By: Nora A. Jones//November 7, 2019
By: Nora A. Jones//November 7, 2019//
Volunteer Legal Services Project Inc. of Monroe County (VLSP), Legal Aid Society of Rochester (LAS), and Legal Assistance of Western New York (LawNY) kicked off the 2019 Campaign for Justice on Nov. 5, announcing this year’s goal of $251,000 for the civil legal service providers.
Volunteers gathered at the Telesca Center, equipped with laptops and cellphones. Accessing the electronic database through the VLSP website, VLSP’s Brittany Woloshyn walked through the basics of using the donor list online. Tina Foster, VLSP Executive Director, was also on-hand to assist with questions and cheer on the volunteers.
By the end of the evening, volunteer-callers recorded $24,055 in pledges, bringing the current total to $57,170, which includes a few in-house solicitations and firm donations.
Bobby Colón, Sharon Stiller, and Jonathan Falk are co-chairing this year’s campaign initiative.
Colón serves as general counsel at Rochester Institute of Technology and will focus on corporate counsel participation in the annual fundraising initiative. Stiller, a partner at Abrams, Fensterman, Fensterman, Eisman, Formato, Ferrara & Wolf LLP, will once again oversee law firm donations.
Falk, an attorney at LAS, is now in his third year promoting the Campaign for Justice among the “under 40” crowd. There will be a Law Firm Challenge, with participating firms to be announced early next week. The friendly competition measures “participation rate” among the younger lawyers at similarly sized firms. To follow the competition, go to https://www.vlsprochester.org/lfc-standings.
Civil service needs
“The opposite of poverty is not wealth. It’s justice,” wrote Bryan Stevenson, a death row lawyer and author of the book “Just Mercy.” Although Stevenson is known as an advocate for criminal justice reform, his statement applies equally to civil justice.
VLSP receives a substantial portion of the CFJ funding, which is used to recruit and coordinate more than 1,600 pro bono attorneys, paralegals and legal professionals. In the past fiscal year, VLSP served 3,842 clients and closed 1,670 cases.
VLSP’s pro bono volunteers provided representation in matters involving microenterprise, domestic violence, eviction and foreclosure prevention, denial of unemployment insurance benefits, immigration and consumer problems, among other civil legal issues in the past year.
Pro bono hours donated by attorneys and non-attorneys working on VLSP programs totaled 5,745 hours, valued at $1,263,374.
LAS and LawNY
“2018 was another year of growth for the Legal Aid Society of Rochester,” begins the LAS President’s Message accompanying the Annual Report, which goes on to indicate they provided direct representation in 4,301 “Attorney for the Child” cases, and 1,458 Family Law cases. Immigration (315 cases), Housing and Consumer Law (1,534 cases) and Education Law (354 cases) were the other key areas of service.
LawNY closed 7,199 cases benefitting 15,741 within its 14-county reach in Western New York. Their online self-help tools were available to 13,000 individuals in need of assistance.
This year’s CFJ Cabinet includes: Joshua Agins, John Bringewatt, Michael Burger, Margaret Clemens, Richard Curtis, Christina Deats, Thomas P. Durkin, Jonathan Ferris, Barbara Fish, Tina Foster (VLSP), Jerry Holmes, Barbara LaVerdi, William Q. Lowe, James McElheny, Frank Novak, Donald O’Brien, Lori O’Brien (LawNY), Barbara Orenstein, Carla Palumbo (LAS), Kelley Ross Brown, Michael Schnittman, Steven Tranelli, Michael Wegman and Brittany Woloshyn.
Leveling the field
Talk to any of the staff attorneys at these three legal service agencies or the pro-bono volunteer attorneys who work with VLSP clients and they can share familiar stories of injustices suffered by those who cannot afford legal representation.
Rochester has more than its share of families who cannot afford legal counsel. Campaign for Justice donations help insure that justice is served even when clients-in-need lack financial resources. The campaign runs through March 31, 2020, and donations can be made online at https://www.vlsprochester.org/c4j.
Nora A. Jones is a Rochester-area freelance writer. She can be reached at [email protected].