2012 BLSPI FELLOWS

  • Sarah Arena ’14 – U.S. DOJ Criminal Division, Office of International Affairs

  • Yekaterina Blinova ’13 – Day One

  • Mary Bruch ’14 – Office of the Public Advocate for New York City

  • Erin Covert ’13 – Indego Africa

  • Christopher Dey ’13 – New York State Attorney General’s Office

  • Kenya Dillon ’14 – Global Workers Justice Alliance

  • David Goldberg ’14 – NYPD Department Advocate’s Office

  • Steven T. Hasty ’13 – The Bronx Defenders

  • Adam Horowitz ’13 – Legal Services of New Jersey, Immigration Representation Project

  • Jana Hymowitz ’14 – Legal Aid Society, Prisoners’ Rights Project

  • Veronica Jackson ’14 – Medicare Rights Center

  • Gillian Kosinski ’13 – Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society

  • Beile Lindner ’13 – Brooklyn Family Defense Project

  • Lisa Okomoto ’14 – AARP Foundation Litigation

  • Jessica Peck ’13 – United States Capitol Police

  • Taier Perlman ’14 – NY State Attorney General’s Office

  • Nuvia Skaden ’13 – Center for Constitutional Rights, Ella Baker Fellowship, New Orleans

  • Peter Travitsky ’14 – Selfhelp Community Services, Evelyn Frank Legal Resources Program

  • Mia Tomijima ’14 – New York City Department of Investigation

  • Leslie (Lee) Wellington ’13 – South Brooklyn Legal Services

2011 BLSPI FELLOWS

  • Matthew Allee ’13 – Southern Public Defender Training Center (Hinds County Public Defender Office)
  • Nicholas Fribourg ’12 – The Bronx Defenders
  • Catherine Frizell ’12 – LatinoJustice Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund
  • Julia Howard-Gibbon ’12 – South Brooklyn Legal Services, Housing Unit
  • Shannon Karam ’12 – Urban Justice Center
  • Amanda Levin – South Brooklyn Legal Services
  • Rebecca McBride ’13 – Central American Legal Assistance
  • Maura McCarthy ’13 – Bronx Legal Services, Education Unit
  • Brandon Novelli ’12 – U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Missouri
  • Theresa Omansky ’12 – Lawyers Alliance for New York
  • Kathryn Reiter ’13 – Center for Justice and Democracy
  • Hannah Roth ’12 – National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s General Counsel for International Law
  • Lenny Sapozhnikov ’13 – Office of the Public Advocate for the City of New York
  • M. Kathryn Seevers – The Legal Aid Society Juvenile Rights Project
  • Natalie Serra ’13 – LGBT Domestic Violence Initiative, Sanctuary for Families Center for Battered Women’s Legal Services
  • Neil Shah ’13 – South Brooklyn Legal Services
  • Riti Singh ’12 – Legal Aid Society, Juvenile Rights Practice
  • G. Victor Suh ’13 – Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A
  • Meredith Symonds ’12 – The Legal Aid Society, Criminal Defense Practice
  • Sarah Udashkin ’13 – New York Legal Assistance Group, Domestic Violence Clinical Center

2010 BLSPI FELLOWS

  • Kate Wood ’11 – Children’s Rights
  • Melissa Livingston ’11 – New York State Division of Human Rights, Office of Sexual Harassment Issues
  • Marisa Nack ’11 – American Civil Liberties Union, Women’s Rights Project
  • Eben Saling ’12 – The Human Rights Project at the Urban Justice Center
  • Amy Hsieh ’11 – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the General Counsel
  • Emily Powers ’12 – U.S. Attorney’s Office, Criminal Division, Fraud and Public Corruption Section
  • Erika Lorshbough ’12 – Legal Services NYC, Brooklyn Branch
  • Dorothy DiPascali ’12 – NY State Division of Human Rights, Brooklyn Regional Office
  • Lauren Maccarone ‘ 11 – Coalition for the International Criminal Court
  • Rosa Cohen-Cruz ’12 – Sylvia Rivera Law Project
  • Rachel Seelig ’12 – Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
  • Madeliene Elkan ’12 – Kings County DA’s Office, Domestic Violence Bureau
  • David Shapiro ’12 – Legal Aid Society, Juvenile Rights Practice
  • Alison Schill ‘ 12 – Legal Aid Society of Queens, Juvenile Rights Practice
  • Jesse Thompson ’11 – Center for Gender and Refugee Studies
  • Antonia Pereira ’12 – Brooklyn Legal Services
  • Hanna Morrill ‘ 12 – International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda
  • Kelly Shaw ’12 – The Exoneration Initiative
  • Michael Berman ’12 – New York Legal Assistance Group, Legal Health Project

 2009 BLSPI FELLOWS

  • Andrea Clisura ’11
  • Anthony Consiglio ’11
  • Coco Culhane ’10
  • Archana Dittakavi ’11
  • Kristin Gallagher ’10
  • Michael Higgins ’11
  • Edward Huang ’10
  • Michael Kennett ’11
  • Shayna Kessler ’10
  • Svetlana Kolomeyer ’11
  • Angela Lam ’11
  • Leigh Mangum ’11
  • Michael Mastrangelo ’11
  • Nithya Nathan ’10
  • Cristina Pejoves ’11
  • Alexandra Puleo ’11
  • Elizabeth Retter ’10
  • Sarah Westby ’11
  • Laura Vogel ’10
  • Laura Zimmerman ’11

2008 BLSPI FELLOWS

  • Melissa Brennan – Labor Rights Promotion Network & UN Inter‐Agency Project on Human Trafficking (Thailand)
  • Sundrop Carter – NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund (NYC)
  • Kathleen Christatos – Legal Services for the Elderly (NYC)
  • Seth Cohen – New York Attorney General’s Office, Civil Rights Bureau (NYC)
  • Deborah Diamant – Legal Aid Society, Project FAIR (NYC)
  • Nicholas Enrich – Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (NYC)
  • Amy Friedland – U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York, Criminal Division (NYC)
  • Eric Goldman – Safe Horizon, Domestic Violence Law Project (NYC)
  • Leila Hull – Legal Aid Society, Prisoners’ Rights Project (NYC)
  • Basil Kim – The Opportunity Agenda (NYC)
  • Monica Lewis – Lawyers for Children (NYC)
  • Kyle Marler – Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (NYC)
  • Paul Molina – Louisiana Capital Assistance Center (New Orleans, LA)
  • Samuel Palmer‐Simon – Legal Aid Society, Prisoners’ Rights Project (NYC)
  • Rebekah Pazmino – Louisiana Capital Assistance Center (New Orleans, LA)
  • Stephanie Pope – Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem (NYC)
  • Benjamin Riskin – Lawyers for Children (NYC)
  • Scott Ruplinger – Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia (D.C.) & Kenya Education Partnership
  • Haeya Yim – Urban Justice Center, Community Development Project (NYC)

