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Feerick Center News - November 2013


  

Feerick Center Honors Four at Awards and Benefit Reception

The Feerick Center welcomed almost 200 benefactors to its annual Awards and Benefit Reception on Monday, October 7, at the headquarters of Mutual of America in New York City.
 
James E. Tolan '62


James E. Tolan ’62, Of Counsel at Dechert LLP and an active contributor to the Feerick Center since its launch in 2006, received the Spirit of Service Award. Tolan’s involvement with Fordham Law dates back over 50 years: he has served as President of the Fordham Law Alumni Association, Chairman of the Annual Fund, and head of the Board of Advisors for the Crowley Program in Human Rights. He has served in pro bono capacities for the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Foundation, Wheelchair Classics Inc., and the National Theatre Workshop for the Disabled. He has been a major promoter of the Feerick Center’s Public Lecture Series and is currently involved as a member of the teaching faculty with the alternative dispute resolution program that the Center has established in Ghana.

 
Peggy Healy '96
The recipient of this year’s Spirit of Hope Award, Peggy Healy ’96, has been a human rights advocate for nearly 40 years. As Senior Vice President for Latin America for Covenant House International, she oversees four programs for homeless and trafficked youth in Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. She began her career in the 1970's in Nicaragua and Central America where she worked for almost a decade as a Maryknoll Sister and as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. A Stein Scholar during her time at Fordham, she had a federal clerkship in the Southern District of New York after graduating and then worked around the globe with several NGOs as a human rights advocate. Healy has been a member of the Board of Advisors for the Feerick Center since its founding.
 
Kevin Curnin '95 with Professor Elizabeth Cooper

The recipient of the Champion of Justice Award was Kevin J. Curnin '95, who is a founding member of the Board of Advisors of the Feerick Center. Kevin is a partner with a wide range of experience handling commercial litigation matters and is the founding Director of the Public Service Project at Stroock, Stroock & Lavan. The firm now provides comprehensive and sophisticated legal assistance to a wide number of underserved communities in New York. Since Kevin began to develop and focus this area of the firm it has received over 60 awards for the contributions it has made. The Stroock firm has established itself as a leader in the nation in public service matters.

 
Seymour James with Feerick Center Advisory Board Chair Fern Schair
The final honoree, Seymour W. James Jr., received the Life of Commitment Award. James is the Attorney-in-Charge of the Criminal Practice of the Legal Aid Society in New York City, the largest public defender organization in the country and the primary indigent defender in the city. In this capacity, he is responsible for the Society’s criminal defense trial, parole revocation defense, appellate and post-conviction criminal practices. He is also the former President of the New York State Bar Association and serves on Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s Justice Task Force and the New York State Permanent Sentencing Commission. He has devoted his entire legal career to ensuring that the poor in New York City charged with criminal offenses receive high quality representation.

The event was co-chaired by Michael J. D. Sweeney ’96 of Getman & Sweeney, New Paltz, New York and Jill Cohen ’87 of Davis Wright Tremaine, Los Angeles.

 

 

Retired But Not Relaxing

On most Thursday afternoons Pat Castellan ’77, former ExxonMobil tax attorney, makes his way to the Bronx County courthouse. Castellan has been retired for four years now but still finds himself making a regular trek past Yankee Stadium and through the magisterial columns that flank the courthouse’s entrance. On these afternoons he steps back into the role of attorney and spends the next hours providing legal advice to local Bronx residents.

Castellan is one of a growing number of active former attorneys who has chosen to assist New York State’s Attorney Emeritus Program. The program, launched by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, aims to draw on a large, underutilized pool of senior attorneys. The goal is for emeritus attorneys to provide legal counsel for those who cannot afford it; given that no more than 20%1 of low-income New Yorkers receive civil legal representation, this work is hugely important. The Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Service in New York indicated in its November 2012 Report to the Chief Judge that 2.3 million New Yorkers navigated the civil courts unrepresented in matters dealing with “the most basic necessities.”2 As of 2010, attorneys 55 years or older and with ten or more years of experience can register as attorneys emeritus. After this status designation, Feerick Center staff members help to match Emeritus attorneys with one of many participating legal service providing organizations.

By the time Castellan arrives in the small room where he gives consultations, a sizeable queue already snakes through the hallway outside. People have been here for hours, waiting with their court summons to speak with an attorney. This is the Bronx Civil Legal Advice Resource Office (CLARO), a program that offers free legal counseling to low-income New Yorkers who are being sued by debt collectors.3 Today, a man seeks advice on how to recoup his stolen identity. A woman believes that her summons was meant for another individual in her building, someone with the same name. Another woman didn’t receive her summons until long after the court date had already passed, and a young man tries to balance snowballing student debt.

