Guest Post from Doug Sheff: MBA Protects the Vulnerable

Doug Sheff

I have worked for years with other attorneys to represent the underrepresented. We have done a great deal to assist those less fortunate, the most vulnerable throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and beyond. The following describes some of our work when I served as President of the Massachusetts Bar Association:

The association spearheaded pro bono representation of the Boston Marathon bombing victims, many of whom are still struggling. These include victims of traumatic brain injury, and others with injuries that are not visible and difficult to diagnose. We raised funds for and support the Pine Street Inn Project in the hope of creating a new facility there. We raised funds and helped distribute food to 2,000 hungry people before Thanksgiving. We were able to help those who otherwise would have had very little to celebrate on a holiday so many of us take for granted.

Our “Working Families” and “Justice for All” initiatives are particularly focused on creating safe and fair conditions for workers. Drawing on our collaborative nature, we created the Workplace Safety Task Force and brought together attorneys and professionals from medicine, business, insurance, occupational health, academia, government, labor, etc. The Task Force has educated the public, throughout Massachusetts, on issues ranging from fall hazards—the leading cause of death of workers in my state—to the dangers of prescription drug addiction as it relates to disabled workers on medication. The Task Force and the Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) spearheaded an effort in our legislature which resulted in a new law signed by Governor Deval Patrick that protects 100,000 workers annually.

The MBA, along with worker groups, finally prevailed in creating justice for workers after nine previous attempts by others had failed. Along with fair wages, workers are ensured a higher level of safety. We are currently working to advance a bill which would raise burial benefits for the families of deceased workers, as well as a bill which protects domestic workers, often the victims of abuse. Our Workplace Safety Task Force has become a model for virtually every other state in the country. We recently received an award for innovation and community service by a national non-profit organization representing the interests of millions of workers across the country.

We see much attention paid to professional athletes who have suffered from traumatic brain injury (TBI), but hear little about the 2.4 million in this country, with far fewer resources, who have endured the same. These people go misdiagnosed and unattended. In our military alone, there are 22 suicides per day linked to TBI. The MBA is now actively in the process of establishing a Traumatic Brain Injury Task Force, educating the public and attorneys about this silent epidemic, as well as seeking to collaborate with others in an attempt to facilitate assistance to those in need who are victims of TBI and its consequential conditions.

Our Consumer Advocacy Initiative is a new and exciting component of our work, and seeks to serve as a clearing house for information and legal rights for those who are treated unfairly by big business and powerful interests who would abuse those less fortunate without the means to defend themselves. These efforts include protecting the victims of predatory lending, defective products, and unscrupulous corporate behavior. We also seek to acknowledge businesses that are responsible and supportive of consumers.

The Massachusetts Bar Association has always taken strong and positive positions on issues concerning women, children, the elderly, and sexual orientation. We have developed an entire program devoted to access to justice for the underprivileged. We are proud to represent the underrepresented. I am proud to have served as President of the MBA, an organization that demonstrates that attorneys do great things for our families, our communities, and justice.



Posted on December 30, 2014 at 6:52 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Ohio Lawyer Helps First Responders

Blaine writes a will for Montgomery Co. Sherriff's Office Chief Deputy Streck and his wife.

Blaine writes a will for Montgomery Co.     Sherrif’s  Office Chief Deputy Streck and his   wife.

“My Father served in the military— that is the benchmark I use for giving back,” says Ohio trial and firearms lawyer Erik R. Blaine. Throughout the year, Blaine volunteers his time as the lead attorney for the Dayton Wills for Heroes program by preparing wills for first responders, and teaching other lawyers how to provide this service.

The program is known nationwide as Wills for Heroes, and the Dayton Bar Association is now in its sixth year of helping members of the Ohio law enforcement community plan for emergencies and the inevitable future. In June 2014, Blaine and the other Dayton volunteers celebrated the drafting of the 1,000th will for the first responder community.

Blaine (L) at press conference with Dayton Bar Assoc. Executive Director William Wheeler, and the recipient of the 1000th will.

Blaine (L) at press conference with Dayton Bar Assoc. Executive Director William Wheeler, and the recipient of the 1000th will.

“It’s a phenomenal program,” says Blaine. “The families can come back any time to make updates to reflect their growing or changing needs. I’ve gotten to know the families, and it’s important to be involved in the community that has given me and my family so much.”

