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

VLP Staff

Office Management
& Finance

Paula Cooley
Lauren Dietterich
Cheryl Wilmet
Program Coordinators
Christine Biggie
Maria Valeri

.


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.


Director of Immigration Program

Emma L. Buckthal, Esq.

Director of Immigration Program
(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.


Supervising Attorneys

Nikole Wynn, Esq.

Supervising Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 313
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.


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.

.

.

.


Cheryl Wilmet

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

.Cheryl Wilmet joined the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project in August of 2017. After graduating with a Paralegal Degree in 1997, she worked with a private attorney but found her true calling while working with Non-Profit organizations.  Cheryl first started as a Paralegal in our Immigration Program and is now the Office Manager bringing years of legal experience to our Batavia, NY office.

 


Senior Staff Attorney

Blanca Owen, Esq.

Senior 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.

.


Kerry Battenfeld, Esq.

Senior 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.


.

Staff Attorney

Charles Case, Esq.

Positive Families and Individuals Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 315
ccase@ecbavlp.com

.

.

.

.


.

Lori Genovese, Esq.

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

Lori Roman Genovese, Esq. dedicates her practice to helping low income families in Erie County Family Court, and is the director of the Family Court Help Desk.  She is a graduate of the University at Buffalo, where she earned her Juris Doctorate, cum laude, Master of Arts, summa cum laude, and Bachelor of Arts, cum laude.  Prior to practicing law, Lori was a college professor, and served on the faculty of Canisius College, the University at Buffalo, and Jamestown Community College. She is a member of the Erie County Bar Association and the Attorneys for Children Panel, Fourth Department.

.


Vanessa Guite, Esq.

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

.

.

.

.


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.


Zahra Salih, Esq.

LITC Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 316
zsalih@ecbavlp.com

.

.

.

.


Christopher Szczygiel, Esq.

Housing Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 344
cszczygiel@ecbavlp.com

.

.

.

.


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.


Immigration Staff Attorneys

Hollis DeAbreu, Esq.

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

.

Hollis received her law degree from Florida A& M College of Law and her undergraduate degree in Political Science from the University at Buffalo.

Prior to joining VLP, Hollis worked in private practice focused on immigration defense in Western New York.

She has worked in many areas of the law throughout her legal career including clerking in criminal state court in Connecticut and worked as an Attorney for the Federal Small Business Administration in Washington, DC.

She has dedicated her legal career to public service and nonprofit work. Her main goal is to provide legal services to those under-served with the integrity and respect they deserve.


Channa Gordon, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 213
cgordon@ecbavlp.com

.

.

.

.

.


Joel Hernandez, Esq.

Immigration Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 219
jhernandez@ecbavlp.com

.

.

.

.

.


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.

.

.


Dalya Kefi

 Law Student (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 222
dkefi@ecbavlp.com

.Dalya Kefi is a Law Graduate working with the Immigration Program at the Volunteer Lawyers Project at its Batavia Office. Dalya graduated from American University’s Washington College of Law and obtained her J.D. in May 2019. During law school, she was President of the WCL National Lawyers Guild and Senior Partnerships and Articles Editor for the Human Rights Brief. Dalya also served as a case manager for the International Refugee Assistance Project and volunteered as an NGO Observer for Human Rights First at the Military Commissions in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Dalya has interned at Freedom Now, the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, and the Public International Law and Policy Group. Dalya also completed a law school internship with VLP. Prior to law school, Dalya served as an AmeriCorps VISTA in Montana.

Dalya joined VLP in August 2019 and represents clients in removal proceedings at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia, NY.

 


Natalie Lesniak

Law Graduate (Buffalo Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 345
nlesniak@ecbavlp.com

.

.

.

.

.


Maggie Lindstrom, Esq.

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

Margret Lindstrom is an immigration staff attorney with VLP. Margret provides direct representation to non-citizens detained at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia, New York in their asylum, cancellation of removal, and other immigration defense matters. Prior to joining VLP at the start of 2019, Margret was a civil litigator in private practice in Seattle, Washington. With a focus on large-scale government investigations, Margret has a wealth of experience defending clients against actions by the federal government. Margret is admitted to practice law in California, New York, Washington (inactive), the Western District of New York, and Tulalip Tribal Court.

