Currently Available Pro Bono Opportunities
Listed below are pro bono opportunities currently available for referral. All pro bono referrals are made on behalf of Legal Aid’s clients, whose cases have been screened by our attorneys for legal merit and financial eligibility. In the overwhelming majority of cases, Legal Aid continues as Attorney of Record, and law firms and their attorneys serve as Of Counsel. A Legal Aid attorney remains on the case as a mentor until final disposition.
NOTE: These opportunities are only available to attorneys affiliated with firms that have an established pro bono relationship with The Legal Aid Society.
Please browse the current opportunities below, listed by category, and contact Andrew Childers, Pro Bono Administrator Pro Bono Practice, at email@example.com or (212) 577-3919 if you are interested in learning more about one of these matters.
Civil Court Litigation
Homeless Rights Unit--Article 78 Challenging FOIL Denial By New York City
Assistance is needed to bring an Article 78 to challenge the refusal of two City agencies to respond to FOIL requests for data regarding how many homeless families have moved from New York City Department of Homeless Services (DHS) shelter to New York City Housing Preservation & Development (HPD) housing. At a time of record homelessness, the City is failing to use all of the resources at its disposal to move families from shelter into taxpayer financed affordable housing. As a result, City shelters remain overcrowded, at City expense, causing particular hardship to disabled residents. Although prior administrations prioritized moving homeless families into City funded permanent housing, the Mayor recently stated he would not agree to match historic levels of set asides. The City already has thousands of units of City-funded permanent housing set aside for this purpose, but very few homeless households have been able to move into it.
In order to hold the City accountable for these practices, advocates at Coalition for the Homeless, whom Legal Aid represents, filed Freedom of Information Law requests to request data on the number of homeless households (single adults and families) that have actually moved in to a HPD/HDC/City-financed affordable housing unit designated as a homeless set-aside unit each year from FY 2015 to FY 2018. One request was denied and one is pending. Assistance is needed to file an Article 78 proceeding petition in New York Supreme Court to obtain these records.
Pro Bono Counsel Needed To Represent Physically Disabled Woman in Federal Court Disability Appeal in EDNY
The client in this matter is a Spanish-speaking woman in her fifties who suffers from lumbar degenerative disc disease and complications from a hysterectomy. She suffers from severe pain and needs help from her family to do nearly all household tasks and must accompany her everywhere. Before these conditions prevented her from working, the client worked as a home health aide. Her applications for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income were denied on February 22, 2014 and she had a fair hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) over two years later, on April 12, 2016. The ALJ issued a decision denying the woman’s benefits. The ALJ gave “very little weight” to a note submitted by her treating physician stating that the patient was “totally permanently disabled”. The ALJ found the note conclusory and the doctor did not respond to a subpoena asking for additional supporting records. The ALJ ruled that the client presented herself as more limited than her actual functioning but failed to consider the regulatory factors required in determining a claimant’s credibility regarding their subjective symptoms of pain.
The Appeals Council denied the client’s appeal despite a submission of additional evidence from her doctor dated November 15, 2016, finding that it was not relevant since it was dated after the ALJ hearing decision. The Appeals Council failed to consider whether the treating physician intended the opinion to cover the time prior to the ALJ decision. On February 15, 2018, the client filed a pro se appeal in Federal Court in the Eastern District of New York. We are now seeking pro bono assistance in representing this client in District Court.
The main issues for appeal are: 1) The Appeals Council’s failure to consider additional evidence - the doctor’s report did not indicate that his patient’s disabilities had not existed prior to the date of the report and 2) The ALJ failed to consider the regulatory factors in determining that the client’s statements about her severe pain lacked credibility.
The client has submitted a request to the Court, with a letter from Legal Aid, asking that she be given until October to respond to the government’s motion to dismiss. The AUSA on the case does not oppose such an extension, but the Court has not made its decision regarding the request to extend. The Society assisted this client in getting her benefits on a new application, so if she prevails on the appeal, she will receive retroactive benefits as well.
Man Seeks Assistance Recovering His Bike from Storage Facility
The Legal Aid Society represents a man in a criminal case who, during the course of his arrest, had his motorized bicycle taken from him by law enforcement. He was recently sent a Notice of Lien and Sale indicating that he had the option to pay several thousand dollars to get his bike back. The Legal Aid attorney found that the police never vouchered the bike into evidence, but rather, sent it to a private garage, which we have learned has a contract with NYPD as part of the “Rotation Tow program.” A notice of the impending lien should have been served on our client within five days of towing and storage, but months passed before it was sent him.
