The Proskauer corporate social responsibility and pro bono blog

Proskauer and A&E Assist Los Angeles Area Vets

My 16-year-old daughter, Helena, recently expressed an interest in helping veterans for a high school service project. I immediately took out my phone and emailed my partner Colleen Hart, a veteran of the U.S. Navy, who is heavily involved in veteran volunteer efforts.  Colleen wrote me back inviting Helena to help with the Los Angeles County Bar Association’s Veterans Legal Services Project (VLSP), a clinic that assists Veterans with legal issues.

Helena worked with Colleen at the VLSP in March, and returned home telling me how much she enjoyed the experience and the meaningful work.  The clinic meets once a month, so I decided to join her the next time she went. In preparation, I took a training along with several attorneys from Proskauer and our client A&E Television Network.

California has the largest number of veterans in the country, 1.8 million, with 330,000 in Los Angeles County.  Although the national unemployment rate is approximately 3.9%, the rate for Los Angeles County veterans is more than 10.9%.  The adjustment to civilian life after military service is very difficult for many veterans who face issues such as homelessness and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The VLSP runs a clinic once a month at the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in downtown Los Angeles. The clinic is designed to increase veterans’ employability by removing specific barriers to employment such as outstanding warrants, traffic citations, suspended licenses and some criminal convictions.  Under California law, there is some discretion for judges to take into consideration military service and its after-effects when deciding whether to dismiss a traffic ticket or expunge certain convictions.

In April, clinic staffers from Proskauer and A&E interviewed approximately 20 veterans.  The experience was truly eye-opening, as you get an opportunity to listen to real stories about their struggles and a system that presents significant challenges.  Indeed, a simple ticket for driving without a license, normally $35, can easily end up costing over $1,000 with the addition of penalties and assessments if not addressed immediately.  This kind of money is not attainable for many people, let alone those who are homeless.  Relief from such burdens can greatly enhance ones quality of life.

Helena and I interviewed two of the veterans.  One was a Navy veteran who wished to have a criminal conviction from 20 years ago expunged so that he “could tell his kids that he was a good man.”  In the intake process, we detailed how this veteran had gone through a rough patch and had some legal troubles years ago but had since been clean, sober and law abiding.

The other veteran was from the Marine Corps and had fallen on hard times, and was living out of his car.  He had served in multiple tours overseas in war zones and was receiving treatment for PTSD at the Veterans Administration (VA), which sits on a large federal property in West Los Angeles.  The veteran had received two tickets while on VA property, one for sleeping in his car and the other for having a small amount of marijuana.  Had this veteran parked his car anywhere outside VA property neither issue would have been an offense.  The veteran, a man with quiet dignity despite his vast personal issues, told us, “If I don’t take care of this now, this small issue will become a big one.”  We helped sort out the veteran’s paperwork, and took down the details of his service, as well as his life after the service, so that other attorneys at VLSP could  help argue for dismissal of the tickets.

As we left for the evening, we saw the Marine Corps veteran sitting in his car with all his belongings.  My daughter and I are both committed to helping this underserved part of our community.

New Coalition Pressing for Court Reform in New York State

The Fund For Modern Courts and Proskauer hosted representatives from a diverse coalition of organizations in New York State and leaders of the state bar at our New York office on May 3 to discuss the necessity of court reform in New York.

The keynote speaker, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks, laid out three primary areas of concern.  First, he explained that the court’s structure itself, which consists of 11 overlapping trial courts with different levels of jurisdiction, is “confusing, cumbersome, and complicated.”  He stressed that adopting a simplified structure not only would relieve administrative costs but would also better serve the public.  To help illustrate his point, he added that Article VI of the New York Constitution (the highly detailed provision concerning the judiciary) contains 16,000 words as compared to the judiciary article in the U.S. Constitution which contains 375 words.

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Proskauer Housing Court Victory Highlights Importance of Universal Representation

When I walked into Manhattan Housing Court a few weeks ago, I knew we had a strong case.  Our client, a disabled 87-year-old woman, was facing eviction from the rent-controlled apartment where she has been living for more than 40 years.  Her landlord alleged that she had failed to pay rent that she had in fact paid.  The case should have been dismissed on that basis alone, but when the Proskauer team went before the judge to argue our motion for summary judgment, the judge asked whether our client owed rent for months not at issue in the lawsuit.

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Victory for a Vet

As part of Proskauer’s collaboration with the New York City Bar Justice Center, I recently had the honor of assisting an Army veteran in his claim for disability benefits before the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) alongside Alex Hill, Karen Levya-Drivin and Paul Ramundo from Bloomberg LP.

Injured while on active service overseas, the veteran sustained debilitating injuries that were controllable by medication, which he would have to continue taking for the rest of his life. When he returned home, he had a difficult time supporting himself as a result of his injury. He applied for disability benefits at the VA four times, but each time his claim was rejected, either for insufficient documentation or based on the VA policy applicable to his type of injury. In each case, the explanation from the VA was brief, and he did not understand why he kept getting turned down.

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NYU Takes on the Travel Ban

On March 30, 2018, Proskauer filed an amicus brief on behalf of New York University in the United States Supreme Court.  The brief was filed in support of the State of Hawaii and its challenge to Proclamation 9645, the most recent version of the Trump Administration’s “travel ban.”  The Proclamation at issue in the litigation sets significant restrictions on immigration from specified countries, most of which have a large Muslim-majority population.  Both the Fourth Circuit and the Ninth Circuit have upheld injunctions preventing the Proclamation from fully taking effect.

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Serving Our Community With the Bowery Mission

As part of our corporate social responsibility program at Proskauer, we focus on strategies to help improve the lives of vulnerable populations.

Since the Firm began its partnership with the Bowery Mission in December 2014, we have served over 4,000 meals and more than 150 volunteers have participated. The Bowery Mission has served homeless and hungry New Yorkers since 1879 and we appreciate being part of their transformative, compassionate care.

We enjoy making a difference together, and look forward to our next opportunity to serve meals and meet fellow New Yorkers at the Bowery Mission.

For additional photos, click here.

 

Combating Online Sex Trafficking Around the Globe

Discussing the pervasiveness and impact of online sex trafficking and how to fight it, Proskauer hosted a seminar titled “Combating Online Sex Trafficking: Confronting Challenges, Forging Cooperation.” It is estimated that 50% of sex trafficking takes place online.

The event brought together global players in the fight against human trafficking including François Delattre, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations; Per-Anders Sunesson, Swedish Ambassador-at-Large for Combating Trafficking in Persons; Cyrus Vance, New York County District Attorney; Monique Villa, CEO, Thomson Reuters Foundation; Yves Charpenel, Deputy State Prosecutor, the Supreme Court in France, and President, the Scelles Foundation; Valiant Richey, Prosecutor, King County, Washington; Mary Mazzio, Producer and Director, “I am Jane Doe”;  and Angel Nguyen, Vice President of Compliance and Financial Crimes Solutions, Enigma.

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