In commemoration of Human Trafficking Awareness Day, the City Bar Justice Center’s Immigrant Women and Children Project, in collaboration with Pfizer Legal Alliance, hosted “Take Action: Stop Human Trafficking Now,” a panel discussion at the New York City Bar Association on January 14th.

A recurring theme during the panel discussion, which centered on ways pro bono efforts can assist in the fight against modern day slavery, was the scarcity of criminal prosecutions in trafficking cases. The consensus was that this gap heightens the need for civil litigation cases to be brought on behalf of trafficking victims, as civil litigation can be a powerful avenue for survivors to reclaim their rights and sense of justice in cases where prosecutors decline to prosecute.

Left to right: Suzanne Tomatore, Director, Immigrant Women & Children Project; Demetri Jones, Assistant United States Attorney, Eastern District of New York; Ellen Rosenthal, Chief Counsel, Pfizer Legal Alliance; Martina Vandenberg, Founder and President, Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center; Jayne Bigelsen, Director of Anti-Human Trafficking Initiatives/External Affairs at Covenant House; Avaloy Lanning, Senior Director of Anti-Trafficking Program at Safe Horizon

Litigation, civil or criminal, also has the effect of putting a name and face to modern slavery, as was demonstrated on the panel by Assistant United States Attorney Demetri Jones, of the Eastern District of New York. Jones’s account of the 2007 prosecution of a husband and wife for trafficking and torturing two domestic workers from Indonesia brought modern slavery to life in the most unexpected of places: suburban New York.

Monday’s event began with opening remarks from Ellen Rosenthal, Chief Counsel of the Pfizer Legal Alliance and included: Jayne Bigelsen; Director of Anti-Human Trafficking Initiatives/External Affairs at Covenant House; Demetri Jones, Assistant United States Attorney in the Eastern District of New York; Avaloy Lanning, Senior Director of Anti-Trafficking Program at Safe Horizon; and Martina Vandenberg, founder and president of Human Trafficking Pro Bono Legal Center. The panel was moderated by Suzanne Tomatore, director of the Immigrant Women & Children Project at the City Bar Justice Center.

For additional information about the Immigrant Women & Children Project, click here.

 

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The City Bar Justice Center has hired Victor M. Tello as its Coordinating Attorney for Disaster Relief. Tello will centralize the Justice Center’s various activities in training and mobilizing volunteer attorneys to assist in Superstorm Sandy relief.

Tello, a native Spanish speaker, began his career with the New York City Law Department and interned in the Miami-Dade County Public Defenders Office. He is a 2008 graduate of Georgetown University Law Center, with a B.A. from the University of Florida in Gainesville where he received national recognition in Mock Trial and debate competitions.

Together with legal services providers, the Justice Center has held trainings to assist disaster victims for over 400 volunteer lawyers. The trainings are posted on ProBono.Net. Since November, pro bono volunteers working with the Justice Center have completed over 120 in-person legal counseling sessions with Sandy victims on issues including FEMA eligibility, Disaster Unemployment Assistance, landlord-tenant law, and flood and other insurance coverage.   In December, the Justice Center joined FEMA in the New York City Restoration Centers so that bar association pro bono volunteers working with legal services programs could meet with clients where they were seeking other forms of disaster relief.

Sandy victims seeking pro bono legal assistance through the City Bar Justice Center can obtain a free consultation with Mr. Tello in English or Spanish on Monday and Wednesday from 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. by calling 212-626-7383. The City Bar Justice Center’s Legal Hotline is available at 212-626-7383 to low-income New Yorkers with legal problems Monday – Friday from 9:00 – 5:00 p.m., with translation available in all languages.

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After three clinics on two cold weekends, sitting in make-shift quarters on the street and in an unheated dusty store-front in the Rockaways, the Justice Center’s Superstorm Sandy volunteers landed plush quarters by comparison in one of New York City’s Restoration Centers.