Castellan, along with several other volunteer attorneys, meets individually with these visitors to talk through their legal situation and help them plan a course of action. For the vast majority of visitors who are not familiar with legal terminology or with navigating a complicated court system, this assistance is vital. “There are so many people being sued for non-payment, many times in a very non-ethical way,” Castellan explains, “At CLARO we help empower people to help themselves.”

Alongside Castellan, a small group of current law students assists with client intake. In addition to facilitating administrative details of CLARO, these students are often able to sit in with volunteer attorneys during consultations. In this way, student volunteers gain on-the-ground exposure to legal practice by observing senior attorneys at work. “Hopefully volunteering with CLARO creates an awareness of the need to assist these folks, which will continue on after graduation and entry into the legal community,” Castellan says. Whether or not the student volunteers go on to public interest practice, the environment at CLARO fosters constructive interfacing between senior attorneys and lawyers-to-be.

After a long and fulfilling career in corporate law, Castellan moved to New York City where he began volunteering with Bronx CLARO. This transition required that he adapt to a new legal environment, namely by learning to work effectively with a different client base in an area of law entirely new to him—consumer debt. For some, stepping out of the comfort of a niche practice may seem daunting, but Castellan describes the process as challenging yet navigable. “At CLARO you learn by doing; you get hit with the questions and then talk to the experts. You keep building on a knowledge base.”

While many attorney Emeritus volunteers seek positions where they can offer up years of area-specific expertise, others such as Pat Castellan have used the opportunity to grow their legal knowledge base. In either case, the hours clocked by a broadening base of attorney emeritus volunteers are incredibly valuable to the many New Yorkers who would otherwise traverse the legal system alone.

“Give it a try,” Castellan encourages. “You really do get to help people and get some definite rewards from helping people out who are in troubled times.”


1.The Task Force to Expand Access to Civil Legal Services in New York, Report to the Chief Judge of the State of New York 15 (Nov. 2013), http://www.nycourts.gov/ip/access-civil-legal-services (citing Alliance for a Greater New York, Poverty in New York City: Analysis of Data from the US Census Bureau 2010 American Community Survey (noting that 258,000 cases were closed by IOLA grantees in 2010 and comparing this number to the number of low-income New Yorkers with multiple legal problems (i.e., 1.2 million) to conclude that, at best, 20% of low-income New Yorkers receive civil legal services).
2. Id.
3. The Bronx CLARO Program operates under the auspices of the New York State Unified Court System and is co-sponsored by the Bronx County Bar Association, Fordham Law School’s Feerick Center for Social Justice, the New York City Bar, New York Legal Services – Bronx, and New York University Law School’s Law Students For Economic Justice.

Maintaining a Secure Identity

By Sara Klock and Marissa Potts, Siena College Summer Legal Fellows, and Laura Backus, AmeriCorps VISTA, LEEAP Co-Director 2012-2013

The Feerick Center has been focusing on a longstanding problem for consumers, which is seen on a regular basis at the Civil Legal Advice and Referral Office (CLARO) Programs: identity theft and the difficulty that victims have with filing police reports. In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission received almost 22,000 New York State identity theft complaints and about 370,000 complaints nationwide, numbers that are likely lower than the actual number of cases due to underreporting.1 Identity theft is when an individual’s identifying information is used without their authorization to obtain credit, goods, or services.2 This type of fraud can be crippling to an individual’s financial stability and can take months or years of persistent effort to resolve. The repercussions can include denial of credit, employment, medical care, or public benefits; wage garnishment; harassment by bill collectors; and lawsuits.

Dealing with identity theft can take a substantial toll on the victim’s emotional well-being. In many cases the perpetrator is unknown, but the most difficult cases of identity theft can be when the perpetrator is an ex-partner or relative. The victim in these cases may be unwilling to take the steps necessary to resolve the identity theft for fear of harming the perpetrator or for fear of retaliation by the perpetrator. Domestic violence survivor advocates are becoming increasingly aware of the prevalence of financial abuse and identity theft by the abuser in domestic violence situations.3

In its involvement with the CLARO and the Domestic Violence CLARO Pilot Project, the Feerick Center regularly works with New Yorkers struggling with identity theft. In the spring of 2013, the Feerick Center and the Federal Trade Commission trained CLARO and other volunteer attorneys and consumer law practitioners on how to help identity theft victims. In addition to building the capacity of CLARO to assist identity theft victims, the Feerick Center is exploring establishing identity theft clinics staffed by volunteer attorneys, as recommended by the American Bar Association, Department of Justice, and Federal Trade Commission in a 2008 report.4 The Feerick Center’s AmeriCorps VISTA Legal Economic and Educational Advancement Project (LEEAP) is focusing on this effort.

