The Suffolk Pro Bono Project is extremely pleased to again honor Stephen R. Hellman as its Pro Bono Attorney of the Month. Stephen’s stalwart representation of the Project’s most vulnerable matrimonial clients has already earned him this distinction on several occasions. Stephen has been a solo Family and Matrimonial Law attorney in Suffolk County for his entire career. His practice is located in Wantagh, New York, and his particular expertise is representing survivors of domestic violence and financial exploitation. The Pro Bono Project has gladly referred clients to him for approximately twenty-five years and each and every one of them has benefited greatly from Stephen’s expertise and generosity.
The practice of law is Stephen’s second career. After earning his BA at Stony Brook University in 1983, he worked in law enforcement as part of Stony Brook’s University Police. Stephen received multiple meritorious service awards. After ten years, he retired from the force and enrolled in Hofstra Law School, earning his J.D. in 1997.
While a Hofstra law student, Stephen clerked for a Patchogue Village Court judge. Upon admission to the bar in 1998, Stephen was able to join the Suffolk County 18B and Law Guardian (now known as Attorney for Children) panels. His 18B and Attorney for Children cases provided him with a great deal of valuable experience that was critical for a new attorney.
Mr. Hellman began volunteering for the Pro Bono Project not long after starting his practice. Over these many years since then, he has successfully protected the rights and interests of dozens of Project clients, representing divorce plaintiffs and defendants in both Supreme and Family Courts. He always has several active Pro Bono Project matrimonial cases open with our office at the same time. Most of our divorce clients are victims of physical abuse and/or severe financial exploitation. When asked why he accepts so many Project referrals, Mr. Hellman responded, “I appreciate how difficult it must be for a person to be dealing with a divorce and not be able to afford a lawyer. I feel it’s important for attorneys to give back to the community. This is a way I can do that.” He added, “and, I like the work. I enjoy being in Court, participating in trials, and the Pro Bono Project’s cases are always interesting.”
Stephen’s former pro bono clients have even contacted him years after their cases were closed to thank him for his excellent advocacy. He recently received a family photo from a former domestic violence client. He closed her case in 2018 but she got in touch to let him know that he changed her life and saved her family. Our client was a defendant in a divorce action and Stephen filed an Order to Show Cause in her case to set aside a separation agreement that was not beneficial to her and didn’t comply with the requirements of these types of agreements. Her husband had found it on the internet. In the Order to Show Cause, he also asked for what’s known as pendente lite relief and obtained maintenance and child support payments so that she could live in her home and keep her car while the divorce was proceeding. Stephen ultimately was able to obtain a QDRO (Qualified Domestic Relations Order) so that she could receive her fair share of both of her husband’s pensions which had been waived in the separation agreement. Her husband was earning approximately nine times what she earned. However, under duress,
she agreed to the unfavorable separation agreement. As victims of domestic violence, our clients are often forced to sign documents to protect themselves from harm.
This client also had the benefit of Stephen’s representation in Family Court. Sometimes during the course of Stephen’s 18B work he encounters a client who he wants to represent in Supreme Court for his or her divorce. This client was one of those cases. Stephen reached out to us and asked us to screen his 18B client for eligibility for assistance from the Pro Bono Project. Once we find the client eligible, then Stephen can obtain credit for representing him or her in their divorce as well. Our divorce volunteers only commit to representing our clients in Supreme Court, but Stephen often goes above and beyond for his clients.
Another of our pro bono clients was terrified because her abusive husband was trying to take her children from her. Her abusive spouse has been awarded a “refrain from” order of protection against her. We have seen this tactic of savvy abusers manipulating the system in an effort to exert control over their victim families. Employing his financial expertise, Stephen was able to establish that her spouse was actually earning significantly more than he claimed. Stephen was able to obtain maintenance and child support on the spouse’s proper wages and more importantly for this client, she was ultimately awarded custody of her children. She is another perfect example of an extremely happy former client.
Stephen has also been successful in obtaining legal fees for some of his work for our pro bono clients. This many seem like a non sequitur but if there is a monied spouse in a divorce, the Courts will sometimes award legal fees to pro bono attorneys who are representing the indigent spouse. In these cases, our volunteers still get their CLE credits (up to 10 hours per attorney registration period) and a voucher upon completion of the case to attend a CLE course with the Academy of Law, in addition to being awarded legal fees. Stephen recently obtained his fees for one of our clients whose spouse did not pay child support after the divorce judgment was awarded. He moved for contempt and obtained his fees. But fees are also available in the underlying divorce action. His client was so afraid of her spouse that Stephen was able to keep her address confidential and she was allowed to relocate with her children.
Stephen has also been known to make house calls for clients that don’t have transportation. He did this for one of our clients who was scarred on her face from a vase that her spouse threw at her and she had also sustained a broken nose from another one of her husband’s assaults. Stephen’s very caring and comprehensive approach to his pro bono representation makes him such an invaluable member of our pro bono team. He is someone who shows bottomless kindness and consistently goes above and beyond what is required. We cannot thank him enough for his superlative contributions.
In addition to managing his busy practice, Mr. Hellman is the father of four children, Ashley, Seaver, Matthew and Jared, and the doting grandfather of three, Alex, Alyvia and Cameron. He is also an avid sports fan and spends his free time traveling to various arenas to cheer for the Islanders.
The Suffolk Pro Bono Project is a joint effort of Nassau Suffolk Law Services, the Suffolk County Bar Association and the Suffolk County Pro Bono Foundation. This mission of the
collaboration is to provide free legal assistance to Suffolk County residents who are dealing with economic hardship. The Pro Bono Project assists clients with divorce, bankruptcy, guardianship, and wills. There is extremely limited funding for the general provision of legal representation in these areas and therefore the demand for pro bono assistance is the great. If you have the time and would like to volunteer, please contact Carolyn McQuade, Esq. 631 232-2400 ext. 3325 or email@example.com.
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