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October 2014  
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VLJ Victory: 
NJ Supreme Court Decision 

On November 12, 2014, VLJ and Lowenstein Sandler will hold a CLE on the "Ins and Outs of Representing Debtors Pro Bono in No Asset Chapter 7s".  CLICK HERE to register. At the session, a panel including The Honorable Judith H. Wizmur, US Bankruptcy Judge (retired), will discuss the New Jersey Supreme Court's recent ruling that pro bono service to clients in VLJ's Bankruptcy Clinic and programs with similar ethics safeguards is not a conflict for firms that also represent the clients' creditors in unrelated matters. Ethics credit will be awarded.

 

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled on July 2 that pro bono service to clients in VLJ's Bankruptcy Clinic and programs with similar ethics safeguards is not a conflict for firms that also represent the clients' creditors in unrelated matters. This ruling represents a huge victory for VLJ and its clients.

 

The decision reversed an ethics panel's opinion that had found a conflict and had been discouraging firms from helping indigent clients in Chapter 7 bankruptcy cases.


More than merely conflict-free in most circumstances, programs like VLJ's are commendable efforts, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner suggested in his opinion for the unanimous court.

 

According to Chief Justice Stuart Rabner in his opinion for a unanimous court, "Programs like VLJ's clinic help address this crisis [of unrepresented debtors], as volunteer lawyers try to pave the way for debtors to recover financially. We commend the lawyers in this and other pro bono initiatives who offer their skill and help at a time of need. By doing so, they help bridge the justice gap that leaves many low-income residents in New Jersey without legal services."

  

The clinic, focusing on no-asset Chapter 7 matters, opened in 2009 to meet a surging demand for pro bono bankruptcy lawyers in the wake of the financial crisis. VLJ teamed up with in-house lawyers from Merck & Co., Inc. But demand surpassed what the volunteers could provide. So VLJ asked a Lowenstein Sandler bankruptcy team to join the effort. 

  

The firm was willing but its list of existing clients included utilities, communications and health care companies and other businesses that are common creditors of low-income people. Lowenstein Sandler joined the Bankruptcy Clinic nevertheless and represented 168 clients while donating more than 4,700 hours of attorney time.

  

But the lack of guidance from New Jersey's ethics authorities proved discouraging to other firms and many were waiting on the sidelines with questions about whether participation would be a conflict. In 2012, VLJ sought an opinion from the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics.

  

The committee responded in ACPE Opinion 17-2012. No-asset pro bono matters do represent an ethical risk under Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7(a)(2) unless the firm obtains a client's waiver for each conflicting matter, the panel advised.

  

In its reversal, the Supreme Court found that given the nature of the clinic's Chapter 7 work and the program's built-in safeguards against conflicts there was no "significant risk that a volunteer lawyer's representation of a Chapter 7 debtor in a no-asset case will be materially limited by the firm's responsibilities to creditors in unrelated matters, or that representation of those creditors will be materially limited by the firm's obligations to the debtor."

  

With the opinion in hand, VLJ is now approaching firms and getting positive responses, said Karen Sacks, VLJ's Founding Executive Director. "I think there is going to be a sea change with regard to firms' willingness to take on these cases, and this decision is something they can point to if anyone does raise a concern," she said.

  

"We are extremely grateful to the attorneys from Lowenstein Sandler, McCarter & English and DLA Piper who worked tirelessly in their representation of VLJ and our partners, the New Jersey State Bar Association, the Pro Bono Institute, and Jill Freidman and Jessica Kitson from Rutgers Law, who served as amici," Sacks said.  

  

Pro Bono Attorney Spotlight:
Peter Balsamo

Where do real property and trusts and estates work rank on the list of the most-requested pro bono practice areas? Near the bottom, most lawyers would say. After all, it seems a fair assumption that clients with needs in those fields could afford to pay for representation.

 

Not always. VLJ volunteer attorneys have helped many indigent clients navigate the often-foggy world of wills, trusts, guardianships, real property sales and home ownership.


Chief among them is Peter Balsamo of Milltown. VLJ is pleased to take this opportunity to thank him for giving more than a dozen VLJ clients the benefit of his experience and knowledge from years in private practice.

 

For Peter, pro bono service is satisfying and much needed for indigent clients facing estate and property work. Lacking a will is a detriment for individuals of all income levels. Even if you don't have much money, you might have prized possessions.