The issues he works on with the families include health care decisions, designating power of attorney, and ensuring that responders’ children will have a guardian.

“You don’t need to be an estate planner to lend a hand. At the training sessions for lawyers, we walk them through the process and partner those who are new with lawyers who have experience with the project,” says Blaine.

The Wills for Heroes program started shortly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when attorney Anthony Hayes emailed his local fire department in Columbia, South Carolina, to see how lawyers could help the fire department. He discovered that what the group needed was help with estate planning.

The program now serves first responders across the country. Qualified first responders include firefighters, police officers, paramedics, corrections and probation officers from federal, state, county, city and town departments and agencies.

Posted on December 29, 2014 at 8:12 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

FL Firm Provides Free Car Seats

On National Seat Check Saturday, Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, in partnership with Safe Kids Palm Beach County and Bridges at Highland donated 100 child safety seats in Lake Worth, Fla. The event was organized to support a new law that will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015, requiring all children in Florida up to the age of five to travel in a child safety seat.

Carseats for the community

Car seats for the community

Over the past four years, the Florida office of Cohen Milstein has hosted events throughout South Florida to provide families with free child seats. Since this campaign began in September of 2011, over 500 car seats have been donated to families in needy communities including Belle Glade, Boynton Beach, Indiantown, and Riviera Beach.

The firm’s products liability attorneys originally launched this car seat campaign to address a failure in Florida law. Through the work they do to help injured individuals and families, the attorneys had witnessed the tragic aftermath when children were catastrophically injured because they were not properly secured in an appropriate child safety seat. A child’s body is often not developed to withstand the force of a seatbelt, and most vehicle manuals indicate that the back seat of a vehicle is not designed to provide protection to a child in the event of a crash. 

The “forgotten child” is a term given to these types of cases where children are catastrophically injured or killed because the seatbelt fails to protect them. Florida had the weakest child passenger safety law in the nation, despite recommendations from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that children need to ride in a booster seat until at least 4’9′, 8 -10 years old, or approximately 80-100 pounds.

For several years, the firm, led by partner Leslie Kroeger, engaged in a coalition comprised of almost 100 different public service and first responder organizations dedicated to passing a bill that would increase the child safety standards in Florida. In the spring of 2014, their efforts prevailed, and elected leaders in Tallahassee passed a new law which will require children ages five and under to be secured in crash-tested, federally approved child restraint devices.

Kroeger said, “We launched this campaign to ensure children are protected, parents are educated and the legislature assumed its responsibility to safeguard the ‘forgotten child.’  This bill raises Florida’s standard for child safety and implements lifesaving measures for our most precious cargo. ”

Posted on December 19, 2014 at 9:06 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Dallas Firm Offers Scholarships to Students Affected by Cancer

hopeSimon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett, PC, is offering up to $50,000 in annual scholarships for Dallas County students whose lives have been disrupted by cancer.

The Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett Scholarship Fund of Communities Foundation of Texas will be awarded to selected Dallas County high school seniors planning to attend college in fall 2015. Students attending a Dallas County public or private school may apply if they or an immediate family member has or recently has had cancer. The scholarship is for one year, although students may re-apply for it in subsequent years.

“Cancer is a life-changer, but for those students who are looking to pursue higher education, it shouldn’t be a deal-breaker,” says David C. Greenstone, a founding shareholder at the firm, which represents people who have suffered from various types of cancer, including cancer caused by toxic substances or pharmaceuticals. “As trial lawyers, we have represented countless cancer victims and their families. If we’re fortunate, we are able to help provide them with some financial security. But many cancer victims and their families have nowhere to turn, so we wanted to find a way to help them and give something back to our community.”

Applications for the scholarship will be available in February 2015, with a spring submission deadline. Once applications are available, students can submit an online application through the Communities Foundation of Texas at Applicants will be required to set up an account before submitting an application.

As part of the online application process, students must submit a 500- to 1,000-word essay describing the hardship cancer has caused them, as well as two letters of recommendation. Applicants must be U.S. citizens or documented legal residents of the United States, have at least a 3.0 GPA and a minimum SAT score of 1300 or an ACT score of 18, and demonstrate financial need.

