NJSBA Pro Bono Award
The New Jersey State Bar Association’s Pro Bono Committee is soliciting nominations for this year’s NJSBA’s Annual Pro Bono Award. Click here for the notice and nomination form.
5th Annual Pro Bono Conference February 14, 2013
Gerard Brew is a partner at McCarter & English who practices in the area of trusts and estates, family law, and closely held businesses. He is a long-time member of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee and has a diverse docket of pro bono matters in the areas of family law, nonprofit law, and constitutional law. His personal involvement in McCarter’s pro bono family law cases, in particular, is crucial because of the unique expertise he brings – as an attorney with over thirty years of experience practicing in that area. But, Gerard’s pro bono contributions do not end with his own clients. Rather, he sees it as his personal responsibility to recruit other attorneys at the firm to do pro bono, and as a member of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee, to ensure that the firm adopts policies and practices that promote pro bono to the fullest extent possible.
Leader of McCarter’s Domestic Violence Project
As the leader of McCarter’s pro bono domestic violence project, Gerard supervises every domestic violence and divorce case that McCarter accepts from Partners for Women & Justice. In the past year alone, he has supervised eleven cases referred from Partners (and a twelfth referred from Legal Services of Monmouth and Ocean Counties) – cases which involved a total of nearly 900 pro bono hours. Gerard is not merely a titular supervisor in these cases. He directly works on the cases he supervises: helping to develop trial strategy, working through unexpected problems that arise, assisting associates in marshaling evidence, and preparing each associate to handle a half-day or full-day trial. Because of Gerard’s hands-on leadership of this project, McCarter has become one of Partner for Women & Justice’s stalwart firms. This is particularly impressive because McCarter’s domestic violence project did not exist until spring 2010, yet has grown to become an established and highly successful project in just two years.
Not surprisingly, Gerard’s cases are some of the most emotionally devastating pro bono matters that McCarter has in its docket. The most difficult example from Gerard’s 2012 docket is a divorce matter referred by Partners on behalf of a domestic violence client. The client, “Patty,” is a 26 year old woman with the mental capacity of a 9 year old. A 44 year old who worked at a local store, “Tim,” engaged in a six-year scheme to gain Patty’s trust and induce her to marry him. Displaying characteristics of a sexual predator, Tim ultimately succeeded in his plan to convince Patty to marry him. He then systematically isolated Patty, controlled every aspect of her life, and refused to allow her to speak with or see her family. As a result of her mental capacity, Patty lacks any sexual interest or curiosity. Tim became violent when she refused to have sex with him. On several occasions, he beat her and forcibly had sex with her. Patty tried to call the police, but Tim took the phone away from her each time. After more than five months of enduring Tim’s cruelty and abuse, Patty escaped and sought refuge with her parents. Partners helped Patty obtain a final restraining order, and then Gerard accepted the divorce matter on a pro bono basis.
Gerard took an aggressive tack to this tragic story: not only seeking the divorce, but also asserting marital tort claims (i.e., assault and intentional infliction of emotional distress). As a result of Gerard’s extensive factual development, the truly horrific nature of the situation was brought to light and the matter was ultimately referred to the county prosecutor’s office. Gerard did not stop with the divorce action -- understanding that Patty’s mental impairment rendered her in need of a legal guardian so that she could not be taken advantage of again. Drawing upon his decades of experience in this area of law, Gerard himself brought a proceeding in Probate Court (based on a little-used New Jersey rule that permits a client’s attorney to initiate guardianship proceedings), seeking to have Patty’s mother appointed guardian. In furtherance of this unusual guardianship action, Gerard retained two physicians to attest to Patty’s diminished capacity, and presented briefing and oral argument. After the court granted Gerard’s petition, and appointed Patty’s mother guardian, the annulment was granted in Family Court.
Throughout this difficult case, which lasted nearly a year, Gerard met extensively with Patty and her mother to ensure that Patty understood every aspect of the divorce and guardianship actions to the best of her ability. In addition to displaying a mastery of the legal issues based on his own practice (which sets him apart from other pro bono attorneys), Gerard displayed exceptional sensitivity and compassion to Patty and her family throughout the long and emotionally difficult litigation. As stated above, this case was just one of twelve cases on behalf of domestic violence victims that Gerard supervised during the past year. Sadly, the stories underlying those other eleven involve reprehensible instances of violence, intimidation, and rape.
In addition to supervising these matters, Gerard also works to expand the domestic violence project by recruiting associates, and educating partners and practice group leaders about the value of the work. Without his “behind the scenes” involvement, this project would not be as firmly established at McCarter as it has become in just two years since its inception.
Other Pro Bono Work
In addition to leading the domestic violence project with Partners for Women & Justice, Gerard has also supervised a number of other pro bono matters during the past year, in the areas of custody (in conjunction with Essex Newark Legal Services), guardianship (supervising a highly complex Madden assignment that required over 300 hours of pro bono time), nonprofit law (supervising a tax matter on behalf of a no-kill animal shelter, on appeal before the Appellate Division), and constitutional law (supervising a Fourth Amendment matter in cooperation with the ACLU-NJ).
The constitutional matter is particularly noteworthy, given the novelty of the legal issues presented. The matter involved a high school student who was subjected to a drug test based on a generalized smell of marijuana in a classroom, despite the fact that the school had no individualized suspicion as to the student. This case was complex because the specific issue of individualized suspicion has not been squarely addressed by the New Jersey Supreme Court in the school context. After overseeing an extensive legal research and legal strategy project, Gerard and his team ultimately settled the case prior to litigation. The settlement will result in training for the school’s faculty regarding the constitutional requirements related to suspicion-based drug testing of students, as well as a policy review to ensure that the school’s policy comports with state and federal law.
