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Winter 2014  
VLJ is pleased to announce a new legal clinic:  
Military Personnel/Veterans
Legal Assistance Project (MLAP) 

In partnership with PSE&G, VLJ has established the Military Personnel/Veterans Legal Assistance Project (MLAP) to provide pro bono legal counsel and limited scope representation to veterans and active duty military personnel. At the clinics, volunteer attorneys from PSE&G, McCarter & English LLP and Gibbons PC, will assist with a range of legal matters, including driver's license restoration, expungement of criminal records and child support issues, among others. PSE&G is providing the funding for this program.


"Many military personnel, those in active duty and those who have returned home, have legal issues and feel like there is nowhere to turn for assistance," said Karen Sacks, founding executive director of VLJ.


One client entered the U.S. Army at the young age of 18. When he returned home to NJ years later, he lacked the structure military life provided and turned to drugs. After rehabilitation, he seeks to restore his driver's license.With VLJ's assistance, he identified and resolved sources of suspension he did not remember from 30 years ago.


Another client served during Operation Desert Storm where he sustained both physical injuries and mental trauma. During his deployment, his brother misused his identity and incurred traffic violations that led to outstanding warrants and driver's license suspensions.  Through VLJ, his municipal matters were all successfully resolved. 


Training sessions were held for volunteer attorneys, and the first clinic is set for March. Volunteer attorneys from PSE&G, McCarter and Gibbons will work in teams at the clinics. If extended representation is required, volunteer attorneys from such firms will take on those cases.


Sacks said, "We are proud to offer aid to these brave men and women who have given so much for our country, and thank PSE&G for its generosity as well as McCarter and Gibbons for their continued support of VLJ."

Research Study Finds VLJ's ReLeSe Program an Overwhelming Success

A study by the National Development & Research Institutes (NDRI) cites the wide-ranging positive impact on the reentry population and community at large of VLJ's Newark Reentry Legal Services (ReLeSe). ReLeSe provides pro bono legal assistance to ex-offenders to aid in addressing the civil legal matters that serve as barriers to successful community reintegration. NDRI's study highlighted statistically significant increases in employment (36% to 53%), in housing/living on one's own (57% to 66%), and an almost non-existent recidivism rate (1 in 76) of the ReLeSe clients surveyed.


"The evidence from this study is quite powerful. Our ReLeSe program is an essential component of successful transitions from incarceration back to life at home and within the community," said Gina DeVito, Esq., managing attorney of ReLeSe.


Through ReLeSe's driver's license clinic and direct representation, ReLeSe and its volunteer attorneys assist clients with driver's license restoration and resolution of long out-standing municipal matters. ReLeSe also provides assistance with modification of child support orders and the expungement of criminal records.


According to the record review data by NDRI in the study, almost 80% of those legally eligible achieved a clean record through expungement and nearly one-third regained driving privileges through a full driver's license restoration with ReLeSe's assistance.

"We've seen time and time again how a criminal record or lack of a valid driver's license proves an insurmountable barrier to employment," noted DeVito. "Providing legal aid to ex-offenders in these areas paves the way for them to find gainful employment, which is one of their main goals as they strive to get their lives back on track."


NDRI's study, which received support from The Fund for New Jersey, relied on 188 record reviews and 76 interviews with individuals who received ReLeSe services from January 2007 through July 2012. The average ReLeSe client in the study was 41.4 years of age, male (65%), African American/Black (86%), single (70%), unemployed at intake (83%) and had obtained a high school diploma or GED (88%). More than six different agencies referred clients to ReLeSe, including Newark One-Stop, which referred more than half of the clients studied. Part of the New Jersey Department of Labor, Newark One-Stop provides comprehensive supportive services to those seeking employment, including unemployment benefits.


"The study also highlighted how in 2012 our volunteer attorneys donated a total of 3,226 hours to ReLeSe, which equates to more than $400,000 in billable hours," added DeVito. "When it comes to the positive impact our program is having, we have to thank our volunteer attorneys first and foremost."
Annual Gala: A Day of Thanksgiving for the "Heroes of Sandy" 


The morning after Hurricane Sandy, in a candle-lit room in Ortley Beach, Stacey Helmlinger and her family walked around the ruins and asked herself, "Will we ever recover?" Fourteen months later, she could answer "yes" and give thanks to her volunteer attorney who helped write the happy ending.

