The Proskauer corporate social responsibility and pro bono blog

How Poverty and Trauma Can Affect Healthy Brain Development

Proskauer is proud to lead conversations that foster insight into the pressing issues facing our communities. Together with Partnership with Children (PwC), we hosted experts in various fields on January 15 to discuss How Poverty and Trauma Affect Healthy Brain Development. Our panelists included Margaret Crotty, Executive Director of PwC, Dennis M. Walcott, President and CEO of Queens Library, and Dr. Olajide Williams, Chief of Staff of Neurology, Director of Acute Stroke Services, and Associate Professor of Neurology at Columbia University. The panel was moderated by Dr. Max Gomez, Senior Medical Correspondent, CBS News.

The conversation centered on the association of child poverty and early trauma, brain development and academic achievement. Continue Reading

School Suspension Hearings: New Pro Bono Project Gives Students Representation

Throughout law school I worked with the Suspension Representation Project (SRP) as an advocate in New York City public school suspension hearings, and am now helping to coordinate a new project at Proskauer through our partnership with SRP and The Center for Popular Democracy.  This post will examine the school suspension process in New York City, and the great need for increased attention to this issue and representation for the students in these hearings.

As set forth in a prior For Good post, it is well established that missed school days at the primary and secondary level have a significant negative impact on student performance, decrease the likelihood of successful graduation, and increase the likelihood that a student will be arrested. Unfortunately, many schools are ill-equipped to intervene in negative student behaviors other than by removing students from the classroom. Continue Reading

A Step Forward for New Yorkers Seeking Safe and Healthy Housing

A team of pro bono attorneys at Proskauer recently celebrated a significant step forward in their fight for safe and healthy housing for the more than 400,000 New Yorkers who live in apartments operated by the New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA”), the largest public housing authority in the country.  Federal Judge William Pauley in the Southern District of New York entered an order requiring NYCHA to implement enhanced procedures to ensure the effective and timely remediation of mold and excessive moisture.  The order also creates independent oversight to ensure NYCHA’s compliance with these obligations.

The Court’s decision provides relief for a class of public housing tenants who suffer from asthma exacerbated by mold and water leaks.  As NYCHA has reported, 150,000 NYCHA residents, including 35,000 children under the age of 15, live in developments located in “asthma hotspots” that generate the highest rates of asthma-related emergency room visits in New York City.

In December 2013, the National Center for Law and Economic Justice and Natural Resources Defense Council filed Baez v. NYCHA, 13 Civ. 8916 (S.D.N.Y.), a class action lawsuit on behalf of these tenants and two nonprofit community empowerment organizations, Manhattan Together and South Bronx Churches, with the goal of eradicating mold from NYCHA apartments.  In 2014, the Court approved a consent decree in which NYCHA agreed to abate mold and excessive moisture problems within certain timeframes and to prevent the reoccurrence of these problems.

In December 2015, the Court appointed a Special Master to oversee NYCHA’s compliance with the 2014 consent decree.  Over the next two years, the pro bono team collaborated with NYCHA, the Special Master, and a mold remediation expert to design and test improved protocols for the abatement of mold and its underlying root causes, a program NYCHA named “Mold Busters.”

But in February 2018, NYCHA informed the Plaintiffs that it could not implement the new Mold Busters program across all NYCHA developments until 2020, long after the original consent decree would expire.  In the meantime, thousands of NYCHA tenants continued to suffer from frequent reoccurrences of their mold problems and many were being forced to wait months and even years for critical repairs.  This was untenable.

Accordingly, Proskauer worked with NYCHA to formulate and propose to the Court an amended consent decree calling for (1) the elimination of reoccurrences of mold and excessive moisture; (2) the tightening of performance requirements obligating NYCHA to complete mold and moisture repairs in no more than fifteen days; (3) strict deadlines for implementing the new mold remediation techniques and protocols; (4) accurate reporting of NYCHA’s compliance metrics; (5) the appointment of an independent mold expert and forensic data analyst to oversee NYCHA’s compliance; and (6) the appointment of an independent ombudsperson who can address individual resident complaints and direct NYCHA to provide prompt relief.

At a pre-motion conference in July 2018, Judge Pauley stated that “there is no case of greater public importance pending before this Court” and indicated that the Court would assess whether the proposed consent decree would “meaningfully effect the urgently needed reform” and “improve the conditions faced by NYCHA tenants.”  The Court solicited public comments from interested individuals and organizations regarding whether the Court should approve the proposed decree.

With the Court’s permission, the Proskauer pro bono team collaborated with Manhattan Together and South Bronx Churches to host three clinics in August 2018 at which they assisted approximately 75 NYCHA residents in understanding the proposed consent decree and preparing public comment letters to express their views to the Court.  In addition, the team filed a motion urging the court to approve the amended consent decree.  NYCHA did not oppose this motion.

After receiving more than 700 public comment letters, the Court held a public fairness hearing on September 26, 2018, at which the Court received live testimony from dozens of tenants who reported hazardous living conditions and urged the Court to afford relief.

