Volunteer Lawyers for Justice
June 2015
REDEEM Legal Clinic

Senator Cory Booker with VLJ Staff and Trustees
Cory Booker was an active supporter of and collaborator with Volunteer Lawyers for Justice during his seven years as mayor of Newark.  So it was fitting that the junior U.S. Senator from New Jersey approached VLJ to co-sponsor an expungement clinic with his office, at which he announced the re-introduction of his REDEEM (Record Expungement Designed to Enhance Employment) legislation.  Under this proposed legislation, some federal criminal offenses would be eligible for expungement relief.  The REDEEM Expungement Clinic was held on March 2, 2015 at Seton Hall University School of Law.  At the clinic, VLJ staff attorney Karen Robinson presented a tutorial legal seminar on expungements to 50 attendees.  VLJ staff and volunteer attorneys then met with individual applicants to determine if they were eligible for expungement and if their case was a good fit for VLJ's ReLeSe program.


"The event was extraordinary," VLJ's Executive Director Karen Sacks said.  "We are honored that Senator Booker put his trust in us and chose VLJ and a VLJ clinic at which to announce his legislation."


Booker spoke of the great work of VLJ and its volunteer attorneys, particularly the lawyers from Newark law firms Gibbons PC and McCarter & English, who volunteered at the clinic on short notice. Booker also talked of his proposal, introduced a week later in the Senate and referred to the Judiciary Committee. The goal is to improve the employment rates of juvenile ex-offenders by making it easier for them to obtain the expungement and sealing of records of relatively minor offenses, particularly simple drug possession.

"It is time to establish sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain just that, and help make it less likely that low level adult offenders re-offend," Booker told the audience.

Among those attending the event were former Gov. Joseph McGreevey and a representative of the office of U.S Attorney Paul Fishman.


Military Discharge Upgraded

Mary Frances Palisano, Gibbons PC with MLAP clinic client

Thanks to generous funding from the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey, VLJ has added a new practice area to our Military Personnel/Veterans Legal Assistance Program (MLAP).  We are thrilled to provide full representation for veterans seeking corrections to their military records or military discharge upgrades.

One in ten veterans is discharged for less than honorable reasons making them ineligible for government benefits.  Hundreds of thousands of those veterans suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) before PTSD was recognized as a disability in 1980, making them ineligible for the very benefits needed to address their health issues.  In addition to a denial of health benefits, these veterans can also be denied government employment, disability, compensation, education benefits, a military burial and benefits for surviving family members.  Then there is the shame and stigma of a less than honorable discharge that haunts these veterans for the rest of their lives.

At the time of discharge, many veterans are incorrectly told that their discharges are automatically upgraded in six months' time.  Often it is only when they attempt to access healthcare or funding for education that they learn the truth.  The process of securing a discharge upgrade is onerous for a self-represented litigant.  The presumption is that the discharge status is correct and the burden is on the veteran to prove otherwise.

There is little help for these veterans in New Jersey and VLJ is proud to provide this assistance.  If you would like to volunteer for this program, CLE training will be offered on June 18, 2015 from 9:30 AM to 12:30 PM at Rutgers School of Law-Newark.  You may register here.
Pro Bono Attorney Spotlight:
Mary Hartnett & Richard Cino

Mary Hartnett, a solo practitioner who represents special needs students, and Richard Cino, the managing shareholder of the Morristown, New Jersey office of the national law firm Jackson Lewis P.C., met as students at Seton Hall University School of Law. They ultimately married and raised a family. And recently, through VLJ, the couple accomplished a family first: serving as co-counsel in a complex education law pro bono case and obtaining a favorable decision for the client. Then they donated their court awarded fee of $15,000 to VLJ.


"Rich and I have always wanted to work together and we're happy the way it turned out," Mary says.


The client was a special education student being bullied mercilessly. The law suit alleged the school district failed to properly address the issue. Mary and Rich got involved, and eventually obtained a successful settlement on behalf of the parents: the child and the bullies were assigned to different schools.


Mary initially brought the matter into her firm in Red Bank and she also consulted with the Education Law Center and VLJ on bullying issues. VLJ helped her obtain the services of Michael Greene, Ph.D., Senior Fellow, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers, the State University, a sought-after expert witness in such matters.


