interviews of refugees, potentially trafficked persons and cancer patients; assisting at legal clinics for veterans, small business owners, those affected by 9/11 and senior citizens; doing intensive legal research and writing; and going off-site to court and settlement conferences. The interns gained exposure to public interest work, various types of civil legal law projects and to the importance of pro bono in closing New York’s justice gap. We also thank Molly Greathead for her hard work during the spring/summer term.  We wish them the best in their school year and for their future law careers!

 

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Mei Lin Kwan-Gett, a partner at Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, has been elected Chair of the City Bar Fund, which oversees the City Bar Justice Center, the pro bono affiliate of the New York City Bar Association.

In addition, the following officers were elected for the 2013-2014 term: Edward S. Kornreich, Partner, Proskauer, as Vice President; Heidi Levine, Partner, DLA Piper, as Vice President; Bret I. Parker, Executive Director, New York City Bar Association, as Vice President; William Viets, Managing Director, JPMorgan Chase, as Secretary and Carol S. Rosenbaum, CFO, New York City Bar Association, as Assistant Treasurer.

Carey R. Dunne, Partner, Davis Polk, and President, New York City Bar Association, and Hon. Allan L. Gropper, United States Bankruptcy Judge, SDNY, who serves as City Bar Treasurer, serve ex-officio as President and Treasurer, respectively, of the City Bar Fund.

Four new members were elected to the board: Hazel-Ann Mayers, Senior Vice President, Assistant General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer, CBS; Pedro A. Medrano, Senior Counsel, BNY Mellon; Ellen J. Rosenthal, Vice President and Chief Counsel for Pfizer Legal Alliance, Pfizer; and Jordan A. Thomas, Partner, Labaton Sucharow.

Kwan-Gett is a partner in Willkie’s Litigation Department and co-head of the firm’s White Collar Criminal Defense Practice Group. She specializes in white collar criminal defense, regulatory enforcement matters, internal investigations, and complex commercial litigation. Prior to joining Willkie, Kwan-Gett was a Deputy Chief in the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. From 2001 to 2003, Kwan-Gett served as Special Investigative Counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General. While in private practice, Kwan-Gett has worked on numerous pro bono matters, including representing political refugees, battered women, and criminal defendants. Kwan-Gett was previously a Vice President of the New York City Bar Association and a member of the City Bar Fund Board. As Chair of the Justice Center, Kwan-Gett succeeds Jay Holtmeier of WilmerHale.

“The City Bar Justice Center’s dedicated and expert attorneys successfully mobilize the resources of the New York legal community to assist more than 20,000 indigent and low-income clients annually,” said Kwan-Gett. “I’m excited by the opportunity to help them further their mission.”

City Bar Justice Center Executive Director Lynn Kelly said, “The City Bar Justice Center is delighted to welcome our new board chair and board members. The City Bar Fund Board has an important role to play in encouraging pro bono, particularly as the New York courts institute new admission and reporting requirements for pro bono. This is an incredibly important time for the CBF Board to help facilitate the expansion of quality pro bono opportunities that are well supported by mentors with poverty law expertise.”

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As Special Master of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, I would like to thank the City Bar Justice Center for its invaluable service in offering free legal clinics (the most recent one on June 11, 2013) for individuals needing assistance in filing claims without an attorney under the Fund. Nine clinics, serving over 300 individuals, have been held through the Justice Center since the VCF opened on October 3, 2011. Needless to say, this service could not be provided without the diligent aid and extraordinary commitment of the many law firms and pro bono attorneys in the New York Metropolitan Area who have been willing to give of their time and expertise. The individuals filing claims have expressed much gratitude for the legal advice they received in filing their claims. In addition, pro bono coordinators from these law firms have been enormously helpful in recruiting the attorneys.

