Attorneys who provided legal advice to victims of Superstorm Sandy and a team of attorneys who successfully challenged a Social Security Administration policy cutting off benefits to more than 140,000 recipients are among the 20 winners of the New York State Bar Association's 2013 President's Pro Bono Service Awards.
The awards were presented today at a Law Day luncheon at the State Bar Center in Albany. State Bar President Seymour W. James, Jr. (The Legal Aid Society in New York City), President-elect David M. Schraver of Rochester (Nixon Peabody) and George H. Lowe of Syracuse (Bond, Schoeneck & King) presided at the ceremony. Schraver and Lowe are co-chairs of the President's Committee on Access to Justice.
"Every year, millions of New Yorkers are forced to navigate the civil justice system without legal representation. We are so pleased to recognize the attorneys whose pro bono efforts assisted low-income individuals with consumer debt, foreclosure, divorce, end-of-life decisions, government benefits, storm-related issues and other legal matters," said James. "It is our privilege to honor those who make access to justice a reality."
In addition to honoring attorneys representing 12 of New York's 13 judicial districts, the pro bono awards are given to special categories of recipients including a lawyer practicing for less than 10 years or under the age of 36, a senior lawyer, a large law firm, a mid-size law firm, a small law firm, an in-house counsel, a government office and a law student.
The winners are:
1st Judicial District (Manhattan)
More than 140,000 older Americans and persons with disabilities collectively received more than $1 billion in retroactive benefits because of the work of the Proskauer Rose Team of Russell L. Hirschhorn, Steven E. Obus, Bettina B. Plevan and Brian S. Rauch. In the case of Clark v. Astrue, they successfully challenged a Social Security Administration policy that cut off benefits to individuals with outstanding warrants for alleged parole violations.
2nd Judicial District (Kings County)
James Maleady of Staten Island (Law Office of James Maleady) volunteered with the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project's disaster relief clinics in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. The clinics assisted more than 150 Brooklyn residents.
3rd Judicial District (Albany, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster counties)
A volunteer with the Legal Project in Albany for more than 10 years, Michelle H. Wildgrube of Niskayuna (Cioffi Slezak Wildgrube) assists the Affordable Housing Attorney Assistance Program and handles pro bono real estate closings. She also helped develop the Wills Program, which assists low-income individuals with wills, health care proxies and other end-of-life legal issues.
4th Judicial District (Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Montgomery, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Schenectady, Warren, Washington counties)
Andrew S. Moses of Canton, assistant county attorney for St. Lawrence County, conducts the pro se divorce clinics for low-income clients with uncontested divorces in the county. In 2012, he taught eight clinics and assisted 35 clients in processing a divorce case on their own.
5th Judicial District (Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego counties)
Anthony P. Marshall of Syracuse (Harris Beach) played a key role in launching the "Say Yes to Education" program in Syracuse. The national program is designed to remove socioeconomic barriers that prevent inner-city children from graduating high school and attending college. Syracuse was the first city in the nation to institute the program throughout an entire school district.
6th Judicial District (Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Madison, Otsego, Schuyler, Tioga, Tompkins counties)
A solo practitioner, Mary Jo Long of Afton has assisted the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York with the rising number of unemployment insurance cases. In one case, she spent more than 22 hours representing a claimant over three months, including at four separate unemployment insurance hearings.
7th Judicial District (Cayuga, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Yates counties)
Retired attorney Michael S. Schnittman of Rochester (Lacy Katzen) has assisted more than 125 low-income clients in debt collection cases and foreclosures through the Debt Collection Advice Clinic of the Volunteer Legal Services Project of Monroe County.
8th Judicial District (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans, Wyoming counties)
A 20-year volunteer with the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, Matthew B. Herdzik of Buffalo, a solo practitioner, performed more than 120 hours of pro bono work on eight divorces, six bankruptcy cases and an income tax matter in 2012. Since 1993, he has closed 115 pro bono cases and donated nearly 1,200 hours of service.
9th Judicial District (Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Westchester counties)
Daniel A. Schlanger of Pleasantville (Schlanger & Schlanger) spearheaded efforts to open a Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office (CLARO) in Westchester. He manages the project, which provides free legal advice to unrepresented debtors and serves as an expert at least twice a month overseeing attorneys participating in clinics.
10th Judicial District (Nassau, Suffolk counties)
A volunteer with the Touro Law Center Hurricane Emergency Assistance Relief Team, Michael Aronowsky, a retired lawyer from Massapequa, has donated approximately 100 hours to the project. He trained law students, conducted research and advised callers on storm-related assistance.
11th Judicial District (Queens County)
Donating more than 115 hours of service to 105 clinic visitors, Julia Maeng of Beechhurst has been a tireless volunteer with the CLARO-Queens Consumer Debt Clinic. The clinic provides free legal assistance to residents facing consumer debt issues.
13th Judicial District (Staten Island)
In addition to serving as treasurer of the Richmond County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyer Project, Jeffrey M. Alfano of Staten Island, law secretary to Richmond County Supreme Court Justice Joseph J. Maltese, performed 60 hours of pro bono service in 2012 in foreclosure cases.
Catherine Sinwell Gerlach, a third-year student at Syracuse University, chairs the law school's Pro Bono Advisory Board. She has donated nearly 600 hours to various pro bono programs. In October, she testified in front of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's hearing panel on access to civil legal services in support of law student participation in pro bono work.
Lindsay S. Moilanen of Manhattan, an associate at Kaye Scholer, has led the firm's pro bono efforts to assist transgender people through its Name Change Project. In addition, she is working on a case that will challenge the New York City Board of Health's requirement that a birth certificate can be changed only if transgender people undergo surgery.
Albany City Councilman Michael F. O'Brien provides pro bono assistance to veterans through the Veterans Legal Project and the VA Medical Center Legal Clinic. In 2012, he assisted 45 clients and performed more than 100 hours of service.
Theresa Mohan of Manhattan (IBM) was one of the first attorneys to mobilize the legal community to send volunteers out in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. In addition to her recruiting efforts, she arranged for IBM to donate 150 technology licenses to allow ProBono.net to better coordinate its response for Sandy and future disasters.
Conceived in late 2012 and launched in January 2013, the Seventh Judicial District Help Center in Rochester provides the public with legal information to better navigate the court system. The collaborative project has assisted more than 125 unrepresented litigants with a variety of civil matters, from uncontested divorces to landlord-tenant issues.
Small Law Firm
With just two attorneys, the Troy firm of Ehrlich & Aroodia dedicated 114 hours of service to bankruptcy cases and providing advice at bankruptcy clinics. They closed 22 cases in 2012 alone for the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York and the Legal Project.
Mid-Size Law Firm
The New York office of Morrison & Foerster formed the Student Loan Discharge Project with the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project. The firm took on 17 discharge cases and provided more than 750 hours of services to low-income New York City residents who incurred loan debt from sham for-profit trade schools offering degrees in auto repair and cosmetology.
Large Law Firm
Attorneys in the New York office of Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom devoted 57,222 hours in pro bono work in 2012, an average of 91 hours per attorney. Notable examples include assisting victims of Superstorm Sandy with Federal Emergency Management Agency applications, as well as working on 54 immigration cases.
The 76,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest voluntary state bar association in the nation. It was founded in 1876.
Contact: Brandon J. Vogel