Volunteer Lawyers for Justice
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Spring 2014  
  Hobby's for Justice
June 10th

Eat in or take out from Hobby's Delicatessen and Restaurant on June 10th and 10% of the day's proceeds will be donated to VLJ


For delivery and catering orders, mention VLJ and 10% of your orders the entire week of June 9th will also be donated to VLJ. Catering orders should be placed as soon as possible!

 Hobby's Delicatessen & Restaurant

32 Branford Place

Newark, NJ 07102


(973) 623-0410

Please call for parking information, delivery and  
catering orders
Pro Bono Attorney Spotlight:

Aliza Sherman
She Turned a ReLeSe Client's Tears to Smiles

Aliza Sherman of McCarter & English is giving people a second chance at employment and a second chance at life. Aliza volunteers for VLJ's Newark Reentry Legal Services (ReLeSe): helping clients who can't afford to hire private attorneys win relief under New Jersey's expungement statutes.


It's hard to find a job nowadays, and until legislation like the "Opportunity to Compete Act" becomes law, it's almost impossible for applicants with criminal charges on their record to survive the hiring process in order to secure employment. By helping people expunge their criminal records, Aliza is giving people an opportunity to leave their criminal past behind and start anew and has thus earned a well-deserved place in VLJ's latest Attorney Spotlight.


Of the five expungement cases Aliza has taken on since she began her volunteer work with ReLeSe, she has already shepherded two of these cases to successful conclusions before Essex County Superior Court Judge Sherry Hutchins-Henderson and has participated in driver's license clinics that help clients restore their driving privileges. 


"Finding a security job or a store job, even as a college graduate, was very difficult," one more than satisfied client wrote to Aliza the day he received an expungement of what he believed to be an unwarranted disorderly persons offense. "I've had my days of tears, but today and the days ahead are the beginning of smiles in a new chapter of my life. Thank you for devoting this much time."


In the other case, Aliza secured expungement of a 27 year old marijuana charge. The client didn't know the offense was on her record until she applied for a health aide license.


"The clients have been enormously grateful for Aliza's time and assistance as are we," says Gina DeVito, managing attorney of ReLeSe.


Aliza is playing the role of trailblazer, too. Essentially, the general rule is that a petitioner may seek to expunge a record after the expiration of a period of 10 years from the date of his conviction, payment of fine, satisfactory completion of probation or parole, or release from incarceration, whichever is later. However, under a 2010 amendment, an exception exists if less than 10 years expired from the satisfaction of the fine provided that the other requirements have been met.  In a case pending in Essex County, Aliza is seeking expungement for a petitioner who paid a fine two years ago arguing that the petitioner has substantially complied with the fine, that there were compelling reasons for the delay in fine payment but that the 10 year rule was otherwise satisfied. 


For those who are eligible, expungement provides enormous benefits; but expungement benefits society too. Public assistance is often the only alternative for someone who can't get a job due to an unexpunged criminal record. "From a public policy standpoint, that doesn't make a lot of sense," Aliza suggests. In fact, research conducted by National Development & Research Institutes, Inc. revealed in the 6 months after receiving ReLeSe services, the proportion of clients who reported income from public assistance sources dropped and employment almost doubled.


Working for ReLeSe is Aliza's first foray into legal pro bono. Before joining McCarter & English in 2011 she spent almost ten years at accounting firms whose community programs consisted mostly of general charity work, not free professional services to the needy.


Attorneys thinking of volunteering for VLJ programs might find Aliza's experience instructive. Aliza was able to provide pro bono assistance while still maintaining her private practice in McCarter & English's Multistate Tax Group, providing advice on state corporate income, franchise, sales and use, personal income, realty transfer and other taxes.


The two successful expungement cases required 20 hours each, but the hours were spread out, not in one or two large chunks of time.


"It's been a great opportunity to help people get their lives together," Aliza says.

New Managing Attorney: 

 Jessica Kitson


Jessica Kitson has deep New Jersey roots. She has a long association with Rutgers University and possesses vast experience in the non-profit sector.