Past BLSPI Fellows

2016 BLSPI FELLOWS

Azizah Ahmad ‘18 -- Sanctuary for Families

Prior to entering law school, Azizah worked at the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association in Washington, DC, where she advocated and analyzed policies affecting the Asian Pacific American community, particularly in language access, voting rights, and human trafficking. Her pursuit in learning about and preserving her Cham identity has led her to become a staunch agitator for the rights of indigenous and refugee communities. In 2013, Azizah’s work with the diasporic Cham community gave her the opportunity to be part of a delegation that testified about the environmental and religious rights abuses of the indige

nous Cham community in Vietnam at the United Nations Forum on Minority Issues in Geneva. Azizah holds a BA in Religious Studies and Sociology from the University of California, Davis. In the next school year, she will be co-chair of BLSPI's community development committee and president of the Asian Pacific American Law Student Association. Azizah is excited to be a BLSPI Fellow at Sanctuary for Families this summer.

 

Sean Beherec '18 -- Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, Capital Habeas Unit

Sean Beherec came to law school to advocate for those with the fewest resources. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin and working as a newspaper reporter for several years, he decided to pursue a career in public defense. Since moving to Brooklyn, Sean has assisted clients through the Criminal and Police Records Accuracy Project and the Second Chance Project, two pro bono partnerships between Brooklyn Law School and Brooklyn Defender Services. He has also served as a 1L Delegate for the BLSPI Community Development Committee and currently serves as one of the committee’s co-chairs. Sean looks forward to spending his summer working for the Federal Community Defender Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in the Capital Habeas Unit.

 

Alexandra Briggs ’17 -- New York County Defender Services

Alexandra graduated from the University at Albany with a degree in Criminal Justice and Psychology. She came to law school to pursue her passion for public defense work. Prior to law school, Alexandra interned at the Rensselaer County Public Defender’s Office, shadowing attorneys in court and in client meetings. Through this internship, she saw how clients who came from low income and under resourced communities were poorly treated and victimized by the criminal justice system. Alexandra spent her 1L summer as an Edward V. Sparer Public Interest Law Fellow with The Legal Aid Society Criminal Defense Practice. While at this internship, Alexandra realized that public defenders are not only fighting for their clients legal cases, they are fighting for their livelihood by protecting them from the collateral consequences of criminal convictions. During her 2L year, Alexandra interned in the Criminal Immigration Padilla Clinic at Brooklyn Defender Services, where she advised defenders and clients on the negative immigration consequences of criminal convictions. Alexandra spent her 2L summer as a BLSPI fellow representing indigent individuals accused of crimes at New York County Defender Services, and will be returning to the organization as a Pro Bono Scholar this spring. Alexandra is honored to join the BLSPI Fellowship community. 

 

Kyla Burke-Lazarus ‘17 -- Legal Services for Children, San Fransisco

Kyla is passionate about education and immigration law and is a proud member of the Brooklyn Law School social justice community. She is BLSPI Co-Chair 2016, was BLSPI Secretary 2015, and was a National Lawyers Guild chapter co-chair 2014-2015. During her 1L year Kyla volunteered in youth empowerment and leadership development with the Resilience Advocacy Project pro bono project. That same year Kyla also interned at Sanctuary for Families (SFF) where she represented immigrant unaccompanied children fleeing violence in Central America and survivors of sex trafficking. Kyla spent her 1L summer as an Edward V. Sparer Public Interest Law Fellow with Advocates for Children, working to protect children’s rights to education with a focus on students from low-income backgrounds who were struggling in school and facing school discrimination. Kyla continued interning in asylum and immigration law with the Safe Harbor Project throughout her 2L year. This summer, Kyla will continue to further her experience in both education and immigration law while interning at Legal Services for Children in San Francisco. Beginning next fall Kyla will return to SFF, where she will be working full time in their immigration department as a Public Interest Public Service fellow.

 

Erin Burns '17 -- Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project

Erin Burns came to law school after completing her undergrad at the University of Delaware. During the summers between her years at UD she worked as a Seasonal Urban Park Ranger with the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and entered law school with a desire to work in government with an eye towards environmental policy. During the summer following her 1L year she worked in government, interning with the newly formed NYS Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs and is eternally grateful for the eye opening experience that it provided. Erin worked in the Administrative Appeals unit, working on cases where employees in state run facilities for the developmentally and intellectually disabled people, addicts, and those with mental health illnesses chose to appeal allegations of abuse or neglect that had been substantiated against them. It is through her work on these cases that she discovered the misconduct and abuse that goes on daily in these facilities where we expect our most vulnerable populations to be cared for. This work helped her discover her passion for advocating on behalf of those with disabilities and she will be spending her summer working in the Urban Justice Center’s Mental Health Project and will be working to help New Yorkers with mental illnesses navigate the world of public benefits and housing, streamline and plan for their discharge from institutions and institutional-like settings, as well as working to eliminate the stigma and criminalization of mental illness.

 

Marvin España ’18 -- The Door

Marvin entered law school to learn the skills he will need to ensure that his neighborhood, and other similarly situated communities, receives justice and equality. As a BLSPI Fellow, he is grateful to have the opportunity to serve the NYC community while being part of a distinguished organization. At John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Marvin began volunteering outside of his neighborhood through a non-profit organization, NYCares. With them, he focused on empowering youth through job applications and skills necessary to obtain a sustainable living while also assisting immigrant youth learn English at his local church. It wasn’t until working at a NYC Councilmember’s office that he learned the limits of administrative assistance. A number of Housing and Immigration matters arrived to the Councilmember’s office and Marvin wanted to do more than just instruct where one can obtain help. Through these experiences, Marvin learned neighborhoods had a common denominator, inequality.  He will use his legal training to advocate and restore justice to the communities who are being oppressed. This summer, Marvin is excited to work with The Door, a non-profit youth empowerment organization. He is also looking forward to a wonderful year with BLSPI as their Secretary and serving as LALSA’s Community Action Chair.