Our client is not able to afford to pay several thousand dollars for the return of his bike. We believe, based on case law, that absent a timely statutory notice, the owner is only liable for towing and not storage. This would bring the cost of retrieving his bike down to approximately two hundred dollars.
We are seeking pro bono assistance to help this client get his bike back.
Social Security Disability Hearings
Stroke Victim With Fibromyalgia and Severe Headaches Seeks Assistance with SSI Hearing
In 1993, our client came to the United States from the Dominican Republic and became a legal permanent resident in 2011. Prior to coming to the United States, she completed 9th grade in the Dominican Republic. She worked as a home health aide for five years, but stopped because she was suffering from headaches, which are a result of a stroke she suffered in 2006. These headaches occur on a monthly basis and each time, cause her to lie down for about an hour. She has also had surgery to remove blood clots from her brain. Approximately a year and a half ago, our client was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, which causes her to feel pain throughout her entire body and limits her functioning. She does not take the subway alone, has difficulty going up and down, and is scared to be around crowds. Two years ago, our client also began suffering from depression. She does have children who assist her with cooking, shopping, and cleaning. She does not speak English.
We are seeking pro bono assistance to represent our client at an SSI hearing on October 5th.
29 Year Old Victim of Domestic Violence Seeks Assistance at SSI Hearing
Our client is a 29 year old survivor of domestic violence who completed high school as a special education student. At the age of 16, she worked as a cashier, but was fired for not being able to accomplish tasks fast enough. After that, she sold maps in Central Park for four years but on one occasion a man touched her face, she reacted negatively and subsequently quit that job. Our client also worked as a medical assistant from 2014-2015, but the demands of the job caused her to have anxiety attacks and she left that position, after which she received unemployment benefits. Additionally, she was abused by her ex-boyfriend, against whom she now has a restraining order and suffers from PTSD and depression. She also has trouble sleeping and sees both a therapist and a psychiatrist. In 2015, she attempted suicide and spent a week in the hospital.
We are seeking pro bono assistance to represent our client at an SSI hearing on October 5th.
PROTECTING THE RIGHTS OF WORKERS
Long Time Employee with HIV Illegally Terminated Based on Perceived Disability and Sexual Orientation Discrimination
The Legal Aid Society represents a man in his thirties from Uganda who worked for a permanent mission to the United Nations (the Mission) of a foreign country as a security guard/concierge, initially part-time, then full-time from 2001 until he was terminated on April 30, 2015. His duties included, but were not limited to, conducting routine checks of the premises, ensuring entry and exit procedures for both visitors and staff, reporting irregular activity or violators of policy and procedures, and preparing weekly reports to the supervisors. In or around 2010, our client began experiencing severe symptoms as a result of taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) for his diagnosed human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). At that time, he fell ill more frequently, but he had no problems taking days off from work to go to the doctor or otherwise treat his symptoms.
In 2013, a new manager was responsible for supervising all of the security guards. This new manager frequently made harassing and discriminatory comments towards our client and threatened to fire him on several occasions. Beginning on April 10, 2015, the client’s condition worsened, but he continued to work for fear of further harassment from his manager. With permission, the client left work early to see his doctor on April 14, 2015. Again, with notice to and authorization from his managers, the client was only able to work for two days during the period of April 14 and April 30, 2015. However, on April 30, 2015, the client received a termination letter, specifying that the reason for termination was that he failed to report for duty “without reasonable excuse” from April 14-April 30, 2015, despite his having informed his supervisors and received their approval. He also had a balance of 21 days to be taken as leave.
The Mission’s reason for terminating our client was clearly a pretext and the client has a legitimate claim for disability/perceived disability and sexual orientation/perceived sexual orientation in violation of the New York State and New York City Human Rights Law. Pro bono assistance is needed to file an action in New York State Supreme Court on behalf of this client. The volunteer attorney working with a senior Legal Aid employment attorney, will have an opportunity to engage in fact development, draft pleadings and memorandum, participate in discovery and motion practice, conduct negotiations, prepare parties and witnesses for trial, and represent the client in all court proceedings.