Advocacy on Behalf of Pro Bono at McCarter & English
Gerard is a long-time member of McCarter’s Pro Bono Committee, which is made up of partners from each of the firm’s seven offices. In this role, Gerard is tireless in his advocacy of pro bono at McCarter. He ensures that the firm leadership is properly educated about the value of pro bono, promotes policies and practices that ensure the firm remains dedicated to doing serious pro bono work (including the policy that associates be given full credit for an unlimited number of pro bono hours each year), and is involved with the ongoing maintenance of a robust pro bono program through his formal work on the Pro Bono Committee. Through his efforts, Gerard is a key player in ensuring that McCarter continues to devote more than 22,000 pro bono hours in each of the past two years.
Mary Ellen Koscs-Fleming
Mary Ellen Koscs-Fleming has been a Legal Services of Northwest Jersey volunteer attorney for more than 15 years. She began her volunteer service for LSNWJ with the Merck & Co., Inc. Volunteer Lawyers Project. Mary Ellen was the coordinator for the Merck VLP in Whitehouse for many years. As coordinator, Mary Ellen was responsible for training and recruitment of volunteer attorneys and overseeing all the Merck volunteer legal projects. During her tenure as coordinator, the number of Merck-Whitehouse attorneys involved in pro bono efforts ranged from 15 to 20.
Mary Ellen was instrumental in the development and implementation of the Tenancy Project. The Tenancy Project is a unique collaboration of government, non-profit and corporate entities. The Court includes in its announcements before the calendar call in tenancy court a specific announcement that legal assistance is available to low-income tenants. The Court has arranged the schedule so that tenants have the opportunity to be screened for eligibility and to consult with an attorney. An LSNWJ staff attorney and one or two Merck volunteer attorneys appear at the call. Some or all of them may have cases for clients who were screened earlier in the week. The attorneys consult with their assigned clients as well as new clients who are screened in court. Most cases involve non-payment of rent. For those cases, the attorneys generally negotiate a payment plan. If the client cannot afford to stay at the premises, even with a payment plan, the attorney explains the eviction process and often obtains additional time for the tenant to leave the premises. It is less likely that cases that involve other issues, such as habitability or disorderly conduct, will settle. Those cases often involve a trial, which is most often held that day. Literally hundreds of low-income families in northwest New Jersey have been able to remain in their homes due to the efforts of Mary Ellen and the other Merck volunteer attorneys.
Since 1998, Mary Ellen has personally represented more than 100 low-income clients of LSNWJ. She regularly contributes in excess of 80 hours per year on individual pro bono representation. Her legal assistance has meant the difference between a secure home and homelessness for these families.
Mary Ellen joined the LSNWJ Board of Trustees in 2008 and, from the very first meeting, became a valuable member of the Board. She has willingly shared her expertise on human resources issues, particularly ERISA and other retirement issues, as well as her understanding of clients’ needs gained through her years of volunteer service.
Mary Ellen is a member of the Hunterdon County Bar Association and its Legal Services Committee. She has personally recruited a number of Hunterdon County practitioners to provide legal assistance for low-income county residents. She was instrumental in the planning of the 2011 Autonomy for Seniors Law Day Project, through which volunteer Hunterdon County attorneys drafted Wills and other documents for low-income and vulnerable seniors. Mary Ellen continues her work with the HCBA, assisting that organization as it incorporates pro bono services into its core mission.
Although retired from Merck & Co., Inc., Mary Ellen continues to take on individual cases for low-income people. She makes regular appearances in tenancy court and has expanded her work to include consumer cases. Mary Ellen’s commitment to the delivery of legal services to the poor and providing equal access to justice is unquestioned. She has met several needs of LSNWJ and our clients – individual work to ensure safe and affordable housing, expertise in human resources and management that has made LSNWJ a better organization. Her recruitment of attorneys at Merck and through the Hunterdon County Bar Association has increased her impact beyond that of her individual work.
Through pro bono service, the John J. Gibbons Fellowship in Public Interest & Constitutional Law at the Gibbons law firm has made a lasting impact in several areas of critical public and constitutional importance affecting New Jersey and beyond. For the past 22 years, Gibbons has funded full-time, pro bono attorneys in its Fellowship program, who, under the guidance of John J. Gibbons, former Chief Judge of the Third Circuit and Lawrence S. Lustberg, Director of the Gibbons Fellowship Program, provide high-quality legal services to needy individuals and engage in cutting-edge public interest litigation. Reflective of Gibbons’ unyielding commitment to pro bono service, this year the firm is expanding the number of fellows in the Fellowship Program from two to three—a significant decision worthy of recognition by the New Jersey State Bar Association given this difficult economic climate and the concomitant growing need for legal services for the poor.
The Fellowship has been and remains involved in the most significant and controversial issues that confront the Federal and State courts today. In the New Jersey courts, the Fellowship has acted as one of several lead counsel challenging racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike; has long been an advocate for poor, inner city students in the landmark Abbott v. Burke school finance litigation; and has represented battered and low-income women in cases concerning domestic violence, criminal prosecution of pregnant women for injuries to their unborn fetuses, and denial of welfare to children in families already receiving welfare. The Fellowship continues to be a significant presence in the area of criminal procedure in general, and particularly in cases addressing the constitutionality and proportionality of the death penalty, both in general and as applied. The Fellowship has represented death row inmates in New Jersey, Virginia, and Alabama.
