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Peggy Earisman named as Director of expanded Manhattan Program for Legal Services to the Poor; Cornett Lewers to chair board of directors

Monday, December 19, 2005

  • Organization: LSNY

The Legal Services for New York City (LSNY) Board of Directors has selected Peggy Earisman as the Project Director for its new Manhattan borough-wide program, which combines Harlem Legal Services and LSNY-Manhattan. Cornett Lewers will serve as Board Chair of the new program.

The newly combined Manhattan program was created to provide more effective delivery of legal services to low-income residents of Manhattan who face rising unemployment, a growing chasm between rich and poor, and a critical lack of affordable housing. The program will have offices in Harlem and lower Manhattan.

The merged staff of the new program brings enormous expertise and vast experience, having provided free civil legal representation to thousands of low-income residents of Manhattan for more than four (4) decades. They have helped children who aren't receiving the child support they are entitled to; victims of domestic violence who need help and safe haven; people with AIDS and HIV; and the elderly, who need help fighting eviction or unsafe living conditions.

Ms. Earisman, who served as Interim Project Director of LSNY-Manhattan from January 2003 until her new appointment, is "excited about moving forward to create an enhanced Manhattan-wide program that will offer a broader range of services to our clients and communities." After graduating from Columbia University School of Law in 1980, Ms. Earisman began her career as a Housing Law attorney with the Passaic County Legal Aid Society in New Jersey. She joined LSNY in 1992 as the managing attorney of a LSNY-affiliated office on Manhattan's west side. Over the course of her long and distinguished career, she has worked to provide high quality legal services in a way that reflects communities' needs and desires. This includes representing public housing tenants and the Public Housing Residents of the Lower East Side (PHROLES) in seeking to enforce their rights to grievance procedures and to retain their homes; obtaining federal land to construct transitional housing for homeless families; and helping assert the voices of low-income communities in the Lower Manhattan rebuilding effort after the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack through representation of the Rebuild Coalition. In recognition of her work, in 1988 Ms. Earisman received the James B. Larsen Award as Staff Attorney of the Year for Legal Services of New Jersey, and in 2001 she was awarded a Legal Services Award from the New York City Bar Association.

Cornett Lewers, who will chair the Board of Directors of the newly merged program, began serving as Interim Director of Harlem Legal Services on a pro bono basis early in 2005. Before working at Harlem Legal Services, Mr. Lewers was most recently Vice President and Associate General Counsel with Starwood Hotels, and he plans to return to the private sector after stepping down as Interim Director. Prior to the merger, Mr. Lewers had been Chairman of the Harlem Legal Services Board of Directors.

Damaris Reyes, Executive Director of Good Old Lower East Side, Inc. (GOLES), a neighborhood housing and preservation organization serving Manhattan's lower east side, expressed excitement about the reorganization of the Manhattan program, and the selection of Ms. Earisman. "Low-income people in Manhattan are desperate for more legal help, especially as the rich/poor income gap continues to widen and affordable housing disappears. With her extensive legal experience and deep ties to the Manhattan community, Ms. Earisman is positioned to lead a program that will serve as a vital component of the network of support services low-income New Yorkers depend on."

Andrew Scherer, LSNY's Executive Director, echoed these sentiments. "After an extensive national search conducted with the assistance of a LSNY-wide search committee, Ms. Earisman was chosen from a field of excellent candidates because of her extraordinary commitment to high quality community based legal services, and her enormous depth of experience, legal talent and leadership abilities. LSNY also owes a great debt of gratitude to Cornett Lewers for his incredibly generous pro bono commitment to the program during this transition period and as we move forward. Together, Peggy Earisman and Cornett Lewers will no doubt develop the newly merged program into a premiere source of legal assistance for the low-income communities of Manhattan."

About LSNY

LSNY is a coordinated network of programs throughout New York City that offers free civil legal services to people who have nowhere else to turn. With almost 200 attorneys working out of nineteen offices in all five boroughs, LSNY provides free help on cases involving housing, family, domestic violence, public benefits, income tax, employment, education and economic development. LSNY's programs include Bedford-Stuyvesant Community Legal Services, Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A, LSNY-Bronx, LSNY Brooklyn Branch, LSNY Staten Island, Legal Services for the Elderly, the LSNY Legal Support Unit, Queens Legal Services, South Brooklyn Legal Services and the newly merged Manhattan program. Funding for the LSNY programs comes from the Legal Services Corporation, grants from the city, the state and federal agencies, private foundations, United Way of New York City, and the New York State Interest on Lawyers Account Fund.

For more information, contact Edwina Frances Martin, LSNY's Director of Communications,

at 1-646-442-3586,, or visit our website at


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