Clinic Students Participate in Civil Court Consumer Debt Proceedings

St. John’s Law students, Professor Gina Calabrese, and Helen Wrobel ’94 pose with Hon. Larry L. Love
Monday, June 23, 2014

During the Spring 2014 semester, students from the Law School’s Consumer Justice for The Elderly: Litigation Clinic visited Queens Civil Court to observe consumer debt matters. Hon. Joseph J. Esposito, Supervising Justice, addressed the students in chambers to start the visit. The students then rotated through roles in the courtroom: sitting on the bench with the presiding judge, joining court attorneys at the counsel table, and accompanying volunteer lawyers as they prepared clients for appearance. 

“Sitting with Judge Larry L. Love was the highlight of my visit to the court,” said Jennifer Prevete ’15. “I was able to see the resolution of cases as he spoke with the parties and then set the matter down for trial or took notice of settlement.  In one case, Judge Love was able to help the parties agree to a settlement offer, avoiding trial altogether.” John Collorafi ’15 also found the visit informative and eye-opening. ”The experience really taught me that more pro bono work is needed so that pro se litigants have better access to justice,” he said. “I felt very sympathetic towards several of the pro se litigants, who seemed to have spent some time researching the law, but who lacked the experience and expertise needed to put that information in proper context.”

The visit was hosted by the St. John’s Consumer Debt-Volunteer Lawyer for the Day Program, an initiative of the New York State Courts Access to Justice Program.  Under the supervision of St. John’s Law alumna Helen Wrobel ‘94, who serves as Program Coordinator, student volunteers provide limited representation to pro se defendants in consumer debt cases in Queens Civil Court. They interview clients, negotiate settlement agreements with opposing counsel, conference with court attorneys, argue before a judge, and advise clients on trial strategies. “Through this innovative program, St. John’s Law students gain invaluable, hands-on courtroom experience, and earn pro bono credit, while helping some of New York’s most disadvantaged civil litigants obtain due process of the law,” Wrobel said. 

Helping the needy and underserved gain equal access to the legal system is a cornerstone of the vital services offered by the Law School’s Consumer Justice for the Elderly: Litigation Clinic, which is supervised by Professors Ann L. Goldweber and Gina M. Calabrese. Queens County has one of the highest rates of default judgments in New York State consumer debt cases. And most of these defaults are taken against disadvantaged people living in some of the borough’s poorest neighborhoods. The clinic provides representation to those who would otherwise go without counsel against well-represented debt collectors and debt buyers. 

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