Associate Sarah Levin Receives 2014 NYSBA President’s Pro Bono Service Award

May 1, 2014

Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP is pleased to announce that firm litigation associate Sarah Levin has been awarded the 2014 President’s Pro Bono Service Award by the New York State Bar Association (“NYSBA”) for her work on the State’s Central Register (“SCR”) project, which was developed in conjunction with the Pro Bono Committee of the New York County Lawyers’ Association (“NYCLA”).

The project began in May 2012 to assist low-income New Yorkers facing job loss in the event of a report being entered against them in the SCR after the Office of Children & Family Services (“OCFS”) receives a description of suspected child abuse or neglect. In New York City, if an Administration for Children’s Services (“ACS”) investigation finds any credible allegation of abuse or neglect, the report is labeled as “indicated” in the SCR. No consideration of any competing factors is required by the ACS, and anyone can make a report, even anonymously. The SCR currently lists over two million people and affects predominantly low-income women.

While the accused have 90 days from notification of the report to request that it be labeled “unfounded,” and a right to administrative review and a fair hearing before an administrative law judge, most allegations are never brought before any court. Indicated reports bar the accused from working with or around a vulnerable population until the youngest child named turns 28 years old.

Legal services advocates have noted that the chance of successfully challenging a report increases greatly with counsel representation. To this end, Sarah began working with former Patterson Belknap associate Christopher Strong, a co-recipient of today’s award, and other firm attorneys to build the pilot project and allow firm associates to handle clients’ cases fully when seeking to amend, seal, or expunge SCR indicated reports.

Patterson Belknap understands the complexity of the issue at hand – specifically balancing the need for child safety with addressing the devastating effects of the ease with which abuse allegations can be made. Sarah and other firm associates, working diligently with the aid of William F. Cavanaugh, Co-Chair of the Firm, and support staff, have been able to secure “unfounded” report labels and sealed records for eight clients, allowing low-income New Yorkers to pursue their careers and care for their families. Sarah and Christopher Strong are working with NYCLA to expand the SCR project to other New York City law firms and extend its reach.

The NYSBA presents the President’s Pro Bono Service Awards each year to recognize significant pro bono contributions made in New York State by individual attorneys, students, firms, corporate counsel, and government offices as part of its April 30 Law Day celebration.