In granting the motion to approve and enter the amended consent decree in November 2018, the Court found that “requiring NYCHA to address mold reoccurrence explicitly and to implement revised protocols and procedures with the Special Master and Independent Mold Analyst’s assistance is suitably tailored to NYCHA’s worsening mold reoccurrence rate . . . .”  In addition, the Court found that “the addition of an Independent Data Analyst and a certification requirement for NYCHA’s periodic reports is proper to address rampant inaccuracies in those reports,” and “an Ombudsperson tasked with addressing tenant concerns over mold remediation efforts . . . is satisfactorily directed toward NYCHA’s inability to complete 15-day repairs in a timely fashion . . . .”

The amended consent decree contemplates that NYCHA will fully implement the “Mold Busters” program across all NYCHA developments by December 2020.

It has been my privilege to lead this Proskauer pro bono team, which included associates Zachary Chalett, Amanda Johnson, and Brandon Clark; former associate Shiloh Rainwater; and project assistants America Garza and Alex Volpicello. The team also received support and assistance from associates Samantha Springer and Tara Brailey, law clerk Imani Tisdale, paralegals Jesse Feldstein and Margaret Lederer, and pro bono intern Adam Snyder.

New Jersey Law Against Discrimination Protects Autism Non-Profit in Land Dispute

The New Jersey Appellate Division, in a landmark ruling — Oasis Therapeutic Life Centers, Inc. v. Wade et al., (December 10, 2018) — upheld a real estate purchaser’s right to assert a claim under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (the LAD) against the purchaser’s prospective neighbors who discriminated against the purchaser because of the disability of the person intending to live on the premises, even if the purchaser (e.g., a charitable entity created to assist members of the protected class) does not fall within the protected class itself.

The decision paves the way for Proskauer lawyers Alychia Lynn Buchan, Maryssa A. Mataras, Evelyn Pang and I to continue litigating this matter, which was previously dismissed.

Our client, Oasis Therapeutic Life Centers, Inc. (Oasis), is a nonprofit organization providing residential and vocational opportunities and training to autistic individuals. Oasis also creates temporary and long-term group homes in farm-like settings for autistic young adults, where these individuals can live and work.  Continue Reading

Federal Court Upholds First Amendment Right to Secretly Record Public Officials in Public

Last week, in Martin v. Gross, Chief Judge Patti B. Saris of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts granted summary judgment in favor of our clients, finding the Massachusetts Wiretap Statute (Mass. Gen. L. ch. 272, § 99) unconstitutional when applied to secret recordings of government officials performing their duties in public.  The decision is significant for its clarification of protections under the First Amendment.

The Massachusetts Wiretap Statute makes it a felony to “secretly” record oral communications writ large, regardless of the other circumstances of the recording.  Our clients—two civil-rights activists in Boston and the plaintiffs in this case—challenged the Massachusetts Wiretap Statute as unconstitutional under the First Amendment as applied to secret recordings of police officers performing their duties in public.  While both plaintiffs have openly recorded law enforcement officials performing their duties in public, both believe secret recording would protect their safety and more accurately document officials’ behavior in public. Continue Reading

Wills for Vets

Proskauer’s Private Client Services lawyers in the Firm’s Boca Raton office have a wide range of experience in trusts and estate planning, and wanted to give back to the community in a meaningful way. With this intention, we formed a partnership with the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County to provide wills for veterans. Founded in 1949, the Legal Aid Society is a leading advocate on a wide variety of issues for the poor and disadvantaged in our area.

This pro bono project, which we initiated in November, provides estate planning services to the men and women who have served our country. In addition to preparing the necessary estate planning documents for clients, and providing guidance throughout the process, our lawyers and paralegals attend bi-monthly legal clinics hosted by the Legal Aid Society to meet with the veterans and assist with the pro bono client intake process. We also have recruited other professional advisors within the community to provide other important services for the veterans that are outside of our scope of expertise.

Our entire Private Client Services Department is committed to making the estate planning process easy and accessible for our clients, and to making a difference in our community. In the first month alone, we began work with six new clients.

Does the GDPR Impact How Charitable Organizations Solicit Donors?

Six months after implementation of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”),¹ many charitable organizations are still struggling with compliance. Our pro bono clients frequently ask whether consent is now required to send solicitations or communications via email to donors or potential donors.  Before addressing that discrete question, here are some key GDPR principles that apply to non-profit organizations:

What is personal data? Personal data encompasses any information that may directly or indirectly identify an individual (for example, a name is a direct identifying element, while a date of birth, email address, phone number, home address, or photo is an indirect identifying element).²  Personal data also includes information about the characteristics of an individual (hobbies for instance), opinions of a person, and online identifiers (cookies, IP address).  Because the definition of personal data is so broad, all charitable organizations process personal data.

What is data processing?³ Processing is defined very broadly in the GDPR and includes the collection, recording, storage, adaptation, use, erasure, and mere consultation of personal data. Continue Reading