Low-Income Tenants Seek Pro Bono Counsel To Bring Enforcement Proceeding Against Unscrupulous Brooklyn Landlord
The Legal Aid Society along with other legal services providers have joined forces with the City of New York to establish the Tenant Rights Coalition (TRC), an anti-displacement and tenant protection project focusing on supporting specific New York City communities facing rapid gentrification. The program was created to provide legal assistance to low-income tenants who are being harassed by landlords who are trying to take advantage of zoning changes to force out tenants.
Legal Aid TRC attorneys in Brooklyn began working with a group of five tenants in December 2016 to help them obtain much-needed repairs in their apartment building and filed a group Housing Part Action (HP) in Brooklyn Housing Court based on the lack of heat, hot water, and gas, among other issues. On January 10, 2017, the building owner entered into a consent order to restore all of the essential services to the building by January 21, 2017 but never complied with the order. Legal Aid filed its first motion for contempt shortly thereafter. On March 10, 2017, New York City Housing Preservation & Development executed a Vacate Order in the building because of the continued presence of those conditions which led to five of our clients being displaced. On March 29, 2017, Legal Aid’s motion for civil contempt was calendared and moments before the hearing was due to take place, Legal Aid learned that the building owner had set up a straw sale and sold the building to a new entity the night before. Nevertheless, the Housing Court judge heard the motion and found the prior building owner in civil contempt of the consent order, and ordered it to pay civil penalties.
Months went by and still no repairs were made. Legal Aid subsequently engaged in substantial motion practice to implead the new building owner to the HP proceeding and filed a second motion for civil contempt in October 2017. After a two day hearing in December 2017, the Housing Court judge found the new building owner in civil contempt and ordered it to pay civil penalties based on its failure to comply with the January 2017 consent order. The Court also found that the new building owner engaged in unlawful tenant harassment and ordered the building owner to pay monies each to two of our clients, and to complete all repairs necessary to lift the vacate order by July 2, 2018. Despite all of this, the building owner has utterly failed to act. None of the necessary repairs have been made and none of the judgments issued by the Court have been satisfied. Pro Bono counsel, working with an experienced Legal Aid TRC attorney, is needed to file an enforcement proceeding in Kings County Civil Court or Kings County Supreme Court on behalf of these tenants in order to collect the outstanding monies and ensure that the necessary repairs to the building are made.
Pro Bono Counsel Needed To Defend Bronx Couple in Foreclosure Proceeding
Legal Aid’s clients in this matter are a married couple with an autistic child who are first-time home purchasers. The husband works part-time but expects to work full-time soon; his wife stays home to take care of their child. On February 7, 2014, the couple purchased a house from a company that had purchased the property in February 2013 from another company that had previously purchased the property from an estate in November 2012. The clients financed their purchase with a Federal Housing Authority (FHA) mortgage loan.
After moving into the property, the pipes burst and the purchasers discovered numerous violations previously issued by the Department of Buildings (DOB) that had resulted in very substantial fines that were all of public record prior to the closing. The violations included, among other things, work done without a permit for gut renovation, work not in conformance with approved plans and/or zoning regulations, the filing of a false statement and an extension added without approval. The violations have never been cleared. In addition to the DOB violations, the home has a leaky roof and the basement floods due to issues with the foundation.
Our clients were represented at the closing by an attorney whose license is currently suspended due to issues unrelated to this matter. He failed to identify the DOB violations and/or make sure that the seller company corrected them. At the request of our clients, this attorney filed an action against the seller company without naming the principals. The company had gone out of business and in 2016 the attorney obtained a default judgment against the company. Due to the problems and conditions with the house, our clients had trouble keeping up with the mortgage payments. In 2016 they obtained a loan modification of their FHA mortgage on which they defaulted almost immediately. The lender commenced foreclosure proceedings in Bronx Supreme Court in 2016 which were stayed after the couple filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in 2017. The stay was subsequently lifted as the clients were not able to sustain bankruptcy payments. The lender has requested the Court schedule a settlement conference date. Legal Aid believes that these clients may have potential defenses to the foreclosure action in addition to third-party claims against the seller, their closing attorney and possibly against the originating lender. There may also be title claims involved. Pro Bono counsel is needed to represent these clients in their foreclosure proceeding. The volunteer attorney, working with an experienced Legal Aid foreclosure attorney, will have an opportunity to engage in fact development, draft pleadings and memorandum, participate in discovery and motion practice, conduct negotiations, prepare parties and witnesses for trial and represent the defendants in all court proceedings.
