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Social Security Disability Appeals 2020: From Administrative Proceedings to Federal Practice

Speaker(s): Anne K. Callagy, Brenden Ross, Carol Santangelo, Ernie Collette, Montel Cherry, Steven Godeski, Traci B. Salami
Recorded on: Mar. 11, 2020
PLI Program #: 277550

Anne Callagy has been at The Legal Aid Society since 1993. From 1993 – 2007, she was a staff attorney in the neighborhood offices in Staten Island, Brooklyn and the Bronx in the areas of housing and public benefits.  Since 2007, she has been the Supervising Attorney for the government benefits unit in The Legal Aid Society's Bronx Neighborhood Office. Since 2017 she has also been the Director of the Government Benefits Practice at Legal Aid. Ms. Callagy trains and supervises legal services and pro bono attorneys in government benefits practice, including Social Security disability benefits hearings and appeals. Ms. Callagy taught as an adjunct professor in the Urban Law Clinic at New York Law School during 2006-2007.  She graduated from Boston College and the New York University School of Law. 

Brenden Ross is a Senior Staff Attorney in the Mental Health Law Project (MHLP) at Mobilization for Justice, Inc. MHLP supports people with mental health disabilities by seeking to prevent homelessness, stabilize income, promote recovery, and maximize community integration.  Before joining MHLP, Mr. Ross was a Staff Attorney on Mobilization for Justice’s Housing Project, where he defended low-income tenants in eviction proceedings.  Prior to that, Mr. Ross served as a Pro Bono Scholar on Mobilization for Justice’s Government Benefits Project.  Mr. Ross received a law degree from Brooklyn Law School.

Ernie Collette is a Supervising Attorney in MFJ’s Immigration Law Project. Prior to becoming a Supervising Attorney, Mr. Collette was a Staff Attorney in the Government Benefits Project at MFJ where he represented clients in a range of public benefits matters, including Public Assistance, SNAP, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security benefits, including representation in Federal Court. Mr. Collette grew the Immigration Law Project at MFJ from his work in the Government Benefits Project and continues to represent families and individuals in humanitarian-based claims for immigration relief while leading the new unit.  He has provided numerous trainings to nonprofit organizations, law schools, and to Immigration Judges and Asylum Officers, on immigrant eligibility for public benefits, and is committed to improving the quality of life of marginalized individuals and families through litigation and policy work. He is the author of “Barring Survivors of Domestic Violence from Food Security: The Unintended Consequences of 1996 Welfare and Immigration Reform” published in the Drexel University Law Review, and “Unaccompanied and Excluded From Food Security: A Call for the Inclusion of Immigrant Youth Twenty Years After Welfare Reform” in the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal. Mr. Collette is a 2013 graduate of Seattle University School of Law.

Montel A. Cherry is the Director of Litigation for Children’s Rights at Mobilization for Justice, Inc. Children’s Rights consist of the Warren J. Sinsheimer Children’s Rights Program, the Kinship Caregiver Project, and the Immigration Law Project. The Children’s Rights Program provides advice and representation to low-income parents of students with disabilities seeking appropriate special education services and school placements from the New York City Department of Education. The Children’s Rights Program also assists children with mental illness and their families through medical-legal partnerships with Bellevue, Kings County, Harlem, and Lincoln Hospitals. The Immigration Law Project provides direct advocacy and representation to low-income individuals and families seeking assistance in either humanitarian- or family-based immigration matters. The Kinship Caregiver Project represents low-income kinship caregivers seeking legal custody, guardianship or adoption assistance, and links those it cannot help with private pro bono attorneys and trains these attorneys to represent families in court. Ms. Cherry also directly supervises the Government Benefits Project that assists individuals with legal problems relating to Public Assistance, SNAP/Food Stamps, Medicaid/Medicare, and Disability Benefits; and the Drivers Protection Project, which provides advice and representation to low-income taxi drivers facing civil penalties against their licenses.

Prior to coming to Mobilization for Justice, Inc., Ms. Cherry was a Disability Law Specialist at Manhattan Legal Services, where she represented adults and children with physical and mental impairments in appealing their denial of disability benefits.  Initially she was hired at the former Harlem Legal Services, as a staff attorney for the government benefits unit specializing in both public assistance and disability law.  She also worked as a decisions editor at the New York Law Journal. Ms. Cherry received her J.D. from CUNY School of Law and a B.A. in Sociology and African Studies from SUNY Stony Brook.  

Ms. Salami received her J.D. from Stetson University College of Law in 2012, her MSW from the University of Georgia in 2008, and her B.A. in Sociology and American Studies from Stetson University in 2006.  She is a Licensed Master Social Work in the state of New York. Ms. Salami has been staff attorney at the Mental Health Law Project at Mobilization for Justice since December 2015, where she has represented dozens of litigants with psychiatric disabilities in court proceedings and administrative hearings.  Since joining Mobilization for Justice, Ms. Salami has litigated complex landlord-tenant proceedings in New York City and advocated for persons with a mental illness before the Social Security Administration and City Government agencies. Ms. Salami provides trainings on Medicaid Spend-downs, the Use of Pooled Trusts, NYC Housing Law and Eviction Prevention.   Ms. Salami has a particular interest in addressing the unmet need for Wills, Trusts, and Estates work for underserved populations.  She has incorporated her expertise in Medicaid Planning, Wills, Trusts, and Estates into her practice within the Mental Health Law project.

Prior to joining Mobilization for Justice, Inc., Ms. Salami was as an Associate at Lamson & Cutner, P.C. where she practiced in the area of Elder Law and Estate Planning. At Lamson & Cutner, Ms. Salami participated in all aspects of Medicaid Planning including drafting and filing complex Institutional and Community Medicaid applications, drafting Deeds, Irrevocable Assignments, Wills, Trusts, Powers of Attorney, and Advanced Directives. 

Ms. Salami serves on the Mental Health Law subcommittee of the New York State Bar Association Elder Law and Special Needs section. To contact Ms. Salami, please send an email to

Carol Santangelo is a Supervising Attorney at The Legal Aid Society, overseeing a city-wide initiative to assist public assistance beneficiaries in accessing federal disability benefits. Before that, Carol was a Staff Attorney in The Legal Aid Society’s Health Law Unit, during which time she was is a steering committee member of the Coalition to Protect the Rights of New York's Dually Eligible, an active member of the Medicaid Matters New York Managed Care Workgroup and the Public Program Workgroup, and was co-chair of the New York State Health Law Taskforce. Carol was a member of  New York City Bar Association’s Mental Health Law Committee; she holds a Master’s Degree in Nursing and a Certificate in Bioethics and Medical Humanities.

Steven Godeski has been at The Legal Aid Society since 1986 in the Bronx Neighborhood Office specializing in the area of public benefits.   Mr. Godeski taught as an adjunct professor in the City University of New York Law School during 1997-1998.  He graduated from City University of New York Law School.