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MCBA President’s Message: MCBA making changes in response to trying times

Jill Paperno (Photo by Bennett Loudon)

Jill Paperno (Photo by Bennett Loudon)

For so many, this year has been one of the most life altering we have ever experienced. I don’t have to recount to you the ways in which the pandemic has hit each of us. And how we have been unable to gather our usual support network — friends, family, colleagues, to mourn losses, grieve the changes, and seek help in responding. I am one of the lucky ones — I am still employed, as are members of my family. And for that, every day, I am grateful.

I hope you too are weathering this storm reasonably well. And if you need extra help right now, take a look at the resources at the bottom of this column. MCBA also has a Facebook group, Stay Connected During Covid-19. The Health & Well-Being Committee has been hosting outdoor coffee gatherings on alternating Thursday mornings at Cobbs Hill Park. And staff members have been posting relevant information on our website, including court updates, news articles and government announcements.

And so, as so many of us are experiencing major changes, we have one to add to the list — the Monroe County Bar Association is moving its offices. We are excited to enter our new space and start a new chapter, but sorry to be leaving the Telesca Center for Justice.

The pandemic exacerbated an existing financial challenge the Monroe County Bar Association had been facing. Costs rose, but membership declined, as it has in bar and other associations across the country. Additionally, attorneys sought their CLE from online providers. This all meant less income with greater expenses. While MCBA had been seeking a solution to the financial crunch we faced for the last few years, the pandemic made hard choices inevitable.

As you know, 15 years ago through the extraordinary generosity of members, as well as hard work and commitment to helping our community, the Telesca Center for Justice was created at One West Main Street. Many of the pillars of our legal community made extremely generous financial donations that brought it to life. MCBA was proud to be a part of the Telesca Center, and its former Executive Director, Mary Loewenguth, worked to bring the dream to fruition. The Center became the hub of legal services for the Greater Rochester area, housing the Volunteer Legal Services Project, Law New York (LawNY), Empire Justice, Legal Aid and the bar association.

But there came a time that the MCBA Board came to a harsh reality. MCBA could not continue to function as a vital, vibrant organization if we constantly focused on how to pay the bills. Much CLE income went to rent and associated expenses. Other steps were taken to meet our financial obligations. And so at the Board’s request, and with great leadership from Carolyn Nussbaum, our current Executive Director, Kevin Ryan, began an extensive search to find a way for us to move into the future and continue to serve our members, and find new and different ways of creating community. We attempted to remain at the Telesca Center, but the options there precluded a CLE room, and would still have been financially challenging given our reduction in income. We truly wanted to honor the legacy of the partners at the Telesca Center, Judge Telesca, Hanna Cohn, the generous donors, and so many more, by remaining. We looked at properties and considered pros and cons of each. Justin Vigdor and past president Carolyn Nussbaum were instrumental in critical negotiations. And ultimately, the agents who worked on our behalf found an ideal property at Farash Place (formerly Corporate Place), across from the Little Theater.

Our new offices will be smaller, but we’ll still have some rooms available for meetings. We will have use of a common area in the newly redesigned lower level of the building, with space for about 100 attendees for CLEs or social events, and a smaller space that seats about 40. There is plenty of free parking in a private garage just behind the building. And our costs will be far lower than we had been paying.

Although we are saddened by leaving the Telesca Center, we are committed to remaining good partners and friends to the organizations that make up the heart and soul of the Telesca Center — those that serve our community members in greatest need. We fully intend to find ways to support and remain closely connected with those organizations.

And while we are all facing changes these days, we are also looking forward to a future past this time, when we can greet our members at a tour of our new digs, meet in person, present CLEs in our new space, and make Farash Place our new home. But please note — as the space is modified for our needs, we will be operating remotely from Sept. 10 until we can move in, which we expect to be within the first week of October, once renovations are completed.

During this search for solutions, we have had tremendous assistance by several attorneys who volunteered extraordinary amounts of time and legal work to enable us to move, and ultimately ensure the survival and growth of the MCBA. I would like to thank Tim Fitzgerald, Dick Beers, Cassie Rich and President-elect Brad Kammholz for the countless hours they have spent on this endeavor. Kevin Ryan has worked tirelessly with our team at the MCBA to keep our CLE and other programs functioning and doing all the things necessary to move an office from one location to another. I wish to thank Danielle Matijas, Susan Hearn, Liz Novak, Debbie Ryan and Kathy Fico for all the things they have done to keep things working seamlessly during these trying and hectic times.

And for those who need some assistance right now, please don’t think that it is embarrassing to seek help. We all need it sometimes, and letting others help you is a gift to them as well. So here are some resources. But please reach out to Kevin, Brad or me at any time.

For collegiality and professional support, the Health & Well-Being Committee continues to offer Stay Connected Virtual Chats every other Monday at 3 p.m. For more information on how to connect, please contact Liz Novak at [email protected].

The MCBA also partners with Tree of Hope Counseling to offer mental health services at no cost. Call 585-353-1541. This is a dedicated and confidential line just for lawyers.

Mental health resources:

Housing and food assistance:

Jill Paperno is president of the Monroe County Bar Association. She is First Assistant Public Defender at the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office.