Through the Fellowship Program, Gibbons is able to tackle public interest issues of major importance and to provide resources and continuity of personnel to pursue projects to conclusion. The Gibbons Fellowship is also unique among fellowship programs in the breadth of legal issues addressed. The Program brings together the experience and knowledge of Judge Gibbons and Mr. Lustberg, the dedication and talent of Fellowship recipients, and the professional resources and experience of Gibbons P.C. Centered in Newark, New Jersey, the Fellowship Program is an ideal vehicle to address urban issues, individual rights and social concerns.
The talent, resources, and commitment of the Gibbons law firm has also enabled other public interest partner organizations, including the Seton Hall Law School Center for Social Justice (CSJ), to embark on important pro bono projects that they otherwise would lack the resources and staffing to undertake. In the case of CSJ, this has also allowed the law school to involve dozens of students in important pro bono work, teaching them, in part through the example of their stellar Gibbons co-counsel, the meaning of effective and ethical lawyering.
For example, in Alves v. Main, Gibbons joined CSJ as co-counsel nearly a decade ago, and through Mr. Lustberg, and a series of Gibbons Fellows, has helped CSJ push this extremely challenging class action through motion practice, discovery, extended settlement negotiations, and class certification. The Alves case seeks injunctive and declaratory relief on behalf of a Class consisting of the almost 500 men involuntarily confined to the New Jersey Special Treatment Unit pursuant to the New Jersey Sexually Violent Predators Act. These are men who completed their criminal sentences for various sex offenses (and in many cases other crimes as well) but were then civilly committed for indefinite terms (or are being held pending their commitment hearings) based on a judicial finding that they suffer from mental disorders or personality defects that render them likely to re-offend if not confined for "care" and "treatment." Most recently, on March 29, 2012, the Court approved the class-wide settlement agreement in this matter, and Gibbons remains heavily involved in preparing for a final fairness hearing later this summer. The proposed settlement will mandate improvements to both the quantity and the quality of the mental health treatment offered to the Class Members, overseen by a Court-appointed Monitor, thus providing Class Members with better odds of regaining their liberty. This case demonstrates Gibbons’ commitment to social justice and the rule of law, and the need to advance even unpopular causes for the sake of protecting the rights of all citizens of New Jersey.
Similarly, since 2001, Gibbons P.C. served as co-counsel to the Education Law Center and the Center for Social Justice on MA v. Newark Public Schools, a class action suit filed in federal court to address the failure of both the Newark Public Schools (NPS) and the New Jersey Department of Education (DOE) to appropriately locate, evaluate and educate children with disabilities. The parties – six individual students and their parents on behalf of all other similarly-situated students (plaintiffs) and NPS and DOE (defendants) – entered into an extensive settlement agreement which the judge “so ordered” in the spring of 2012. The order will result in major improvements in special education services in Newark. Students will be able to access special education services on a timely basis and will be provided with ”compensatory education” for services they missed in the past. Highlights of the order include: implementation of a comprehensive special education database; mandatory staff training; extensive reporting of compliance activities; guidelines for corrective action; independent monitoring of special education services; and, communication with Newark residents about the order and progress made under it. The pro bono commitment of Gibbons will have a substantial impact on the lives of thousands of Newark schoolchildren.
Gibbons has also co-counseled with CSJ on other important matters including an equal protection challenge to the denial of state-funded medical assistance to lawful permanent residents in New Jersey on account of their alienage, a case currently pending before the Appellate Division, with implications for nearly 12,000 New Jersey residents. Gibbons has been lead counsel in capital case arising in Alabama, in which CSJ is co-counsel, and co-counseled with the CSJ in a case defending a local gun control ordinance on behalf of a group of intervener-community organizers.
These examples of the longstanding partnership between Gibbons and the CSJ demonstrate the pro bono commitment of the Gibbons law firm. Gibbons’ pro bono work has had a substantial and wide-ranging impact on thousands of individuals in New Jersey, and on others across the country.
Partners for Women and Justice
Partners for Women and Justice, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, offers free quality legal assistance to low‐income and abused women in domestic violence and family law matters. Each year Partners’ pro bono attorneys donate between $500,000 and $1,000,000 of free legal services to the women they serve. These services include court representation in final restraining order hearings which provide a measure of safety for these women and their children, as well as more complex cases involving issues of child and spousal support, visitation, custody and divorce.
In addition to Partners pro bono legal assistance program, pro bono attorneys also work in Partners’ legal clinics allowing women to meet one‐on‐one with knowledgeable, volunteer attorneys to have questions answered, court papers reviewed, obtain procedural guidance, get legal advice, or receive referrals to another organization or a different Partners’ program.
Partners’ panel of pro bono attorneys spent almost 3,000 hours in the 2010/2011 fiscal year providing assistance to women and children in need. The clients served by Partners are poor and working poor women who cannot afford legal representation. If they work at all, it is in low-paying jobs that barely cover the basic necessities for themselves and their children, let alone the costs of a court battle involving legal fees that can run, at the low end, $250 an hour. However, the little income they do earn places them above the official poverty line and, therefore, makes them ineligible for most other free legal assistance, including public legal aid. The legal system makes no provisions for these women who cannot pay a lawyer yet do not qualify for representation by other legal service agencies. Without the various types of legal assistance Partners provides, many of the women they serve would have no choice but to go into family court without legal advice of any kind and without knowing their rights under the law.
Approximately 75% of Partners’ clients have minor children and come to Partners seeking child support and/or safe and healthy visitation and custody arrangements, outcomes that have a positive impact on family stability and financial self‐sufficiency. The hole in finances that unpaid child support creates can be substantial and make the difference between living in a stable community (with access to quality services such as schools, transportation and housing) and not. The emotional turmoil created by visitation and custody disputes can have a negative impact on both parents and on their children. By securing the child support that parents are legally obligated to pay as well as safe and predictable visitation and custody arrangements, Partners’ programs can help to reduce some of the stressors that negatively impact stability and self‐sufficiency.