In particular, I would like to emphasize the value of this free legal service in increasing the possibilities of greater access to benefits and justice for claimants filing with the VCF.  Enabling claimants to submit more complete and accurate claims enables the Fund to review the claims more efficiently, and to expedite the process for making awards to those eligible. The Justice Center has played a critical role as well in providing general information about the VCF and the claim filing deadlines.

GENERAL PROGRAM INFORMATION: On January 2, 2011, President Obama signed into law the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010 (P.L. 111-347) (Zadroga Act). Title II of the Zadroga Act reactivates the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001 that operated from 2001-2004 and requires a Special Master, appointed by the Attorney General, to provide for economic and non-economic loss for any individual (or a personal representative of a deceased individual) who suffered physical harm or was killed as a result of the terrorist-related aircraft crashes of September 11, 2001 or the debris removal efforts that took place in the immediate aftermath of those crashes.

CLAIM FILING DEADLINES: In general, Claimants with a qualified injury who plan to file a claim with the Fund will have two (2) years to file a REGISTRATION FORM in order for the VCF to consider your claim.Claimants who know (or reasonably should have known) of physical harm resulting from the September 11th attacks as of October 3, 2011, must Register by October 3, 2013. If you subsequently learn of physical harm, you must Register within two (2) years of the date you learn (or reasonably should have known) that you suffered an injury as a result of the 9/11 attacks.

The final rule adding certain types of cancer to the List of WTC-Related Health Conditions took effect on October 12, 2012. Therefore, if you know (or reasonably should have known) as of October 12, 2012 that you suffer from a covered cancer, you must file your Registration Form with the VCF by October 12, 2014. If you learned after October 12, 2012 that you suffer from a covered cancer, you must file your Registration Form within two (2) years of the date that you learn (or reasonably should have known) that you suffer from the covered cancer.

Where Do I Obtain Additional Information?

www.vcf.gov

This website has been set up to support making the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) as fair, transparent, and easy to navigate as possible. On it, you will be able to do the following:

  • File a claim with the VCF;
  • Obtain a list of the kinds of documents and information that we will need in order to process your claim, so that you can begin collecting any necessary materials; and
  • Review newly updated Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).

Assistance and Accessibility
If you need assistance using the website or with your submission, you can call our toll-free number 1-855-885-1555 (or 1-855-885-1558 for the hearing impaired). If you are calling from outside the United States, please call 1-202-353-0356.

Again, many thanks to the Justice Center and the New York legal community for your invaluable pro bono efforts on behalf of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.  I look forward to our continued collaboration. Much success to all in your other endeavors.

 

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On April 12th, City Bar Justice Center Managing Attorney Alice Morey testified before the ABA Committee on Disaster Response and Preparedness. Her testimony follows:

Thank you for this opportunity to present testimony.

The City Bar Justice Center, which is the nonprofit legal services arm of the NYC Bar Association, provides low-income individuals with pro bono civil legal services in over a dozen areas.  We recruit and train volunteer attorneys; match them with opportunities in a range of subject areas; screen cases before assigning them to pro bono attorneys; and provide experienced staff support and ongoing mentoring to the pro bono attorneys.  Our clients cover a broad spectrum of New York City’s needy, including, among others, consumers filing for bankruptcy, homeowners facing foreclosure, veterans seeking VA disability benefits, battered and trafficked immigrant women, homeless families, and immigrant detainees. Augmenting these subject-matter-specific projects is our Legal Hotline, the city’s busiest civil legal telephone hotline. The Legal Hotline provides free information and advice, brief services, and referrals to thousands of callers on a range of civil legal matters.

The Justice Center’s work is to mobilize the legal community to respond to unmet legal needs, and we have a history of training and mobilizing pro bono volunteer attorneys to meet those needs when disasters strike.  This has been exemplified by the pro bono programs we built following September 11th, Hurricane Katrina, and the earthquake in Haiti.  When Superstorm Sandy hit, we were lucky – our offices, located in this building in midtown – were not directly affected by the storm.  As a result, we were able to immediately launch a response to Sandy, a response that is continuing and will likely go on for an extended period of time, as the need for legal assistance is seen to extend well beyond the present humanitarian crisis.   We also were able to house part of the legal department from DC37 for several months, as their offices in lower Manhattan had been destroyed by the storm.