We're proud to welcome her to VLJ as managing attorney of two programs central to our mission: The Merck/Lowenstein Bankruptcy Clinic and the Newark Legal Advice & Resource Clinic for Consumers (NLARCC).


Jessica came to VLJ on April 1 after serving 10 years at Rutgers School of Law-Newark, most recently as director of the Eric R. Neisser Public Interest Program and adjunct professor overseeing all public interest and pro bono activities, some of which included partnerships with VLJ. Prior to her career at Rutgers, Jessica was an associate in the now closed Princeton office of the law firm Duane Morris. 


"We are very excited to have Jessica join the VLJ team as she has strong ties to the New Jersey Legal community and has been a tireless advocate for access to justice issues during her years with Rutgers School of Law," says Cathy Keenan, director of VLJ. "Jessica has been coordinating the Bankruptcy Pro Bono Project at the law school and we are looking forward to her leading VLJ's bankruptcy and consumer law efforts."


There's a lot to be done. Yes, a slight improvement in the economy has had a positive effect on the financial outlook of some of those who are eligible for VLJ's services. And the Affordable Care Act, which has accommodated 202,000 insurance and Medicaid enrollees in New Jersey, should lower the number of people going into debt because they can't pay their medical bills.


"Yet we expect the numbers for NLARCC to remain high," Jessica notes, as "vast numbers of New Jersey residents are still struggling to repay credit card bills, auto loans, bail bonds, and payday loans."


As of March, New Jersey had recovered 40 percent of the jobs it lost during the recession, compared to a U.S. rate of 99 percent recovery. The state foreclosure rate is 8 percent, the highest in the nation. And New Jersey's growth rate through the end of April was 2 percent, compared to 3 percent nationwide.


Jessica says that one of her goals for NLARCC is to provide services to clients earlier in the litigation process. "Too many people don't seek assistance until after there is a judgment," she says, noting that "although we do provide post-judgment assistance, the earlier we can get involved, the better it is for the client."


At NLARCC, volunteer attorneys provide legal assistance and limited-scope representation to low-income individuals facing debt collection issues. Through VLJ's bankruptcy initiative, in-house counsel at Merck & Co. and Lowenstein Sandler PC provide direct aid to economically disadvantaged individuals with the preparation and filing of their Chapter 7 bankruptcy petitions and representation at subsequent trustee meetings.


Jessica, who lives in Freehold, grew up in Middletown, did her undergraduate work at Rutgers College and received her JD from Rutgers Law School-Newark in 2003. She currently serves on the New Jersey State Supreme Court Committee on Women in the Courts.  

Welcome to VLJ:
Summer Interns
Legal Interns
Pictured above from left to right: 

Nicholas Jensen, Sarah Hunt and Denise Meyer  

 Rutgers University School of Law - Newark


College Interns
Chris Billups, Vassar College

Alexa Goldstein, Stony Brook University  

Joanna Howe, Colgate University

and Alex Mederos, Franklin & Marshall College 


Making a Difference, Early in their Careers!

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In This Issue
Pastrami with a Side of Justice
Attorney Spotlight
New Managing Attorney
Summer Interns
Office Move
Tribute Donation
Upcoming Events
Where Are They Now?
VLJ on the Move

We are pleased to announce VLJ moved into new office space, courtesy of McCarter & English, LLP.  McCarter & English has generously provided office space for VLJ since 2003, accommodating us as we have grown from a staff of two to our current staff of twelve. 

We are now located at Gateway Four, 100 Mulberry Street, Newark, NJ  07102. Our mailing address remains the same: P.O. Box 32040, Newark, NJ 07102.

During the transition we experienced delays to our telephone and internet connections and apologize if you had any difficulty reaching our office.
We are enormously grateful to McCarter & English for their donation of space over the years thus allowing more of VLJ's funding to be directed to the provision of free legal services to those in need. 
Speaking of VLJ's recent move, are you looking for a Housewarming gift or
Graduation present?
Want to honor a veteran or loved one? What do you buy for the person who has everything?!

