438 Main Street l 7th Floor l Buffalo, NY
(716) 847-0662

VLP Staff

Buffalo Office

Batavia Office

Office Management
& Finance

Paula Cooley
Lauren Dietterich
Cheryl Wilmet

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Executive Director/CEO

Robert M. Elardo, Esq.

(716) 847-0662 Ext. 312
relardo@ecbavlp.com
Robert Elardo on LinkedIn

Robert M. Elardo has been the Director of the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, Inc. (VLP) since 1984. During that time, he has also spent periods serving as President of the National Association of Pro Bono Coordinators (NAPBCO), Co-Chair of the New York Pro Bono Coordinators Network, and as a consultant to the American Bar Association’s Center for Pro Bono. He is a member of the NY State Bar Association (NYSBA) President’s Committee on Access to Justice and the NYSBA Committee on Legal Aid. He has been a trainer numerous times on pro bono topics for the ABA, NYSBA and within Erie County.

Prior to starting with VLP, he was an Associate Member of the Law Faculty at Boalt Hall, University of California at Berkeley. He was awarded a Distinguished Alumnus Award by the University at Buffalo Law Alumni Association, an Award of Merit from Bar Association of Erie County, and a Community Leader Award in Legal from the National Federation for Just Communities of WNY. He is responsible for the overall management and supervision of VLP.


Deputy Director

Gretchen Gonzalez, Esq.

(716) 847-0662 Ext. 331
ggonzalez@ecbavlp.com

Gretchen Gonzalez rejoined VLP in 2016 and now serves as our Deputy Director. Ms. Gonzalez previously worked as a Senior Staff Attorney in VLP’s Positive Families and Individuals project providing representation to clients impacted by HIV and as the staff attorney for Community and Economic Development working with not for profits and small businesses in WNY.

She has worked in New York City as a trial attorney in the housing unit of both the Legal Aid Society’s Harlem Community Law Office and Queens Legal Services.  Ms. Gonzalez has also worked as a Staff Attorney with the Urban Justice Center Mental Health Project where she represented clients with severe and persistent mental illness. She clerked with the ACLU National LGBT Rights Project and Children’s Legal Services. Prior to rejoining VLP, Ms. Gonzalez was a Program Manager at CVR Associates where she managed the Section 8 program for a local housing authority.

Ms. Gonzalez holds a Bachelors of Arts and Juris Doctor, cum laude, from Boston University, as well as an MA in Psychology, cum laude, from City University of New York Hunter College. She is a graduate of the Harvard Business School Club of Buffalo’s Non-Profit Management Program. Gretchen is conversational in Spanish.


Supervising Attorneys

Gregory J. Stewart, Esq.

Supervising Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 313
gstewart@ecbavlp.com

Gregory J. Stewart earned his JD, MBA and Undergraduate degrees all from the SUNY at Buffalo and is admitted to practice in NY as well as the USBC for the WDNY and USDC for the WDNY.  He has been Supervising Attorney at VLP since June of 2006.  Prior to coming to VLP, Mr. Stewart had been in private practice for 19 years, active predominantly in the areas of Family Law, Bankruptcy, Collections and Landlord Tenant Law.  In private practice he represented numerous clients pro bono, in Divorce and Bankruptcy proceedings through VLP, receiving both NYSBA and VLP awards for his efforts.  He is a member of the Erie County Bar Association and serves on the Fourth Department’s Attorney for Children panel.


Emma L. Buckthal, Esq.

Supervising Immigration Attorney (Buffalo Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 302
ebuckthal@ecbavlp.com

Emma Buckthal received her JD summa cum laude from the University at Buffalo Law School, and her BA magna cum laude from Alfred University.  She joined the Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) full time in fall 2010.

Since then, she has focused her legal work on immigrants before USCIS, EOIR, and ICE.  Before joining VLP full time, she volunteered at VLP for three years as a student intern, and spent summers at Kalikova & Associates in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, and Chadbourne and Parke LLP in New York, New York.  She also taught English in Taiwan before attending law school. Ms. Buckthal was promoted to Immigration Senior Staff Attorney in February of 2016 and Supervising Immigration Attorney in Febuary of 2018. Emma is fluent in Spanish and conversational in Arabic and Turkish.