Provided with tables and chairs, internet and copy machine access, and toilets in a large, well-lit and warm space at the Arverne Restoration Center in the Rockaways, Justice Center staff and volunteer attorneys have been holding free legal clinics on Saturdays since the beginning of December. Each week, four or five energetic volunteers have interviewed and assisted an average of 12 clients who otherwise would not have access to legal help.

The issues seen mostly involve problems with FEMA and private insurance disputes. We have matched five cases for extended pro bono representation and, happily, those cases were picked up within 24 hours. We also have been working on a pro se appeal letter for people who are denied by FEMA or do not receive the amount from FEMA that they have claimed. Thanks to Andrew Adams of Debevoise, Courtney Dismore of Skadden and Meghan Faux of Brooklyn Legal Services for helping us draft that. The pro se appeal form is now ready for use along with a two-page pro se guide and a sample request-for-file form.  All can be downloaded here.

Sandy volunteersNew York City has set up seven Restoration Centers in areas hit hardest by the storm in an effort to bring information and referrals to available government services to affected New Yorkers in conveniently located neighborhood offices. Together with FEMA and representatives from various state agencies, such as the Department of Labor and the Department of Financial Services, representatives from the City’s Human Resources Administration (HRA), Department of Health, Administration for Children’s Services (ACS), Department of Consumer Affairs, Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) and Department for the Aging are available on-site to counsel and connect residents and businesses impacted by the storm with needed services.

The City has agreed to house bar association pro bono legal clinics at each of the Restoration Centers and we have coordinated with local bar associations, law firm pro bono coordinators and the larger legal aid and legal services community to staff those clinics. Currently, we have groups at all but one of the centers holding clinics on Thursdays and/or Saturdays, and we are adding some additional days.

Great thanks to Priya Raghavan, Danielle Gill, David Rochelson, Chris Vena, Andrew Adams, Jim Cross, Vanessa Browder, Trevor Owens, Aidan Leonard, Matt Ingber, Stephen Rooney, Brian Nolan, Emily Nash and Peter Haveles for helping the residents of the Rockaways as they struggle to put their lives back together.

Alice Morey is Managing Attorney at the City Bar Justice Center.

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It was cold and blustery in the Rockaways on the Sunday after Thanksgiving, when the City Bar Justice Center traveled to the Rockaways with eleven pro bono attorneys. The streets had been cleared of much of the debris and the solar panels which powered some of the neighborhood after the storm had been taken down. Luckily, power had just been restored to the neighborhood around 113th Street, where we were once again holding a free legal clinic at the YANA center.  We had enough attorneys to rotate staffing through the FEMA tent as well.  There was less foot traffic in the neighborhood as people stayed indoors. We had fewer visitors than at the previous clinics and interviewed eight clients.

Sandy Legal Clinic

Sandy legal clinic volunteers

There was no significant change in the mix of cases seen from the previous weekend’s two clinics.  Renters seeking abatements is probably the largest emerging legal issue, and with December rent bills arriving shortly,  storm-battered tenants want answers.  The New York City Housing Authority has announced it will provide abatements for the days without utilities in November but not until the January rent bill.  This will be viewed as a month too late by hard-pressed public housing tenants.  One of our volunteers negotiated the first abatement we have seen for a tenant renting a bungalow (50% of the portion of rent the tenant owes).  We would like to see an industry-wide sensible resolution of this issue rather than tenants having to withhold rent and get sued in Housing Court to get a fair abatement.

Our Foreclosure Project gave advice to a tenant from the first clinic whose building is being foreclosed upon.  The case is in court this month.  We also heard back that two of our clients from the first weekend clinic whose lawyers wrote compelling requests are being considered for grants through the New York Times Neediest Cases.  That will be a welcome influx of assistance.

In addition, this week we received our first two FEMA disputes for pro bono referral from Staten Island, and one of those is also an insurance appeal.  We are now focusing on how to distribute cases for extended pro bono representation.  We are negotiating to get pro bono attorneys into the NYC Recovery Centers so that we can be sited for the rest of December in a space with a greater concentration of Sandy victims.

