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Dedicated to service: Get to know the NJSBA Pro Bono Award winners for 2022 – Rebecca Spar and Geoffrey N. Rosamond

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 17, 2023
Contact: Thomas Nobile
Director of Communications
Tel: 732-937-7527
[email protected] 
     
NEW BRUNSWICK – Justice for juvenile defendants with lengthy prison sentences, expunging criminal records to help former offenders find employment, a video series designed to help litigants without counsel. This is just some of the remarkable work performed by the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Pro Bono Award recipients for 2022. On Feb. 15, the NJSBA will recognize 20 individuals across six award categories for their outstanding commitment to providing pro bono legal services to New Jersey’s underserved residents.  Hear from two of the award winners about their volunteer work and why pro bono service is important. 
     
Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles featuring this year’s award recipients. The responses have been lightly edited.
     
REBECCA SPAR will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award, recognizing an attorney in practice for 25 years or more. A special education expert with a career spanning over three decades, Spar has provided pro bono services to scores of families, shaped legal doctrine and mentored numerous attorneys through Volunteer Lawyers for Justice (VLJ), a nonprofit that promotes access to justice for people experiencing poverty. Now retired, she dedicates her time to working with pro bono organizations and counseling less-experienced attorneys in special education law. Since retiring in 2018, she still dedicates 30 hours a week to undertaking pro bono activities. 
   
What inspired you to practice in special education law?
After beginning law school in 1984, my focus on education gradually changed. During my third year, I handled a special education case in the Rutgers School of Law clinic. A parent, with the assistance of a lay advocate, had won an administrative hearing which required the school district to place her child in a private school. The school district filed an appeal in federal court and the advocate, who could not represent the student in federal court, asked and the clinic agreed to handle the appeal. I represented the parent in the appeal and dug into special education law. I succeeded in upholding the administrative decision and became hooked. I decided that after a few of years of litigation experience, I would try to integrate special education cases as a part of my practice. I never dreamed that I would be able to turn it into a full-time practice. 
     
As the parent of a child with a disability, how has that experience shaped your pro bono advocacy? 
I understand what parents are going through because I’ve been there myself. I’ve seen firsthand the impact that ADHD or a learning disability has on a student when trying to do homework after a long day of school. I have seen the difference an effective teacher or resource room instructor who is involved and works with the parent can make versus an ineffective teacher. I’ve also seen the educational limits of private schools. They are not always the panacea for students with special needs. Every disability and every child is different, but parents know that I am not only speaking as a lawyer, but also as someone who has had experiences similar to theirs.
  
Most attorneys would slow down after retiring, yet you still perform many hours of pro bono service a week. Why do you continue this work?
I like doing things that are meaningful and helpful to others, and I loved my special education involvement with the Education Law Center and VLJ. I considered doing some paid consultation when I retired from Cole Schotz, but decided that I wanted to focus on pro bono tasks without concern about compensation. I gain great satisfaction by knowing that I can help others to achieve, and at the same time know that their success continues to enrich my life. 
  
GEOFFREY N. ROSAMOND will receive the Champion of Justice Award, presented to an individual attorney affiliated with a firm. Rosamond, a partner at McCarter & English, logged 168 hours of pro bono service in 2021 while serving 27 clients. He serves as chairman of McCarter & English’s Pro Bono Committee and is a member of VLJ’s Board of Trustees.
  
You’ve worked with Volunteer Lawyers for Justice for many years now. How did you become involved with the organization? 
Shortly after I began working at McCarter & English in January 2000, I developed a criminal reentry/expungement program at the firm. I was able to recruit and train volunteer lawyers at McCarter to represent pro bono clients referred by Essex County College and The First Occupational Center of New Jersey, among others. The McCarter criminal reentry/expungement program was successful in helping a significant number of pro bono clients expunge their criminal records in the early 2000s.
    
What inspired you to dedicate much of your pro bono service to criminal expungements, and why do you believe that work is important? 
Ensuring access to justice for individuals experiencing poverty is the most personally rewarding and fulfilling work I have been involved with in my 26 years as an attorney. My background and experience as a former prosecutor provided me with the tools needed to make a meaningful difference in the lives of my expungement clients and survivors of human trafficking during this time.
     
Expungements provide a second chance to individuals who have made mistakes in the past, and the ability to dramatically change their lives for the better. As a result of having their criminal backgrounds expunged, individuals can experience an increase in employment and educational opportunities, economic independence, housing stability and productive citizenship, while reducing recidivism and building safer communities. The same is also true when we are able to obtain a vacatur of human trafficking convictions for a survivor. That not only eliminates these barriers, but also allows a survivor to escape the stigma resulting from their victimization.
     
How are you able to balance pro bono service with your professional responsibilities? 
Balancing my pro bono service with my professional responsibilities has been relatively easy for me for the past 20 years, as I view them as one and the same. To make a meaningful difference in the lives of others is the most fulfilling reward of being an attorney and member of New Jersey’s prestigious legal community.

Contact: NJSBA Communications Department
Tel: 732-937-7527
Email: [email protected]

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