Brenda Cisneros Vilchis, Esq.

Supervising Immigration Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 204
bcisneros@ecbavlp.com

Brenda Cisneros Vilchis joined the Volunteer Lawyers Project in March of 2016. Ms. Cisneros Vilchis received her LL.M. Degree from SUNY Buffalo Law School and her Licenciatura en Derecho (the equivalent of a law degree) from the Facultad Libre de Derecho de Monterrey in Monterrey, Mexico. She joined the Volunteer Lawyers Project full time in March 2016, and has focused her legal work on representing unaccompanied minors and detained individuals in removal proceedings before USCIS, EOIR and ICE. Before joining the Volunteer Lawyers Project, Ms. Cisneros Vilchis practiced in the private sector, focusing on immigration removal proceedings and representing injured workers before the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board.

Ms. Cisneros Vilchis is admitted to practice in New York State and Mexico, and she is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association – Western New York Chapter, the New York State Bar Association, the Bar Association of Erie County and the University at Buffalo’s Law Alumni Association. Brenda is fluent in Spanish and conversational in French.


Office Management & Finance

Paula Cooley

Controller/Grants Administrator
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 311
pcooley@ecbavlp.com

Paula brings years of experience in all aspects of financial operations.  She has extensive expertise in financial reporting, accounting practices, cash management, accounts receivable, and accounts payable processes. Her skills ensure the accounting department operates at the highest level of compliance and integrity and works efficiently and effectively.

A results driven, self-motivated and resourceful financial controller with a proven ability to provide key financial data, support and reporting to assist in key business decisions.

Paula’s employment with the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, Inc. began in 2006 as the Office Manager and then the Office Manager/ Grant Administrator.

Paula is the financial contract management contact for all of VLP’s contracts including the NYS Department of Health, Internal Revenue Service, The Vera Institute of Justice, Legal Services Corporation, International Institute of Buffalo, IOLA Fund of New York State and the NY Offices of Court Administration.


Lauren Dietterich

Office Manager/HR Administrator
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 308
ldietterich@ecbavlp.com

Lauren joined Volunteer Lawyers Project in April 2016 and comes with many years of experience in administration, management and bookkeeping.

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Cheryl Wilmet

Office Manager (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 207
cwilmet@ecbavlp.com

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Senior Staff Attorney

Blanca Owen, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 210
bowen@ecbavlp.com

Blanca holds a law degree from the Universidad Militar Nueva Granada (“UMNG”), in Bogota, Colombia as well as a Master of Laws degree from SUNY at Buffalo Law School.  Blanca is admitted to practice law both in Colombia and in the State of New York.

In September 2017, Blanca joined the ECBA Volunteer Lawyers Project where she currently represents individuals in removal proceedings in the Immigration courts in Batavia and Buffalo New York. Blanca is fluent in Spanish.

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Grace Zaiman, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 205
gzaiman@ecbavlp.com

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Staff Attorney

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Katie Dibble, Esq.

Pro Bono Department Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 344
kdibble@ecbavlp.com

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Lori Genovese, Esq.

Pro Bono Department Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 305
lgenovese@ecbavlp.com

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Vanessa Guite, Esq.

Pro Bono Department Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 334
vguite@ecbavlp.com

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Valdora E. Estridge, Esq.

Unemployment/Family Law Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 303
vestridge@ecbavlp.com

Valdora E. Estridge, Esq. joined the Volunteer Lawyers Project in October 2016. In her role at VLP, she deals primarily with Employment Law, representing and providing legal assistance to Unemployment Insurance Benefit claimants throughout NYS, though primarily in WNY. She also provides limited Wage Claim assistance, and can also be relied on to provide assistance in Family Law.

Ms. Estridge received her Juris Doctor, with a concentration in Finance Transactions, from SUNY Buffalo Law School. During her time there, she served on the Buffalo Journal of Gender, Law & Social Policy from 2010 until 2012, and was a Student Attorney in the Economic Advocacy Clinic, where she specialized in not-for-profit corporations. Ms. Estridge has done VAWA immigration legal work as well. After her graduation, she was involved in additional pro-bono attorney immigration work, in conjunction with VLP. She also completed a summer internship in the New York State Unified Court System, as a Buffalo City Court Law Intern under the supervision of Court Attorneys. She completed an additional summer internship in Erie County Medical Center Corporation, as a Law Intern under the supervision of In-house Attorneys.

