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Wyeth, Newark Attorney Honored for Pro Bono Legal Activities

New Brunswick: A lawyer who helped victims of political persecution and Guantanamo Bay detainees, and a drug company that performed legal services for homeless shelters, childcare centers and literacy programs are this year’s winners of the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Pro Bono Awards.

McCarter and English partner Arnold Natali received the individual award at a presentation at this year’s Annual Meeting and Convention in Atlantic City last month. Madison-based Wyeth accepted this year’s award for excellence by an organization at the same event.

Bar Association President Allen Etish praised the winners, calling their pro bono work exemplary.

“As lawyers, we have a special obligation to give back to the community. Through their volunteer efforts, Arnold Natali and Wyeth have helped improve the lives of countless people,” he said.

Helping Asylum Seekers

Arnold Natali has handled over a dozen cases on behalf of asylum seekers, ranging from victims of torture in Somalia to the political persecution of a Rwandan who watched government forces murder most of his immediate family. Most recently, he was lead counsel for three citizens of Saudi Arabia detained at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. His clients were eventually released from American custody and repatriated to Saudi Arabia.

“He has been a guiding light in advancing the pro bono efforts at McCarter and English for the past 15 years,” said State Bar Immediate Past President Peggy Sheahan Knee, who presented the awards. “He has dedicated hundreds of hours to helping impoverished and disenfranchised immigrants who seek political asylum in the United States after facing political and religious persecution and physical torture.”

In addition to his efforts on behalf of asylum seekers, Natali has served as chair of the pro bono committee at his law firm since 2005. In that role, he has supervised over 300 pro bono cases and the firm’s pro bono hours increased from 7,000 to 13,000.

A Drug Company Gives Back

After a successful venture with a legal services agency, Wyeth decided about a year ago to further expand its pro bono efforts. To do that, the company went to work with the organization Pro Bono Partnership to provide free corporate and transactional to public charities.

In the past year, 14 of the company’s attorneys and legal staff have handled 19 pro bono matters addressing everything from trademark filings and assistance with environmental investigations. The work benefitted homeless shelters, services for foster children and families and nonprofits providing entrepreneurial training to people in low-income areas.

“The response by Wyeth’s law department was quick and extensive,” said Knee when she presented the award. “None of these groups was able to afford to pay for legal services without significantly decreasing resources for their programs. And in some cases, they would not have been able to afford legal help at all.”

One group that benefitted from the company’s volunteer efforts was The Prostate Net, which seeks to increase awareness of prostate cancer among low-income communities and men of color.

“I cannot begin to place a value on the work (they did)… It positioned us as a stronger, more credible organization,” said Virgil Simons, founder and president of the prostate-education company.

The New Jersey State Bar Association is the state’s largest lawyers group. It was founded in 1899 and today remains dedicated to improving the legal system and promoting the fair administration of justice.