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 firstname.lastname@example.org or (212) 577-3919 if you are interested in learning more about one of these matters.
PROTECTING THE RIGHTS OF WORKERS
Pro Bono Counsel Needed to Assist Former Superintendent and Victim of Disability Discrimination Facing Eviction
The Legal Aid Society represents a former superintendent of an apartment building in the Bronx. He worked as a superintendent for a year and a half, and as part of his compensation, lived in a basement apartment in the building with his wife and three young children. In February 2018, he was seriously injured on the job, and filed a claim with the Worker’s Compensation Board. As a result of his injury, he needed to have surgery which he underwent in May 2018 but continued working for several months prior to the operation. Initially his employer agreed to temporarily hire another superintendent while our client recovered from surgery, as a reasonable accommodation, but the employer fired our client instead.
Our client has a claim for disability discrimination in violation of New York State and New York City Human Rights Laws. We are seeking pro bono counsel to file and litigate an action in Supreme Court alleging disability discrimination. However, due to his loss of employment, our client and his family are also facing eviction. He has an active housing court case, in which we are awaiting a decision, so Pro bono counsel would also needed to file an Order to Show Cause seeking a stay of the client’s eviction proceedings in Supreme Court.
Washington Heights Building Superintendent Seeks Pro Bono Assistance With Retaliatory Firing and Unpaid Wages Claims
From October 2013 until July 2017 our client worked as a superintendent for two buildings in Washington Heights containing 61 residential units between them. Our client worked 7 days a week, sometimes over 12 hours per day doing work that fit into his duties as a superintendent, as well as non-super work, such as electrical work, replacing sinks, tiling floors, painting, demolition work, plumbing, and more.
Initially, his employer agreed to pay him roughly $1,500 every two weeks for his work in both buildings. However, he was paid less than $850 every two weeks for the entirety of his employment. Upon receiving his first paycheck, he noticed the discrepancy in his pay, and after approximately six months gathered the courage to raise the issue with his supervisor. His supervisor advised him to talk to the owner, who in turn advised him to speak to his supervisor. At one point when he asked his supervisor about part of his pay, he was told that he was not going to receive the payment because there was no work to do at one of the buildings, despite the fact that he was often required to complete tasks at that building.
In July 2017 he again raised the issue with his supervisor, asking when he would finally be paid correctly. His supervisor told him “never” and fired him immediately. At that time, he told his supervisor he was owed for the work he had done, and his supervisor responded that our client was owed nothing, and that he would never pay him.
We believe our client was fired in retaliation for asking to be paid properly for his work. He is currently in housing court with a stay pending the outcome of the New York State Department of Labor claim. He also has a pending claim with the New York State Department of Labor Anti-Retaliation Division and the New York State Department of Labor Labor Standards Division.
While this matter is currently pending with the New York State Department of Labor, we wish to bring a case in State or Federal court in order to litigate and resolve all of our client’s legal claims. We believe our client has claims for unpaid wages and retaliation under the Fair Labor Standards Act and the New York Labor Law. We are seeking pro bono assistance filing and litigating this case.
Intellectually Disabled Immigrant Needs Counsel to Contest Deportation in Immigration Court
The Legal Aid Society is seeking assistance representing a nondetained client at a hearing in Immigration Court in April. Our client is a 43 year old, undocumented man from Mexico. His native language is an indigenous language called Mixteco, but he also speaks fluent Spanish. He came to the United States in 2001. Since 2004, he has lived in the same apartment in upper Manhattan with his sister, her partner, and his sister’s children. He has worked as a cook at small restaurants to support himself, contribute to his household, and to send money to his parents and two daughters in Mexico. In 2002, he was charged with assault in the second degree under New York Penal Law 120.05(1). He and his two friends allegedly got into a fight outside of a bar, and assaulted someone. He later pleaded guilty to that charge, and received a one-year jail sentence. While that case was pending, a court-appointed psychologist evaluated him and diagnosed him with (i) Adjustment Disorder and Mixed Anxiety and Depressed Mood, and (ii) Mild Intellectual Disability. A psychologist concluded that our client likely became involved in the event primarily to fit in with his peers, and as a result of alcohol. He noted that if he abstains from alcohol and avoids the company of a negative peer group, his prognosis is positive.
