$1M Gift to Rutgers Law School Enhances Statewide Public Interest Efforts

The pro bono and public interest initiatives underway at Rutgers law schools in Camden and Newark will expand their reach throughout the state with a $1 million investment to support future practitioners and those unable to afford legal services, thanks to Rutgers Law–Camden alumnus James Maida and his wife Sharon.

James R. Maida, a 1990 graduate, is founder, president, and CEO of Gaming Laboratories International, LLC, headquartered in Lakewood, with additional worldwide locations. The first and largest testing lab of its kind, Gaming Laboratories International specializes in the testing, certification and security of gaming as well as consultation to gaming boards, lotteries, and casino operators globally.  Sharon O’Mara Maida, Ed.D, a 1997 Rutgers University Graduate School of Education alumna, is a pioneer in the area of orientation and mobility of blind and visually impaired children and is nationally recognized for her work in this area.   Dr. Maida also maintains a private practice specializing in children with visual impairments.   They are the trustees of the James and Sharon Maida Foundation, Inc., which creates opportunities for young people to continue their education, the couple is passionate about “paying it forward.”

The Maidas have long supported Rutgers students through generous scholarships. Now, with their $1 million gift, the Maida Public Interest Scholars Program will establish the law school as one of the nation’s leading public law schools for public interest law.

The gift will benefit Rutgers students while helping the most vulnerable residents in the surrounding communities. The Maida Public Interest Summer Fellowships will pay up to 40 students to work for public interest legal organizations in positions that are normally unpaid, imparting valuable professional experience to the students while advancing the public good. The Maida Post–Graduate Public Interest Fellowship will fund the full-time salary of a selected fellow working in the public interest. These extraordinary funding opportunities will also help attract a cohort of high-achieving prospective law students with a demonstrated commitment to social change.

“All of our gifts to Rutgers centered on helping those students, those future lawyers, who through no fault of their own find that the cost of a legal education is outside of their financial means,” says James Maida. “Now it’s time for those students to give back, to pay it forward to help other people in need. Good quality legal service is often out of reach to those who need it the most. We are paying it forward twice on a single gift.”

Their generous and strategic gift comes at a momentous time for the law school.  Pending American Bar Association approval later this summer, Rutgers’ law schools in Camden and Newark will merge as a unified Rutgers Law School, becoming one of the nation’s largest public law schools and offering one of the most comprehensive curriculums in the country. Maida says the timing of the gift with the law school merger is no coincidence, but precisely why they decided to invest significantly now.

“This is an exciting time for Rutgers Law, and we are exceptionally grateful to James and Sharon for their transformational investment that will greatly enhance our nationally recognized pro bono and public interest program in an unprecedented way and during an historic time in Rutgers legal education,” says Rutgers Law–Camden Acting Dean John Oberdiek.

Associate Dean for Pro Bono and Public Interest Jill Friedman is equally delighted about the gift: “James’s and Sharon’s support will elevate Rutgers Law School and our already outstanding program into the very top echelon of public law schools for support of public interest lawyering.” Friedman oversees the pro bono and public interest programs at both Rutgers Law–Camden and Rutgers Law– Newark.

Through a competitive application process, the first Maida Post-Graduate Public Interest Fellow, earning a stipend approaching $50,000, has just been selected. Rutgers Law–Camden 2015 graduate Joshua Bauers will join sponsoring organization, Fair Share Housing Center in Cherry Hill, in a project serving lower-income New Jerseyans living in redeveloping municipalities with inadequate housing plans.

Bauers came to Rutgers Law–Camden with a background in social work, and was a member of the Association for Public Interest Law while a student. He was deeply involved with various pro bono projects at Rutgers Law–Camden, while working full-time and serving as an intern at the Fair Share Housing Center. The Blackwood resident says this fellowship allows him to impact positively the living situations of thousands of families, an issue that has long been a focus of his.

“It was here at Rutgers that I took my compassion for those less fortunate than me and learned advocacy skills that will allow me to create real and lasting results in their lives,” says Bauers. “The generosity of the Maidas is amazing and becoming the first person to receive this fellowship is truly an honor.”

Kevin Walsh, a 1999 alumnus of Rutgers Law–Camden, named Lawyer of the Year by the New Jersey Law Journal, serves as executive director of Fair Share Housing Center.  “As we move into a new phase of our work, in which we implement a recent decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court, having Josh on board will result in more homes for lower-income New Jerseyans being available and will help Josh develop as a public interest lawyer,” states Walsh.

Next year, the Maida Public Interest Program will branch further as Newark and Camden law students apply for up to 40 Maida Public Interest Summer Fellowships that provide up to $5,000 to those working in public interest positions across the state.  The fellows will work in public interest organizations such as government agencies or non-profits and up to seven fellows will be able to work in the law school’s own clinics or pro bono programs.

“Rutgers has a proud tradition of placing students in critical public service internships, where they do everything from assisting abused and neglected children to taking on social causes like marriage equality,” adds Friedman.  “With this leadership investment by the Maidas, we will be able to support more rising 2L and 3L students than ever before.”

The Maidas’s gift also will also name the clinic at Rutgers Law–Camden, which last year produced more than 30,000 of hours of free legal support to those in need.  The James and Sharon Maida Community Justice Suite, located on the second floor of the law school’s east building, will be the official name of the law school’s own powerhouse teaching law firm, where its student and faculty handle hundreds of cases each year addressing issues like domestic violence, immigration, and children’s justice.

According to Maida, his Rutgers legal education was pivotal to his professional success and why he’s compelled to give back so substantially. “I’m sure I would not be able to do what I do today had I not attended Rutgers Law. This gift will give the Rutgers pro bono and public interest program a statewide reach and allow students to give back before they leave law school. Everyone should have access to good legal service.”

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