The Project handles hundreds of cases each year. While there is no way to guarantee that every case will be a win for our clients, it’s important to us that both our clients and our volunteers have a positive experience from beginning to end. We survey clients and volunteers once a case is closed and follow-up with attorneys to make certain that everyone’s expectations were met throughout the process. Below are some of our recent client* success stories.
*Names of clients have been changed to protect their confidentiality unless they gave The Pro Bono Project permission to use their actual names.
For further information regarding The Pro Bono Project and its efforts, please email Executive Director Jennifer Rizzo-Choi or contact her at 504.581.4043.
The Pro Bono Project
The Pro Bono Project constantly deals with custody cases, many of which are stirring examples of the incredible differences that volunteer attorneys can make in the lives of their clients.
Terrence Batiste’s story is one of the many inspiring cases that validate the countless hours volunteers and staff members provide for The Pro Bono Project.
Terrence Batiste was faced with an incredibly difficult situation at the age of 24, when his ex-girlfriend refused to allow any real contact between him and his son, Jamhai, for the first four months of Jamhai’s life.
She denied Jamhai was Terrence’s son, and refused to allow a paternity test. Yet Terrence knew intuitively that Jamhai was his, and deeply regretted every day that he was missing from his son’s life.
By the time his son was six months old, Terrence had never spent even a full day with him, and was limited to watching his first months through photos on the internet.
His girlfriend attempted to avoid Terrence’s claim on Jamhai, by changing phone numbers, closing her email account, and only allowing Terrence to spend time with Jamhai while she supervised.
On top of attempting to deal these issues, Terrence was a full-time student at Southern University and paying child-support for Jamhai.
Finally, one of his mother’s friends recommended that Terrence seek help from The Pro Bono Project. With the help of The Project, Terrence’s paternity was established. Once the court affirmed that Jamhai was indeed Terrence’s son, his girlfriend could no longer deny his rights as a father. As a result, Terrence now has regular overnight and unsupervised visits with his son.
When asked about how he feels about The Project and his new relationship with his son, Terrence replied, “It’s amazing. I keep talking about [my experience] with everyone I know.”
by Stephen Griffiths, Jr.
Pro Bono Lawyer, Baker Donelson
Gwen D. was a single mother struggling to make ends meet in 2004. She took on employment as an administrative assistant at the rate of $15.00 per hour, and she was running errands and handling other administrative responsibilities for her employer. Unfortunately, her employer decided he wanted to terminate her employment in favor of another administrative assistant, and roughly $1,500.00 of unpaid wages was owed to Gwen on the date of her termination. Her employer refused to pay.
Under Louisiana law, an employer’s failure to pay wages can subject the employer to penalties, interest, attorney’s fees, and other amounts. Yet, private counsel is often unwilling to accept such cases, as both proof of liability and collection of final judgments can be a time-consuming endeavor, with little reward in the end. It was for these reasons that Gwen was unable to find a private lawyer to assist her and, when she was ready to give up entirely, she turned to The Pro Bono Project.
The Pro Bono Project was able to partner Gwen with a private lawyer willing to take on her case, for no fee, and pursue Gwen’s rights. After multiple demand letters sent to the employer, The Pro Bono Project’s volunteer attorney filed suit against the employer and immediately set the case for trial. When the employer refused to compromise the case at all, the trial went forward, and Gwen was successful in her claims on all counts. She recovered the $1,500.00 owed in wages to her, another $10,000.00 in penalties, and The Pro Bono Project was awarded another roughly $4,000.00 in legal fees for its efforts in protecting her rights.
The value of this judgment to a single mother with nowhere left to turn is immeasurable, particularly when one considers that Gwen was ready to throw in the towel and walk away from her claim altogether. Instead, in addition to feeling vindicated, Gwen has been paid the amounts that she earned, and the penalty monies have been collected and saved for future use in care of her daughter.
More importantly, this case—one of hundreds The Pro Bono Project handles each year—is indicative of the effort of the staff and volunteers that work with The Pro Bono Project on behalf of individuals throughout the New Orleans area.
Editor’s Note: Steven Griffith of Baker Donelson was the attorney who handled this case. Without the valuable services of the many volunteer lawyers that work with The Pro Bono Project, this client and many others may never have been able to have access to justice.
by Maggie Padek
Student Volunteer, Tulane University
Living in debt can be a scary ordeal. However living in debt, and feeling like you have no possible escape, can be absolutely paralyzing. Recently, The Pro Bono Project helped a Jefferson Parish, 54-year-old woman overcome such fears.
Before reaching out for help, she was living with $30,000 or more in Credit Card debt and approximately $3,000 in Medical Bills. She was receiving disability for severe emotional distress but it was hardly enough to cover her debt and she had been living with friends because she could no longer afford her rent.
She would lie awake at night, stressed by her debt knowing that she also needed a way to financially help out her aging father. Finally she decided to file for personal bankruptcy and called the Disability Advocacy for help. They then directed her to The Pro Bono Project.
She was assigned by The Project to David Andress in Baton Rouge as the attorney for her case and felt that she could easily work with him over the phone or through fax to help settle her case.
When she did travel to Baton Rouge to meet with him, she commented on how overly helpful the office was in answering her every question. Clients have questions that may seem irrelevant to attorneys, however she noted how much care and attention the staff took to every question she asked.
When it came time for her 341 hearing, Julie Jochum, who then worked at The Project, was assigned to accompany her at the courthouse. Despite the simplicity of the hearing procedure, the woman was terrified by the ordeal and was grateful for Julie’s presence to support her through the hearing. In March 2008, her case was officially declared closed and successful.
This Jefferson Parish woman hopes that this is her last legal problem she will be faced with but is grateful every day for the help that The Pro Bono Project has provided her. She now feels that she is more financially stable and can start saving for her future. A huge burden has been lifted off her shoulders and she is finally able to sleep at night. She felt the difficult situation was handled very smoothly with the help of The Pro Bono Project.
When speaking with her she exuded her gratitude for the people who helped her through this ordeal. Every night the staff of The Pro Bono Project is in her prayers and she is truly grateful for the day that the Disability Advocacy gave her The Pro Bono Project’s number.