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Nassau Bar offers free legal advice amid pandemic

Nassau County Bar Association president Rick Collins on April 28 talked about the organization’s new COVID-19 community task force. Credit: Rick Collins, Esq.

Free legal advice was just an email away when a Long Island hospital employee had a question about the right to a fresh mask at work every day during the coronavirus pandemic.

Nassau County Bar Association members are volunteering their time under the organization’s new COVID-19 community task force to provide area residents, including that hospital worker, answers to pandemic-related legal questions, organization officials said.

The association's goal is to assign a member to each inquiry within two business days in response to an email to covidhelp@nassaubar.org, according to Rick Collins, the association’s president.

Attorneys are available for consultations by phone, video conference or email.

“It’s for people who are suffering from the current pandemic situation and need to understand how they can get help,” Collins said in an interview.

The aim is to match local residents and small businesses with attorneys who have expertise in areas of inquiry that can include unemployment or other labor issues, mortgage questions, housing matters and health-related issues.

While the attorney volunteers won’t represent the individual or business in any court proceedings, association officials said the task force is a way to inform community members of their rights and give them an idea of their options.

Bar Association officials said the attorneys providing the free consultations are available only for legal guidance, but the organization also has a referral service that can recommend lawyers who are available for hire.

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Collins said he and former organization president Martha Krisel created the task force — an initiative not unlike the Bar Association’s free legal clinics following superstorm Sandy. But this time, the project has been modified into a virtual-friendly project to meet social distancing standards.

Gale Berg, who directs the Bar Association’s pro-bono attorney activities, said there are other member volunteers who can serve as language interpreters during consultations with residents who don’t speak English.

She said people who email the task force looking for help initially will get an automatic response encouraging them to send in any documents that could help a volunteer become familiar with the problem before the legal consultation.

Garden City attorney Seth Rosner said he has done two task force volunteer consultations so far, one by phone and another by email.

One was from a superstorm Sandy victim who got a repayment demand from New York Rising Community Reconstruction Program and wanted to know what her options were, the attorney said.

Another resident reached out for help from the task force after going to a local courthouse to try to file a wrongful death claim and getting rejected.

“She went to the county clerk’s office and they wouldn’t take any papers,” said Rosner, whose firm handles Sandy-related cases along with those involving personal injury, insurance disputes and other business litigation.

State courthouse operations have been consolidated amid the pandemic and New York has adopted a virtual model for carrying on proceedings, mostly those deemed essential, that still are being held. The courts aren't accepting new civil case filings.

Melville attorney Matthew Weinick, whose firm handles litigation that includes employment law cases, said he did a task force volunteer consultation by phone recently with a salesman who had a question about a change to his pay structure during the pandemic.

“I just gave him some information about what the laws are,” Weinick said.

The lawyer added that he encouraged the salesman to keep in touch to discuss “how things progress with him at work.”

Weinick said the Bar Association’s COVID-19 task force takes into account “that everybody’s hurting right now” and “access to legal services is important.”

To request a free legal consultation, send an email to covidhelp@nassaubar.org.

The Nassau County Bar Association also has a COVID-19 resource page on its website at www.nassaubar.org.

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