 

Peter said that working with VLJ makes it simple to select the matters that interest him. He takes cases from lists that VLJ posts of clients in need in his practice area. When a staff member calls for help with a particular matter, he is quick to say yes. Then it's like any other representation, starting with an interview to determine whether he can help and to assure that he and the client are compatible.

 
Cathy Keenan, VLJ's Director, noted Peter's commitment to his clients, "Peter is a tireless advocate for his pro bono clients. He is always willing to go the extra mile for the people he represents."

 

His commitment to pro bono is rooted in his childhood in East Brunswick. Peter was young when his father died and left a wife and seven children. His mother did seamstress work at home. The family also benefited from outside assistance.

 

Peter said, "There were social workers. We had food stamps. I have never forgotten what it's like to need help and get it. Now it's my turn to pay back. If there is someone who needs my assistance I'm willing to give it. And that gives me great satisfaction."  

 

Peter is a graduate of Rutgers University and New York Law School, Class of 1998. His wife, Sharon Balsamo, is the assistant executive director and general counsel of the New Jersey State Bar Association. He operates his solo practice from an office at home to give him the flexibility to be there for their triplets: 13-year-old girls.

 

It was Sharon who first mentioned VLJ to him as an outlet for his volunteerism -- a suggestion that has proven to be rewarding for Peter, the parties in the 15 cases he has handled, and for VLJ. 

  Hobby's for Justice:
Genova Burns Is on a Roll
 

Pictured from left to right:

Larry Crawford, Director of Operations St. Ann's Soup Kitchen & Pantry;  Penny Paul, Director of Marketing & Business Development at Genova Burns Giantomasi Webster; and Jon Marchesano, Executive Chef of St. Ann's Soup Kitchen & Pantry 

 

Once a year, Newark's gastronomical landmark, Hobby's Delicatessen and Restaurant, features a menu of signature sandwiches invented by two dozen legal organizations. A portion of the proceeds and catering orders placed that week, plus the sandwich-contributors' donations, help fund VLJ's programs.

 

For the third year in a row, Genova, Burns, Giantomasi & Webster earned the top prize in the "most ordered sandwich" category at the annual Hobby's for Justice fundraiser -- a day of good times, good eats and the thrill of victory, all for VLJ's benefit. The firm's sandwhich, the "GBGW's Supreme Court Appealing Turkey Sandwich" consisted of turkey, ham, Swiss, coleslaw and Russian dressing. 

 

New this year, the firm placed a catering order and donated all the food to St. Ann's Soup Kitchen in Newark -- enough to feed 100 people. Their generosity and creativity not only ensured their sandwich victory, but also fed Newark's hungry all while supporting VLJ. A win-win!

McCarter & English's "McCorned Beef & English," corned beef, pastrami, coleslaw and Russian dressing, came in second. And the judges declared that the entry from Michael Griffinger of the Gibbons firm had the most creative sandwich name: "Supreme Cut"- turkey, tongue, Swiss, cole slaw and Russian dressing.

 
A big thanks to Hobby's and to all those diners who cheated on their diets to help VLJ and kudos to the sandwich sponsors. Besides the above mentioned winners, they were: Joe LaSala of McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter; the Essex County Bar Foundation; Susan Feeney of McCarter & English; Kenneth Kunzman and Richard Badolato of Connell Foley; David Genova of Preservation Partners Construction, Inc.; Maureen Winograd; Dennis Drasco and Wayne Positan of Lum, Drasco & Positan; Gibbons; Suzanne Klar of PSE&G; Lowenstein Sandler and VLJ.


 

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CONGRATULATIONS!
BRUCE N. KUHLIK AND MERCK

VLJ would like to congratulate Bruce N. Kuhlik, the executive vice president and general counsel of Merck & Co., Inc., who received the 2014 Exemplar Award from the National Legal Aid & Defender Association (NLADA) in July. VLJ would like to congratulate Mr. Kuhlik for his exceptional leadership in pro bono and public service.

 

In recognizing Mr. Kuhlik, the NLADA noted that "Merck is among a select group of legal departments that have had a formal in-house pro bono program for more than 15 years and is a charter signatory to the Corporate Pro Bono Challenge." Moreover, the number of Merck volunteers has doubled to more than 150 volunteers under Mr. Kuhlik's leadership.

 

VLJ would also like to congratulate Merck on the 20th anniversary of its pioneering pro bono program. At an event marking the occasion, United States Senator Cory Booker, the event's keynote speaker, thanked Merck staff for the "conspiracy of love" that has helped so many people struggling to get by.