Great thanks to Kathiana Aurelien, Sitso Bediako, Denise Calderon-Barrera, Keith Cantrelle, Tanisha Creel, Adeeb FadilLing Kong, Windy Lawrence, Marisa  Robecindo, Alan Rothstein, Frank Weigand and Jeremy Wilson for volunteering in the Rockaway community on Thanksgiving weekend.

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

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This past weekend the City Bar Justice Center mobilized around 30 trained pro bono lawyers to staff clinics at two sites on both Saturday and Sunday in the storm-ravaged Rockaways.  The volunteers gave brief advice to 59 clients and provided information to additional people who stopped by with basic questions.

The main issues of concern were  FEMA applications, insurance claims, disaster unemployment assistance,  landlord and tenant problems, lack of repairs, no electricity, heat or hot water and simply no income or way to get to work.  There is a huge amount of clearing out of damaged basements still going on in the Rockaways.  While some buses are running again and there is mail delivery, many people are still without electricity. There are vast burned-out areas.

The lawyers were at two sites: a vacant lot across from the ‘Veggie Island’ shop, and the YANA community center, which housed a very efficient Occupy Sandy operation that had giant solar panels supplying electricity to the neighbors. The Occupy Sandy folks were extremely helpful in directing clients to the legal clinics.

The volunteer attorneys were from firms including Alston & Bird, Blank Rome, Covington Burling, Gibson Dunn, Kelley Drye, Klein Zelman, Simpson Thacher, and Wilson Elsner, as well as groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights and Central American Legal Assistance.

The Justice Center thanks the volunteer attorneys for their great work: Gayle Argon, Heather Axford, Sitso Bediako, Rachel Beller, Caroline Bishop, Kenneth L. Bressler, Alejandra Diaz, Elizabeth Doisy, Selina M. Ellis, Debra Gordon, Andrew Hambelton, Ryan F. Harsch, Beth D. Jacob, Emma Jones, Jasmine Kaufman, Jeffrey Lieberman, Serena G. Liu, Esmeralda Musailov, Lois Ottombrino, Elizabeth Plimpton, Jude Rickman, Mustafa Rizvi, Joe Ronca, Dan Shim, Sophia Solovyova, Kathleen T. Sullivan, Emily Weinig, and Mia M. White.

The Justice Center is reaching out to the rest of the public interest legal community to organize regular staffing at the FEMA site in the Rockaways at 114th Street, and clinics at YANA for the volunteers.  Stay tuned for details on the next clinic.

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On Monday, October 22nd, the City Bar Justice Center, the pro bono affiliate of the New York City Bar Association, presented the fourth annual Jeremy G. Epstein Awards for Outstanding Pro Bono Service. Honoring volunteer attorneys for exceptional work on Justice Center projects, the awards were presented at a Celebration of Service reception, as part of National Pro Bono Week. This year’s winners are:

Pictured from Left to Right
Russ Bleemer, International Institute for Conflict Prevention and Resolution
Daphnie Stock, Ernst & Young/Kaplan
Lee J. Potter, Jr., Duane Morris LP
Sheila Tendy, Tendy Law Office LLC
Edmund M. O’Toole, Venable LLP
Ross L. Hirsch, Herrick Feinstein LLP
Marc Montgomery, Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP
Wendy J. Luftig, NYU School of Medicine, Office of Clinical Trials
Michael R. Flynn, Fulbright & Jaworski LLP
Christopher M. Desiderio, Nixon Peabody LLP
Jane Hopwood, Hunton & Williams LLP (not pictured)

Michael A. Cardozo, Corporation Counsel of the City of New York, delivered a keynote address in which he called the evening “a celebration of several wonderful things: the life of Jeremy Epstein in whose memory these awards are named; the awardees and their outstanding pro bono accomplishments; and The City Bar Justice Center, whose vital support provides the resources and expertise to enable this work to be done.” On the topic of pro bono, he said, “A lawyer’ obligation to perform pro bono service dates back to the fifteenth century and certainly should not be subject to debate today. And the moral obligation to do pro bono, and society’s need for such service, should be self evident.”