 

Amanda Hamilton ‘18 -- Urban Justice Center Veteran Advocacy Project 

Amanda knew from a young age that she wanted to dedicate her career to advocating for those whose voice is often not heard in our society.  Amanda was born and raised in Ohio and attended the University of Dayton.  She obtained her Masters in Social Work from the University of Chicago in 2007. Amanda is a licensed clinical social worker and practiced in the areas of gerontology, oncology, and hospice in both Chicago, IL and Atlanta, GA prior to joining the BLS community. This summer, Amanda interned at the Urban Justice Center, Veteran Advocacy Project. At VAP, Amanda gained experience in writing research memos, briefs, and affidavits.  In addition, she had direct contact with clients in housing courts throughout the city and was able to advocate for her client’s rights to public benefits at Fair Hearings.  This internship reaffirmed Amanda’s dedication to public interest law. This fall, she will be working in the Helping Elders through Litigation and Policy Clinic. Amanda is honored to be a BLSPI fellow and looks forward to continuing to work with other students and organizations in advocating for those who lack the resources and voice to navigate our legal system. 

 

Ryan Miller '18 -- Tenant Protection  Unit

Ryan Miller came into BLS knowing that he wanted build off of his past history of community service and get involved with public interest work in the legal sector.  His first exposure doing service work was following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, when he did three separate trips with his dad to volunteer with Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans.  After graduating Boston University in 2013 he spent two years working with the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps, a team-based community service organization. During his tenure with AmeriCorps he spent time in Colorado, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Missouri working for various non-profits and government organizations on environmental conservation, youth education, urban and rural development, and disaster relief projects.  His last assignment in the program was running a donation center in San Marcos, Texas following the devastating floods that hit the area in the summer of 2015.  He spent the past summer interning with the New York State Department of Housing and Community Renewal’s Tenant Protection Unit where he worked on harassment cases dealing with rent stabilized tenants.

 

Ashley Minett '17 -- NYLAG Domestic Violence Clinical Center 

Ashley came to law school with an interest in public service. She has volunteered for a civil rights law firm, the New York State Office of the Attorney General’s economic justice unit, and Legal Outreach. However, she found her passion in family law through Sanctuary for Families’ Uncontested Divorce Project, the Courtroom Advocates Project, and the Children’s Law Center. Ashley will be working for New York Legal Assistance Group’s  (NYLAG) Domestic Violence Clinic Center this summer and fall. Through this experience, Ashley would have the opportunity to learn skills critical to becoming a successful attorney such as client interviewing, evidence gathering, case preparation, legal writing, trial advocacy, and negotiation skills. Ashley looking forward to working for NYLAG because she believes the law can be a powerful tool in ending the cycle of domestic violence and helping clients take back control of their lives. 

 

Victoria Phillips '18 -- Advocates for Justice

After graduating from the University at Buffalo in 2015, Victoria came to law school with an interest in public service and pursuing social justice. During her 1L year, she volunteered for the Brooklyn Trafficking Intervention Pro Bono Project (BTIPP) as well as the Immigrant Visa Assistance Project (IVAP), which cultivated a deep interest in human rights and immigration law. As a BLSPI Fellow, Victoria worked her 1L summer at Advocates for Justice, a public interest firm in Manhattan, that prides itself on being a strong force in the fight against discrimination and the promotion of social justice. As a 2L, she is one of the Co-Chairs of the BLS ACLU, the Publicity Chair for BLSPI, and the Social Chair for the BLS Immigration Society (BLIS). Victoria is spending her 2L Fall working as an intern for the New York State Division of Human Rights, and plans to spend her 2L Spring as an intern for the Safe Harbor Clinic. Victoria hopes to build a career in the sphere of International Human Rights and is beyond grateful for the opportunity to be involved in BLSPI as a BLS student and a Fellow.

 

Sarah Rizk ‘17 -- Staten Island Legal Services, Family Law and Immigration Units

Whether volunteering with her local church community, working with Coptic immigrants, or assisting impoverished children and women in Egypt, Sarah has been working on behalf of the public interest for the majority of her life. Before attending law school, Sarah spent two summers working directly on policy issues related to domestic violence and custody in Egypt as well as asylum immigration here in the U.S. Sarah knew she wanted to pursue a career as a lawyer from her elementary school years and when it came time to choose a law school, a strong public interest community was a top priority for her. Upon hearing about BLSPI, she knew that Brooklyn Law School was the perfect fit for her, providing her with a group of likeminded peers. She is currently enrolled in the 2 year accelerated JD program and this summer she looks forward to interning at Staten Island Legal Services in both the Family Law and Immigration units, working with victims of domestic violence as a BLSPI fellow. 

 

Caroline Roe '17 -- NYLAG Legal Health Unit

Caroline Roe is very humbled and honored to have been selected as a BLSPI Fellow. She has always felt that bodily autonomy is the most fundamental element of personhood, and she hopes to use her fellowship, and ultimately, her career to ensure that the law respects the integrity of individual bodies and health. During law school, Caroline has tried to pursue these goals, both on and off campus. During the fall of 2015, Caroline interned at the Community Health Advocates, a non-profit that helps New Yorkers receive full health insurance benefits and coverage, and this spring, she is interning with Reese LLP, a consumer fraud firm that files class actions against unhealthful practices in food regulation. Caroline has also served on the e-board for The Law Students for Reproductive Justice for two years, spreading awareness about the intersectionality of reproductive health and the law. This summer she plans to work at NYLAG LegalHealth, aiding seriously ill patients with various legal issues. Caroline is incredibly grateful to BLSPI for helping support her goals, and is very excited to make the most of her fellowship.

 

Rachel Russell '17 -- Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund

Rachel Russell is grateful for the opportunity to join the BLSPI Fellowship community.  Prior to law school, she was a post-graduate Sister Cities International teaching fellow in Kurgan, Russia, where she taught English at Kurgan State University before moving to St. Petersburg.  There, she worked as a translator for Side by Side LGBT Film Festival.  Returning to New York, she worked as a field manager on campaigns to fundraise for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.  At BLS, Rachel is President of Outlaws, serves on the diversity committee, and has worked alongside the school administration to bring new LGBT-focused clinic opportunities to BLS.  She is currently an extern in the Civil Rights Bureau at the NYS Office of the Attorney General.  Rachel is looking forward to interning with Lambda Legal this summer.  Lambda Legal is the nation’s oldest and largest legal organization working for the civil rights of LGBT people and those living with HIV/AIDS through impact litigation, education, and public policy work.

