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Lawyers Volunteer Assistance to Victims of Shooting at N.Y. Immigration Services CenterLawyers mobilized by the New York State Bar Association went to Binghamton, N.Y., last week to give free legal advice to families of 13 persons slain by a gunman at an immigration services center April 3. Lawyers assisted with estate, guardianship, visa and immigration issues. However, the greatest need was for help in accessing counseling and other services, according to a former bar association president, who says she found a home care aide for a woman whose daughter -- her primary caregiver -- was killed in the attack.
New York Law Journal2009-04-13 12:00:00 AM
Lawyers mobilized by the New York State Bar Association traveled to Binghamton last week to provide free legal advice to the families of 13 persons slain by a lone gunman at an immigration services center on Friday, April 3.
Seven members of the State Bar's Mass Disaster Response Committee from Brooklyn, Rochester, Albany, Orange County and Long Island joined local attorneys in assisting the victims, 10 of whom were immigrants.
In addition, seven experienced immigration lawyers were available by phone to counsel victims.
The effort was coordinated by Maria Lisi-Murray, a member of the disaster response committee. Last year's bar association president, Kathryn Grant Madigan, though not a committee member, also was involved in helping the victims' families. Both Madigan and Lisi-Murray are partners at Levene Gouldin & Thomson, in Binghamton.
More than 300 people gathered on Friday in Binghamton, which is about 140 miles from New York City, for a memorial service.
"We have suffered a tremendous loss," said a weeping Mayor Matt Ryan on Friday. "We lost family. We lost friends. We lost colleagues. We lost neighbors. Our peace was shattered."
Jiverly Wong, 42, killed 11 immigrants attending classes, a substitute teacher and a case worker in a matter of minutes, before shooting himself fatally. Four others were critically wounded. Thirty-seven students and employees at the American Civil Center escaped the ordeal unharmed.
Wong, an immigrant from Vietnam, had himself taken English language classes at the center.
At least three lawyers manned a hastily organized center at a local hotel each day from Sunday, April 5 through last Wednesday, Madigan said.
The lawyers worked with representatives of the Broome County Mental Health Department, the state Crime Victims Board and counselors from the Red Cross.
Madigan said lawyers in the area and town officials also worked closely with federal officials, including staff members of Vice President Joseph R. Biden, to expedite the issuance of visas to victims' family members so they could arrive in time for funerals.
Attorneys also sought the officials' help in slicing through the bureaucracy at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to obtain information to clarify the status of surviving family members and to expedite their immigration-related applications.
Madigan said U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer announced at a Binghamton press conference that he would introduce legislation to grant citizenship to all the victims retroactively.
Howard W. Gordon, an attorney who heads governmental relations at the immigration law firm Fragomen, Del Rey, Bernsen & Loewy, said he had been in touch with his contacts at the State Department to push the bureaucracy to work as fast as possible to grant visas.
So far, Gordon said, relatives of about a half dozen victims have arrived in Binghamton.
Madigan said that she was able to quickly ascertain from immigration officials that one victim's asylum application had been granted, which secured the ability of the woman's two young children to remain in the country.
The victim's husband also was killed in the attack, so Madigan is attempting to have her brother appointed as the children's guardian. She said an effort is being made to expedite the brother's asylum application.
The lawyers helped the victims' families with estates and guardianship issues, Madigan said, but the greatest need was help in finding needed services and counseling. She said she had been able to find a home care aide for a woman whose daughter -- her primary caregiver -- had been killed.
A lawyer living in the Binghamton area, Xibai Gao, who himself had immigrated from China, responded to an e-mail sent from State Bar President Bernice Leber to lawyers in the Binghamton area asking for volunteers fluent in foreign languages.
Gao, after spending a great deal of time with the father of one of the victims, was able to persuade him to forgo an important Chinese custom and not to view his daughter's body because her wounds were so gruesome.
The seven members of the mass disaster committee who traveled to Binghamton to give advice to victims' families were: Robert J. Saltzman, the committee's head, who works at the grievance committee covering lawyers in Brooklyn and Queens; Mark Ochs, the committee's vice chairman who is a lawyer with the grievance committee in Albany; Mark Masini and Paul Novak, both solo practitioners on Long Island; Michael Philip Jr., who is also an attorney with the grievance committee in Albany; Howard Protter, of Jacobowits & Gubits in Orange County; and David A. Tennant of Nixon Peabody in Rochester.