The Proskauer corporate social responsibility and pro bono blog

Expanding Public Service in the COVID-19 Crisis

To consider the great need, among people of limited means, for civil legal services during the COVID-19 crisis, a good starting point is where we were before the crisis started.  In short, civil legal resources for the poor in the United States are woefully inadequate.  According to the Legal Services Corporation, which documents the justice gap in America, between 62% and 72% of civil legal needs among low-income Americans are addressed inadequately or not at all.  Indeed, the United States fares very poorly in this regard when compared to other western democracies.

The current health crisis would be devastating under any circumstances but, from a legal standpoint, this crisis has laid bare the long-term challenges we face.  Continue Reading

Leveling the Legal Playing Field for Poor Families in Family Court

The New York Statewide Central Register (SCR) of Abuse and Maltreatment maintains records of calls, allegations, and results of investigations regarding suspected child abuse and maltreatment. Although these records are not public, many employers and agencies are legally obligated to check the database before hiring applicants and accepting volunteers. Having an “indicated” report on file severely decreases the chances for an applicant to gain employment, as well as detrimentally affects one’s ability to secure housing and apply for government benefits.

Through a recent training conducted by Brooklyn Defender Services (BDS), Proskauer now has the opportunity to file motions to vacate findings of neglect in family court, where called for under the law.  In doing so, you can make a fundamental difference in the lives of poor families. Continue Reading

Advancing Empathetic Portrayals of Mental Health Issues in the Media: An Interview with Helene Ellison of the Media Empathy Foundation

What is “media empathy” and what is the mission of the Media Empathy (ME) Foundation?

To us, “media empathy” means portraying people with mental illness in a compassionate way that recognizes their humanity and their struggles and makes them relatable, rather than vilifying them or treating them comically. This empathy is often missing in the narrative around mental health today. For example, while the media typically understands and depicts the challenges faced by cancer patients in a sympathetic and accurate manner, it often makes misrepresentations about what it is like to live with a mental illness.

Our mission is to advocate for a culture in which people can speak freely about mental health issues and can access supportive resources to help manage their illness. Despite many campaigns aiming to destigmatize mental health issues, portrayals of mentally ill individuals in the media remain problematic and social distancing hasn’t really improved since the 1950s. We seek to collaborate with those who create and shape media to change the narrative surrounding mental illness. Continue Reading

Grannies Respond: Grassroots Activism for Immigrant Justice

This week we had the privilege of speaking with Catherine Cole, the Executive Director of Grannies Respond, about the impact the “Grannies” have made through their efforts to advance immigrants’ rights, and how Proskauer’s pro bono work has supported the Grannies in their mission.

Grannies Respond / Abuelas Responden, Inc. is a grassroots movement and nonprofit organization that supports immigrants seeking asylum and safety in the United States.  What inspired Grannies Respond to take on this mission?

In July 2018, the U.S. government’s separation of children from their families at the southern border broke many hearts.  Children as young as five months old were taken from the parents who had brought them here to escape life-threatening conditions in their home countries and to seek asylum.  Many people watched the news of the separations and felt helpless, but Dan Aymar-Blair, the creator of Grannies Respond, was discussing the separations at the border with friends and said “why don’t we put a bunch of grannies on a bus and go down there?”  Grannies are the heart of the family and would never stand for separations.  For our purposes, you don’t have to be a grandmother to be a “grannie” – we welcome everyone who supports the cause of immigrants’ rights.  Continue Reading

The Long Fight for the Equal Rights Amendment

With the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) finally receiving its 38th affirmative vote in January from the Virginia General Assembly and the resulting litigation to have the amendment added to the Constitution, it is worth revisiting the question that proponents and opponents alike have asked for nearly 100 years: why do we need the ERA?

To discuss the importance of and challenges to its passage, Proskauer partnered with the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York to host a panel discussion moderated by the Honorable Betty Weinberg Ellerin, retired New York Appellate Division Judge. Panelists included Maria Vullo, adjunct professor of law at Fordham University and co-founder of the ERA Coalition, Katharine Bodde, Senior Policy Counsel, NYCLU, and Wendy J. Murphy, adjunct professor of sexual violence law at New England Law, Boston.  Continue Reading

Proskauer Honors Public Service at the Annual Golden Gavel Awards

Proskauer honored its lawyers and staff who have made significant contributions to the Firm’s pro bono and corporate social responsibility programs this year at its 12th Annual Golden Gavel Awards ceremony on January 22. The following is a list of recipients alphabetically by project.

Protecting Immigrant Youth

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Team New Orleans: Catholic Charities-Archdiocese of New Orleans – Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

In collaboration with Catholic Charities-Archdiocese of New Orleans, this team successfully represented six immigrant children from Honduras and El Salvador in obtaining predicate orders from Louisiana juvenile courts finding that the children cannot be reunified with one or both of their parents due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect, and that it would not be in the children’s best interest to return to their home countries. These predicate orders open the door for these children to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, an immigration remedy that would protect these children from deportation and give them a pathway to lawful permanent residence in the United States. Continue Reading

NY Appellate Division Decision Provides Equity for Guardians of Limited Means

Last week, Proskauer obtained a critical victory for our client—a grandmother acting as guardian for her two learning-disabled grandchildren—in an appeal to the Appellate Division, First Department.  The appeal challenged a lower court holding that an amendment to New York’s Kinship Guardianship Assistance Program (“KinGAP”) did not apply retroactively to beneficiaries, such as our client’s grandchildren, who entered the program before the amendment took effect.

KinGAP, established in 2011, enables foster-care children for whom returning home or adoption are not available options, to achieve a permanent placement with a guardian relative.  To subsidize the costs of caregiving for guardians of limited means such as our client, KinGAP provides monthly assistance payments pursuant to a statutorily prescribed form of agreement between the guardian and a local department of social services.

When our client entered into a KinGAP agreement in 2014, New York Social Services Law § 458-b(7)(a) made the duration of the subsidy dependent on whether the agreement was entered into before or after the child’s 16th birthday.  Continued assistance payments were available beyond the age of 18 only if the agreement commenced after the child was already 16 years of age.  Section 458-b(7)(a) thus drew a distinction between foster parents and adoptive parents on the one hand and guardians on the other because foster and adoptive children were entitled to assistance payments until they turned 21 notwithstanding their age at the time their subsidy agreements were commenced. Continue Reading

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