Posted on November 20, 2014 at 3:50 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Puget Sound Attorney Creates Template for Disaster Relief

Finalist:  2014 TLC Award

Michael Fisher: Finalist for the 2014 TLC Award, American Association for Justice

In the summer of 2012, the Ellensburg agricultural area of Eastern Washington suffered the Taylor Bridge Fire which swept through a highly populated area burning commercial and residential structures and displacing many families. The fire moved quickly due to high winds and dry conditions and the fire crews struggled for weeks to get control of the fires. Numerous livestock, including horses, cows, goats, and dogs were separated from their homes and owners.

Local volunteers set up food, water, and shelter for displaced residents and gathered livestock and transported them to the safety of the fairgrounds, which eventually contained hundreds of animals that needed to be fed, watered, and cared for every day. 

Michael J. Fisher reached out to his fellow trial lawyers in the Washington State Association for Justice (WSAJ) asking for donations to buy and transport supplies to assist the fire crews, displaced residents, and animals in Ellensburg. Within three days, WSAJ members donated $5,000 for relief supplies.

Fisher, an attorney with Rush, Hannula, Harkins & Kyler, L.L.P., used the donated funds to buy pallets of livestock grain, lead ropes, halters, fly spray, feed buckets, and more to assist with the care of the rescued livestock. He also bought six pallets of cases of bottled water and a large variety of food, blankets, and other relief supplies for displaced fire victims. Several trucks and trailers delivered the supplies to Ellensburg within five days of the start of the relief effort, including unloading the bottled water for the fire crews at the local fire station.

Aside from greatly needed supplies, a group of trial lawyers provided free legal consultation and representation for fire victims, and spread the word to the local community to contact a volunteer lawyer for assistance with any fire-related legal issues. Fisher particularly focused on how to avoid scams and abusive insurance company tactics until speaking to a lawyer.

With a family history of equine involvement, Fisher was motivated to help the livestock and their owners.

“More than the monetary donations and relief supplies, I was surprised that the biggest impact this project had was in stopping scammers from being able to take advantage of fire victims while vulnerable,” said Fisher.  “I heard through anecdotal evidence that the availability of volunteer lawyers effectively eliminated the scammers from taking advantage of people.”

 Through the Taylor Bridge Fire relief effort, the WSAJ established a template to provide similar relief and assistance in future disasters. More recently Oso, Wash., was struck by a large mudslide that took out an entire community and killed 41 people. Using the disaster relief template, a group of volunteer trial lawyers organized and spread the word that trial lawyers were ready to provide free legal services to assist mudslide victims. The template is now place for future disasters.

“On an individual level,” said Fisher, “Every person who received free legal assistance, I believe, will maintain a different view of trial lawyers as a result of this effort.”

Posted on November 11, 2014 at 7:02 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Pop-Up Clothing Shop Serves People in Need

Most of us take for granted that we have the appropriate clothes to wear to work, to stay warm, and to feel good about ourselves. But that’s not the case for people in need who depend on the social service system to inch by.

Jill Aschkenasy was an Assistant District Attorney in Manhattan when she was exposed to the daily struggles facing the underserved in this country. Once her four children were school age, she decided it was time to serve, and spent two years talking to people within the Philadelphia social service community to determine what needs were not being met. She discovered that clothing, a most basic need, was in short supply and obtaining clothing was also mired in a maze of roadblocks and referrals.

Ms. Aschenasy founded Our Closet in 2012. It acts independently from other social service agencies and no referrals or paperwork are required to participate.

The goal of Our Closet is to meet a basic need for the underserved so they can confidently focus on handling other stressors such as securing a steady source of income, child care, or finding permanent housing solutions. ourcloset2

Our Closet runs “pop-up shops” that simulate a true shopping experience but the only difference – all items all free. Shoppers receive individualized attention from volunteer sales associates and are treated with dignity. Clothing is displayed on tables and hanging racks, transforming partner-provided spaces into small boutiques. The donated clothing is clean, quality merchandise that is sorted like a traditional store – by gender, by age, by item, by season.

Every Tuesday, men, women, and children line up to receive an entry number; each week from 100 to 150 individuals are served; and more are often turned away. About eight to 10 people may enter the pop-up store at one time and they are assisted by volunteer shopping associates who help people choose up to five items. There are dressing rooms and mirrors and stacks of clothing, shoes, and accessories. Every “shopper” is treated respectfully.

Making an Impact on the Community

While living in a nearby men’s shelter, Aaron first came to Our Closet during autumn 2012. Though clothing may have been his magnet, he quickly began getting involved by helping to set up and take down the store and explained the services to others in need. Week after week, Aaron would come to the shop, sometimes gathering five items for himself or his family, and other weeks, simply helping other shoppers find items for themselves.