 

Nicolo Taormina '17 -- Brooklyn Defender Services, Criminal Division

and will intern at the Bronx Defender Services during his final semester. scholar,Nicolo came to BLS to pursue a career as a public defender. As a Sparer Fellow, he spent his first summer with the Legal Aid Society Special Litigation unit working to appeal the internal disciplinary decisions against the prisoners on Riker’s Island. During his 2L Fall he interned at the Legal Aid Society’s criminal division in Brooklyn and during his 2L Spring he interned for Judge Levy in the E.D.N.Y. As a 2L he was also Co-Chair of BLSPI’s Community Development committee. He was a BLSPI fellow during his second summer and he worked at the Brooklyn Defender Services Criminal Division. Currently, works in the Clemency and Pardon clinic helping his client, who has immigration concerns, file a request for pardon to the governor. He will also be a Pro Bono

 

 

2015 BLSPI FELLOWS

 

Delaney Rohan ’17 entered Brooklyn Law School in order to learn the skills necessary for building a positive, historically-informed program for social justice.  While an undergrad at University of Florida, he helped lead student campaigns to increase the transparency of university investment practices, protect student privacy, and establish a student-run newspaper. As a grad student at American University, he organized panel discussions with international development workers and planned a conference that brought together philosophers, students, and environmental activists. Working throughout graduate school, he engaged in advocacy journalism at the Center for American Progress, monitored legislative processes at a lobbying firm, and conducted research on international relations for university professors. In his Master’s Thesis, he investigated the historical bases for contemporary immigration policies and practices in the US, highlighting the ways in which these policies and practices disadvantage non-citizen migrant workers. Following graduation, Delaney helped foreclosure defense attorneys protect the rights of homeowners harmed by predatory lending practices and evaluated government law enforcement programs for a university-based research center.  Such experiences have provided him with a political perspective that considers the many possible levels of civic engagement, from grassroots organizing to policy analysis. Hoping to expand this perspective to include direct legal services, he has accepted a summer offer from Make the Road New York, where he will work on issues affecting immigrant communities in Queens.

 

Maria Ryden ’16 came to law school passionate about pursuing a career in environmental policy and regulation. Prior to law school, she worked at a regional planning agency, where she worked with industrial users of the Twin Cities wastewater disposal system to ensure their regulatory compliance and protect the Mississippi River. Maria has interned with the Environmental Permitting and Counseling Section of the New Jersey Attorney General’s office and worked to clean up highly polluted Superfund sites in New York State during her internship at Region 2 of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Maria sits on the executive board of the Environmental Law Society and is currently interning with the BLS Community Development Clinic to provide legal assistance to local non-profits. Maria is especially interested in the confluence between environmentalism and urbanism, and hopes to spend her legal career advocating for sustainability initiatives and more equitable environmental decision-making. 

 

Caitrin Coccoma '16 From volunteering at food banks while growing up to service trips in college, working on behalf of the public interest has always been a huge part of my life. Before attending law school, I spent several years working in policy and direct services on issues relating to addiction, homelessness, and mental illness. I learned quickly that effectuating meaningful change requires an advocate to look beyond the illness or housing status and see the whole person. When I applied to law school, I wanted to attend one where I would not only learn the law but could also continue fostering my commitment to the public interest. When I heard about BLSPI, I knew Brooklyn Law School would be a good fit for me. Being a part of this organization has given me a community of likeminded individuals from whom I draw inspiration and support every day.This summer, I will be interning with Hon. Robert M. Levy, United States Magistrate Judge for the Eastern District of New York. Judge Levy’s own dedication to the public interest is vast and varied; he spent the early part of his career with the New York Civil Liberties Union, has authored a book on mental health law, and conducted fact-finding missions for the Human Rights Watch. I am excited at the prospect of spending my summer with Judge Levy and am looking forward to learning as much as possible in my time with him.

 

Jill Rudge ‘16 is very grateful for the opportunity to join the distinguished BLSPI Fellowship community. Before law school, Jill worked with government and non-government organizations engaged in policy reform, sustainable economic development, democratization, and international development.  Her work experiences in Australia, the Philippines, and East Timor illuminated for Jill how a legal education would significantly enhance her capacity to support participatory development and help promote social change.  Jill is now a proud member of the Brooklyn Law social justice community.  She is BLSPI Co-Chair 2015, was BLSPI Treasurer 2014, and was a National Lawyers Guild chapter co-chair and legal observer.  Jill also volunteers in youth empowerment and leadership development with the Resilience Advocacy Project pro bono project, for which she facilitated two youth programs and now volunteers as Student Campus Leader.  Recently, Jill’s Note on Australia’s human rights framework was selected for publication by the Brooklyn Journal of International Law.  Jill spent her 1L summer as an Edward V. Sparer Public Interest Law Fellow with Children’s Rights, a national civil rights impact litigation organization.  After interning in asylum and immigration law with the Safe Harbor Project throughout her 2L year, Jill will spend her 2L summer with the Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Law Unit.

 

Taylor Poe '17 - Louisiana Center for Children’s RightsThe Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights is the only nonprofit, specialized juvenile defense law office in the country. Their goal is to provide a holistic approach to legal representation for young people. Focusing on the three primary areas of defending children, building opportunity and transforming the juvenile justice system allows them to achieve success. Not only do they fight for children that are in the system they have created programs to prevent children from entering the system. I am excited that I have been presented with the opportunity to be a part of their team this summer. I look forward to  learning how to be a fantastic children’s advocate!

 

Tanvee Trehan '17 entered law school knowing that she wanted to work in International Human Rights Law. Reading, learning, and writing about human rights violations was the first time in her academic career where she truly felt engaged with the subject matter and felt a passion rise within herself to do something. With this BLSPI Fellowship, Tanvee hopes to not only work in the International Human Rights Law field this summer, but to continue to learn how to use the law to help those in need and how to create lasting change. As a law school student, Tanvee's passion is no longer just a driving force, but also a tool.

 

Shalisa Cumberbatch '16 After completing her undergraduate studies at Columbia University, Shalisa worked as a paralegal for Bronx AIDS Services, Inc., a nonprofit organization providing legal advocacy to HIV+ and low-income families in the Bronx. Her experience working with public interest attorneys and advocating in the Bronx Court systems played a huge role in her decision to attend Brooklyn Law School and pursue a career in Public Interest Law. She joined the Sparer Public Interest Community last year and spent her summer working with the Bronx Defenders, in the Criminal Defense Practice. There, she was able to shadow attorneys in Bronx Criminal Court, write various motions and memos, and interact directly with clients. This both reaffirmed and strengthened her desire to pursue public interest law. Currently, Shalisa is participating in the Exoneration Initiative Clinic. She is appreciative and excited to join BLSPI, and cannot wait to answer her calling and further her goals of advocating for those who need it the most!