Ms. Estridge is a speaker of French, holding a B.A. in French and Francophone Studies from Hobart and William Smith Colleges. She is currently a member of the American Bar Association and the New York State Bar Association Labor & Employment Law sections as well as the Erie County Bar Association. Valdora is fluent in French.


Sara Stoessel, Esq.

Positive Families and Individuals Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 319
sstoessel@ecbavlp.com

Sara Stoessel joined VLP in October of 2016. Sara completed both her BA in Social Sciences (magna cum laude) and her JD from SUNY at Buffalo, where she graduated cum laude. While completing her JD, she was active in the Domestic Violence Task Force in the University at Buffalo’s Family Law Program.

Ms. Stoessel has worked extensively at private firms, as a legal assistant, law clerk, and from 2014 to 2016, as an associate attorney at the Sperrazza Law Firm, where her focus was on Family Law.  She also has experience with not-for-profit law firms, having interned at Neighborhood Legal Services and Legal Services for the Elderly and Disabled. She is a member of New York State Bar Association, as well as the Bar Association of Erie County, and is on the latter’s Matrimonial and Family Law, and the Practice and Procedure in Family Law Court, committees. Ms. Stoessel is also on the Erie County Coalition Against Family Violence.

As a staff attorney in VLP’s Positive Families and Individuals program, she serves individuals and families impacted by HIV in a variety of civil legal matters.  Ms. Stoessel’s cases have included child custody and access proceedings, child support proceedings, debtor-creditor issues, divorce, post-judgment matrimonial issues and end of life planning.  In addition, she routinely conducts community outreach and has provided to trainings to local providers on various legal issues.


Derek Wheeler, Esq.

Tax Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 ext. 316
dwheeler@ecbavlp.com
Derek Wheeler on LinkedIn

Derek Wheeler joined the Volunteer Lawyers Project in March of 2015 as the Tax Clinic Staff Attorney.  His primary responsibilities include representing low income taxpayers in tax controversies with the IRS and organizing educational outreach to low income taxpayers and those with limited English proficiency in Western New York.  He is currently a member of American Bar Association, New York State Bar Association, and the Erie County Bar Association taxation sections.

Mr. Wheeler received his J.D. from Syracuse University College of Law in 2014, focusing his studies on taxation and estate planning.  While at Syracuse, he worked as a student attorney in the Low Income Taxpayer Clinic.  He holds a B.A. in Public Affairs from Wells College.


Nikole Wynn, Esq.

Positive Families and Individuals Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 315
nwynn@ecbavlp.com
Nikole Wynn on LinkedIn

Nikole Wynn joined the Volunteer Lawyers Project in 2014. As a staff attorney in VLP’s Positive Families and Individuals program, she serves individuals and families impacted by HIV in a variety of legal matters. Ms. Wynn’s cases have included child custody and visitation cases, child support proceedings, unemployment matters, debtor-creditor issues, housing matters, divorce proceedings, and end of life planning. In addition, she routinely conducts community outreach and has provided trainings to local service providers and students regarding HIV confidentiality, advance directives, and other issues relating to the legal issues facing those with HIV.

Before joining VLP, Ms. Wynn was a criminal defense attorney at a local law firm representing individuals in a variety of criminal and traffic court matters, focusing on DWI defense and motor vehicle licensing issues. In addition, she has clerked for Judge Henry Nowak in the New York State Supreme Court. She has also worked with the District of Columbia’s Public Defender Service where she assisted individuals in having their criminal records sealed to ensure a successful reentry to the community following release from incarceration.
Nikole holds a BA in legal studies with a minor in political science, magna cum laude, from the University of Buffalo. She also holds a Juris Doctor, magna cum laude, from the University of Buffalo Law School where she received the Adelbert Moot scholarship for academic excellence.


