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Administrative Advocacy 2020: Representing the Pro Bono Client

Speaker(s): Belkys Garcia, Camille Zentner, Ellen Davidson, Montel Cherry, Susan J. Horwitz
Recorded on: Dec. 8, 2020
PLI Program #: 278274

Belkys Garcia has been a staff attorney with The Legal Aid Society since 2007 helping low-income New Yorkers access government benefits. She is currently in the Civil Practice Law Reform Unit focusing on access to health care through impact litigation and administrative and legislative advocacy.

Camille Zentner is the supervisor of the Benefits Unit at the Brooklyn Neighborhood Office of The Legal Aid Society, which serves clients appealing adverse decisions about their public assistance, SNAP, and federal disability benefits, primarily through advocacy at the administrative hearing level. Camille has been a benefits attorney since 2007 and worked at the New York Legal Assistance Group and Manhattan Legal Services before joining LAS in 2018.

Ellen Davidson is a Staff Attorney in the Law Reform Unit of the Civil Practice Area of the Legal Aid Society. Ellen represents public housing residents and Section 8 participants in administrative proceedings at NYCHA and HPD.  Additionally she brings affirmative litigation, seeking systemic changes, on behalf of tenants across New York City in state and federal court. From 2001-2006 Ellen was a Staff Attorney in the Housing Law Unit of Legal Aid’s Bronx Neighborhood Office where she represented individual tenants in nonpayment and holdover proceedings in Bronx Housing Court.

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.  

Susan Horwitz, Esq is the Supervising Attorney of the Education Law Project at The Legal Aid Society. She graduated from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in June, 1990, and is admitted in the First Department of New York State as well as the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York. Susan first joined the Legal Aid Society as a staff attorney in the Criminal Appeals Bureau and spent a year as a staff attorney in the Criminal Defense Practice before moving to the Civil Practice in January, 2003. Since that time she has represented hundreds of individuals and families who need assistance obtaining and preserving public benefits and social security disability benefits.

Since 2006, Susan has primarily focused on educational rights of students with disabilities who are living in poverty. She represents families at school meetings, mediations, and impartial hearings. Ms. Horwitz provides trainings for parents, pro bono attorneys, case handlers in other practices within The Legal Aid Society, school staff, and mental health providers on navigating the special education system, legal rules and remedies, and self-advocacy skills. In 2017, she developed, the LAS/Mt Sinai-St. Luke’s Child and Family Institute Medical-Legal Partnership. 

Susan is a long time member of COPAA and is the 2018 recipient of the American Bar Association’s Paul G. Hearne Award for Disability Rights.