In November 2012, during the annual Our Closet Coat Day, a gentleman named Virgo rushed in; he was from the same shelter as Aaron, but had custodial duties that prevented him from arriving earlier. Virgo was disappointed that after more than 400 coats were distributed, there were no coats remaining that fit him.

Aaron decided to help. He reached into his own shopping bag and handed Virgo the beautiful shearling coat he received an hour earlier from Our Closet. That moment was incredibly powerful, and tapped into the immense level of generosity, self-awareness, and connection Aaron had in relation to Our Closet. Aaron was needy, but he was so appreciative that Virgo cleaned the very shelter where Aaron himself resided, that he felt the urge to say thank you.

Shortly after this incident, Aaron stopped visiting Our Closet. However, a new shopper, who introduced herself as Aaron’s mother, shared that Aaron had secured a job nearby, and suggested that she come to Our Closet while facing a period of instability.

Aaron had fulfilled his basic need of clothing; used his time, energy, and money wisely; and found gainful employment. He had moved on, but expressed his gratitude and continues to refer others to Our Closet.

The current weekly pop-up shop is based out of LIFT-Philadelphia, an anti-poverty organization in West Philadelphia. Our Closet has recently expanded its partnerships to host additional pop-up shops in other neighborhoods.

An average of 50 bags of clothing are collected every month. Volunteers range from local high school students, community groups, and their parents, to professional groups looking to plug into the community. Partners help collect clothing donations, host donation days, and expand the donor base.

A long range plan is for Our Closet to be like a mobile pantry but with free clothes, instead.

How to help

Men’s large sizes and all men and women’s sizes are needed; shoes are especially needed.

  1. If you live/work in the Philadelphia area, collect clothing donations from coworkers and friends, volunteer to sort clothes.
  2. Start a clothing drive in your own community.
  3. A tax-deductible financial donation helps to sustain pop-up locations.




Posted on October 16, 2014 at 6:08 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Vermont Association for Justice: Cornerstone Stories Project


Joel Feldman (on right) with  VT Gov. Peter Shumlin

Joel Feldman (on right) with VT Gov. Peter Shumlin

The Vermont Association for Justice (VTAJ) recently hosted its Cornerstone Stories Project, a day of inspirational speakers featuring AAJ member Joel Feldman, the founder of End Distracted Driving. Also speaking were Gov.  Peter Shumlin, former Gov. Madeleine Kunin, Chittenden County State’s Attorney, authors, and business leaders.

The speakers shared how they overcame challenges and repeated failures, and how they persevered and became successful, often against all odds.

Thank you, VTAJ, for hosting this exceptional event, providing inspiration to adults and students in attendance, and for donating the modest admission fee to a charity. And thank you, Joel Feldman for sharing your post about the event.

Read Joel’s summary here.

Posted on September 19, 2014 at 5:57 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Ohio Lawyers and the Honor Project

The Dworken & Bernstein firm in Ohio inspired a judge to create a funding program for local charitable organizations.

When the Ohio Attorney General brought a class action against several large insurance companies, the case settled and there were class members who could not be located (for example, they may have moved or died). Instead of that unclaimed settlement money going to back to the insurance companies, the judge, John Russo, created “The Honor Project Trust” to redirect the money — $6.3 million — to Ohio charities that needed it.

Judge Russo had previously attended an event hosted by Dworken & Bernstein where the firm distributed over $14 Million dollars to local charities following a case against a large insurer that had overcharged people for uninsured motorist coverage. That event, and the concept of redirecting the money, stuck with the judge. When he had the opportunity after the Attorney General’s case, he moved forward with “The Honor Project Trust” and asked the Dworken &  Bernstein firm administer the distribution of funds, which the firm did for free.

Patrick Perotti

Patrick Perotti

Attorney Patrick Perotti heads the class action division of Dworken & Bernstein. He has taken the lead in founding and operating Ohio Lawyers Give Back through which he  uses the doctrine of cy pres to direct millions of dollars each year to charities and nonprofits.