 

Sherry Zhang '17 I would like to pursue a career in the government or nonprofit sector. I would prefer to have multidimensional career where I can work on a variety of issues such as immigration, and labor rights. I am most interested in immigration law. A dream job would be advocating for members of the low-income migrant workers. As a foreigner living in U.S, I have witnessed the inconveniences and difficulties that the immigrants confronted as a result of the immigration status, and I feel strongly connected to them. Because I have been blessed with chances to pursue higher education, I feel inspired to give back to the community in a meaningful way. I believe that with my professional skills and multilingual ability can be helpful to the immigrant community. The BLSPI Fellowship allows me the chance to develop meaningful long-term relationships with my peers and other mentors who share my passion for public interest work. It will be a privilege to have a supportive environment where I can hear about others’ experiences and learn about crucial skills in public interest lawyering.

 

Ellen Piris Perez '16 After undergrad at California State University at Bakersfield, Ellen moved to New York City and worked for 3 years at A Better Chance, a nonprofit organization focused on educational access for students of color. She realized that a legal education would enable her to make a larger impact on the school-to-prison pipeline problems that A Better Chance applicants were facing. As a Sparer Public Interest Law Fellow, she spent last summer interning at Make the Road New York, in Bushwick, Brooklyn, a community organization that works to build the power of Latino and working class communities. This summer she looks forward to interning at The Door, a youth empowerment organization, as a BLSPI fellow. At BLS, Ellen is Community Action Chair of the Latin American Law Students Association, Membership Chair of R.I.S.E. (Racial Injustice Socially Eradicated), Pro Bono Co-Chair of Law Students for Reproductive Justice, and Co-Chair of National Lawyers Guild.

 

Jerehme Bamberger ’16 came to Brooklyn Law to be an advocate for communities unjustly targeted by the criminal justice system. He decided to move back East and go to law school after a two years of grassroots activism around the criminal justice system in Champaign, Illinois. Jerehme has interned in a wrongful conviction clinic and two public defenders' offices since Summer 2014. He plans to continue pursuing a career in public defense. He is also on the e-board of BLS' National Lawyer's Guild chapter, and a member of the BLS Journal of Law and Policy.

 

Samantha Weiss ’16 came to law school to advocate for the LGBT community. As an undergraduate student at Eugene Lang College for Liberal Arts at the New School University in Manhattan, Sam studied Identity Politics and Gender Studies. Studying discourse, difference, and queer theory led Sam to work towards a career in LGBTQ equality. She is a strong believer of the law's unique ability to act as a catalyst for social change, and is particularly interested in gender identity jurisprudence. As a law student, Sam serves as the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York’s Law Student Liaison, Community Education Coordinator of Outlaws, Co-Chair of Legal Association for Women, and Co-Chair of National Lawyer’s Guild. She has interned at the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Diana Adams Law & Mediation, PLLC, and the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. She is also the LGBT Bar Association of Greater New York’s 2015 Hank Henry Fellow, so this summer she will be rotating and working with several different openly gay judges from varying courts. Her work has motivated her to continue fighting for a more inclusive legal regime, one that values equality and opportunity above all us.

 

Jennifer Gesualdi '17 came to law school eager to pursue her interest in immigration law. Jennifer first became involved in community outreach during her undergraduate studies at the University of Florida, volunteering as an ESL instructor with CHISPAS, an organization that provided free classes to local migrant farmworkers. She then completed an internship conducting extensive interviews with Hispanic farmworkers and their American-born children to document their experiences for historical purposes as well as to raise awareness about employer infringement of workers’ rights. Jennifer obtained insight into immigration in an historic context by pursing a History and Latin American Studies degree. She graduated UF with a comprehensive understanding of the socioeconomic struggles of Hispanic immigrants, the cultural and political implications of transmigration in the globalized job market, and extensive Spanish and Portuguese language skills. Jennifer went on to manage the Social Security Claims department at a firm in Newark, New Jersey, assisting predominantly low-income, Hispanic clients apply for Title II and Title XVI benefits. As a Prince Scholar and Lark-Barranco Scholar at Brooklyn Law School, Jennifer has continued to pursue her passion in the public interest by participating in various pro-bono projects. Through IVAP, she helped prepare U-Visa applications for victims of domestic violence and through ICOP, documented proceedings in the NYC Immigration Court during the “surge docket” of unaccompanied minors. As a member of the Law Students for Veterans’ Rights, Jennifer found her experience conducting intakes for veterans seeking legal advice on issues of housing, discharge upgrades, welfare and disability claims extremely rewarding. She is very grateful to BLSPI for this opportunity to continue to work in the public interest during her 1L summer 2015 internship with the Social Security Administration.

 

Anthony Beneduce, Jr. ‘16 is dedicated to promoting truth and justice.  Anthony is incredibly grateful to be a part of the distinguished BLSPI Fellowship community.  Growing up in Brooklyn, and attending public schools his whole life; including a high school that ultimately failed, Anthony has seen first hand the injustices that occur in society and is fully dedicated to doing something about it.  Anthony's passion to promote justice in his community has been exhibited by his recent work.  In the Spring of 2015, Anthony interned for the New York County Defender Services.  While Anthony was with the office, he was able to assist on 2 cases where the defendants were acquitted due to their innocence.  In one case, Anthony’s research, and case analysis, helped to convince the judge to not allow the prosecution to charge the jury with a requisite element of the crime defendant was charged with in the case, thereby necessitating acquittal by the jury.  Anthony is excited to begin work this summer, and continue working toward promoting justice and truth in his community.
 

Stephanie Robayo ’17 is excited to join the BLSPI Fellows and is grateful for the opportunity to connect with a network of engaged advocates at Brooklyn Law School. As a first generation Latino-American child of immigrants, Stephanie endeavored to study law because she grew to be an advocate for her family and community. During her undergraduate studies, she adamantly pursued service activities that allowed her to work with diverse groups and take on roles to contribute to community development and advocacy. Through service, she was a facilitator and connected Latinos with community resources through voter registration and citizenship workshops coordinated throughout New York, helped young adults build and draft resumes for job searches, and assisted in providing clothes and essential items for infants and young children to community-based organizations. Through these efforts, she learned the invaluable importance of sustainable programs that provide resources and support to those in need. Stephanie strives to be a vehicle of support to community needs through the law. She is enthusiastic about creating positive changes and progressively expanding the law profession to strengthen community relations and the justice system. This summer, she is excited to join the Office of the Queens County District Attorney as a Summer Law Intern, and learn about the intersection between community protection and safety in the face of law enforcement challenges.