At the December 3, 2013 gala, Stacey and Sandy victim Wendy Robinson of Point Pleasant, represented hundreds of NJ residents who turned to VLJ's successful Disaster Legal Response Program (DLRP).

Like many Sandy survivors, Stacey escaped the flood only to be victimized by a contractor with empty promises.
Calls to him went unanswered. The few private attorneys who returned her calls merely shrugged.

Finally, she found help from VLJ and volunteer attorney Frank Kirk from McCarter & English, whose practice focuses on construction law. He arranged an agreement with the contractor to make sure the Helmlingers incurred no additional costs for completion of the work by another builder.  Stacey told the audience, "VLJ and Frank Kirk gave us something we didn't have for a long time: hope."

The gala was held at the Newark Art Museum for the first time and could not have been a better venue. Guests enjoyed Engelhard Court's marble hall, the jazz quartet Ursa Major and the museum's art exhibits in adjoining rooms.

The silent auction was more fun than ever thanks to a new, automated system that allowed bidders to follow the action on computerized displays. Offers of trip packages sparked some of the most spirited bidding. Not surprising, the gala was VLJ's most successful to date.

The stars of the event were the Heroes of Sandy:  Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP; Duane Morris LLP; Gibbons P.C.; Giordano Halleran & Ciesla P.C.; Hewlett-Packard Company; Jackson Lewis P.C.; McCarter & English, LLP; Patton Boggs LLP; Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland & Perretti, LLP; and UBS Financial Services, Inc.  Susan A. Feeney, Esq., chair of VLJ's board of directors and a partner of McCarter & English, presented the awards.

The Legal Services Foundation of Essex County, of which VLJ is the largest grantee, presented its yearly service awards. Robert Steinbaum, publisher of the New Jersey Law Journal, received the Douglas S. Eakeley Award, and the law firm of Connell Foley LLP received the Dickinson R. Debevoise Award.

At the time of the gala, the work on Stacey's home was still in progress. But there's a happy post-script. Less than three weeks later, the restoration was completed, in time for her son's first Christmas.

"A thank you feels so inadequate, but those are the only words I can come up with," Stacey said at the gala. "So thank you for all you have done for us."


In This Issue
New Clinic Announcement: MLAP
Data Reveals Success
Gala Update
Donating Made Easy
Pro Bono Attorney Spotlight
Winter Volunteers

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Pro Bono Attorney Spotlight:
Thomas DeCataldo and Jonathan Wolfe


Thomas DeCataldo

Jonathan Wolfe

Representing clients for VLJ gives lawyers a special feeling. "It's gratifying to use my training, knowledge and skill to help a person in need," is a typical sentiment. Sometimes there's a bonus: the opportunity to handle a fascinating matter in an out-of-the ordinary situation.

Jonathan Wolfe and Thomas DeCataldo of Skoloff & Wolfe of Livingston had that experience.


They donated nearly 60 hours of work to a case referred to VLJ from Essex County Legal Aid. The client was a young woman who had agreed years ago to what seemed like a meager in-court settlement of $30 in child support per month from her son's father. The client had made prior attempts to get the amount increased but was having difficulty because of her original agreement.  They were college students at the time and she accepted it, DeCataldo says.


Circumstances changed last year.


The father had played college football well enough to be a star and was drafted by a National Football League team and given a multi-year contract worth in excess of $2 million.


Wolfe made the decision to take the case and DeCataldo was the lead attorney for the matter.  The client said Tom explained carefully what the case would entail, and kept her informed all the way through. "Tom was a man of his word," she said. "If he said he would do something he got it done."  


Under the settlement with the defense, the client was able to dramatically increase her monthly child support award for her child, now five years old. "With our help the client and her child obtained a fair result and everyone is much better off," DeCataldo says.


"Skoloff  & Wolfe is committed to pro bono service and improving access to justice for the public," Wolfe said. "As a firm based in New Jersey for more than 50 years, we applaud VLJ for the impact that it has made -- and continues to make -- helping the economically disadvantaged navigate the challenges of the legal system."  


"We are proud of Tom's hard work on the matter, and are pleased for the client and her child that she was able to achieve a successful resolution," Wolfe said.  


  Winter Session Volunteers

NYU LL.M. students Thomas Wrocklage and Michelle Chikezie (pictured above) along with Rutgers-Newark law student Colin Be (not pictured) volunteered with VLJ during their winter break.  They provided much needed and appreciated support on multiple projects.

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