In 2011 Partners pro bono program provided representation in 168 cases involving final restraining orders and other family court matters. Since the inception of the program in 2005 Partners’ volunteer attorneys have helped thousands of women and their children escape dangerous situations, positioning them toward a future of safety and hope.
Poor women in abusive situations seem to have the odds stacked against them. Many victims have trouble leaving their abusers because of financial dependency or because they have children in common. Given the crowded dockets in Family Courts and the pressure on judges to process cases, the very system that was established to protect abused women and their children often re‐victimizes these women. Batterers, who are controlling by nature, use the court system to erode self‐esteem and create mental anguish for their former partners. The pro bono legal support provided by Partners increases the chances of a favorable outcome in court – making equal access to justice more of a reality.
Whatever the needs of the women who come to Partners for help, they will have a significantly better chance of prevailing in court if they have quality legal representation. A client recently wrote to Partners “to thank you and all people in Partners for Women and Justice. You helped me in the most difficult period of my life. My Court hearing was last Thursday and it was a success. My temporary restraining order is now permanent and I can breathe again. The lawyer that represented me was great. Thanks to all of you I can start a new life free of violence and humiliation. I will be always thankful.”
Partners for Women and Justice maintains a panel of between 130 and 150 pro bono attorneys who work on Partners’ various cases and programs. Partners conducts 2‐3 attorney trainings a year and is constantly recruiting new attorneys. It is the strong infrastructure provided by Partners that fuels the effectiveness of their pro bono programs. Partners’ role in maintaining their pro bono programs is threefold:
- To train the volunteer lawyers, supply them with a comprehensive manual of substantive and procedural law, mentor the volunteer attorneys and be available to answer complex legal questions or questions of strategy.
- To screen potential clients for financial eligibility and appropriate legal issue. Partners conduct an initial phone intake to determine the complexity of a case.
- On an ongoing basis, to provide support for the volunteer lawyer and help manage the relationship between client and volunteer lawyer so that the lawyer can focus on the legal aspects of a matter.
4th Annual Pro Bono Conference June 8, 2011
NJSBA Honors Pro Bono Attorneys
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.
John Hargrave, a South Jersey attorney, today will receive the individual award at a presentation today at the Fourth Annual Pro Bono Conference.
Roseland-based Lowenstein Sandler, PC will also receive an award for excellence by an organization at the same event. The conference runs from 8:30 a.m, to 2:30 p.m. at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick.
Bar Association President Susan A. Feeney praised the winners, calling their pro bono work exemplary.
“As lawyers, we have a special tool – a law degree – that enables us to give back to the community. That is our privilege and obligation. Through their volunteer efforts, Lowenstein Sandler PC and John Hargrave have helped improve the lives of countless people,” she said.
A CULTURE OF SERVICE
The selection of Lowenstein Sandler for recognition award follows the firm’s decision to create the Lowenstein Center for the Public Interest to expand upon its community and volunteer legal work.
Over the past year, the firm started a partnership with Living Cities, a nonprofit devoted to urban revitalization. Attorneys helped establish a framework that will allow the organization to make $85 million in grants and loans to local nonprofits in cities around the country.
On the litigation front, firm attorneys represented people seeking help with immigration, domestic violence and military benefits. The firm also sought broader impact through amicus work and other cases; including helping convince the New Jersey Supreme Court to establish visitation rights for siblings in foster care.
During 2010, each of the firm’s attorneys spent an average of 97 hours on pro bono matters for a total of 23,682 hours during the year. They helped 187 clients.
Keri Logosso-Misurell, president of New Jersey Children’s Alliance (NJCA), said the firm’s commitment to children is inspiring. Pro bono attorneys from the firm helped the alliance create bylaws and become tax-exempt, making it eligible for grants.
“Their pro bono work directly created the corporate structure needed for NJCA to receive and disburse funds which benefit abused children and families throughout New Jersey,” she wrote in a letter nominating the firm for the award.
SERVING CLIENTS, STUDENTS
Barrington attorney John Hargrave embodies the pro bono ethic.
In his 16 years as leader of the Rutgers School of Law – Camden Pro Bono Bankruptcy Project, Hargrave has represented over 100 clients seeking Chapter 7 help. The project is a joint effort with South Jersey Legal Services.
“The nature and sincerity of John’s commitment are even more impressive. He devotes his time to guiding clients through the bankruptcy process, while at the same time sharing with law students his expertise in client interviewing and bankruptcy,” wrote Pam Merstock-Wolfe, assistant director of Pro Bono and Public Interest Programs at the law school.
In addition to his work with bankruptcy clients, he is also a founder of a financial literacy project that helps people learn about their responsibilities and risks related to credit, as well as personal finance and bills.
Hargrave said he enjoys helping people and teaching students. The pro bono cases help keep him grounded, he added.
3rd Annual Pro Bono Conference May 6, 2010
Attorneys Honored at Pro Bono Conference
From therapy dogs to an affordable housing organization, John G. Webb III has provided free legal advice to charities and nonprofit organizations that wouldn't have been able to afford a lawyer.
And patent attorney John Todaro was a key organizer of a clinic at Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, which has helped nearly three dozen people navigate the complicated legal maze of bankruptcy.
Todaro and Webb are this year's winners of the New Jersey State Bar Association's highest award recognizing attorneys who volunteer their time, the Pro Bono Award. They join an impressive list of people and companies the association's Pro Bono Committee has honored each year since 2003 for their service in the legal community.
