The Nassau County Coalition Against Domestic Violence recently honored approximately 50 attorneys who have volunteered their time to help secure divorces for nearly 60 victims of domestic violence since October 2009.
At the same time, however, the coalition is scrambling to secure alternative funding to keep the pro bono program going when the grants that helped launch it expire in September.
The coalition started its Legal Resource Network with two federal grants totaling $700,000. The money allowed the coalition to start a website—www.legalresourcenetwork.org—organize training and produce forms and other necessary materials for attorneys unfamiliar with the complex challenges of representing domestic violence victims.
The cases, which include complicated child custody and support issues, “generally take longer because most abusers are about power and control and they’re used to having everything their way,” said Lois Schwaeber, director of legal services at the coalition. And victims “need a lot of TLC and attention because most have not been making decisions on their own, so they need to have long conversations about their options.”
The network’s activities have been “extensive and has been terribly successful,” she said. With pro bono attorneys supplementing the coalition’s five staff attorneys, the waiting time for services has been cut to a few months from two to three years, she said.
However, while the federal money covered start-up costs, the Legal Resource Network still needs about $75,000 a year to pay the salaries of two staff members. Without the money, those staffers would be laid off, and Ms. Schwaeber said she fears the result would be that the network would lose the ability to recruit what it estimates could be 25 additional pro bono attorneys a year, and some current volunteers could drop out.
David Mejias, a managing partner at family law firm Mejias, Milgram and Alvardo in Glen Cove and Hempstead, one of the coalition honorees, has worked with the group for 14 years and acts as a mentor for other volunteers.
Mr. Mejias said that network staff play a vital role in not only recruiting attorneys but also in vetting cases and assigning and following up with clients. Their presence has made the coalition “a much bigger force for change,” he said.
Ms. Schwaeber said that the coalition has applied for several new grants, but noted that most grants focus on getting pilot programs up and running and are less interested in donating additional money to sustain them.
“Just to pay salaries doesn’t inspire people to give money,” she said.
The Nassau County Coalition Against Domestic Violence sponsored a reception for pro bono attorneys at the Hofstra University Club, Hempstead, N.Y.. Left to right: Lois Schwaeber, director of legal service for NCCADV; Cheryl Helfer-honoree; Freda Wagner-project manager; Nassau County Judge Edward A. Maron; retired Nassau County Judge Lea Ruskin; and Joseph Harbeson-honoree.
NYLJ Photos/Rick Kopstein
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