December 6, 2013
For Ira Needleman (’96), HIV/AIDS work came hand-in-hand with a return to his home city of New York. After graduating first from John Jay College of Criminal Justice and later CUNY Law School, Needleman worked in Pennsylvania, Westchester, and Rochester, starting in general practice, and then moving into custody and domestic violence cases, and, at one point, he became a law guardian for children and youth.
“I was looking to come back to New York City,” says Needleman. “I’m a native New Yorker.”
In 2007, he saw an opening for a staff attorney position at Bronx AIDS Services—now BOOM!Health—and got the job. He now represents clients in civil cases, including public benefits, SSI/SSD benefits, housing eviction prevention, and family law.
A big part of Needleman’s work is counseling clients on their options regarding legal issues.
“Sensitivity and confidentiality issues are very important when representing clients. Some of these clients don’t have a strong network of family and friends. Some of them are isolated and homebound. Sometimes you have to go to their homes to do intakes or meet with them when they can’t go to court because of their medical conditions,” he says.
Sometimes cases have a longevity that outlasts the original client. One such case evolved over five years, beginning with housing and moving to public benefits and then family court. Toward the end of her life, the client had separated from her husband and needed court representation for custody of her children. The client had concerns about the father’s ability to take care of his children, but she became too ill to make it to court. Needleman made several visits to the hospital and to her home, and the client made her mother a standby guardian before her death.
“She passed away before her 40th birthday in the spring of this year,” says Needleman, but the case continued on. Needleman came to represent the maternal grandmother, who later filed for guardianship in a case against the children’s father, and won her case.
“The maternal grandmother got full guardianship,” Needleman recounts. “The father got visitation rights.” Needleman remembers this case in particular because it stretched across several years with multiple clients.
One of Needleman’s biggest motivations as a public interest lawyer is to be in a position to right the wrongs that may happen to a client.
“I want to level the playing field,” says Needleman, who has simple advice to up-and-coming law students. “Be the best attorney you can be by being a zealous and effective advocate for people who need your help.”
– Paul Lin