Personal Statement by Stephanie Rivas
Being a member of Sunset Park, Brooklyn which is a majority minority neighborhood, I realized many residents are taken advantage of by being defrauded in home purchasing. People in my community suffer from a lack of representation and ability to pay for legal fees. My first encounter with lawyers was when my mother purchased our first home in 2004. Unbeknownst to my mother, the owner of the home had also sold the same house to another buyer at the same time. Hence, a dispute over valid title ensued. My mother obtained the legal representation of Attorney Adam Leitman Bailey. Witnessing Mr. Bailey in action was an eye opening and inspiring experience for me. He won the case and my mother gained ownership of the house. The house Adam Bailey helped us win ownership is the same house we live in today. The relief and joy he brought to my mother by winning her case fueled my interest to become a lawyer.
We retained our house in 2006, the same year my mother signed her divorce papers. My mother was depending on the ownership of the house because she was told by my father to move out. I was so unsure about what to expect in our new house and what would become of us without my father’s support. When my mother gained ownership of the house, we quickly moved out of my father’s apartment in Midwood, Brooklyn. The first year we moved into our house, we were financially unprepared. My mother, now a single parent, had to disburse all the expenses. She did not generate sufficient income to become well situated. We spent an entire year cooking our meals over a plug-in electric stove. We did not invite friends because we did not have a furnished living room. I was ashamed to even tell my friends where I lived to av oid the possibility of my friends inviting themselves to my house. Although my mother became a home owner, we did not have a middle class lifestyle. I wanted to contribute financially as much as possible while attending high school. I started to work at KFC. I worked the entire summer, giving my mother my checks so that we could one day buy living room furniture. I did not earn much and my mother did not want me to work; however, she knew that it helped provide for our family.
I graduated from high school in 2009 and went directly to college the following fall semester because I had goals that required higher education than high school. While at John Jay College, I received in the mail a flyer and application to the Ronald H. Brown Prep Program. It was a very completive program that required my participation for two rigorous summers at St. Johns. The first summer I was given the opportunity to have 13 law school classes followed by 2 internships. Through my participation in the Ronald H. Brown Program during summer 2011, I interned at the Legal Aid Society in Queens, which is dedicated to providing legal representation to low-income New Yorkers. I can still remember not seeing many attorneys who were of color. But I did see many people of color being prosecuted for burglary,
possession of marijuana, shop lifting, and driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. The majority of the defendants in these cases were acquitted or the cases were contemplating dismissal; others were in plea negotiations. The attorney I shadowed is named Marla Band. I remember translating a confession from a client so that Ms. Band could have a better understanding of her client’s statement of the incident that led him to be charged with sexual assault. But for my translation, the client’s case would have been delayed until she could find a translator. The client’s confession was consistent to the finding of a rape kit and other testimony, ending in the case being dismissed. I had lived through Mr.
Bailey helping my mother in making sure vital information did not get deferred and I now understood that many minorities could be easily disadvantaged with legal representation so I tried my best in assisting by translating.
In my internships at the Kings County Criminal Court, I was assigned to shadow Honorable Judge Dena Douglass. I was able to conduct research, writing, and draft a memorandum on a 30.30 speedy trial, under New York Criminal Procedure Law. I performed legal research and discovered the defense attorney had calculated the speedy trial time for his case incorrectly and was calculating more time than recorded by the court. The motion to dismiss on the grounds of lack of speedy trial by the defense attorney was denied on the basis of inaccurate speedy trial time calculation. The Ronald H. Brown Prep Program, the Legal Aid Society in Queens, and the Kings County Criminal Court internships reinforced my decision to become a public interest attorney. I was serving minorities and people of low income. I would like to bolster the availability of legal representation in impoverished neighborhoods and for individuals who have had similar situations as my family with in regards to title dispute.
As of today, my household now has a furnished living room and a furnished kitchen. We still have the plug-in electric stove in the kitchen. Even though we do not use it any more, it serves as a remembrance of the hardship we have overcome. Mr. Bailey’s representation was expensive but we are very happy and thankful to have a home. I know there are minorities who are facing many disadvantages when coming into contact with the legal field such as being defrauded, having a communication barrier, being unable to pay for legal fees, and not having an understanding of the legal system. There are many individuals who need representation the way my family was able to have, but cannot finance it. I observed two different areas of the law through my internships and personal experiences. I realized that a person’s life can be dramatically impacted in any area of law. I want to contribute to changing under representation of people of color in the legal field and I will make it my duty to be an advocate for social justice.