VLJ to Present Pro Bono Awards to AT&T and The Hon. Julien X. Neals at its 7th Annual Gala

Top Quote Event Raises Critical Funds for VLJ's Comprehensive Legal Services for Low-Income Individuals in N.J. End Quote
  • Newark, NJ (1888PressRelease) November 17, 2011 - At its 7th Annual "Arts & Eats for Justice Gala," Volunteer Lawyers for Justice (VLJ) will present the "2011 Pro Bono Leader Award" to the Hon. Julien X. Neals and the "2011 Pro Bono Award" to AT&T. This much-anticipated event will take place on Tuesday, Dec. 6, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Montclair Art Museum in Montclair, N.J. Each year, the Gala raises critical funds for the nonprofit's comprehensive legal services and programs for low-income individuals in New Jersey.

    "We would not be where we are today without the efforts of Julien and the volunteer attorneys of AT&T," said Karen Sacks, Esq., founding executive director of VLJ. "Our Gala affords us the perfect opportunity to celebrate and honor Julien and AT&T as well as all of our volunteers who dedicate themselves to our clients and our mission of equal justice for all."

    Established in 2001, VLJ has grown from a grass roots effort of 30 volunteer attorneys in Essex County to a state-wide 501(c)(3) not-for-profit corporation with six staff attorneys and more than 1,500 volunteer attorneys aiding thousands of clients each year. The 7th Annual "Arts & Eats for Justice Gala" will feature gourmet cuisine from the area's top restaurants, live jazz and a silent auction.

    Neals' Distinguished Legal Career Spans the Private and Public Sectors

    Neals currently serves as the City of Newark's Business Administrator and is the chair of VLJ's board of directors. For many years, he has played an instrumental role in the development of the non-profit's programs, specifically Newark Reentry Legal Services (ReLeSe). Created in partnership with Newark Mayor Cory Booker's administration, the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice and other community partners, VLJ's ReLeSe program helps low-income Essex County residents with criminal records address the civil legal barriers that serve as obstacles to their successful community reintegration.

    "The need for pro bono legal aid within our State has continued to grow," remarked Neals, who resides in Essex County. "With the help of its volunteer attorneys, VLJ answers that call time and time again, ensuring that all members of our community meet a level playing field within the legal system."

    A Former Chief Judge of Newark Municipal Court, Neals also served as Newark's Corporation Counsel. In that role, he managed the City's Department of Law and its expanding staff of approximately 45 full-time attorneys and 30 support staff members. Previously, he was with the law firm of Chasan Leyner & Lamparello, PC, in Secaucus, N.J., where he later became a partner.

    AT&T Formally Establishes Pro Bono Program

    In 2010, AT&T formally established a "Pro Bono Program" and expanded its commitment to VLJ. As such, AT&T attorneys have been providing pro bono legal counsel and limited scope representation to clients of VLJ's Newark Legal Advice and Resource Clinic for Consumers (NLARCC).

    VLJ established NLARCC in 2010 in response to the growing number of debt collection cases filed against low-income debtor-defendants in Newark. Through NLARCC, VLJ attorneys help under-served individuals address a wide range of concerns. Those include law suits by creditors or debt collectors to recover alleged debts, credit report issues and discrepancies, garnishments of wages, harassing calls and letters on debts, and frozen bank accounts among others.

    "Before VLJ created this consumer law clinic, many low-income individuals struggled under the burden of heavy debt with no where to turn for legal assistance," said Susan McGahan, Esq., a general attorney with AT&T in Bedminister, N.J. McGahan spearheaded AT&T's Northeast's Pro Bono Program and received VLJ's "January 2011 Pro Bono Attorney of the Month" award for her efforts.

    "At AT&T, we are proud to partner with VLJ on projects such as NLARCC and are truly honored to receive the 2011 Pro Bono Award," added McGahan.

    During the Gala, VLJ's former parent organization, Legal Services Foundation of Essex County, will present its annual "Dickinson R. Debevoise" and "Douglas S. Eakeley Awards" that evening, which will go to Merck & Co., Inc. and Kenneth Kunzman, Esq., a partner with Connell Foley LLP in Roseland, N.J., respectively. This year's honorary Gala chairs are Senator Frank Lautenberg and Senator Robert Menendez.

    To purchase tickets to the Gala, please visit VLJ's web site at www.vljnj.org. For more information on tickets and sponsorship opportunities, please contact Tracy Nelson at tnelson ( @ ) vljnj dot org or 973-645-1951, ext. 109.

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