 

Taylor Lietz '17 first started working in Public Interest  while studying at the University of Colorado at Boulder where she worked for AmeriCorps "I have a dream foundation" - there she worked mentoring and tutoring young students who had recently immigrated from other countries. After college, she worked in a Civil Rights Firm in Chicago where she worked on a class action law suit against the Chicago Police department - in an attempt to prove (and the firm won the case!) that the police were using racial profiling tactics. After studying International Affairs, her heart remained in the international sphere, and she went onto both work and live in both Costa Rica and Guatemala, in international human rights. In Guatemala, she worked closely with the mayan women and children - helping to build a small school and set up micro funds for the women to begin implementing small business in the surrounding villages of Lake Atitlan. Afterwards, she went onto begin her studies in law at the University of Sussex in England - and focused on International Human Rights.  After returning to the states, she started at Brooklyn Law - in hope to focus her future law career in both criminal law and international human rights law. Taylor is looking forward to working in Criminal Law this summer. 

 

2014 BLSPI FELLOWS

Clarissa Wertman-New York City Housing Corporation

The New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC) is a public benefit corporation created to encourage the investment of private capital in affordable housing for low-income individuals and families. The nature of the transactional attorneys’ work at HDC is generally insulated from the people that benefit from it.  It was our job to “close the deal” to finance the construction or preservation of multi-family affordable housing. To this end, we worked closely with developers, lenders, building managers, and other government agencies. On my last day, I had the unique opportunity to go on a site visit to two HDC-financed developments in the Rockaways. Both properties were severely impacted by Hurricane Sandy and had since been rehabilitated. We saw pictures of the damage wrought by Sandy in contrast with the repaired and rejuvenated buildings. The transformation was incredible, and was visible not only in the structure of the buildings but also in the faces of the tenants. It was incredibly gratifying to see all the work that we did behind our desks translate into safe, secure, beautiful homes for people who wouldn’t be able to afford them otherwise.

 

Claire Gavin-New York Legal Assistance Group, Domestic Violence Clinical Center

The experience that stands out the most to me is one of the first cases I took on during the summer.  I met the client at Brooklyn Family Court while she was filing for an order of protection and custody of her infant daughter.  I soon found out this was going to be a particularly unusual case.  In the weeks that followed, I drafted and filed everything from a writ of habeas corpus to multiple orders to show cause and accompanied the client to agencies ranging from the NYPD to ACS.  All the work was more than worth it to see the client’s face when we finally made some headway in the case and got her overnight visits with her daughter.  Though the case is far from over, moments like that one are worth celebrating.

 

Taylor Dougherty-Legal Services NYC-Brooklyn Branch, Elder Law Unit

My work with Legal Services truly reaffirmed by belief that access to appropriate legal counsel and being represented by an attorney can make or break a client’s circumstances.  While many of the clients I worked with had serious problems and were realistically not going to be able to avoid eviction, many clients were genuinely being taken advantage of by landlords who truly desired to remove elderly tenants from rent regulated units in order to charged increased rent to new tenants.  One case I saw early on in the summer opened by eyes to the disparities in the legal system on a relatively small scale, but has continued to stay with me.  Our client had a nonpayment case brought against her, and as many clients do, insisted that she was current on her rent.  After looking through the breakdown given by the landlord, the attorney I was working with and I realized the only time these arrears could be from was early 2009, meaning that the landlord was barred from collecting them under the Doctrine of Laches.  When confronted with this information, the landlord’s attorney became flustered and then a few days later withdrew the petition.

 

I remained baffled thinking of how many other clients out there had already paid money they did not owe, or were evicted because they were unable to pay money they did not owe, solely because they were unable to access legal counsel.  The work that Legal Services and other organizations like them to help low income New Yorkers continues to inspire me, and I am so grateful to have been able to work with such an inspiring organization. 

 

Emma Carlson-United States District Court, SDNY

This summer was a very fulfilling and unique experience. Not only was I able to assist in drafting and researching opinions, but I also had the opportunity to watch trials. Watching the defense attorneys advocate for their clients was extremely rewarding. The attorneys used impressive techniques in order to keep the jurors attention and present their evidence. They were clearly passionate about their client’s well being and it showed. However, the United States Attorneys were also passionate and had an equally strong presence. They argued effectively and professionally. This judicial internship gave me the opportunity to see both sides of a case as a neutral observer, determine what kinds of arguments were persuasive, and how an attorney can effectively present their case. When the jury went to deliberate, I was uncertain about what the outcome would be since both the defense and prosecution were equally impressive. However, the jury did render a verdict that they believe comported with justice and was consistent with the facts of the case. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of a trial from start to finish.

 

David Craft-United States District Court, SDNY

I was conducting research for a motion to dismiss filed by a defendant in a case. The plaintiff failed to respond to most of the assertions raised by the defendant, which could provide grounds for the judge to automatically grant the defendant’s motion. The defendant failed to raise this argument on their reply to the plaintiff’s papers and I was able to catch it and one of the law clerk’s judges commended me for it. It made me feel that I could possibly be (emphasis added) cut out to do this line of work.

 

Eric Eingold-European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights

The Pakistani lawyers that are representing the families of victims who died in the Baldia Factory Fire in Karachi in 2012 came to ECCHR for two weeks in July. The nature of ECCHR’s work, strategically litigating transnational human rights cases, means that interactions with the people on the ground directly affected by a case are fairly uncommon for trainees. Their visit allowed me to learn about the human rights movement in Pakistan. The lawyer that I worked closest was a part of the Pakistani Lawyers’ Movement that formed in response to Prevez Musharref’s suspension of the Chief Justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court. The significance of their work, pursuing a case to hold a multinational corporation liable for human rights violations committed by their subsidiaries, has resulted in death threats made against them. Getting a chance to talk about their work and hear what motivates them to fight on behalf of the poorest people in Pakistani society was an invaluable lesson.