The Feerick Center has also collaborated with legal services providers to engage in policy advocacy regarding the difficulty that individuals face when filing police reports for identity theft. Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act § 605A and B, police reports provide identity theft victims with important protections, including the ability to block fraudulent accounts or transactions from appearing on their credit report.5 Unfortunately, individuals face tremendous difficulties and inconsistencies when trying to file a police report. One document from a precinct in Queens, for example, indicated that identity theft victims are required to submit a notarized affidavit from the company stating that they had no prior knowledge or involvement in the fraudulent transaction. This requirement appears to be in conflict with New York State law, which states that a law enforcement agency must take a police report for individuals who have learned or reasonably suspect that they are victims of identity theft.6

The Feerick Center looks forward to building its efforts related to clinics, training programs, and policy advocacy to ensure that New Yorkers have access to the resources they need to overcome the wide-ranging problems that result from identity theft. In addition, the Feerick Center is looking for volunteers interested in assisting identity theft victims in specialized clinics. For more information, contact Sara Trongone.

1. Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, 2012, accessible at http://ftc.gov/sentinel/reports/sentinel-annual-reports/sentinel-cy2012.pdf.
2. N.Y. Gen. Bus. L § 380-s and 16 C.F.R. § 603.2(a).
3. See “Coerced Debt.” Angela Littwin, 2012. Accessible at http://www.californialawreview.org/assets/pdfs/100-4/04-Littwin.pdf.
4. President’s Identity Theft Task Force Report, 2008, pg. 26. Accessible at http://www.idtheft.gov/reports/IDTReport2008.pdf.
5. 15 U.S.C. § 1681(c)(2).
6. N.Y. Exec. Law § 646(2).

The State of Pro Bono in New York State

On June 27, the Honorable Victor Marrero of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York delivered a lecture entitled “Pro Bono Legal Services: The Silent Majority—A 25 Year Retrospective."

The Feerick Center presented the lecture as part of its Social Justice Lecture series.

Twenty-five years ago Judge Marrero, at the time a partner in a New York law firm, was appointed by the Chief Judge of New York State to act as chair of a Committee to Improve the Availability of Legal Services. The Committee included many leading members of the bench and bar, including former Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, U.S. Attorney Robert Fiske, former President of Barnard Ellen Futter—now President of the American Museum of Natural History—several bar association presidents, and lawyers from throughout the state.

The main recommendation of that Committee was to propose “that all lawyers admitted to practice and registered as attorneys in New York be required to provide a minimum of 40 hours of qualifying pro bono legal services every two years.”

That proposal was not implemented, and a quarter century has now passed. Judge Marrero discussed that report and the current state of the availability of legal services.

Many of the original members of the Committee that made the proposal attended the lecture, as did the two most recent Chief Judges of New York State.

An interested crowd of law students, lawyers, judges, and academics filled the Fordham Moot Court Room to hear the judge’s reflections and learn about the history of the pro bono movement in New York, which now includes pro bono requirements for law students and voluntary pro bono through the Attorney Emeritus Program.

Feerick Center and Dora Galacatos to be Honored with Pro Bono Award in December

MFY Legal Services, Inc., the well-respected nonprofit organization that provides free legal representation to low-income New Yorkers in the areas of housing, employment, government benefits family, and disability law, will honor the Feerick Center for Social Justice and Executive Director Dora Galacatos at MFY’s upcoming Pro Bono Recognition Awards Breakfast on Thursday, December 6, in recognition of "its outstanding work to encourage pro bono participation by emeritus attorneys and improve the cultural competency of private sector attorneys who engage in pro bono work".

MFY hosts the event annually to recognize the important work done to enhance pro bono participation.

The breakfast will be held at Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, 450 Lexington Avenue, from 8:30–10:00 a.m. MFY will recognize over 200 attorneys from prominent law firms and corporate law offices who have provided pro bono assistance to MFY’s clients over the past two years.

