VLJ is excited to announce two new legal programs this year. The Veterans Legal Wellness Clinic is the first legal services clinic to be held regularly at the East Orange VA Hospital and is the newest program in our Veterans Legal Program. VLJ is proud to partner with the legal departments of BASF and Panasonic, as well as the law firms, Day Pitney LLP, Nukk-Freeman & Cerra PC, and McGuire Woods LLP on this ground-breaking new program. In this clinic, volunteer attorney teams conduct holistic intake interviews of veterans – to get to the root legal issues that plague the veterans served. Volunteer attorneys provide advice and brief service when possible and refer cases needed fuller representation to VLJ’s other programs or other legal services providers. It is hard to believe that this week will mark our 4th clinic where we are serving on average 15 veterans. Kaleia Edmundo and Michelle Smith are the talented VLJ staff leading the new program and the response from the veteran community has been overwhelmingly positive.
The Tenancy Clinic is our second new program and it is co-sponsored by Prudential and Lowenstein Sandler. In Essex County alone, there are over 40,000 eviction proceedings filed each year. Shockingly, in less than 1% of those cases, the tenant is represented by an attorney. With that rate of self-representation, the resulting eviction rate is not surprising. The Tenancy Clinic is designed to provide legal assistance to low-income tenants who have an eviction matter pending before the court. The legal teams review complaints filed by landlords, develop affirmative defenses and draft proposed settlement agreements for clients.
JP was a client who faced eviction for nonpayment of rent, all because his monthly social security income arrived after the 1st of the month when rent is due. A heart problem and subsequent medical bills depleted JP’s savings and caused him to live month-to-month. As he described, anyone can be just one moment away from financial ruin. Thanks to the clinic volunteers from Lowenstein Sandler and Prudential who negotiated with the landlord's attorney, JP avoided paying excessive court costs and late fees, and arranged a payment plan in accordance with his social security benefits schedule. JP was shocked that there were attorneys to help him for free and grateful to remain in his Irvington apartment.
Karen Robinson and Nestor Almeida are doing a fantastic job leading this new program and we hope to be able to expand the program later in the year.