The awards will be presented Thursday at the association's Third Annual Pro Bono Conference. It will be held at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick.
"This is a real opportunity to recognize those who so generously donate their time by providing pro bono legal services in our community. Now more than ever, there is a tremendous need for free legal assistance, and this year's award recipients are a tremendous example of what can be accomplished through volunteerism and good will," said Karen Sacks, a co-vice chair of the association's committee.
Added Maurice McLaughlin, chair of the committee: "Every lawyer, regardless of where they practice, can make a difference, and we want to encourage and recognize them."
A Go-To Volunteer
Webb, of Budd Lake's JGW, INcounsel, began working with Pro Bono Partnership four years ago. The group helps connect nonprofits and charities that need transactional legal work with lawyers willing to do it for free.
Since then the former general counsel of J. M. Huber Corp. in Edison has become a go-to volunteer on a spectrum of corporate and transaction issues from corporate name changes to reviewing bylaws to real estate rental agreements to mergers, said Nancy Eberhardt, director of the partnership program. Webb has handled 13 pro bono cases, including six since last May.
For Therapy Dogs International, a group that arranges for dogs and their handlers to visit institutions and facilities, Webb helped it create a corporate structure to work with affiliate chapters around the country.
Webb's dedication to the group's mission and his legal advice made a tremendous difference, said Ursula Kempe, its chief executive officer.
"John's expertise in dealing with complex corporate issues has prepared our nonprofit to move forward with programmatic improvements, and resulted in a stronger organization," said Kempe.
Webb also created a series of informational and organizational documents for Middle Earth, which provides intervention and assistance to at-risk kids.
He "took the time to understand and then create a document easily understood and easy to communicate," said Dan Puntillo, the group's executive director.
To Webb, volunteering is just something that is part of being a lawyer. He said winning the award was humbling, adding he hopes it will remind other lawyers that everyone can contribute.
"One of the reasons I am a lawyer is to help other people. From the beginning of my practice I have tried to find opportunities where I could help people who are less fortunate… My belief and observation is that service to the public is just a part of the professional responsibility we all have," said Webb.
In these tough economic times, legal services from volunteer attorneys is even more critical to nonprofits that are struggling to maintain their endowments or facing funding cuts in the face of an increased demand for services from a hard-hit population, said Eberhardt.
"Virtually every decision these agencies might undertake to reduce costs while preserving services has important legal implications and requires expert legal advice to avoid pitfalls that may further weaken the organization," she said. "Lawyers like John give these agencies the legal advice they badly need, helping them strengthen their programs and preserve the social safety net at a time when our citizens need it most."
Navigating the Bankruptcy Maze
Todaro first got involved with the Newark-based Volunteer Lawyers for Justice in 2005, when he took part in a seminar on special education issues and agreed to handle a case.
A year later Todaro, managing counsel in Merck & Co.'s intellectual property group, took on a bankruptcy matter in an effort to help the tide of people who sought assistance following changes to the bankruptcy law in 2005, which made it more complicated to get help through the courts.
"Pro bono consumer bankruptcy work provides a window onto the difficult economic circumstances encountered by the less fortunate in society. This is something I rarely see in my corporate practice," said Todaro.
For the next few years, he continued to handle a few bankruptcy matters, but quickly realized a larger effort was needed. He mobilized a group of his co-workers, and in July 2009 held a clinic where poor residents could get free assistance with the preparation and filing of Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions.
Since that initial event, a troop of Merck attorneys and professionals has staffed a regular clinic that has led 10 people through the bankruptcy process.
Todaro is a "tireless and continuous" volunteer, said Jordyn Baumgarten, a director of pro bono services for the volunteer lawyers group.
"By helping these individuals begin a new financial future, the VLJ/Merck bankruptcy clinic, which was largely born out of John's commitment to serving those underserved, has helped stabilize not just individuals, but their families and the community as a whole."
To the Merck attorney, the recognition by his peers is humbling and inspiring.
"Pro bono legal work gives me a chance to use my legal skills and experience to help … (It) has exposed me to people and legal issues that I will remember years from now. It is also fulfilling to work with lawyers and staff working for the various legal aid groups and organizations in New Jersey," he said.
Annual Meeting 2009
Wyeth, Newark Attorney Honored for Pro Bono Legal Activities
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.
Annual Meeting 2008
James Katz, a partner with the Cherry Hill law firm of Spear Wilderman Borish Endy Spear & Runckel PC, received the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Annual Pro Bono Award at the Association’s Annual Meeting and Convention in Atlantic City on May 21. The NJSBA annual Pro Bono award is presented to an association member who performs exemplary pro bono services during the preceding year.
An NJSBA member since 1982, Mr. Katz’s practice focuses on union-side labor law. He has represented a wide array of public and private sector labor organizations in New Jersey. Nominated for the award for his work on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ), Mr. Katz has served as a volunteer attorney on several significant civil liberties cases over the past two decades.
Most recently, Mr. Katz successfully argued for plaintiffs on behalf of ACLU-NJ in a case involving a town ordinance that sought to ban undocumented immigrants from renting, residing, using property or being employed in Riverside. According to Jeanne LoCicero, Staff Attorney for ACLU-NJ, who nominated Mr. Katz for the award, “the work that Mr. Katz did on behalf of the plaintiffs in Riverside has had an impact not only on those individuals, but on communities throughout New Jersey and the Nation.”
The New Jersey State Bar Association, incorporated in 1899, is dedicated to the continuing education of lawyers and the public, to reforming and improving the legal system and to aiding in the administration of justice. Visit the Association’s website at www.nsjba.com.
