In the event you need a lawyer, it’s good to know which ones are looking out for the people – the people of the Crescent City, that is. The following four firms and legal services organizations have a long track record of service to the New Orleans community.
Mid City-based firm Binegar Christian was founded at the height of the Hurricane Katrina litigation; David Binegar and Tiffany Christian continue that work today. Binegar, who graduated from Tulane Law School in 1998 explained, “Our whole firm specializes in consumer-based areas against insurance companies. We also represent borrowers against mortgage companies and fight foreclosures.”
Asked what his proudest moment as an attorney is to date, it was one of these wronged borrowers that he remembered, “We were able to get this gentlemen that had been wrongfully foreclosed on his entire mortgage paid plus $150,000.” Binegar Christian also fights for consumers in the areas of fire, flood, and hurricane damage to get their claims paid.
Bizer and DeReus, a civil rights firm based on the revitalized St. Claude strip, bills itself as one of the few law firms that focus mainly on enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In a conversation with Big Easy Magazine, Andrew Bizer was bullish about his work. “The ADA is almost 30 years old and there are still many places across Louisiana that are non-compliant,” he said. “A large percentage of our work is helping folks who use wheelchairs to improve access, as well as deaf folks who do not have access to American Sign Language in hospitals or medical offices, or with people like parole officers.”
Bizer is originally from Fort Lauderdale and moved to New Orleans in 1994 to attend Tulane University. He left the Crescent City for law school and returned in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Since then, he explained, he takes the kinds of cases that he finds “interesting.” A couple of those interesting cases involved successful suits against the City of New Orleans to make the St. Charles streetcar line wheelchair accessible and to make bus stops compliant with the ADA. The latter case began with a Public Records Request which revealed an internal memo stating that 93.4 percent of bus stops in the city are noncompliant.
The Advocacy Center of Louisiana supports people with disabilities in six different ways highlighted on its website, but one of its key focus areas is legal assistance. Ron Lospennato, Director of Legal with the Advocacy Center, explains it as an “access to the community” issue. “We do a lot of special education cases, that’s the majority of the work,” he said. “We also do a fair amount of work with the ADA and Medicaid services.” Lospennato has been with the Center since 2010, after serving for 28 years in a similar position in New Hampshire. He highlighted a 2016 case in which the Center successfully transferred defendants (via consent decree with the City of New Orleans) with mental illnesses deemed incompetent to stand trial from languishing in jail to facilities where they could become competent and/or receive much-needed treatment.
Brand new Executive Director Christopher Rodriguez, who came to New Orleans just a few months ago from Washington D.C., said that in broader terms, although advocacy centers across the country are federally mandated, the mission is much more than that. The 50 person staff in New Orleans, including 12 attorneys “is unique because we represent people with disabilities from across the spectrum from physical to mental,” he said.
The Tulane University Criminal Justice Clinic is a place where both students and defendants stand to gain volumes from their efforts. The Clinic bills itself as a soup to nuts operation for the “most vulnerable” of Louisiana’s defendants. Law students working in the Clinic under Senior Professor of the Practice and Director Katherine Mattes learn about client advocacy inside and outside of the courtroom. Numerous articles on the Tulane Law website discuss criminal justice reform and the how Mattes, who has been with the program since 2002, and her students helped release people held on draconian “three strikes” laws. It seems the method is working, a list of Tulane Criminal Justice Clinic alumni includes the Director of the New Orleans Innocence Project, numerous public defenders, and a Prettyman/Stiller fellow with the Georgetown Law Center.