Mr. Perotti is a member of the American Association for justice (AAJ) and and was a nominee and finalist for AAJ’s 2014 Trial Lawyers Care Award. On November 7, 2014, Mr. Perotti will be presented with The Ritter award from the Ohio Bar Association.  The Ritter is the highest honor awarded by the Foundation, given to recognize a lifetime of service. The award recognizes the accomplishments of the honoree in attaining and promoting the highest level of professionalism, integrity, and ethics in the practice of law while assisting other attorneys, the courts, and the public to envision and cause changes which improve the justice system in Ohio.


Posted on September 12, 2014 at 6:58 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Rebuilding Homes in New Jersey

When New Jersey trial lawyer Chris Placitella saw what remained of the Union Beach neighborhood after Superstorm Sandy, he knew he wanted to help.

“It’s only a couple of miles from my office. Homes were completely gone – swept into the ocean. It felt right to help there,” says Placitella. Placitella called his friend Wade Martin. The two friends previously worked together after the attacks on September 11, 2001, to assist families who needed help rebuilding their lives.

“When Chris calls, I go running,” says Martin who is a senior vice president with Morgan Stanley. “If people can get along in the world and work together, we can really help those who need it. When you have a network to call on, you can figure out better, more efficient systems to help people.”

Placitella and Martin started making phone calls.

“We called Governor Christie’s office, and met with the Union Beach Town Administrator. We wanted to take this circumstance and create a template that could be replicated if there were a similar disaster in the future,” says Placitella.

Working with the town administrator, who is also trained as an architect, they came up with a design that used modular homes that could be built in two weeks and installed – on top of ten-foot stilts – in two days. Placitella explains that there were many groups and individuals involved.

Among other helpers and volunteers was the town administrator who secured a grant through a Hurricane Sandy relief fund; two different modular home companies that built the homes at a discount; the New Jersey State Bar Association which provided free legal assistance and guidance for immediate legal needs to members of the public; and Placitella’s law office which sent an attorney from his office to be stationed for a year at the Union Beach Town Administrator’s office to help answer residents’ questions.

These combined efforts, plus backing from the Robin Hood Foundation and Governor Christie’s wife, Mary Pat Christie, resulted in the first 15 new homes going up by June of 2014.

Posted on July 24, 2014 at 6:03 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0

Georgia Trial Lawyers Collect Over 47,000 Pounds of Food for Georgia Food Banks

Two weeks of competition among lawyers and legal organizations in Georgia has resulted in their raising the equivalent of 1,140,672 pounds of food for Georgia’s regional food banks and partner agencies. The Georgia Trial Lawyers Association (GTLA) collected and raised the equivalent of 47,506 pounds worth of non-perishable food items. GTLA placed second among the 270 teams that competed in the 2014 Georgia Legal Food Frenzy for the top food and fund raising spot.

“I am tremendously proud of the generous contributions of so many Georgia trial lawyers during this year’s Legal Food Frenzy,” said GTLA President Linley Jones. “We firmly believe that hunger is not just an issue of charity; it is an issue of justice. Our members have dedicated their careers to helping those in need, and it is only fitting that these efforts are extended beyond the walls of the courtroom and into deserving communities across our state.”

The food will be distributed by the Georgia Food Bank Association’s seven regional food banks across the state, which distribute food to 2,300 partner non-profits with assistance programs in all 159 counties throughout the state.

“We would like to congratulate the DeKalb Solicitor’s Office on being the only legal organization in Georgia to outraise GTLA in this year’s Legal Food Frenzy,” continued Jones. “More than one in four children in Georgia struggle with hunger, and the summer months are particularly vital for our community food banks. Almost 60 percent of Georgia’s children are enrolled in a free or reduced cost lunch program but less than 15 percent of them have access to the lunch program during the summertime. Through GTLA’s participation in the Legal Food Frenzy, we are able to do our part to keep food on the table for our state’s most vulnerable citizens”

GTLA geared up for the competition by ensuring that its members had plenty of opportunities to give. At the GTLA Annual Convention, lawyers were encouraged to bring non-perishable food items and contribute on site via computers that were dedicated for collecting electronic donations.

GTLA members could also contribute by dining out during the competition period at restaurants that donated 15 percent of the meal proceeds toward the Legal Food Frenzy. In addition, GTLA partnered with several GTLA members’ firms to provide convenient drop-off points around the state at which members could make contributions. And GTLA hosted a happy hour for which the entry fee was contributions of canned goods or a financial contribution for the Legal Food Frenzy.

Posted on June 4, 2014 at 4:56 pm in Community Outreach, General by kloiacono - RSS 2.0