My discussion of the Justice Center’s response to Sandy will provide a lens into our work as a pro bono organization. This testimony will focus on the key responses by our organization, which entailed: collaborating with major legal services players and firms, training hundreds of volunteers for legal clinics in the affected neighborhoods, directly assisting hundreds of affected individuals, following up on emerging issues, and setting up a framework for longer-term help. We utilized our connections with the private bar and legal services providers in order to anticipate both short and long-term legal responses to Superstorm Sandy.

I would like to give you a brief road map of our key actions responding to Sandy.

On November 5th, a week after the storm, the Justice Center convened a meeting at the City Bar of the legal services community and bar association pro bono groups to strategize on information sharing and best practices for providing free legal services to Sandy victims.

By the end of that week, on November 9th, we hosted a training program for pro bono attorneys on disaster assistance for individuals and families, which was attended by over 250 pro bono lawyers.  The materials from that training (as well as all subsequent ones) were posted on ProBono.Net to help grow the pool of attorneys capable of providing service.

On November 13th, we organized a training on Small Business Disaster Assistance, which was attended by over 125 pro bono attorneys.

Starting in early November, the Justice Center expanded the hours of the Legal Hotline, shifting personnel to provide coverage, so that the hotline would be open Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 5:00 p.m. to handle the increased volume of calls.

Beginning on November 17th, the Justice Center organized and supervised disaster relief legal clinics by taking a group of volunteer attorneys out to the Rockaways. During that first weekend we had a dozen or so lawyers at two sites – a vacant lot on the street and an unheated dusty storefront – and we helped 68 people in two days.

Early integration of legal services into the city’s disaster recovery efforts is crucial and should be prioritized.  Recognizing this, we negotiated access for pro bono legal clinic teams at the NYC Restoration Centers, which the City was setting up as a convenient single stop venue for storm victims seeking assistance from various federal, state and city agencies. With the help of the ABA, whose subcontract with FEMA facilitated our entry into the Restoration Centers, the Justice Center was ‘invited’ to staff all seven sites; so we recruited pro bono firms and legal services offices to handle the service delivery – in partnerships – at each site on at least one day a week.

The staffing of the NYC Restoration Centers began in December, with the Justice Center providing the ongoing management of the entire process and also staffing a Saturday pro bono clinic at one of the sites in the Rockaways.  These clinics continued every week until the City closed its Restoration Sites at the end of February.  In March, FEMA took over a few of those sites and some clinics remained in operation. Our staff continued to supervise these clinics in addition to handling their existing duties, until January, when we were able to hire a dedicated disaster relief attorney, Victor Tello.

From November through March, we coordinated a total of 25 Sandy relief clinics that were held in the Rockaways, Staten Island, and Coney Island, with 85 volunteers from 39 different law firms and corporate legal departments, assisting over 450 people.

In addition, since early November, the Justice Center’s Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) has organized 14 Sandy-related Small Business Legal Clinics in Red Hook, Sheepshead Bay, Coney Island, Rockaway, Staten Island and the South Street Seaport, assisting a total of 116 clients with Sandy-related legal issues.  In addition to organizing and staffing legal clinics, NELP has assigned pro bono counsel to represent seventeen small business owners facing denials from their commercial insurers, having landlord-tenant disputes, and/or seeking assistance with applications for loans and grants for their affected businesses.

Additionally, in December, the Justice Center began outreach clinics in cooperation with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.  We once again recruited staff and pro bono attorneys.  To date, three clinics have been held in conjunction with the Federal Reserve Bank: in Staten Island, Coney Island and the Rockaways.