Recipients receive an acknowledgement from VLJ notifying them about your gift and generosity.

Best of all, your contribution helps VLJ to improve the lives of economically-disadvantaged adults, children and families in New Jersey by empowering them with the tools, advice and pro bono representation to obtain fair and equal treatment within the legal system.
Trainings and Clinics:
CLE Training
NY, NJ, and PA credit available 
Rutgers School of Law, Newark
June 25th 

Consumer Law Clinic
Newark, Essex County
June 3rd, 10th and 17th
July 1st, 8th, 15th
 August 5th, 12th, 19th 
Disaster Legal Response Program (DLRP) Clinic  
Brick, Ocean County
June 6th
 June 20th
July 18th
August 1st
August 15th 

Moonachie, Bergen County
June 26th
July 31st
August 21st
Divorce Clinic
Newark, Essex County
June 12th
 July 10th
August 7th

 Newark Reentry Legal Services (ReLeSe) Driver's License Clinic Newark, Essex County
June 19th
July 17th
August 21st

Family Law Clinic

Newark, Essex County
June 30th
July 31st
August 27th

 Military Personnel/Veterans Legal Assistance Project (MLAP)
Newark, Essex County
June 24th
July 22nd  
August 26th

Volunteer for an
Upcoming Clinic

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VLJ Past: Where Are They Now?


Natalya Johnson


Three years after working as a deferred associate at VLJ, Natalya Johnson continues to reap the benefits of that career-altering experience. It helped her become a more accomplished private attorney and instilled a commitment to pro bono service that will last a lifetime, she says.  She also has maintained her affiliation with VLJ by continuing to volunteer.


We caught up with Natalya recently for an update on her career since 2011. That's when she was among a group of law school graduates who received stipends from their law firms to work at VLJ after their starting dates were deferred. She turned a downside of the recession into an uplifting opportunity.


"It was a fantastic experience," she says of her time at VLJ. "I got a chance to interact with clients and apply what I had learned in law school to real-life situations." Fresh from Cornell Law School, Natalya worked with ReLeSe on expungements and served in the bankruptcy clinic for three months before starting in the McCarter & English practice section representing financial institutions in distressed debt cases.


Steven J. Vajtay, Jr., McCarter & English's managing partner, said at the time that Natalya's work with ReLeSe had given her a unique skill set in criminal justice cases that would be valuable to the firm. But as it turned out, her work with creditors at the Newark firm conflicted her out of some work with debtors at VLJ's clinic, she says.


That general issue is now pending before the State Supreme Court. Last year, in Opinion 17-2012, the Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics said that while there was no direct conflict of interest, the lawyer must get consent from both sides. VLJ and other pro bono advocates argued before the high court in April that requiring such waivers would chill volunteer efforts.


This year, Natalya moved over to Fox Rothschild LLP as a complex commercial litigation associate. She is currently handling a wide range of matters including, insurance coverage, banking, white collar, and employment law at the firm's office in Roseland.


Natalya says her time at VLJ strengthened her will to continue working on pro bono programs that foster social justice and help people who can't afford to hire private attorneys.


She has been working with the agency to help spread the word about the benefits of pro bono service in general, and work with

VLJ in particular, to the careers of young lawyers.


Natalya has expanded her horizons by getting involved in other programs that interest her: New Jersey Law and Education Empowerment Project ("NJLEEP"), which provides youth from underserved neighborhoods skills they need to improve their chances of academic success in college and beyond, Seton Hall Institute for Social Justice Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) clinic, and VLJ's Consumer Law Clinics.   



Military Personnel/Veterans  
Legal Assistance Project (MLAP) 
Celebrating Military Appreciation Month at
Job and Resource Fairs

PSEG paralegals Jeanette Carlo, Marlene Perfeito and Jessica Piccillo
 with VLJ attorney Karen Robinson
G.I. Go Fund Job Fair, Newark

VLJ attorney Karen Robinson, Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen,
Sandra Roque and Kendall Ademu-John of PSEG 
Passaic County Job Fair, Wayne