Since that time, our client has continued to live with his sister and her children, and work to help support himself and his family. He has been arrested for misdemeanor offenses, all of which relate to his poverty (turnstile jumping), lack of immigration status (e.g., using an alias), and alcoholism. In November 2015, ICE came to his family’s apartment early in the morning, arrested him, and put him in removal proceedings. In July 2016, an Immigration Judge held a bond hearing and set a $1,500 bond, under which he was released from custody. He is now applying for relief from removal based on a fear of being harmed in Mexico. His fear is based principally on the facts that (i) a police officer in Tlapa De Comomfort, Mexico, raped his sister in 1998, and (ii) one of his brothers was shot in killed in that same town in Mexico in 2002. His sister believes that the police officer who raped her was responsible for the murder of their brother.
We are seeking pro bono counsel to represent our client at his nondetained merits hearing in Immigration Court scheduled for April 5, 2019, with a March 21st deadline for filing evidence.
Pro Bono Counsel Needed to File Habeas Petition and Preliminary Injunction Motion in New Jersey District Court on Behalf of Detained Guyanese Immigrant
We are seeking pro bono assistance on behalf of our sixty-six year-old client who has been detained for nearly six months in immigration detention without a bond hearing. Legal Aid’s client came to the U.S. from Guyana in 1975 at the age of twenty-three. In 1980, he married a U.S. citizen and became a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR). He has continued to live in the United States since then. Our client and his spouse separated after some years, and he subsequently formed a long-lasting relationship with another woman with whom he had two children. Sadly, in 2013 their daughter passed away and our client was granted legal guardianship of his grandson, a U.S. citizen. In 2017, our client decided to apply for naturalization. On July 17, 2018, he went to the USCIS office for his naturalization interview. Although he was administered and passed the U.S. history and government examination, he was given a notice that a decision could not be made on his application. A few hours later -- without any prior notice or warning – the client was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and placed into removal proceedings. He has been charged as removable under INA § 237(a)(2)(B)(i) and INA § 237(a)(2)(A)(ii), are based upon two convictions for Criminal Sale of Marijuana in 1997 and 2001, respectively. Although our client has a number of old criminal convictions (mostly related to past marijuana use), he has not had any contact with the criminal justice system in nearly a decade; the most recent was in 2010, when he got a ticket for riding a bicycle on the sidewalk.
Our client’s teenage grandson, for whom he is the sole legal guardian has learning disabilities and therefore requires the care, support, and presence of his grandfather. Additionally, our client’s partner suffers from multiple sclerosis and is critically ill; she was recently referred to hospice care. Since our client’s detention by ICE and forcible separation from his loved ones on July 17, 2018, he has not been able to see or care for his partner, whose death could be imminent. He has been held in "mandatory detention" for almost six months without any opportunity for a bond hearing, even though several courts of appeals have questioned the constitutionality of prolonged mandatory detention.
Legal Aid continues to represent this client in Immigration Court in New York and is exploring various avenues of relief that may be available, including Cancellation of Removal and Asylum. The trial date is set for May 20, 2019. Pro bono counsel is needed to draft and file a habeas petition and motion for preliminary injunction on behalf of this client in Federal District Court in New Jersey. Given that our client is detained, we are hopeful that the habeas and preliminary injunction motion can be filed before the end of January so that, if successful, a bond hearing can be held prior to his expected March trial date in Immigration Court.