In addition to recognizing Fordham Law School's Feerick Center and Dora Galacatos' contributions, MFY will also present awards to Ropes & Gray for its participation in their externship and re-entry programs; to DLA Piper LLP for co-counseling a major class action case on behalf of adult home residents; and to State Senator Brad Hoylman for his efforts to expand justice for tenants, consumers, workers and patients.

Feerick Center Profile: Two VISTA Members

Tell us a little about yourself.

Brandon Ruben
: My public interest experience has been focused in education. I've taught reading comprehension in one of CUNY's free summer enrichment programs, 4th grade in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, and middle school English in a multicultural community in Limoges, France. Outside of work, if I’m not reading or playing basketball, I’m probably cooking for family or friends with my fiancée, who teaches 6th grade at a sustainability-themed charter school in Brooklyn.

Laura Backus: I’m from a small city in Washington State and moved to the big city a year ago to work at the Feerick Center. I graduated in 2012 from Reed College—the motto is “Atheism, Communism, and Free Love”—with a major in linguistics. In the last year or so I have moved from reading Noam Chomsky’s linguistics works to mostly reading his political works, and both are great.

What attracted you to the Feerick Center?

Brandon
: I was attracted to the Feerick Center because of its mission to identify, conceive of, and execute solutions to problems of urban poverty and its impressive institutional support and track record of success.

Laura: The Feerick Center was developing a new volunteer program with an AmeriCorps VISTA grant and it sounded like it would be creative work. Having just graduated from college, I was interested in public interest work and thinking about going to law school. Working at a social justice center within a law school seemed like a good way to learn about both.

How do you define social justice?

Brandon
: I define social justice as activities that remedy imbalance in access to resources. In my opinion, the Civil Legal Advice Resource Office (which the Center helps administer) is a perfect example. CLARO provides weekly, free, limited legal advice offices in civil courthouses in all five boroughs of New York City for individuals who are being sued by debt collectors and who cannot afford representation.

How were you involved in the Feerick Center?

Brandon
: As an AmeriCorps VISTA, I directed the educational component of the Legal, Economic, and Educational Advancement Project.

Laura: I worked on the Legal Economic and Educational Advancement project as an AmeriCorps VISTA. LEEAP is a program to connect experienced attorneys to volunteer opportunities in three different areas. I worked on the consumer credit part of the project, which created volunteer opportunities to help consumers with two problems that can affect their credit: credit report errors and identity theft, both somewhat common. Credit was singled out because it has such an important role in financial stability; it means access to housing, affordable interest rates on loans, and even employment in some cases. I was also involved with the Civil Legal Advice and Referral Office in the Bronx, the Attorney Emeritus Program, and post-Sandy legal services coordination efforts with Pro Bono Net.

What work did you accomplish on this project?

Brandon
: In LEEAP's pilot year, the educational component conceived of, designed, and executed volunteer-staffed pilot programs that worked to provide access to high quality secondary and higher education to a total of twenty-four 7th and 11th grade NYC students from families with low incomes. LEEAP's educational component also administered and convened the NYC Public High School Application Advisory Committee.

Laura: We were able to train about 100 current volunteer attorneys on credit reporting and identity theft issues and connect about a dozen new attorneys with long-term volunteer opportunities around NYC to help consumers with credit and debt issues.

What was most rewarding about your experience in the Feerick Center?

Brandon
: All the work done at the Feerick Center is towards providing resources to individuals who need them but lack access to them, and performing this work is an immense reward in itself. Because everyone is working on behalf of this larger mission, the Center is an extremely collegial environment and the relationships I formed there were personally and professionally enriching.

Laura: I felt lucky to be working with some great people at the Feerick Center, people who reminded me that social justice should start with treating the people around you with kindness and respect. Going to CLARO every week in my final quarter kept me connected to the financial issues and injustices that New Yorkers are dealing with regularly.

What was the most significant thing you learned?

Brandon
: I learned and relearned on a daily basis that individual efforts can positively impact individual lives.

Laura: I learned how essential it is to be connected with people who are doing similar work. The NYC consumer debt world is very close and organizations collaborate frequently. These partnerships make the work of protecting and expanding consumer rights more effective.

How will you use your experience at the Feerick Center as you pursue a career in social justice?

Brandon
: The Center's model of locating an imbalance in access to resources, thinking through a feasible solution to it, and executing it will remain with me as I progress in my career in social justice and encounter new challenges.

Laura: Working at the Feerick Center showed me the importance of individual assistance and social justice conferences, but I have decided that I am most interested in working with communities—perhaps workers at a company—to organize together in order to make change.