Law firm steps up to aid reentry

Recently I was speaking with Matt Benjamin, a lawyer at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP in New York, who told me about a very important pro bono effort that he and his colleagues at the firm launched two years ago to serve clients in the “Alternatives to Incarceration” programs of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York.  While the clients are generally represented in their criminal cases by public defenders, they frequently need help with a variety of civil issues, from employment and housing to immigration and family law issues.

Because I think this path-breaking effort should serve as a model for other law firms and law schools around the country — just as the Eastern District’s ATI programs should serve as a model for other federal courts — I wanted to provide more information about it here.

In January 2014, attorneys from Gibson Dunn’s New York office began providing pro bono representation to clients in the “Alternatives to Incarceration” programs inaugurated by the federal district court in Brooklyn.  The most recent report on these admirable programs describes them as offering both pre-trial and post-sentence mitigation opportunities for certain criminal defendants. Specifically, two programs are pre-sentence supervision programs that focus on criminal defendants who have pleaded guilty to a crime and are awaiting sentence: the Pretrial Opportunity Program (POP), a drug court, and the Special Options Services (SOS) program, which provides intensive supervision for certain youthful offenders. The other program, known as the Supervision to Aid Re-Entry (STAR) courts, is a post-sentence drug court focusing on supervisees with documented histories of substance abuse who are attempting to re-enter their communities at the conclusion of a prison term.

Participants in these programs consistently face legal challenges that are separate from their criminal cases, and which create additional barriers to the participants’ successful reentry and rehabilitation. Gibson Dunn’s pro bono program seeks to address those civil barriers. Lawyers from the firm’s New York office committed to provide pro bono representation to participants in the POP, SOS, and STAR programs on a wide range of civil collateral matters, including issues concerning housing, employment, public assistance benefits, immigration, professional licensing, transactional matters, and family law issues.  They may also want to apply for certificates of relief from disabiities.

Gibson Dunn attorneys regularly attend each program’s monthly court dates.  When a need for formal representation of a program participant in connection with a collateral civil matter arises, the client’s criminal attorney (generally the Federal Defenders) refer the matter to Gibson Dunn attorneys, who are then directly retained by the program participant.

During the past two years, for example, Gibson Dunn attorneys have prevented a client and her family’s eviction from public housing and obtained significant rental assistance; negotiated the asset sale of a troubled business; obtained a reduction in a significant child support arrears; and represented a client in a federal denaturalization proceeding.  All told, Gibson Dunn attorneys have formally represented or consulted with more than 25 defendants.

For any law firm or law school clinic exploring ways to assist your federal district’s ATI efforts, reach out to Matt for more information at mbenjamin@gibsondunn.com.

Margaret Love

Former U.S. Pardon Attorney Margaret Love represents applicants for executive clemency in her private practice in Washington, D.C.. An author of Collateral Consequences of Criminal Convictions (NACDL/West), she created and maintains the NACDL Restoration of Rights Resource and serves on the enactment committee of the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act.

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