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Justice Center Mobilizes Clinics in the Rockaways for Hurricane Sandy Victims

Sunday, December 09, 2012

  • Organization: City Bar Justice Center

In November the City Bar Justice Center began mobilizing pro bono lawyers to staff clinics in the storm-ravaged Rockaways.  At the first weekend pro bono legal clinic, around 30 trained attorneys came to two sites onSaturday and Sunday.  The volunteers gave brief advice to 59 clients and provided information to additional people who stopped by with basic questions.

The main issues of concern were FEMA applications, insurance claims, disaster unemployment assistance, landlord and tenant problems, lack of repairs, no electricity, heat or hot water and simply no income or way to get to work.  There was a huge amount of clearing out of damaged basements still going on in the Rockaways.  While some buses were running again and there was mail delivery, many people were still without electricity. There are vast burned-out areas.
The lawyers were at two sites: a vacant lot across from the ‘Veggie Island’ shop, and the YANA community center, which housed a very efficient Occupy Sandy operation that had giant solar panels supplying electricity to the neighbors. The Occupy Sandy folks were extremely helpful in directing clients to the legal clinics.

The volunteer attorneys were from firms including Alston & Bird, Blank Rome, Covington Burling, Gibson Dunn, Kelley Drye, Klein Zelman, Simpson Thacher, and Wilson Elsner, as well as groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights and Central American Legal Assistance.

The Justice Center thanks the volunteer attorneys for their great work: Gayle Argon, Heather Axford, Sitso Bediako, Rachel Beller, Caroline Bishop, Kenneth L. Bressler, Alejandra Diaz, Elizabeth Doisy, Selina M. Ellis, Debra Gordon, Andrew Hambelton, Ryan F. Harsch, Beth D. Jacob, Emma Jones, Jasmine Kaufman, Jeffrey Lieberman, Serena G. Liu, Esmeralda Musailov, Lois Ottombrino, Elizabeth Plimpton, Jude Rickman, Mustafa Rizvi, Joe Ronca, Dan Shim, Sophia Solovyova, Kathleen T. Sullivan, Emily Weinig, and Mia M. White.

Thanksgiving Sunday found another band of hearty volunteers out in the Rockaways with Lynn M. Kelly, Executive Director of the City Bar Justice Center.  This team staffed both the FEMA tent and the YANA site and helped 8 clients with similar legal problems to the first weekend.  Great thanks to Kathiana Aurelien, Sitso Bediako, Denise Calderon-Barrera, Keith Cantrelle, Tanisha Creel, Adeeb Fadil, Ling Kong, Windy Lawrence, Marisa  Robecindo, Alan Rothstein, Frank Weigand and Jeremy Wilson for volunteering in the Rockaway community on Thanksgiving weekend.  NYC Bar General Counsel Alan Rothstein made his second visit out to volunteer to help.

The first weekend in December, Alice Morey, Managing Attorney at the City Bar Justice Center brought a group of pro bono volunteers to the NYC Restoration Center at Arverne in the Rockaways.  We were pleased to be inside and warm with bathrooms and wi-fi.  The case mix is beginning to shift to insurance and FEMA denials as well as landlord tenant questions.  Many thanks to our volunteers Barbara Opotowsky from NYC Bar, Priva Rghavan and Danielle Gill from Skadden and David Rochelson and Chris Vena from Simpson Thacher.

Our goal now is to arrange regular pro bono staffing at the NYC Restoration Centers which are located in impacted areas in collaboration with other bar associations, private law firms, corporate counsel, law schools and alumni associations through the end of 2012 and thereafter if needed.  If interested in helping with this effort, please contact Mae Fang at



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