Mary then partnered with her husband on the case. Rich says, "Jackson Lewis has a very significant pro bono commitment.  The ability to help others really motivates our attorneys and is incredibly rewarding."  In addition to this case, Rich and other attorneys in the Morristown office have volunteered at VLJ's DLRP clinics to assist victims of Superstorm Sandy. Along with the attorney hours devoted to the special education/bullying case, Mary and Rich noted the significant contribution of Rich's administrative assistant, Normandie Koenig, to the matter.


Mary's passion for special education law was fueled by her experience growing up with her sister, Liz, who has cerebral palsy. Before opening her solo practice, she worked for many years as Director of the Special Education Clinic at Rutgers School of Law-Newark.


 Mary says the case is instructive for lawyers in any field considering a coordination of their pro bono efforts with VLJ: "When it comes to dealing with experts and others in a case, an association with VLJ adds a great measure of legitimacy to the representation. You're not just a lawyer; you are part of something bigger."


As for pro bono work in general, she says, "It's important for lawyers to use their knowledge to give to their communities. It makes the clients happy and that makes lawyers happy."


Welcome New Staff:
Garima Joshi

Garima Joshi joined the Disaster Legal Response Program last fall as a Law Clerk/Outreach Coordinator.  She is a graduate of Villanova University School of Law and is admitted to the Bar of New York and New Jersey.  She earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Auburn University and previously worked in finance in New York and Europe before pursuing law.

Prior to joining VLJ,
 Garima worked as a Legal Consultant for the Environmental Law Centre of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature where she focused on international water law.  Garima is also a Special Deputy Attorney General with the New Jersey Attorney General's Office in the Appellate Bureau.
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In This Issue

  Arts & Eats For Justice
October 20, 2015
New Jersey Performing Arts Center 


VLJ is pleased to announce this year's honorees, Prudential and David J. Bershad. 

 For tickets, sponsorship and more information, please visit:  

VLJ Gala 


  See you on  

October 20th!  

Trainings and Clinics:
Setting the Record Straight: Representing Veterans in Discharge Upgrade Applications
Thursday, June 18, 2015
9:30 AM to 12:30 PM
Rutgers School of Law-Newark



For a full listing of our clinic dates, please visit www.vljnj.org/volunteer.


The Young Lawyers Section of the Essex County Bar Association is hosting:

 Peers & Beers Happy Hour
Thursday, June 18, 2015, 6 - 8 PM
Egan & Sons
(104 Harrison Ave., West Orange, NJ)

 All proceeds benefit Volunteer Lawyers for Justice!
Click here to register.

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VLJ Volunteer Spotlight: 

Howard Menaker


Like many professionals who retire, Howard Menaker wants to remain intellectually active and serve his community. He has found a way to do both at VLJ.


Howard is volunteering 2 days a week at VLJ, becoming an essential contributor to VLJ's array of programs for clients who need legal services but can't afford private attorneys.


Howard worked for decades as a business executive, lawyer and certified public accountant. When he retired a mutual friend introduced him to Karen Sacks, VLJ's founding executive director, and he enlisted in the effort last November.


Howard is a great help to VLJ and works extensively with VLJ clients. "Howard has been an invaluable resource to VLJ and the clients we serve. His years of legal and business experience allowed him to quickly get up to speed and immediately make an impact in the office. Not only is he fantastic with the clients, but he is a real pleasure to have in the office," says Cathy Keenan, VLJ's Director.


Howard conducts intake interviews, determines whether applicants are eligible for pro bono assistance, gathers supporting documentation needed for client files, assists with file preparation for various off-site legal clinics and volunteers regularly at several of these clinics, where he provides legal advice and limited services to clients. So far, Howard has worked on child support, expungement, bankruptcy, consumer matters, divorce and veterans issues.  Howard was recently elected to VLJ's Board of Trustees for 2015-17 due to his dedication to VLJ.


After a lifetime of work for commercial and corporate interests, Howard finds the work rewarding. "You are dealing with real people with real life problems and to serve them is a positive thing," he says.


If you are a recently retired attorney or contemplating retirement, please give VLJ a call and we would be happy to discuss volunteer opportunities that will meet your interests, skills and schedule.

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