Real Estate Attorney Needed To Prepare Executor’s Deed For Disabled Client
The Legal Aid Society represents a man who resides in a condominium apartment in the Parkchester section of the Bronx that is currently in foreclosure proceedings. Our client inherited this home and is the sole heir, however, he is on a fixed income, is disabled and receives SSI so he needs financial assistance to pay the arrears due on the apartment. His plan is to apply to the Mortgage Assistance Program (MAP) for this financial assistance but MAP requires that our client have title to the apartment before he can apply for a loan. Pro bono counsel is needed to draft an executor’s deed in our client’s name so that title to the apartment can be transferred to him. Although The Legal Aid Society will not be co-counsel on this matter, a staff attorney from our Foreclosure Law Unit will be available for consultation related to this matter. Interested law firms will sign a letter of engagement directly with the client and serve as independent counsel.
Victim of Domestic Abuse Seeks Assistance Applying for a U Visa and/or a T Visa
In November 2016, our client came to the United States from Nigeria on a tourist visa with her husband. While they were living in Nigeria the husband was physically abused his wife but she never called the police because they wouldn’t do anything. Upon arriving in the United States, they went to live in the Bronx with her husband’s family, who treated her as a servant, forcing her to cook, clean, and do laundry. If she did not do as she was told, the family got angry, called her useless, insulted her, and threatened to kick her out of the house. She felt she had no choice but to comply. Additionally, her husband forcibly removed her clothes and raped her. In August 2017 he punched his wife in the stomach while she was three months pregnant. She called the police, but when they were about to arrest him, she declined to press charges. After the police left, her husband’s mother kicked our client out of the house, rendering her homeless. She moved in with a stranger who found her on the Staten Island ferry. In December 2017, the husband went to Staten Island and began to harass the client. She called the police, but he left before they got there. Our client is seeking pro bono assistance applying for a U Visa, based on domestic violence, and/or a T Visa, based on domestic servitude, sexual servitude, and possibly debt peonage.
Counsel Needed for Mandamus Action on Behalf of Immigrant Seeking Naturalization
Legal Aid represents a man in his fifties who came to the United States thirty-three years ago from Alexandria, Egypt on an F-1 visa. He resides in New York City with his wife, a naturalized U.S. citizen and their four native born U.S. citizen children. Our client has worked as a driver for various employers since 1998 and his wife is a homemaker. She was born with birth defects and has had two hip replacement surgeries. The only benefits the family receives are Medicaid and food stamps. Although he has no criminal record, our client was placed in removal proceedings after complying with requirements of Special Registration. Legal Aid represented him in his removal proceedings and sought non Legal Permanent Resident(LPR) cancellation of removal relief, which he was granted along with an adjustment of status on February 28, 2007. Our client subsequently applied for naturalization on April 9, 2015, three years ago. He was interviewed on March 9, 2016, passed the civics exam and was then advised his application was pending awaiting security clearances. His application has now been pending for over two years. Several unsuccessful inquiries have been made regarding the status of our client’s naturalization application; we believe that the unreasonable holdup in conducting the background checks could be tied to his specific country of origin. Pro bono counsel, working with an experienced Legal Aid immigration attorney, is needed to file a writ of mandamus in order to force the FBI to perform the background checks and USCIS to process our client’s application.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR TRANSACTIONAL ATTORNEYS
Transportation Company in Brownsville Seeks Document Review and Contract Assistance
Our client is a seasonal transportation business servicing adults and children from pre-k to high school in the Brownsville, Brooklyn neighborhood. NYC Census statistics state that 37% of Brownsville residents live below the federal poverty level; it is the poorest neighborhood in Brooklyn and the seventh-poorest neighborhood in NYC. As a transportation business servicing this community, our client is providing reliable drop-off and pick-up services to programs and schools to facilitate an easier transportation process for adults and children in the Brownville community.