Jay Holtmeier, City Bar Fund Board Chair, presented the awards. City Bar President Carey R. Dunne provided introductory remarks.

Jeremy G. Epstein, who passed away in 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 two decades.

The City Bar Justice Center, the pro bono affiliate of the New York City Bar, increases access to justice by leveraging the resources of the New York City legal community. Justice Center projects are focused on three areas: immigrant justice, economic justice and Access to Justice Innovations. The Justice Center also operates the city’s busiest legal hotline and special projects. The Justice Center annually provides direct legal representation, information and advocacy to over 25,000 poor and vulnerable New Yorkers.

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Last week the City Bar Justice Center hosted its third clinic for young people applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which if granted would make them eligible for work authorization.

So far, the Justice Center has assisted 108 people and trained 200 attorneys to help with completing the DACA application. Over 120 of the trained attorneys have volunteered their services at the three clinics.

Harry Shulman

Attorney Harry Shulman helps a clinic attendee with her application

At last week’s clinic, 39 attorneys, including 11 immigration experts, screened and assisted 47 attendees.

The volunteers have assisted applicants from an array of backgrounds. The common thread among the applicants has been hard work and a desire to work legally in order to save money and obtain a goal, whether it is a better job or furthering their education.

A couple of attendees were representative of the rest. Ms. R. entered the US on a visa when she was eleven, was active in many sports and several clubs in high school, and graduated with above-average grades. Since then she has worked and filed federal income taxes, and is seeking to obtain an employment authorization document so she can continue to advance her career.

Mr. N. entered the U.S. without inspection when he was two. He graduated high school and has been working ever since to help his parents support his three younger siblings. Mr. N would like to receive an employment authorization document to continue supporting his family and to save money for college or other educational opportunities in the future.

These pro bono clinics are made possible by the Justice Center’s Fragomen Fellow and funding from the New York Community Trust and former City Bar President Robert M. Kaufman.

The next clinic will take place at the Justice Center on November 1st from 2:00 – 5:00 p.m.

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Last week, the New York Law Journal honored Jamie Dyce of Duane Morris as one of their “Lawyers Who Lead By Example,” citing her extraordinary 200-hour-per-year pro bono commitment. The City Bar Justice Center was delighted to see Jamie recognized in the Law Journal, because since 2009 many of those 200 hours have been devoted to the Justice Center’s Elderlaw and Cancer Advocacy Projects.

“She has taken case after case, and she treats each client as if they were her only one,” said Vivienne Duncan, the director of the two projects. “Some of her cases have included stressful factors, but she rises to meet every challenge while establishing a wonderful rapport with the clients.”

Jamie Dyce
One client matched with Jamie by the Justice Center had been confined to a Japanese internment camp during World War II and subsequently received reparations. Now terminally ill, and long-estranged from her siblings, she desperately wanted to prepare a will. Even as Jamie accepted the case, the client’s health suddenly deteriorated and time became of the essence. That same day, Jamie traveled to meet with the client at her hospital bedside and the documents were completed within four days. When the client passed away one week later, her nephew, with whom she was close, wrote to express his gratitude for the assistance his aunt received, saying “I think she was able to go peacefully largely because you were able to work with her to complete her legal documents.”

Another of Jamie’s Justice Center clients was able to express her own feelings about the help she received. Having been given the devastating news that her medical condition was terminal and that she was unlikely to live for much longer, the client contacted CAP to request assistance with preparing end-of-life documents. Shortly after accepting the case, Jamie learned that the client had suffered a medical emergency and had been admitted to the hospital. As her health fluctuated over the following days, Jamie met with the client and they kept in close touch by email and telephone. Once again, the client’s documents were completed within days and she expressed her appreciation in an email which read, “Thank you to your organization and thanks again to all at Duane Morris. All parties concerned at Duane Morris have demonstrated such outstanding professionalism throughout this process and all have also showed me a true compassion and understanding at my time of need. God Bless you all for all that has been done for me. I am eternally grateful.”