From our experience at these clinics, we have been able to see what issues were paramount to affected persons and how those issues are changing. Initially, residents were focused on applying for immediate aid, so we helped them apply for FEMA, disaster unemployment and replacement food stamps, and answered many landlord tenant questions. As months have passed, clients increasingly are needing help dealing with their insurance companies, filing FEMA appeals, facing possible foreclosure, and with family law issues (as families struggle to survive after displacement and loss).

Accordingly, on December 14th, the Justice Center held a training session focusing on FEMA and insurance issues.  At this time, we also brought together members of the legal community to discuss making FEMA appeals a priority pro bono effort.   Insurance and FEMA denials remain a significant issue for most victims, and further trainings on handling insurance cases – an area most legal services providers are not familiar with – are planned for later this month.

A lasting legacy of our efforts is the model pro se FEMA appeal form that the Justice Center drafted based on initial research by Skadden and with input from some legal services providers. We created a model FEMA appeal form, along with instructions, to simplify the process of appealing FEMA denials. Subsequently, ProBono.Net turned this into an A2J form – an online interactive form that walks you through the required steps to generate a FEMA appeal letter at the end. We are pleased to say that our form is being used nationwide as the template for a FEMA appeal.

Unfortunately, many of the victims’ concerns cannot be resolved in a brief consultation.  The Justice Center alone has opened over 450 cases, many of which involve complicated insurance issues. To deal with the many cases needing more than just advice or a brief service, we have created a clearinghouse for Sandy cases, both those screened by the Justice Center and those referred by other legal services programs.  Without the partnership of the firms who have offered to take some of these cases and represent clients, especially against insurance companies, many more people would be struggling to rebuild their lives.

Nevertheless, the pool of pro bono attorneys able to take on cases for full representation is modest.  To date we have placed about 30 insurance and FEMA cases for extended representation by pro bono counsel.   The need continues and we are working with the private bar and the legal services community to increase the capacity of the nonprofit legal offices to evaluate and handle the insurance issues that are arising post-disaster.

To quote one of our clients, Felix: “After Hurricane Sandy, it was lovely to meet the genuine, articulate and compassionate people who advocated on my behalf to get my life back to normal.”  We at the Justice Center realize that this is a marathon, not a sprint, and are happy that the bar associations are and will continue to help for the long-term.

 

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The Immigrant Women and Children Project’s Equal Justice Works fellow, Laura Matthews-Jolly, today spoke about human trafficking at the Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice.

The panel discussion, in recognition of Law Day, was titled, “Realizing the Dream: Equality for All,” and was attended by  the school’s ninth, tenth, and eleventh grade students. Matthews-Jolly was asked to speak about many different aspects of human trafficking, including how it’s defined, why it’s hard to prevent, and how to advocate for change to prevent it. The presentation was interactive and students were able to ask questions on a variety of topics, such as the kind of evidence required to prove that someone is a victim of human trafficking, if boys are victims of human trafficking, and whether a victim must report their experience to law enforcement.

Laura Matthews-Jolly

Laura Matthews-Jolly, City Bar Justice Center Equal Justice works Fellow

“Because of its often hidden nature, identifying victims of human trafficking remains a challenge,” said Matthews-Jolly. “Opportunities to do outreach as I did today are crucial to raising awareness about human trafficking, particularly among New York City’s youth.”

The other panelists were Jason Petri, a Bronx Assistant District Attorney; Alicia White, an LCSW at The Legal Aid Society, and Alicia White of Girls Educational & Mentoring Services (GEMS).

The Bronx School for Law, Government and Justice, located near Yankee Stadium, has a unique curriculum that allows students to explore careers in law and government. Matthews-Jolly is in the second year of her Equal Justice Works fellowship at the City Bar Justice Center, supported by the law firm Greenberg Traurig LLP, to provide legal services to young immigrant survivors of labor and sex trafficking.