The Princeton office of Dechert LLP received a Special Recognition Pro Bono Award from the New Jersey State Bar Association for its exemplary pro bono services. Matthew DelDuca, Esq. accepted the award on behalf of the firm at the NJSBA’s Annual Meeting and Convention in Atlantic City on May 21.
Dechert LLP is an international law firm with offices in 17 cities and has approximately 1100 lawyers. The Princeton office, opened in 1987, currently consists of 31 attorneys who have demonstrated an exceptional commitment to providing pro bono services to those in need. In 2007, Dechert Princeton lawyers billed over 2400 pro bono hours, representing 4.4% of its total billable hours. Every full-time lawyer in the Princeton office participated in the pro bono program.
Dechert Princeton is a member of the U.S. District Court Pro Bono Panel and was the recipient of the Court’s annual Pro Bono Award in 2007. The firm was nominated for its long-standing commitment to pro bono cases, highlighted by its representation of plaintiffs in the Jackson case. Jackson involved allegations of racial profiling by New Jersey state troopers. Dechert Princeton is also representing a group of six minority-owned casino bus tour companies in litigation involving claims that they have been subjected to racial profiling by state inspectors working for the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission’s Commercial Bus Division. Dechert Princeton lawyers have also been asked by the District Court to handle prisoner lawsuits alleging mistreatment by prison guards.
Since September, 2003, Dechert Princeton has sponsored and maintained a pro bono program with the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen (“TASK”), aimed at bringing quality legal services to patrons of the soup kitchen who are in need of legal representation.
Dechert Princeton is also a member of the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey (ACLU-NJ) Cooperating Attorney Program. In 2007, they represented the ACLU as Amicus Curiae before the New Jersey Supreme Court in Mason v. The City of Hoboken, a case that involved the public’s right of access to government records under the Open Public Records Act.
Dechert Princeton lawyers are also working with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
The New Jersey State Bar Association, incorporated in 1899, is dedicated to the continuing education of lawyers and the public, to reforming and improving the legal system and to aiding in the administration of justice. Visit the Association’s website at www.njsba.com.
Annual Meeting 2007
Daniel J. Yablonsky of Yablonsky & Associates LLC in Wayne and resident of North Haledon received the New Jersey State Bar Association's Annual Pro Bono Award at the Association's Annual Meeting in Atlantic City on May 16.
The NJSBA annual Pro Bono Award is presented to an association member who performed exemplary pro bono services during the preceding year.
An NJSBA member since 1987, Mr. Yablonsky's practice focuses on bankruptcy and insolvency in state and federal court. He is a longtime volunteer with Northeast New Jersey Legal Services, providing over 270 hours of service in the area of bankruptcy law to the organization's clients in the past three years. He has also recruited additional volunteer practitioners, and served on the board of directors.
Mr. Yablonsky is a Chapter 7 Panel trustee, a trustee of the Passaic County Bar Association and chair of that association's debtor/creditor section. In addition, he is a board member of the Northeast New Jersey Legal Services Organization and Cornelean Community Counselors. He is also a member of the National Association of Bankruptcy Trustees, the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, the American Bankruptcy Institute, and a past national delegate and past vice-president of the Federal Bar Association-New Jersey Chapter.
Volunteer Lawyers for Justice (VLJ) received a Special Recognition Pro Bono Award from the New Jersey State Bar Association for its exemplary pro bono services. VLJ Executive Director Karen Sacks accepted the award on behalf of the organization at the NJSBA's Annual Meeting in Atlantic City on May 16.
A program of the Legal Services Foundation of Essex County, VLJ officially opened its doors in 2001 with thirty volunteer attorneys willing to assist indigent Essex County residents with family, consumer, housing and family law issues. Today, its volunteer base of over 750 attorneys provides services to thousands of clients statewide with any civil legal issue.
VLJ operates several distinct legal projects including: legal seminars on family law, pro se divorce and family motions clinics, wills, bankruptcy, special education and guardianship programs, and its most recent program created in partnership with Newark Mayor Cory Booker's administration, Seton Hall and Rutgers Law Schools, the New Jersey Institute of Social Justice and others, called the Newark Reentry Legal Services Network (ReLeSe), a program to help ex offenders with legal issues that serve as barriers to successful reentry.
Annual Meeting 2006
Shereen Chen, a native of Taipei, Taiwan and attorney with Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, LLP in Voorhees, received the Pro Bono Award of the NJSBA on May 18 at the organization's annual meeting. The NJSBA annual Pro Bono Award is presented to an association member who has performed exemplary pro bono services during the preceding year.
Nominated by Dean Waldt, a fellow Pro Bono Committee member, Chen has made a significant impact on the law community. According to Waldt, "Shereen's assistance and participation in Ballard's immigration, pro bono success stories, not only for 2005, but also for the past 10 years, shows her commitment to the delivery of quality legal services to the poor and providing equal access to superior legal services that they otherwise would not be able to afford."
During her time at Ballard Spahr, Chen has averaged more than 100 hours of pro bono time each year to working on immigration law. In addition, Chen also serves as a mentor for other attorneys on asylum and immigration matters.
One of Chen's most recent cases involved successfully obtaining "extraordinary worker" status for a young woman from Nigeria who is researching the effect of AIDS and HIV issues on children. As a result, this woman is now on her way to becoming a permanent resident of the United States.
Another notable case for Chen involved leading a team that assisted a Chinese girl who fled from an abusive father to the United States. Smuggled into the country by Chinese gangsters known as snakeheads, she was imprisoned by the group and later escaped. Chen and her team successfully obtained special immigrant juvenile status for her. This special status was also won for several young men who were orphaned refugees from Sudan as a result of Chen's efforts.