 

Elana Rodman-Executive Office for Immigration Review

This summer, I had the opportunity to research and draft opinions and memos for four judges who preside over the detained immigration docket in New York City.  Ever day, the judges held hearings to determine whether the immigrant could stay in the United States or be released from detention. During the course of the summer, I learned the basic intricacies of crim-imm (the intersection of criminal and immigration law).  Moreover, I increased my familiarity with the judges' styles and preferences, and the attorneys' techniques through watching proceedings, listening to tape recorded hearings, and talking to the judges. I began to
appreciate approaching cases from an adjudicator's perspective rather than an advocate's perspective. Most importantly, I learned how to have confidence in my legal conclusions when advancing a theory to the judges. This was one of my favorite internships due to the level of supervision, mentorship, and camaraderie.

 

Zamira Djabarova-Center for Constitutional Rights

Internship with CCR was the best experience I have had while in law school. During this internship I met many dedicated lawyers and other practitioners, worked with them and learned from them. I had a chance to observe how an activist impact litigation organization thinks and operates institutionally. CCR invested in us, interns and not only let us observe their processes but also invited us to be a part of these processes. For example, as the government of Israel accelerated its use of force against Palestine resulting in high civilian casualties, CCR organized two internal meetings to strategize and decide organizationally if CCR should be changing anything in its related work.

 

The first meeting was a briefing where staff and interns most aware of the ongoing conflict gave and update on the situation.  The second meeting took a brainstorming format (on what CCR should be doing differently). These meetings were conducted in the most harmonious, open format where each member of the organization was an equal. It was a safe space, where people could speak their minds and hearts. At the same time, specific actions were proposed, recorded and tasked, proving that effective and inclusive do not have to contradict each other.

 

Lauren Price-Bronx Defenders, Civil Action Practice

My favorite part of working at the Bronx Defenders was the consideration given to collateral and secondary consequences of criminal involvement. I came to law school intending to work in housing and public benefits. These are worlds where a single drug-related arrest, particularly in public housing (but also in private) can lead to allegations that tenants are running “illegal business” out of their apartments and lead to eviction and loss of shelter. Public Benefits, Administration for Children’s Services and other social services agencies are also unduly interested in the lives of program recipients- there is no penumbra of privacy if you are poor! Considering housing, healthcare and access to resources as human rights issues, this marginalization of people with criminal histories is another large-scale rights violation, particularly in the context of policing that is biased along class, race and immigration-status lines. I did a lot of advocacy for a client who was made homeless because of an eviction proceeding stemming from drug use in her home. Known as “Bawdy House” actions, there are cases wherein the DA notes that a particular drug-related arrest has taken place in a private apartment. The DA then writes to the landlord-owner and directs him to evict the tenant, under threat of a fine for non-action. The landlord receives access to police reports and criminal evidence, though the DA is not technically a party to the proceeding. My client also suffered from HIV, and her housing court proceeding that was precipitated by the actions of her family. Thankfully we were able to connect her with social services for people living with HIV/AIDS, which included emergency housing, but many people, suffering just as much, do not have access to these kinds of services.

 

Another interesting set of collateral issues surround civil forfeiture and retention of property recovered from criminal defendants by the DA and/or NYPD. I was involved in advocating for a client whose car is being held by the DA during the entirety of his criminal court case because the prosecution said there were potential issues with the operability or state or the car. These proceedings are governed by federal court order based on a class action called Krimstock v Kelly 506 F Supp 2d 249 [SDNY 2007]. One means of dispute is through an administrative hearing- called a “Krimstock hearing”, at the New York City Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings (OATH), which sounds like something out of Harry Potter. The issue can also be settled in the criminal court proceeding, as our case was. The DA moved to retain the vehicle, but the criminal court judge did not understand that it was her duty, under the Krimstock standard, to address the motion right away- the order only allows for 10 days. I had the privilege of writing a letter brief to the judge and later I approached the bench to discuss the matter with her. Unfortunately, my advocacy wasn’t very effective- I was very nervous to be telling a judge that she was wrong and I wasn’t able to communicate my point or persuade her. The experience made me more convinced that trial advocacy and speaking skills are crucial—you can know the issue as well as anyone, but without persuasion, no one will be swayed.  

 

Sarah Warburg-Johnson

Binna Yi-Sanctuary for Families, Brooklyn Family Justice Center

The moments I will remember will be writing the ending of my clients’ affidavits. When my clients had to formulate their closing statement is when I felt a profound sense of satisfaction. Surprisingly, my clients shared similar conclusions. In the final session of writing an affidavit, my client would say even though her abuser attempted to destroy her that she rose above the circumstance and decided to make her life better. In those moments I felt my legal work was worth all the effort.

 

Alexander Hu-New York Lawyer's for the Public Interest

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest (NYLPI) is a pioneer and leader in the model of community lawyering. I was drawn to its work because I wanted to gain a more profound understanding of the movement lawyering happening on the ground in my home of New York. From the resistance to keep FreshDirect from polluting and relocating to the South Bronx, to the fight to ensure that thousands of residents living with mental illnesses can stay in their own homes, to the battle to keep the maternity unit open at the North Central Bronx Hospital, NYLPI is at the forefront of some of the most important struggles in New York. It was an honor and unique learning experience to serve as a fellow under NYLPI’s guidance and expertise. I gained eye-opening exposure to the range of NYLPI’s community lawyering work, and it broadened my understanding of how lawyers can contribute to social justice movements. One of the most memorable parts of the internship was NYLPI’s tradition of taking its interns on educational tours of the impacted New York City communities it works with. I will always remember the environmental justice tour that we took with the community group OUTRAGE (Organizations United for Trash Reduction & Garbage Equity) in Brooklyn, where we saw and smelled the polluted landscape of trucks and dirty facilities right next to homes, playgrounds, and softball fields. I really appreciate the effort that NYLPI makes to push its interns beyond the office desk and legal paperwork to see the people and communities at the heart of its work and the social justice movement.