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Today, in honor of Shine the Light on Slavery Day, President Obama’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons released a draft five-year strategic plan. The Task Force includes fifteen federal agencies with a mission to ensure a whole-of-government approach that addresses all aspects of human trafficking, including enforcement of criminal and labor law, victim identification and protection, and education and public awareness.

The White House convened a forum this morning at the White House to kick off this new plan. Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama and the Chair of the White House Council on Women & Girls; Eric Holder, the Attorney General; and Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, all gave opening remarks.

Anti-human trafficking advocates Florrie Burke, Bill Bernstein, Suzanne Tomatore and Pat Medige

Suzanne Tomatore, project director of the Immigrant Women & Children Project at the City Bar Justice Center, attended the forum. “It’s wonderful that there is so much attention on the issue of human trafficking from the White House and the federal government,” she said. “At the same time, we all must continue to work on the root causes of human trafficking, including poverty, lack of educational opportunities for women and girls, and lack of protection for low-wage workers.”

The Immigrant Women & Children Project works with survivors of human trafficking, child abuse, sexual assault and domestic violence in partnership with pro bono law firms. For more information about the work of the project, please click here.

 

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The City Bar Justice Center has established a Planning and Estates Law Project for low-income callers to its Legal Hotline, and will soon establish a regularly scheduled clinic to advise low-income people on personal planning, end of life, and estate  matters.

The project is  the idea of Pamela Ehrenkranz, who heads the Trusts & Estates practice group at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, and who perceived a gap in the availability of services to low income New Yorkers. “Everyone—regardless of economic resources—should have access to competent legal counsel with respect to these deeply personal issues affecting their legacies and personal affairs at death,” said Ehrenkranz. “We at the bar have an obligation to meet these needs.”

Joining Ehrenkranz on the panel are  Mary Croly of McLaughlin & Stern, LLP; Chi-Yu Liang of Withers Bergman LLP;  Jurij Mykolajtchuk  (Law Offices of); and Glenn A. Opell of Cullen and Dykman LLP . The attorneys on the panel are all current or  past members of the New York City Bar Association’s Trusts, Estates and Surrogate’s Courts Committee or Estate & Gift Taxation Committee.

“This is a new model for pro bono help from experts in trusts and estates law, and will make a difference for people at difficult times in their lives,” said Lynn M. Kelly, Executive Director of the City Bar Justice Center.

The Justice Center’s Legal Hotline is directed by Libby Vazquez. Since 1996, it has grown to provide legal advice, information and referrals to nearly 10,000 low-income New York City residents annually on civil matters,  landlord/tenant issues, consumer law problems, family/matrimonial law, domestic violence, bankruptcy and more. The Legal Hotline can be reached Monday through Friday at 212-626-7383.

 

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Better data collection on human trafficking, particularly on labor trafficking, would help service providers allocate limited resources and help prevent trafficking in the future, according to a white paper by the Immigrant Women & Children project (IWC) of the City Bar Justice Center.

The white paper, titled “Human Trafficking in the United States: Proposing Concrete Solutions to Better Data Collection,” by Suzanne Tomatore, Director of the IWC, and Laura Matthews-Jolly, the Justice Center’s Equal Justice Works Fellow assigned to the IWC, includes several recommendations for better data collection. These include the creation of central registries on human trafficking in each state, providing necessary training for city agencies and service providers, and passing more comprehensive human trafficking legislation.

“Improving data collection on trafficking is a particularly timely issue at the moment, as it is addressed in the Human Trafficking Reporting Act introduced by U.S. Senators Cornyn and Blumenthal last month,” said Tomatore.

Current national systems for gathering data are inadequate, according to the white paper. The federal government’s practice of collecting data from prosecutors and law enforcement “does not produce an accurate picture because not all cases are reported to law enforcement, taken seriously, or prosecuted”; and although the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s hotline tracks calls from any source, including tips from individuals, service providers, lawyers and others, “this database does not track actual services rendered, prosecutions, arrests, or convictions,” the white paper states.

