National Pro Bono Celebration Week
Every year, NYLAG joins the legal community in highlighting the increased need for pro bono services and celebrates the outstanding achievements of law firms and attorneys who provide critical legal services to New Yorkers who cannot afford private counsel. Thanks to the hard work and commitment of over 1,200 pro bono partners and volunteers, NYLAG is able to provide legal assistance to over 76,000 low-income and vulnerable New Yorkers each year.
In recognition of 2014 Pro Bono Celebration Week, NYLAG brought free legal services and information directly to communities throughout New York City. The Mobile Legal Help Center– NYLAG’s legal services office and courtroom on wheels– made stops all week; Click here to view the calendar of events.
We also want to say thank you to our pro bono attorneys! We could not do what we do without you. Each day of the week, we spotlighted an outstanding volunteer or pro bono partner. If you haven’t taken a look lately, click here to find a pro bono opportunity that works for you – and join NYLAG in providing access to justice for all New Yorkers.
2014 Pro Bono Week Spotlight
Monday, October 20, 2014
Pierre Grosdidier, an associate with Haynes and Boone, first encountered NYLAG when he responded to an urgent request for a French-speaking attorney to assist with an affirmative asylum application. The client, originally from Chad, was a political activist and youth coordinator for the democratic opposition party until he was arrested, beaten and thrown in a secret jail. During his interrogation, the client was threatened with being sent to a notoriously harsh prison in Chad’s remote northern Borkou Region. Somehow he managed to escape and eventually made his way to the United States. While receiving therapy and support from the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture, he was referred to NYLAG for legal assistance.
Grosdidier, a West African native himself, accepted the case and hit the ground running. They had just two weeks to file the asylum application, and then only five weeks to prepare the memorandum of law, gather supporting evidence and prep the client for his interview. Grosdidier, who is based in Houston, did all of this via video-conferencing from the firm’s New York office. With Mr. Grosdidier’s assistance and hard work, the client was granted asylum in August 2014.
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Charles Daitz is a dedicated volunteer on NYLAG’s Mobile Legal Help Center (MLHC), a legal services office and courtroom on wheels. He has become a valued member of the MLHC team, which provides counseling, advice, and direct representation to some of NYLAG’s most vulnerable clients. He has traveled to neighborhoods throughout the city to serve New Yorkers who could not otherwise obtain free legal services due to geographic isolation, health and mobility problems, child care concerns, lack of awareness of services and fears concerning immigration status.
The MLHC is a popular option for New York attorneys interested in donating their legal services, but Daitz stands out in the minds of everyone who works with him as someone particularly well-suited to the demands of this work. He is often the first person that clients speak to onboard. His greets everyone with a smile. He is cheerful, patient and compassionate, and instantly puts even the most fearful clients at ease. He provides a safe space for them to tell him their stories.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
Bonnie Stein joined NYLAG as a long-term volunteer attorney in early 2014. In less than one year, Stein has made major contributions to the work of NYLAG’s Evelyn Frank Legal Resources Program (EFLRP), and has become an esteemed member of the team. She brought with her decades of experience in the New York Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit, which came in handy for one of her major cases:
A Chinese immigrant couple had been victims of marketing fraud by a Medicaid Managed Care plan, which convinced them to apply for Medicaid despite the fact that they had assets in excess of the eligibility requirements. Even though the couple never used their Medicaid coverage, and the plan did not pay for any medical care, the Medicaid program still paid $23,000 in premiums — to the managed care plan.
New York City began fraud recovery proceedings against the couple in 2009. For years, EFLRP staff tried in vain to get the city to drop the claim. Finally, after six months of dogged advocacy by Stein, the entire $23,000 claim was dropped. The City even acknowledged the scale of the fraudulent enrollment problem and pledged to reconsider its recovery efforts accordingly.
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Kyle Koeppel, a recent graduate of Cardozo Law, started volunteering for NYLAG early this year. She works on a variety of family law cases including divorces, and immigration application assistance for victims of intimate partner violence. Because her cases are both new and complex, many of them are ongoing. But already, Koeppel is gaining skills, and making a difference.
As a new lawyer, Koeppel’s first NYLAG client, Anna, remains a special one for her. She is a young mother, originally from Mexico, who came to NYLAG for help in escaping her abusive spouse. Anna desperately wants to remain in the United States to give her children a better life than she could offer them in her home country. Koeppel has filed a U-visa application on her behalf and is awaiting the decision by US Citizenship and Immigration Services. She also referred Anna to NYLAG’s Housing Project for assistance in finding a stable housing situation for herself and her children.
Although Anna is waiting for a more permanent resolution to her immigration status, things are better. She has left the domestic violence shelter she fled to, and has found stable housing for her family.
Koeppel remembers running into Anna in Family Court recently, out of the blue: “Anna recognized me and came over to give me a hug and say hi. She seems happier than when we first met. This meant the world to me, and made me realize why I love the work I do for NYLAG.”
Phillip Spinella and Mauricio España
Friday, October 24, 2014
Phillip Spinella, an associate from Dechert LLP, jumped at the opportunity to represent Alina, a woman from Bangladesh who is a cancer survivor and victim of severe domestic abuse at the hands of her husband. Alina moved from Bangladesh to New York to join her husband in 1999. The abuse began in 2001, and in 2004 she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, causing her to become infertile. Her husband taunted her illness and continued the abuse as she battled cancer. In 2011, her husband moved a girlfriend into the house, forcing Alina to move into a different apartment owned by her husband. No longer able to physically abuse her, her husband began harassing her with lawsuits; one in Housing Court to evict her from the apartment and one in Small Claims Court for breaching an unspecified agreement. While still battling cancer and with limited English skills, Alina was completely overwhelmed by navigating the complex legal system alone.
Spinella, under the supervision of Dechert partner Mauricio España, deftly stepped in to represent Alina and put an end to her husband’s legal harassment. In a short period of time, Spinella was able to get Alina’s small claims lawsuit dismissed with prejudice, and her eviction suit in housing court was adjudicated favorably as well. Thanks to Spinella’s hard work, Alina can now focus on her health, free from relentless legal and emotional abuse by her husband.
All client names have been changed to protect confidentiality.