In addition to her various pro bono initiatives, Chen has also collaborated with Ballard Spahr to create an immigration pro bono services practice group, which assists several community-based organizations. She also participated on an American Bar Association-sponsored team that inspected an immigration detention center and reported their findings to federal immigration authorities.
As an attorney at Ballard Spahr, Chen concentrates her practice on labor employment and immigration; litigation; and franchise and distribution. Chen received her Bachelor of Arts from Johns Hopkins in 1993. She went on to obtain her J.D. from Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, NJ in 1996.
The NJSBA Pro Bono Committee uses the following criteria for the annual NJSBA Pro Bono Award: (1) the total number of pro bono hours spent or complexity of cases handled by the nominee; (2) the impact of the nominee's pro bono work and/or benefit for the poor; (3) particular expertise provided or particular need satisfied by the nominee; (4) successful recruitment by the nominee of other attorneys for pro bono representation; or (5) proven commitment by the nominee to the delivery of quality legal services to the poor and providing equal access to legal services.
The NJSBA presented a Special Recognition Pro Bono Award to the law firm of McCarter & English at the NJSBA Annual Meeting. The NJSBA established the Pro Bono Awards in 2002 to be given at the Annual Meeting in recognition of outstanding pro bono efforts.
McCarter & English is being recognized for their speedy efforts in the formation and distribution of handbooks in collaboration with the NJSBA for Hurricane Katrina evacuees. They have also provided many hours to negotiations with the New Brunswick Tax assessor about various agreements made with the New Jersey Law Center.
Over the years, McCarter & English have provided assistance for many different types of cases ranging from Fortune 100 companies to individual people. They are a nationally based firm that has been in business for over 160 years.
Annual Meeting 2005
Seth Ptasiewicz, a Manalapan resident and attorney with Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, LLP in Newark, received the Pro Bono Award of the New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) on May 19 at the organization's annual meeting in Atlantic City. The NJSBA annual Pro Bono Award is presented to an association member who has performed exemplary pro bono services during the preceding year.
Nominated by Essex County Volunteer Lawyers for Justice (VLJ), Ptasiewicz has been volunteering with the program since 2002, and according to Karen Sacks of VLJ, "much of the program's success can be attributed to Mr. Ptasiewicz personally." Since 2002, Ptasiewicz has devoted approximately 340 hours handling divorce litigation matters at VLJ. He attended VLJ sponsored family law and domestic violence seminars and is the only non-family law attorney handling complex matrimonial matters on behalf of VLJ.
Ptasiewicz' last case, which spanned twenty months from commencement to resolution, involved a divorce including allegations of emotional and physical abuse by the spouse toward the client and emotional and sexual abuse of their two young children. Despite the fact that the woman's spouse had obtained an attorney expert in family law, Ptasiewicz secured a divorce, child support and alimony for his client and more importantly, the client's spouse is no longer allowed visitation with his daughter and is allowed only supervised visitation with his son. VLJ's client was overwhelmed with the outcome.
"I remember the day I met him," she wrote in a thank you letter to VLJ and Ptasiewicz. "I was so nervous and scared that he would take one look at my case and head the other way, but he didn't. I had every kind of problem imaginable, bankruptcy filed by my husband, a messed up credit, a house that had been foreclosed. My ex had many different aliases and it was just so complicated and I needed so much from him. I never knew that my freedom was here."
In addition to VLJ clients, Ptasiewicz regularly attends recruitment functions at law firms on behalf of VLJ and advocates for the program everywhere he can. He is responsible for countless numbers of lawyers signing up for pro bono opportunities through VLJ and elsewhere. "At least 12 volunteers have indicated that Mr. Ptasiewicz is directly responsible for their involvement in the program," Sacks said.
VLJ bestowed its first ever "Pro Bono Attorney of the Year" award to Ptasiewicz at its now yearly recognition ceremony at the Newark Club. When Ptasiewicz was searching for a new employment position, he first asked potential employers whether they would support his overriding commitment to pro bono work and he accepted the position at Wilson, Elser based on the firm's affirmative response. In 2004, the Board of the Legal Services Foundation of Essex County elected Ptasiewicz to the VLJ Board for the 2004-2005 term due to his dedication to the legal needs of the poor.
In addition to his work for VLJ, Ptasiewicz serves as secretary to the District VB Ethics Committee and has volunteered approximately 75 hours per year in that capacity since November 2001.
Ptasiewicz received his law degree from Washington University in St. Louis School of Law in St. Louis, Missouri.
The New Jersey State Bar Association presented a Special Recognition Pro Bono Award to the Camden Center for Law and Social Justice (CCLSJ) on May 19 at the NJSBA Annual Meeting in Atlantic City. The NJSBA established the Pro Bono Awards in 2002 to be given at the Annual Meeting in recognition of outstanding pro bono efforts.
The Camden Center for Law and Social Justice is a faith based non-profit public interest law center founded in the late 1980s to promote justice to the poor and marginalized in the City of Camden and throughout southern New Jersey. The Center recently celebrated its 10th anniversary of incorporation in December 2004.
Over the years, CCLSJ has helped thousands of people in the immigrant community and the working poor by providing pro bono or low cost legal services. The Center handles immigration matters primarily and to a lesser extent various civil matters. The Center has also recently begun representing victims of domestic violence in Final Restraining Order Hearings.
Annual Meeting 2004
Thomas J. Welchman, a Somerset resident and attorney with a solo practice in Somerville, received the Pro Bono Award of the New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) at the organization's recent annual meeting in Atlantic City. The NJSBA annual Pro Bono Award is presented to an association member who has performed exemplary pro bono services during the preceding year.