Rather, according to the white paper, each state should establish a state central registry that collects accurate data on human trafficking, as the states are best positioned to both create and oversee the implementation of such a registry. “If created, a state Central Registry on Human Trafficking should use the federal definition of human trafficking as defined in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 for national consistency. State definitions of human trafficking vary significantly and some do not include labor trafficking. Social and legal service providers should be requested to report to the registry, and provisions must be made to protect confidentiality. Any agency that receives federal, state or local funding to provide services to survivors of human trafficking should be required to report,” states the white paper.

“In order to implement a state Central Registry on Human Trafficking,” the report continues, “relevant staff at government agencies should be trained on human trafficking in order to increase awareness of the issue, the relevant law, and to facilitate the data collection.” The white paper stresses that the trainings should be comprehensive and inclusive of both labor and sex trafficking.

Finally, the white paper offers suggestions for refining human trafficking laws already on the books to create a linkage with existing laws on child abuse: “We recommend legislation that includes classifying as an ‘abused child’ any child whose parent or legal guardian traffics them for labor or sex or knowingly permits them to be trafficked….This amendment will raise awareness among employees of child welfare agencies about the unique needs of these child victims.” The white paper further proposes that “any minor arrested for prostitution should be automatically referred to a child welfare agency with a presumption of confirmation as a trafficking victim. This legislative change will institutionalize automatic referrals in order to enable child crime victims to receive the child welfare services that they are entitled to receive. The child should be offered services rather than being criminally charged.”  Finally, the white paper recommends that
“service providers, counselors, attorneys, and other stakeholders should be allowed to directly report to the Central Registries on Human Trafficking” rather than including only those cases referred directly from a law enforcement agency.

The white paper can be read here: http://bit.ly/YNl8Fh

 

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The City Bar Justice Center legal clinic for Sandy victims is now firmly in place at the Arverne Restoration Center in the Rockaways. The presence of the Justice Center at the Restoration Center has  attracted hundreds of Sandy victims, and the legal volunteers staffing the clinic are making a big impact in providing much needed information and help dealing with complicated legal issues. City agency employees as well as FEMA representatives staffing the Restoration Center have been incredibly pleasant and helpful in providing assistance to Sandy victims. The mood is definitely one of mutual cooperation to help out as many people as possible. Having all of these services available in a single location has helped to streamline what would otherwise be a much more complicated and difficult process.

Arverne clinic

Attorneys from Hughes Hubbard, IBM and Nixon Peabody with Justice Center Executive Director Lynn Kelly (standing) at the Arverne Restoration Center in the Rockaways

As time passes, the focus of the legal clinic  changes as the legal needs of the community change. In previous weeks, the main issues were FEMA appeals and insurance disputes. However, there is now a small trickle of what could potentially be the next big issues: contractor disputes and contractor fraud. As residents slowly get back up on their feet and try to rebuild their lives and homes, contractors will be needed to do a significant amount of work. In fact, many residents have already advised that contractors are so busy that it is difficult to schedule any services. With this high demand for work and little supply in labor comes the possibility of disputes and fraud. According to those who experienced the relief efforts in the Gulf Coast states after Hurricane Katrina, contractor fraud was a serious problem, especially with at-risk groups such as the elderly. Here in New York, there is also a large, non-English speaking immigrant population that could be vulnerable to fraud. We hope to advise as many people as possible to prevent this from occurring and to help those who have been the victims of these practices.

In other news, the Justice Center fortunately has been able to place nearly two dozen insurance- and FEMA-related cases with pro bono attorneys. By taking on these cases, the New York legal community has really demonstrated great generosity with its time and resources. We hope to continue this trend going forward.

Great thanks to Peter Beardsley, Karen Abravanel, Ralph Stone, Brenna Greenwald, Brandi Sinkovich, Jeremy Dorin, Maureen Dollinger, Amy Tridgell and Ann McEveily for helping the residents of the Rockaways as they struggle to put their lives back together.

 

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