Attorney Emeritus Program (AEP) volunteers have been active in pro bono legal service at legal service providers throughout New York State. Emeritus attorneys come from diverse backgrounds – as private practice attorneys, corporate general counsel, and judges, for example – and many have no prior experience in the areas in which they are now volunteering. The stories on this page present just a few examples of the great work being done by AEP volunteers.
Legal Services for the Elderly, Disabled or Disadvantaged of Western New York, Inc. (LSED)
LSED provides free civil legal services to some of the most vulnerable members of our society: seniors, people with disabilities, and low-income people. LSED also provides guardian services to 102 low-income seniors. Most of LSED’s wards have been the victim of elder abuse by family members and are isolated and alone at the time they are referred to LSED.
One elder abuse case is now being handled by an AEP volunteer, Joel Brownstein, who is a litigator in private practice. Mr. Brownstein’s client had amassed a comfortable retirement savings before becoming critically injured in a car accident. The client became incapacitated and was sent to a skilled nursing facility for care. An acquaintance of the client wrongfully acquired power of attorney over the client, who had a diminished mental capacity, and subsequently stole about $300,000 from the client. Eventually, LSED was appointed as the client’s guardian and began elder abuse litigation on the client’s behalf, and Mr. Brownstein is working to repair the damage and is seeking criminal prosecution and civil restitution on behalf of the victim.
Mr. Brownstein received an award for his pro bono service at LSED’s annual Champions of Justice Bash, a fundraiser for legal service providers in the Buffalo area. LSED is delighted to have Mr. Brownstein volunteer as an Emeritus attorney!
New York City
Legal Aid Society’s Second Acts® Program
Attorney Emeritus Program attorneys have been volunteering with the Legal Aid Society’s Second Acts® Program. The Legal Aid Society has been awarded a three-year leadership grant by the Pro Bono Institute to establish Second Acts®, a national model for integrating transitioning and retired attorneys into their second careers as public interest law volunteers. Second Acts® attorneys use their legal talent and expertise in all of The Legal Aid Society’s practices: acting as mentors to staff, working with law firm associates in the Society’s extensive pro bono programs, helping Society staff manage special projects, volunteering part-time in a community or court-based office, or handling a specific number of matters annually.
One AEP attorney, Roger J. Hawke, has provided pro bono legal services through Second Acts®. Mr. Hawke, a retired partner at Sidley Austin LLP and a recipient of the Legal Aid Society’s Second Acts® Award, is an exemplary model for continuing a lifetime of dedication to the law while serving the public good. During the past three years he has volunteered two days a week with the Brooklyn Office of the Aging, providing outstanding legal assistance to low-income elderly Brooklyn residents and expanding the office’s scope of services.
A highlight of his outstanding pro bono work was the representation of an elderly veteran, which exposed a scam to fraudulently gain title to the client’s home and steal his life savings of $25,000. The client had met an “advocate” in Family Court who had offered to assist him with a child support case. Believing that she was helping him, the client gave personal documents to the “advocate,” including the deed to his home. Unbeknownst to the client, the “advocate” forged the client’s signature on a transfer deed and on a power of attorney form, enabling her to withdraw funds from the client’s bank account. Mr. Hawke initiated two successful New York State Supreme Court actions to have the forged deed expunged and the wrongfully taken life savings returned to the client. The case was covered by the New York Daily News, in which Mr. Hawke stated, “It’s so easy to take the property away but so difficult to correct it.” Fortunately, AEP volunteers like Mr. Hawke are working with the Second Acts® program to correct the injustices facing low-income New Yorkers.
Volunteer Legal Services Project, Inc. of Monroe County (VLSP)
VLSP provides free legal help to low-income residents of Monroe County who are facing non-criminal legal problems. VLSP is a non-profit pro bono agency that refers cases to lawyers for full representation on a pro bono basis, operates several limited legal advice clinics, and offers a consumer law hotline. Attorney Emeritus Program volunteers have been instrumental in helping VLSP provide legal services to low-income clients in a variety of practice areas.
One AEP volunteer, Gary Van Graafeiland, has been active in VLSP’s Wills and Estates Clinic and has also accepted numerous wills case referrals as well as standby guardianship case referrals. Before joining the AEP, Mr. Van Graafeiland was general counsel of Eastman Kodak and had no prior experience in trusts and estates law. He became comfortable drafting wills and other documents after receiving training and support from VLSP. Since then, he has helped many low-income people put their wishes in writing, giving them comfort that their families’ future will be protected.
Another AEP volunteer, retired Judge Patricia D. Marks, has volunteered with VLSP’s Family Law Clinic and is now helping VLSP develop and implement a wills clinic for veterans. As a County Court Judge in Monroe County, Judge Marks had worked extensively in veterans’ issues, and, after her retirement, she has continued to help veterans get the legal services they need. Dedicated AEP volunteers like Judge Marks and Gary Van Graafeiland have been leaders in pro bono service at VLSP.