 

Paula Collins-Legal Aid Society, Juvenile Rights Practice-Brooklyn Office

Day after day this summer, I worked with kids who had one thing in common: in their short lives, something had gone terribly wrong. Their parent was in court or in jail, and they had to deal with the resulting domestic chaos. My job was to listen to them and to represent them according to their wishes. Sometimes this was easy, like going before a judge to ask that our 18-year-old client who had spent 11 years in foster care to be given Metro cards to get to and from her part time job while she was in college. Other times, we were the clear voices of reason, swooping in to keep children out of harm’s way when a parent had injured or endangered them. However, there were times when we had grown-up misgivings about child-related issues. The law is clear in New York regarding the role of the law guardian. Attorneys for children over a certain age can counsel their young clients, but ultimately have to advocate the client’s position even if it differs from what the adult attorney might have them do. Thus, we had a case in which a child wanted to go home to his mother. Even though we still had misgivings about drug-related activity in the home, we asked for him to be released to the mother, while ACS and the courts required her to complete various services and classes. We stayed in close contact with our client. Through strong relationships with the Legal Aid Society, that the child will be able to quickly get help if and when it is needed, but still live with his mother, which obviously was very important to him.

 

Daniel Chertok-United Nations Global Pluse

At UN Global Pulse, the mission is to obtain, use, and analyze “big data” for public good. This has legal implications that go beyond the scope of current legal research or case law, because the law itself has not caught up to the realities of data aggregation and the resulting privacy concerns. The challenge for this legal perspective was in many ways to create a framework in which our data research team could safely and effectively use these vast quantities of real-time data. One day I was having trouble understanding the difference between two data encryption methods, and I asked one of our data scientists for an explanation.  During this explanation, which was very in-depth, I found myself not only trying to follow his explanation (a hard enough feat), but doing so through the lens of a lawyer. What was more rewarding was knowing that my legal research had a small part in enabling the organizations data analysts and scientists to use “big data” to analyze global problems in a field that can have a tremendous impact on people’s lives.

 

Daniel Altaras-Center for Family Representation

I represented clients that were on the brink of losing their children. The look and gratitude on a client’s face when he sees that someone is trying to help him navigate this complex system that seemingly wants to rip his family apart and remove his children, is utterly priceless. I will never forget the first time I went on client intake with my supervisor. We met this indigent minority client that only spoke Spanish and had no idea what was going on. We got a translator and she began explaining who we were and that we were trying to help him remain with his children. Suddenly, this big strong man began crying and thanking us profusely. He even shook my hand and thanked me. That experience truly humbled me and gave me a real world sense of the invaluable necessity for family defense work.

 

Sylvia Dai-U.S. Coast Guard

I had the opportunity to work in the Office of Military Justice at headquarters, which is unique in that this office handles all of the government appeals from the district offices as well as policy issues. I was treated like a junior attorney there and given a lot of responsibility. The biggest project I worked on was a government response brief on a sexual assault case. My supervisor handed me a disc that contained over 5,000 pages of the record of trial and told me I would research and write the brief. I got to see and participate in the process from beginning to end. Writing a brief like that is also a collaborative process, and once again, I was grateful for the wonderful attorneys I worked with. 

 

The other memorable experience was getting to see how policy is made and changed. My supervisor is a working group member of the Joint Service Committee, which is the group that writes the new Manual for Courts Martial each year. I had never been a part of policy making before. It was really interesting to attend the meetings and see where the ideas come from and where the services are split on certain issues. It should also come as no surprise that policy making, especially changing, is a slow process.

 

Shelbey Tamayo-My Sister's Place

One of the first assignments I was given was to fill out an adjustment of status application for one of our clients and her daughter. After the application was completed and sent out, my supervisor and I accompanied them to their adjustment interview with an immigration officer. I didn’t hear back about the case until one of my last days at the internship, when I found out that they both were going to receive permanent resident status. It was an extremely rewarding moment to realize that the paperwork I had been doing all summer actually lead to a real and very positive impact on the lives of those I was working for. That was one of my favorite days at my internship and one I will surely remember for a long time.

 

Zack Kaufman-Hon. Frederic Block, E.D.N.Y.

Aside from being able to process cases and handle the work of the court, one of the most interesting and enlightening experiences of my fellowship came in the form of working on the judge’s forthcoming book on reforming drug policy in America. As a senior district judge who has been on the federal bench for almost two decades, Judge Block had sentenced hundreds of criminal defendants, an overwhelming majority of which were drug-related offenders. This shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the fact that one of the world’s busiest international airports is located right in the heart of the Eastern District of New York – JFK Intl. Airport.

 

Judge Block felt compelled to investigate this phenomenon and provide judicial-oriented solutions, with a focus on reforming sentencing away from incarceration and more towards rehabilitation. As a judicial intern, I was asked to research and learn about alternatives to incarceration. I was surprised to learn about the breadth of programs available to drug offenders around the country and in the EDNY, many of which are led by a former prosecutor turned federal judge, John Gleeson.

 

Meghan Walsh-Center for Family Representation

The organization where I worked represents parents who are being charged with child abuse and/or neglect.  Throughout the summer I felt like many of the clients were trapped by a system in need of serious change.  One moment that stands out to me while working at CFR was accompanying a social worker to a home visit.  Our client had moved from Egypt, a country that has no laws protecting children, to the U.S. less than a year previously.  She was being accused of neglecting her children by leaving them home alone.  It was a case of her honestly not knowing any better.  After visiting her home twice it was obvious she was heartbroken, would do anything to get her children back, and would probably never let her kids out of her sight again, no matter their age, much less leave them home alone. 

 

We made visits on a Friday and a Monday and she had a hearing that Tuesday.  Before the hearing the attorneys all agreed it was in the best interest of the children for them to be returned to their home later that day.  Watching the social worker tell both parents (in pantomime because they didn’t speak English and she didn’t speak Arabic) that their kids would be home in the afternoon was the best moment of my summer.  In a very frustrating system that needs to be reformed, to me this moment was proof that the system is not completely broken and was proof of how much the public interest sector, in all areas not only law, is needed.

 

Mario Bai-New Jersey Office of the Public Defender, Bergen Trial Office

The one thing that I noted while working at the New Jersey Office of the Public Defender is that most of our clients who are incarcerated only have one thing on their mind, and that is to get out of jail as fast as possible. Often, the prosecutor will make an offer that allows a defendant to get out of jail, but involves pleading to a felony. Since our client has the only goal of getting released, often times they will take the “deal” just so they can put what they perceive to be closure to the situation. The hardest thing about practicing criminal defense is that sometimes what is in the best interest of the client is to stay in jail for a little while longer, and not have the long term consequences of a felony conviction on his record. Convincing someone that that is indeed the best course of action to take for the long-run can be very difficult, especially when the short-term involves sitting in jail. I never realized how fulfilling it can be when you can make a connection to someone who is counting on your advice, and they follow it, and that person’s life is ultimately going to be better for it.

BLSPI Brooklyn Law Students for the Public Interest

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