Immigration Staff Attorneys

Kerry Battenfeld, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Buffalo Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 338
kbattenfeld@ecbavlp.com

Kerry Battenfeld is an Immigrant Justice Corps Fellow working with the Immigration Program at the Volunteer Lawyers Project. She is a 2017 graduate of the University at Buffalo JD/MSW program and was the 2017 recipient of the Law School’s John N. Bennett Award for highest scholastic achievement in her graduating class. As a student, Kerry served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Buffalo Law Review and as an Oralist on the Phillip C. Jessup International Law Moot Court Team. She completed internships with the Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center and the Immigrant Justice Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center. Prior to graduate school, she worked as a case manager for human trafficking survivors at the International Institute of Buffalo and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Honduras.

Kerry joined VLP in September 2017 and represents clients in removal proceedings, affirmative asylum applications, and other forms of relief available to victims of crime. Kerry is fluent in Spanish.


Hollis DeAbreu Belgrave, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 211
hbelgrave@ecbavlp.com

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Joe Cassidy-Schaffer, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 202
jcassidy-schaffer@ecbavlp.com

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Daniel E. Jackson, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Buffalo Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 201
djackson@ecbavlp.com

Daniel Jackson received his law degree from the University of London, England and subsequently studied for his LL.M. at Columbia Law School, New York and the University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

Having qualified as a Barrister in the UK (roughly the equivalent of a trial attorney), Daniel moved from London to the United States in 2012 and subsequently to Buffalo in 2015 where he practiced immigration law in the private sector. His focus was on immigration removals proceedings and appellate immigration work.

Daniel is admitted to the New York State bar and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and is a member of the Erie County and New York State Bar Associations.


Christopher Jones, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Buffalo Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 343
cjones@ecbavlp.com

Christopher received his Juris Doctorate from Florida State University where he also received his Bachelor of Arts in English.

Prior to joining VLP Christopher worked as a staff immigration attorney at The New York Legal Assistance Group in New York City and also at the Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, Inc. in Utica.

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Maggie Lindstrom, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 212
mlindstrom@ecbavlp.com

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Rolando R. Masvidal, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 205
rmasvidal@ecbavlp.com

Rolando R. Masvidal received his Juris Doctor and his Master of Laws in Democratic Governance and Rule of Law from Ohio Northern University, Pettit College of Law in 2017. He also received a B.A. in International Relations (Cum Laude) from Florida International University in 2013. Rolando also holds a certificate in National Security from the Jack D. Gordon Institute for Public Policy; and another certificate in Latin American and Caribbean Studies from the Kimberly Green Latin American and Caribbean Center.

Prior joining VLP in 2018, Rolando has worked in the International Development for-profit sector, and as a Human Rights researcher in the Caucasus region. Rolando studied journalism at the University of Havana and worked as a news reporter in the Republic of Cuba, before relocating to the U.S. in 2008. Rolando is fluent in Spanish and French.


Jessica Neubauer

Law Graduate (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 219
jneubauer@ecbavlp.com

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Carla Perez, Esq.

Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 220
carlaperez@ecbavlp.com

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Barry Ronner

Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 216
bronner@ecbavlp.com

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Program Coordinators

Christine C.
Biggie

Volunteer Attorney Coordinator
(716) 847-0662 Ext . 317
cbiggie@ecbavlp.com
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Margarita Rivera-Rusch

Paralegal/AOM Coordinator
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 327
mrusch@ecbavlp.com
Fluent in Spanish

Maria
Valeri

VLP Pro Bono Recruitment Coordinator
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 321
mvaleri@ecbavlp.com

Support Staff

Christopher
Plumb

Social Media Coordinator
(716) 847-0662 Ext . 322
cplumb@ecbavlp.com
Conversational in French and ASL

Anita Garcia

Social Worker (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 218
agarcia@ecbavlp.com
Fluent in Spanish

Jazmin LaFay

Paralegal 
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 335
jlafay@ecbavlp.com
Fluent in Spanish

Ashley
Mitchell

Paralegal
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 310
amitchell@ecbavlp.com
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Nohely Arteaga

Paralegal (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 208
narteaga@ecbavlp.com
Fluent in Spanish

Jillian Nowak

Paralegal
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 306
jnowak@ecbavlp.com.

Carmen
Perez

Paralegal (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 206 
cperez@ecbavlp.com
Fluent in Spanish

Marci Wiseman

Legal Assistant 
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 300
mwiseman@ecbavlp.com
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Stacey Castro

Paralegal (Batavia Office) 
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 221
scastro@ecbavlp.com

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