Margret’s tenure at VLP is a return to public interest law. A graduate of the UCLA School of Law, Margret was active in the school’s Public Interest Law Fund, volunteered with El Centro de la Raza immigration law clinic, participated in a trial advocacy clinic culminating in the representation of clients at their wage claim hearings, and served as a judicial extern with the Office of the Federal Public Defender. Margret also served as a chief managing editor of the UCLA Law Women’s Law Journal. Highly involved in her community, Margret has served as a co-chair of The United Way’s Next Generation United Advisory Board; and was a former pro-bono volunteer with the Chief Sealth Urban Indian Legal Clinics in Seattle, Washington.


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.


Holli McClean

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

.

.

.

.

.


Amanda Oppermann

Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 219
aoppermann@ecbavlp.com

.

.

.

.

.


Carla Perez, Esq.

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

.

.

.

.

.


Patrick Salumu, Esq.

Staff Attorney (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 223
psalumu@ecbavlp.com

Patrick Salumu is an immigration staff attorney with VLP. Patrick provides direct representation to non-detained immigrants in Buffalo and non-citizens detained at the Buffalo Federal Detention Center in Batavia, New York in their asylum, cancellation of removal, and other immigration defense matters. Prior to joining VLP, Patrick worked in private practice focused on immigration defense in Buffalo, New York. Patrick is admitted to practice law in the State of New York.

Patrick is a graduate of Indiana University, McKinney School of Law. He volunteered with BACI (Burmese American Community of Institute) and he was part of the immigration law clinic at the same University. Prior to his US experience, Patrick has acquired an extensive academic background rewarded by his law degrees from Belgium (Catholic University of Louvain) and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Universite Protestante au Congo).

 


Brittany Triggs, Esq.

Law Graduate (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 216
btriggs@ecbavlp.com

Brittany Triggs is a law graduate working on the New York Immigrant Family Unification Project in the Batavia Office. She graduated from the University of Cincinnati College of Law in May of 2019. During law school, Brittany was an Arthur Russel Morgan Fellow in International Human Rights as well as a Weaver Institute Fellow in Law and Psychiatry. In addition to her fellowships, she worked as a program coordinator for the Center for Race, Gender, and Social Justice. She completed internships at Universidad Pontifica Comillas Institute on Migration Studies in Madrid, Spain and at the Door in New York City. Before going to law school, Brittany taught English in Honduras, served as an AmeriCorps VISTA at Legal Aid Chicago (formally LAF) in the Immigrant and Worker’s Rights Project, and served a second year working at American’s for Immigrant Justice and Florida International College of Law Immigration Clinic.

Brittany joined VLP in August 2019 and represents clients detained in the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility. Brittany is fluent in Spanish.


Program Coordinators

Christine C. Biggie

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

.

.

.

.

.


.

.


Maria Valeri

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

With over 25 years of paralegal experience in area law firms, Maria Valeri joined the Immigration Program at the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, Inc. (“VLP”) in 2015 and received full accreditation as an immigration representative from the Department of Justice in March of 2016.  Maria has represented noncitizens in affirmative applications, including survivors of domestic violence and trafficking, and provided deportation defense as part of our Batavia immigration team.

In early 2019, Maria accepted the position of the firm’s Pro Bono Recruitment Coordinator.  As such, she provides opportunities and hosts trainings for private attorneys to encourage their involvement in pro bono through VLP.  Maria also works closely with the University at Buffalo School of Law to integrate law students with VLP programs through internships and practicums.  She also manages the firm’s Pro Se Assistance Program with the Western District of New York, United States District Court.


Support Staff

Christopher
Plumb

Digital Marketing/IT 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
.

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.

Eduardo Escarret

Paralegal (Batavaia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 206
eescarret@ecbavlp.com

Vinicius
Karaski

Paralegal (Batavia Office)
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 214 
vkaraski@ecbavlp.com
Fluent in Spanish

Marci Wiseman

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

.

.

Stacey Castro

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

Back to top of page



Call Now Button$('#offcanvas-wrapper').removeClass('force-hide'); Scroll Up