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Pro Bono Attorney Alyson Villano Recognized for Work With Partners

October 18, 2013

 

Pro Bono Award Recipients Make it a Practice to Give Back

New Jersey Law Journal 

Two commercial litigators, in Parsippany and Newark, and a South Jersey law firm are this year’s winners of the New Jersey State Bar Association’ Pro Bono Award, honoring attorneys for exemplary public service.

One of the lawyers aids families by representing developmentally disabled family members in guardianship proceedings, while the other helps victims of domestic violence. The law firm performs a variety of tasks for indigent clients filing for bankruptcy. 

They will be recognized at the state bar association’s Annual Pro Bono Conference on October 29 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the New Jersey Law Center in New Brunswick. Here is a look at who they are and what they do 

Paul R. Marino, a partner at Day Pitney in Parsippany, specializes in franchise litigation and professional negligence matters. Since January 2012 he and other Day Pitney attorneys have served as the court-appointed representatives of 37 individuals, in coordination with the nonprofit SCARC Guardianship Services, Inc., of Sussex County. SCARC provides guardianship and community trust services to individuals with developmental disabilities. 

Marino forged the connection after his sister-in-law, who sits on the board of the SCARC Foundation, told him about families who could not afford to become legal guardians of their disabled children. When intellectually disabled individuals turn 18 they become adults in the eyes of the law, no matter how severe their disability. Should their parents wish to continue assisting disabled children, they must become their legal guardians. While SCARC could file a guardianship petition on behalf of parents, it lacked the resources to provide a lawyer for the child. In many cases the guardianship never moved forward, creating difficulties in medical emergencies. 

“I said, ‘Look, let me see what I can do.’ I’m fortunate to work in a place where there’s a commitment to pro bono work, and they let me run with it,” he said. 

Marino’s job is to assess the adult child’s ability to make decisions. In his very first case he represented a 19-year-old woman described as functioning at the level of an 8-year-old. “She was autistic and had some development disabilities that caused her to be very anxious about the meeting. It was very tiring for her, God bless her, as the meeting went on she opened up more and more,” he said. “She described living at home and wanting to go away to college. The family was looking for ways to make it happen.” 

His work with families has given him new perspective. “It’s exposed me to all sorts of issues I’ve never had to deal with. These are just very loving families who want to do what’s best for their child,” he said. “You have to understand many of our clients are corporations. In this work the personal interaction is very rewarding. More than anything, it’s a breath of fresh air.”

“One man can make an extraordinary difference in the lives of people in need and for us, Paul Marino is that man,” wrote Linda McConville of SCARC, who nominated him.

 

Alyson Villano is an associate at Patton Boggs in Newark whose practice focuses on products liability and toxic tort claims. She has worked for the Domestic Violence Pro Bono Legal Representation Program – a joint project of the Partners for Women and Justice and the Rachel Coalition – since 2008.

She first learned about the opportunity from a fellow attorney who had represented a client for the Partners group. “I went to an all-women’s college and am very interested in women’s issues. Our firm encourages us to find a pro bono cause that speaks to you, so I contacted Partners and had a training. Once I got my first final restraining order, I was kind of hooked,” she said.

Although she was familiar with the issue of domestic violence, Villano, 33, had not seen any cases up close. She was disturbed to find many of her clients were quite young. “I’ve been assigned a number of clients under the age of 21, many pregnant. Some have grown up in households where domestic violence has occurred. It’s their norm, their reality,” she said. “Seeing this is upsetting, obviously, but it’s also made me want to be involved that much more.”

Villano has logged hundreds of hours representing victims, mainly in Essex County. “Working with victims of domestic violence can be exhausting, and ‘compassion fatigue’ is not uncommon. Despite this, Alyson continues to enthusiastically accept new cases,” wrote Michele Lefkowitz and Suzanne Groisser, who nominated her.

Villano said the reward lies in ensuring a client’s safety and breaking the cycle of violence.

One of her most memorable cases involved a married woman, with a baby, who had very strong religious beliefs. Her husband physically and sexually abused her. Although she wanted to leave, her family pressured her to stay. “She stayed in this bad situation for a long time due to her religious beliefs, but finally found the strength to go against her whole family. Once she got the order she was completely on her own, but it was so important for her to raise the baby in a safe environment,” Villano said.

 

Subranni Zauber, a full service firm with an emphasis on bankruptcy insolvency, has been serving indigent clients of South Jersey Legal Services in Camden for over two decades. In addition to accepting direct referrals, it has participated since 1993 in the Pro Bono Bankruptcy Project, a collaboration of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the local bankruptcy bar, and the Rutgers University School of Law – Camden.

“Subranni Zauber LLC has proven its commitment to the delivery of quality legal services to the poor by the countless hours of service donated,” wrote Michelle T. Williams of South Jersey Legal Services. Because Legal Services has suffered drastic cuts in funding, it would not be able to represent indigent clients in Chapter 7 bankruptcy filings without help from volunteer attorneys, she said.

Co-managing partner Scott Zauber, of the firm’s Marlton office, became involved in the project around 2003, soon after joining the firm. His clients are similar to those he represents in his private practice, only poorer. Many live barely above the poverty line, haven’t any assets, and are carrying debt. When a crisis such as job loss or serious illness occurs, “They drown,” Zauber says.

 “I like what I do, and it’s nice to help people, so I have a warm fuzzy feeling even when I’m helping business people with millions of dollars,” he said. “But the law students we help train and Legal Services are all good people. And it does make you feel good when you have a client that gives you a hug.”