LEAN on me Sappern Fellows light way for troubled pro by legalstuff1


									LEAN on me
                                Sappern Fellows light way
                                for troubled pro se parties
                                                 B Y A L E JA N D R A N AVA R RO

             he doesn’t have family in the         exactly what I got,” says Piscatelli of the

S            state, or money, or the skills to
             read the documents to get the
             restraining order she desperate-
             ly needs. But she does have
Sappern Fellow Thomas Piscatelli.
    In a small office on the sixth floor of
New Haven Superior Court, Piscatelli, a
                                                   stories he hears. He’s been a Sappern Fel-
                                                   low for three semesters, helping pro se par-
                                                   ties file paperwork for restraining orders
                                                   and divorce cases. More than the profes-
                                                   sional experience he’s gained—learning
                                                   about the courthouse and working among
                                                   lawyers and judges—he has had the oppor-
third-year Quinnipiac law student, reviews         tunity to help clients with real, sometimes
the affidavit he helped the woman fill out,        urgent, problems.
checking each account of abuse she has                Many of the people who walk into the
endured from her drug-addicted husband,            Sappern Fellows office—a former confer-
including the time he threw her against the        ence room with toys and coloring books
wall when she was pregnant and threat-             to occupy the children who accompany
ened to kill her and her family.                   their parents—need help navigating the
    “He’s been calling everyone trying to          complicated legal system. With waiting
find out where I am. I’m so scared,” she           lines that can stretch to dozens of people,
says, muffling her crying into the neck of         the clerk’s office doesn’t have the time to
the one-year-old on her lap.                       offer the individual guidance the Sappern
    Piscatelli explains the process to her. If     Fellows do, says Piscatelli, who also
she’s granted the temporary restraining            worked as a temporary assistant clerk.
order, she needs to have a marshal serve              The students’ work is supported by the
her husband at least five days before the          Yale Sappern Memorial Fund, which
hearing in two weeks, which she also must          Pietrina Sappern ’60 and her brother-in-
attend. If the papers aren’t served, she’ll        law, Donald Sappern, established at
have to start the process again. She doesn’t       Quinnipiac University School of Law in
know where he is, she says. His brow creas-        honor of her late husband, Yale, who was
es. He takes a deep breath and encourages
her to do the best she can to find him.            Sappern Fellow Meredith Olan helps clients with
    “I was prepared for the worst, and that’s      divorces and restraining orders.

the first assistant clerk and supervisor of
the Family Division in New Haven
Superior Court. Yale was known for his
dedication to the division and the people
it served. Fellows receive a stipend for
their work, and Quinnipiac law students
are the sole beneficiaries of the fund.
    As a practicing lawyer, Deborah Daddio
remembers Sappern’s kind demeanor. “He
was informative and helpful and would give
me the same type of treatment and respect
that someone who was an insider at the
courthouse would expect,” says Daddio,
career services director at the School of
Law. She oversees the Sappern Fellows pro-
gram. Since its inception in 2000, the fund
has supported about 150 fellows working in
New Haven, and occasionally in Bridge-
port, Waterbury and Norwich. Each year,
they help about 1,400 clients.
    Pietrina Sappern wants new lawyers to
gain an appreciation for people in trou-
bling situations. “I want them to be able to
make a difference in someone’s life,” says
Sappern, who helps organize the annual
Yale Sappern Memorial Golf Tournament
fundraiser. For her work, she received an
honorary degree at the School of Law
Commencement ceremony on May 11.                 Third-year student Thomas Piscatelli with a client in the Sappern Fellows Office, New Haven Superior Court.
    “Her compassion and dedication is just
amazing,” said Jamie Y   oung ’08, of Killing-       The fellowship isn’t just for students                    Fellows often come across interesting
worth, Conn. A former Sappern Fellow,            entering family law. Michael Speight ’08                  legal dilemmas. Young remembers a man
Y oung is involved in gathering support for      of Hamden didn’t focus on family law in                   who came in to annul a marriage because
the fund. “Yale Sappern is someone I             school, but has enjoyed working with                      his bride turned out to be a groom. Given
would have enjoyed knowing and would             the public.                                               the circumstances of the situation—the
have learned immensely from, and through             “I would hate to have someone who                     couple married before the state adopted
my experience as a fellow, later observing       legitimately needs a restraining order not                civil unions and the marriage certificate
Pietrina and her work on the fund, I have        get one because of limited education or                   lists the name of a male and female—he
come to know him in a small way.”                not being aware of how a judge makes his                  didn’t know how to dissolve the marriage.
    Nancy Strini ’06, a lawyer for the Chil-     or her decision,” says Speight.                               “Those are legal questions that I had
dren’s Law Center in Hartford, said there            The experience also has helped him bet-               never thought about and I had to find the
isn’t a court in the state that wouldn’t ben-    ter understand people and what motivates                  answers,” says Y oung, who referred the
efit from the Sappern Fellows program. “In       their actions, which is helpful for any area              case to her supervisor. Fellows can’t pro-
most courthouses, you have to shout out          of the law. As a Fellow, he occasionally had              vide legal advice, but they often refer
the details of your life with 50 people in       clients who seemed to be filing restraining               clients to organizations, such as Legal Aid.
line,” she explains. “We created a space         orders just to get back at a girlfriend or                    Meredith Olan’s experience as a
where you can cry, you can cuss and rant         boyfriend. The fellows take satisfaction in               Sappern Fellow, particularly working with
and rave, and no one is going to think           knowing that the respondent has the                       abuse cases, solidified her career
poorly of you.”                                  opportunity to defend himself—or her-                     direction.
    She recalls one woman returning several      self—at a hearing. Ultimately, it’s up to the                 “This fueled my fire to be a state’s
times before she gathered the courage to         judge to sort fact from fiction.                          attorney,” says Olan, who will be
submit her paperwork. “She could come                “When they have a black eye or stitch-                graduating in December. “You see things
back 100 times. When she was ready, we           es, you can see for yourself they are telling             like that happening and you want to be
were there to help her,” says Strini.            the truth,” he says.                                      part of the solution.”

                                                                                                                 SUMMER 2008 • QUINNIPIAC LAW                  19

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