Trial Ready Matter on Behalf of Non-Detained Immigrant in Removal Proceeding
Legal Aid’s client, a twenty-six year old man from Honduras, is a visa overstay who is currently in removal proceedings in Immigration Court. The matter has been marked ready for trial and is scheduled for July 23, 2019 at 26 Federal Plaza, New York, NY. The client is not detained, and is eligible for adjustment of status based on an approved I-130 immigrant visa petition filed by his US citizen wife. The government has argued that a prior burglary conviction is both an aggravated felony and a crime involving moral turpitude (CIMT). The Legal Aid Society disputes that claim. That issue has been briefed for the Immigration Court and we are awaiting decision. However, supplemental briefing is needed to make the court aware of a December 2018 unpublished Board of Immigration Appeals decision holding that the same burglary statute is not an aggravated felony. Additionally updated documents in support of the case (tax returns for last two years, additional evidence of good faith marriage, etc.) need to be submitted.
The matter is trial ready and a draft of the direct examination as well as a trial binder have already been prepared, although both need to be updated.
Pro bono counsel, working with an experienced Legal Aid immigration attorney is needed to represent this client at his individual hearing on July 23, 2019.
Client Seeks Pro Bono Representation on Action in Queens County Supreme Court To Keep Her Home of Almost Thirty Years
Legal Aid’s client’s former partner bought a coop apartment in 1990. The client moved in with him at the time of the sale but was never on the proprietary lease nor stock certificate. The partner left a few years later but the client has continued to reside there. The partner is currently in California and has given a power of attorney to an agent who is suing for possession of the apartment in Queens County Housing Court. Legal Aid continues to represent the client in her Housing Court case.
Our client then brought a lawsuit in Queens County Supreme Court which was initially filed in or around August 2017 by an attorney who has since passed away. The complaint alleges our client is an owner based on a theory of equitable trust which arises from her longstanding possession, occupancy, maintenance, financing, and improvements to the apartment over the last three decades. The defendant filed an answer, and the client pro se moved for a stay of the issuance and execution of the warrant in the related housing court case. Pro bono counsel is needed to represent this client on the Supreme Court case going forward. Although The Legal Aid Society will not be co-counsel on the Supreme Court matter, a housing attorney from our Queens Neighborhood Law Office, will be available for consultation related to the matter. Interested law firms will sign a letter of engagement directly with the client and serve as independent counsel.
Legal Research Needed To Determine Whether A Trust Can Be Counted as Income By Client with Intellectual Disabilities Whose SSI Benefits Have Been Discontinued
Legal Aid represents a sixty-one year old client with intellectual disabilities who received special education services as a child before leaving school without a high school diploma. He received Social Security Income (SSI) benefits his entire adult life until they were discontinued in April 2018. In April 2018, our client received a Notice of Ineligibility and a Notice of Overpayment. He did not challenge these notices timely and therefore does not have a pending appeal. It appears that the Social Security Administration (SSA )is counting trust assets from a trust created by our client’s mother, with the assistance of an attorney, as a self-proclaimed “special needs trust” for her son. It was clearly not intended to affect her son’s ongoing means-tested benefits and restrict his access to the resources held by the trust. The trustee is our client’s sister, who manages most of her brother’s affairs and has been struggling to provide for him since his SSI benefits were discontinued.
The primary legal issue is whether the trust is counted as a resource under SSA rules which would make this client ineligible for SSI benefits. Despite intention, it is unclear whether the instrument is valid and whether it excludes the resources from SSI accountability rules. If the trust cannot be counted, our client should be eligible for SSI benefits and be able to get his overpayment waived (even though he already missed the deadline for appealing the overpayment determination). If the trust can be counted, contradicting the intent of the drafter, there is a question as to whether anything else can be done to argue that the trust assets are excludable given our client’s mother’s intent and the relative inaccessibility of the trust. If the trust is not excludable, the client’s inability to access and/or understand the trust, should serve as part of the grounds for a waiver (no fault) of the overpayment.
An additional legal issue to explore is our client’s possible eligibility for Disabled Adult Child benefits due to the work records of his parents. Because his disabling intellectual impairments have existed since childhood, he could potentially be eligible for this benefit, which would not have the same resource limitation. However, given our client’s age, it might be extremely difficult to prove onset of the disability before 21 years of age.
Pro bono counsel, working with an experienced Legal Aid Disability Advocacy Practice attorney, is needed to undertake the research described above on behalf of this vulnerable client.