The list of organizations where he volunteers, the testimony of his peers and the commitment shown by his countless hours devoted to legal services work provide only a glimpse into the unwavering efforts of Thomas Welchman on behalf of Legal Services.
"Tom is a shining example of the pro bono spirit," wrote Diane K. Smith, executive director for Legal Services of North West Jersey (LSNWJ) in her letter to the Somerset County Bar Association recommending Welchman for the award. "His efforts have made an astonishing difference in the justice system in our service area and have gone a long way in making the goal of equal justice a reality in our community."
A former president of the board of directors for Somerset-Sussex Legal Services for more than fifteen years, Welchman now serves as treasurer for LSNWJ, an organization created in 2002 resulting from the merger of Somerset-Sussex Legal Services and three other legal services providers. Welchman served on the Steering committee that guided the merger.
Welchman is a vice president of the Resource Center for Women and their Families in Somerset County, and for over 10 years, has been a volunteer attorney with the resource center's Pro Bono Legal Clinic, offering 30-minute consultations for victims of domestic violence. In addition, as clinic coordinator, he works to recruit additional volunteer attorneys, and reaches out to LSNWJ, Legal Services of New Jersey and the ACLU to develop better coordination of pro bono legal services within the county.
In a letter to the Somerset County Bar Association on Welchman's nomination, resource center Executive Director Cathy L. Cummings also noted that he makes himself available on short notice to represent domestic violence victims.
Welchman's awareness of the particular concerns and difficulties faced by domestic violence victims "benefits the broader community as these victims are better able to move towards safety and less in need of emergency law enforcement and medical services," she wrote.
Gwendoline M. Walding, president of the board of trustees for the Resource Center for Women and Their Families wrote in her letter recommending Welchman for the NJSBA Pro Bono Award, "His many years of service have benefited so many of our clients and his great perspective has helped move the agency along so that it now stands as a leading agency in the county for domestic violence."
Welchman is also a former member of the board of directors and attorney for the Franklin Township Food Bank, and a cooperating attorney for the Somerset ACLU Legal Clinic.
At the Annual Meeting 2004 Opening Business Session on May 20, the NJSBA presented a Special Recognition Pro Bono Award to the Legal Department of Merck Co., Inc. for its ten-year commitment to Legal Services.
The Legal Department of Merck & Company was recognized with a special recognition award from the NJSBA in honor of the 10th anniversary of its partnership with Legal Services of New Jersey to provide pro bono services to New Jersey's low-income families.
Merck staff attorneys handle a myriad of legal services matters, including landlord/tenant, guardianship, family law, bankruptcy and domestic violence matters.
Merck's Rahway-based attorneys have handled nearly 150 pro bono cases, while Merck's attorneys located in Whitehouse Station have contributed in excess of 2,000 pro bono hours assisting the poor, according to Kristi L. Vaiden, president-elect of the New Jersey Corporate Counsel Association. Beginning in 1996, Merck attorneys based in Upper Gwynedd assumed a leadership role in providing intake support to a walk-in clinic advising pro bono clients in legal matters.
In her letter recommending the Merck Legal Department for the award, Vaiden wrote that Merck facilities in Rahway and Whitehouse Station, New Jersey and Upper Gwynedd, Pennsylvania are providing pro bono legal services through alliances with Legal Services of New Jersey, Central Jersey Legal Services, Legal Services of Northwest Jersey, Volunteer Lawyers for Justice, Montgomery County Legal Aid Services and the Pro Bono Partnership.
Annual Meeting 2003
Gary K. Norgaard, a Leonia resident and attorney with the Englewood law firm of Stern, Lavinthal, Frankenberg & Norgaard, LLC, received the Pro Bono Award of the New Jersey State Bar Association (NJSBA) at the organization's recent annual meeting in Atlantic City.
Norgaard is the first recipient of this prestigious NJSBA award that recognizes an association member who has performed exemplary pro bono services during the preceding year.
Norgaard was a volunteer on the NJSBA Bankruptcy Law Section's Pro Bono Bankruptcy Panel, which matches attorneys with Legal Services' eligible clients on a pro bono basis to assist in the filing of bankruptcy petitions. This effort permits low-income persons unable to afford to hire a private attorney, to receive relief from the debt burden. Norgaard eventually assumed full responsibility for administration of the panel, in addition to his voluntary representation commitment.
Since assuming administration, Norgaard has been instrumental in generating excitement and interest in the panel and has successfully recruited additional attorneys to join, resulting in approximately 100 attorneys volunteering their services. He also spearheaded the establishment of a pilot program at Rutgers Law School whereby students, supervised by attorneys, represent low-income clients in bankruptcy cases.
Under Norgaard's leadership, the Pro Bono Bankruptcy Panel has been recognized by the United States Bankruptcy Court, District of New Jersey, and information about the panel is posted on the court's website.
An NJSBA member for 21 years, Norgaard is member of the Bankruptcy Law Section and chair of its Pro Bono Subcommittee. He is a member of the Bergen County Bar Association and chair of its Debtor/Creditor Section. Norgaard is an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University School of Law where he teaches advanced and regular bankruptcy law.
A Master of the Bankruptcy Inn of Court and former Reginald Heber Smith Fellow, Norgaard practices bankruptcy, commercial and collection law. He is a graduate of Rutgers College and received his law degree from the University at Buffalo Law School, the State University of New York.
The criteria used to evaluate potential recipients for the NJSBA Pro Bono Award includes the total number of pro bono hours or complexity of cases handled, the impact of the work and benefit for the poor, the successful recruitment of other attorneys for pro bono representation, and proven commitment to the delivery of quality legal services to the poor and to providing equal access to legal services.