 

The pro bono contributions made by Merck employees directly benefit VLJ clients, particularly those participating in our bankruptcy and consumer law projects, which Merck has played a vital role in establishing and maintaining.  

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In This Issue
VLJ Victory
Attorney Spotlight
iGive! Do uGive?
Gala Tickets Now for Sale
Upcoming Events
Where Are They Now?
 
Tickets Are Now Available
 
 Arts & Eats For Justice
December 2, 2014
6:30-9:30 pm
Newark Museum
  
Honoring
 
PSEG & the PSEG Foundation

The Honorable Morris Stern
(in memoriam)

William E. Frese, Esq.
 

In place of a silent auction, we are introducing our first
Wine Pull!

We will have 100 wine and champagne bottles on display in the main reception room. Guests can purchase a numbered wine cork for $30 apiece. Every cork in the pull matches a bottle of wine on display, and will entitle you to a bottle worth a minimum of $35.


 For tickets, sponsorship and more information, please visit:  

VLJ Gala 

  

  See you on  

December 2nd!  

Upcoming
Trainings and Clinics:
====================== 
The Basics of Consumer Debt Defense CLE  
December 8 
2 pm - 5 pm  
Rutgers School of Law - Newark 
   
Consumer Law Clinic
Newark, Essex County

October 21 and 28 

 November 4, 11, and 18

  

Disaster Legal Response Program (DLRP) Clinic  
 
  Moonachie, Bergen County 

October 30

November 20

 

Hazlet, Monmouth County

November 14

December 19 


Brick, Ocean County  
 October 24
November 21
December 12 
          
Divorce Clinic
Newark, Essex County

November 13


 Newark Reentry Legal Services (ReLeSe) Driver's License Clinic Newark, Essex County 
December 4

Family Law Clinic
Newark, Essex County
October 29
    
  
 Military Personnel/Veterans Legal Assistance Project (MLAP)
Newark, Essex County

October 28

November 25

 
Volunteer for an
Upcoming Clinic


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VLJ Past: Where Are They Now?

   

Ashley Vallillo


Super Lawyers peer rating service put Ashley Vallillo on its list of "rising stars" among New Jersey lawyers this year. To VLJ it is no surprise that she is a winner.

 

Ashley was a summer intern at VLJ seven years ago, getting her first taste of what it's like to be a busy practitioner. She learned about real pleadings and dealt with attorneys, courts and clients in bankruptcy and matrimonial clinics.

 

"It was a terrific experience," she said. "I learned so much."

 

Now, as an associate in the Roseland office of one of New Jersey's premiere family law firms, Snyder & Sarno, Ashley has her own busy practice assisting clients with matrimonial, child support, domestic violence and nuptial agreement issues.

 

One case has attracted wide interest among family practitioners. She is working with partner Angelo Sarno on an appeal that will give the state Supreme Court an opportunity to settle a thorny issue in palimony law.

 

A 2010 state statute says that support agreements among unmarried parties must be in writing, but lower courts have differed over whether the law should be applied retroactively. In the case before the high court, Maeker v. Ross, the firm is arguing that the couple's oral agreement is enforceable because it was made before the enactment of the statute.

 

Ashley got her introduction to family law when she worked at VLJ. She was ending her first year at Seton Hall University School of Law and looking for work in New Jersey.  At the annual Public Interest Law Fair at New York University, Ashley met with VLJ and secured the internship.

 

Besides gaining valuable know- how that summer, Ashley made contacts with people who guided her. She obtained a summer associate job the next year at McElroy, Deutsch, Mulvaney & Carpenter in Morristown. After graduation she clerked for Thomas Zampino, a family court judge in Essex County. Then she returned to McElroy Deutsch as a first year associate.

 

She practiced complex commercial litigation there for a year, but she was more interested in family law. She joined Snyder & Sarno in 2012. 

 

How did VLJ help Ashley toward a successful career? For starters, it gave her an entr´┐Że into the real world of law, she said. She learned to work with pleadings, interact with court personnel and assist volunteer lawyers by gathering treatises and documents, an important task at VLJ because volunteers often agree to take cases in fields outside their normal practice area.

 

VLJ's matrimonial clinic gave her a sense of the substantive issues that she now handles on a regular basis.

 

Most importantly, though, was the experience of working with clients and understanding how to interact with them.

 

"Clients who come to you are often at very low points in their lives," says Ashley. "I learned at VLJ how important it is to deal with that."

           

VLJ also wishes to thank Snyder & Sarno for their recent donation of Family Law books and resources that will benefit innumerable clients and volunteers.

 

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