We are looking for a firm to assist the organization with the following:
(1) Review of entity documents;
(2) Review, edit and/or draft contracts, waivers and releases to be utilized with the parents, caretakers, schools, and other entities interacting with the consumer/client;
(3) Review, edit and/or draft vendor and employee agreements.
Nonprofit Coalition Seeks Guidance on Displaying Photos On Website
A nonprofit coalition of 45 organizations working to secure justice in NYC housing courts by advocating for the right of tenants to have experienced, skilled representation in housing court seeks assistance with determining whether the coalition is able to use a group of photos in an online history of the tenant movement in NYC.
The coalition seeks advice in connection with its plan to display copyrighted images as part of an online pictorial history of New York’s tenant movement. The plan is to display approximately 75 photos and the coalition has received permission orally or via email to use approximately half of the total number of photos. However, it is not clear what use is contemplated beyond displaying the images online. The other half are stock photos or images already displayed on the internet. The coalition does not have permission or a license from the copyright owners of any of these photos, but some of these photos may be Creative Commons images.
The following assistance is requested:
• Advice as to whether the coalition should prepare and propose a simple, but broader license agreement to those parties who have consented orally or via email to allow the coalition to display approximately 35 photos in its online pictorial history;
• Assistance with the drafting of such a licensing agreement should it be deemed appropriate;
• Advice and counsel regarding whether Creative Commons’ licenses and/or the Doctrine of Fair Use would permit the coalition to use any or all of the additional images.
NEW YORK STATE PARDON INITIATIVE FOR IMMIGRANT CLIENTS FACING REMOVAL
Guyanese Father of Two Seeks Assistance Applying for a Pardon
Originally from Guyana, our client has been a Legal Permanent Resident since 1990. He has two children, and one grandchild, all of whom are United States citizens. His daughter recently graduated with her bachelor’s degree and is now working on a master’s degree in social work. His son just graduated from high school and is planning to start college this fall. He also has a stepdaughter who works at a nursing home. He is currently separated from his wife and they are in the process of getting a divorce. Our client is currently living with his father, who is a United States citizen who owns a building, which our client helps manage. He used to work as a building inspector for New York City, but has been on disability for the past six years because he has a pinched nerve in his spine that causes pain in one of his legs.
Our client seeks a pardon of his conviction for bail jumping in the second degree in 2000, which an Immigration Judge has found to be an aggravated felony. He has been ordered removed by the Immigration Judge, who denied our client’s argument that his conviction did not constitute an aggravated felony. This decision was appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), but it was dismissed. He then filed a Petition for Review (PFR) to the Second Circuit, but the Circuit remanded the case to the BIA, per the agreement of both parties, but not on the merits of the argument. The BIA again dismissed the appeal. A second PFR is currently pending with the Second Circuit.
While we believe we have a good argument as to why the BIA erred in its decision to dismiss, the arguments for why the conviction is not an aggravated felony are not as strong. In light of that, we are seeking assistance applying for a pardon for our client. He was acquitted of all of the underlying charges on the bail jumping conviction but because of the conviction he is not able to seek cancellation of removal. A pardon would allow him an opportunity to apply for cancellation of removal and to present his case to the Immigration Judge.
The client does have an arrest history, but his convictions are relatively minor. Apart from bail jumping, he has convictions for driving without a license, second-degree harassment, and official misconduct. His bail jumping conviction is the only one charged as a deportable offense. We are seeking pro bono assistance to apply for a pardon for our client.
TRUSTS & ESTATES
Granddaughter Seeks Assistance to Access Inheritance Left to Her Father
Nineteen years ago, our client’s grandfather passed away and, unbeknownst to her, left an inheritance to his two children, her father and her uncle. Prior to the grandfather’s death, however, our client’s father had died. In April of this year, her uncle contacted her and told her of the inheritance. He also told her he was moving out of town and wanted to leave her the money from her father’s portion of the inheritance. However, our client believes that her uncle has been living off his portion of the monies for the past nineteen years, and is now trying to tap into her father’s portion of the inheritance. She also believes that the document he asked her to sign would have resulted in her turning over her rights to the inheritance. Our client is seeking assistance reviewing the document, and gaining access to the portion of the inheritance that was originally left to her father. Although The Legal Aid Society will not be co-counsel on the matter, a Legal Aid attorney will be available for consultation. Interested law firms will sign a letter of engagement directly with the client and serve as independent counsel.