Duane Morris fully supports Jamie’s pro bono work, which reflects the firm’s belief in the importance of volunteering. Jamie often works on Justice Center cases with another Duane Morris attorney and project volunteer, William Bagliebter. Duncan said, “Our project volunteers from Duane Morris have provided exceptional assistance over the years and we are particularly grateful to Jamie, Will and Michael Grohman for their continuing support.”

For her part, Dyce said, “I am incredibly proud to be part of such a great team here at Duane Morris and involved in projects like the Elderlaw and Cancer Advocacy Project. So many of my colleagues are actively volunteering and working hard to raise awareness about important legal issues.”

 

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Lawyers and legal professionals from Barclays, Goldman Sachs and Citigroup recently partnered to provide pro bono legal services at a Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Project (NELP) legal clinic. The clients, micro-entrepreneurs who otherwise would not have been able to afford a lawyer, received advice on such matters as incorporation, commercial leases, copyright and other intellectual property issues, tax issues and various license and permit applications.

Neighborhood Entrepreneur Law Clinic
This new model of bringing three giant financial institutions together at one clinic was spearheaded by Barclays. There was strong representation from all three organizations, as nearly 20 volunteers provided advice and counsel to the clients at the clinic.

Michael Crowl, General Counsel for Barclays in the Americas, said, “Citizenship is one of our key priorities at Barclays.  Partnering with the City Bar Justice Center and the NELP program gives us a terrific opportunity to support the communities in which we live and work.”

The clients covered a wide range of backgrounds and business types, and volunteers were able to adapt their legal expertise to the clients’ questions.  Attorneys helped an event-planning business with its commercial leasing issues, filled out a corporate kit with the owner of a wholesale trading company, and reviewed an academic tutor’s contract to determine her obligations to her clients.

“Being able to participate in the NELP clinic with Barclays and Citi was a rewarding experience all around,” said Martin Schmelkin, Goldman Sachs Vice President and Associate General Counsel. “Not only does it give us a chance to develop expertise in other areas of the law, but it also provides a terrific opportunity to network with our colleagues at other firms.”

“While we’ve worked with each of these legal departments individually in the past, to see them all come together to assist this group of entrepreneurs was very gratifying,” said Akira Arroyo, Director of NELP. “What was most fascinating is that none of the entrepreneurs fully realized that they were receiving free legal advice from such high-level attorneys, including the General Counsel and a Managing Director of a couple of the largest financial institutions in the city. We received positive feedback from all of the entrepreneurs as they left, and heard from at least two, after their sessions, that they felt better prepared to move forward with their business ideas.”

 

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The City Bar Justice Center’s 2012 class of summer interns is wrapping up after a busy and productive summer. The Justice Center had an engaged and vibrant group of interns, each of whom worked under the supervision of a Project Director. The work varied by project, with some interns interviewing clients and others focusing on research and writing.

Highlights of the summer included three Court tours. Judge Edwina G. Richardson-Mendelson hosted the interns at the Manhattan Family Court, and Judge George B. Daniels hosted them at the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The interns also observed Chapter 13 Bankruptcy hearings in Judge Sean H. Lane’s Bankruptcy Court in the Southern District of New York.

Summer Interns

Front Row: Thomas Sharkey, Columbia University; Jessica Choi, undergraduate KALCA Intern, Wellesley College; Danielle May, Fordham University; Middle Row: Tania Khatibifar, Fordham University; Margaret O’Hora, CUNY; Susan Varghese, Hofstra University; Ana Rojas, St. John’s University; Tyler Garvey, University of California, Berkeley; Anand Sinha, Hofstra University; Back Row: John Marck, St. John’s University; Christine Park, CUNY; Allen Cifuentes, Appalachian Law School

“Something that really struck me during our visits to Family and Bankruptcy Court was the high level of compassion and patience that all of the presiding judges demonstrated when dealing with the non-attorneys before them,” said Immigrant Women and Children Project intern Margaret O’Hora. “My favorite moment was witnessing a mother be recognized for the first time as the legal parent of her son. It was something I will never forget.”

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