ECBA Volunteer Lawyers Project Staff
& BIA Accredited Representative
Robert M. Elardo, Esq.
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.
Gregory J. Stewart, Esq.
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 313
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.
Pro Bono Manager
Gayle Towne Murphy, Esq.
As Pro Bono Manager, Gayle encourages WNY attorneys to volunteer their time and talents to assist VLP clients who desperately need their help. She works with law firms, private attorneys, and bar associations to spread the word about the value of pro bono legal services. She collaborates with the SUNY Buffalo Law School to recruit and train law student volunteers at VLP. She is also involved with the attorney emeritus program, supporting attorneys over the age of 55 who are interested in the benefits of providing pro bono legal services.
Prior to this exciting position, Gayle had a private law practice focusing on children’s rights and the rights of individuals with disabilities for over twenty years. She was a frequent lecturer and trainer on education and disability law issues for parents, educators, attorneys and other professionals. Gayle received a B.S. Ed., summa cum laude, and an MS. Ed. in exceptional education from Buffalo State College. She received her J.D. from SUNY Buffalo School of Law. She was a special education teacher, an instructor and student teaching supervisor in the exceptional education department at Buffalo State College, and a clinical legal education instructor at UB Law School. She also practiced law at a private law firm in Buffalo, at Neighborhood Legal Services and at Legal Services for the Elderly.
Gayle is a certified teacher of special education and served as an Impartial Hearing Officer for the NYS Education Department prior to joining VLP. Gayle has served on the Attorney for the Child Panel for the Fourth Judicial Department. She also served as a court appointed attorney and court evaluator in Article 81 guardianship proceedings.
Ms. Murphy is a member of the New York State Bar Association, the Erie County Bar Association, and the Western New York Chapter of the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York, where she is the co-chair of the Pro Bono Committee. She is a former member of the board of directors for Legal Services for the Elderly, Disabled, Disadvantaged of WNY, Inc.
Office Management & Finance
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 311
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.
Office Manager/HR Administrator
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 308
Lauren joined Volunteer Lawyers Project in April 2016 and comes with many years of experience in administration, management and bookkeeping.
Gretchen Gonzalez, Esq.
Community Economic Development Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 331
Gretchen Gonzalez rejoined VLP in 2016 as the staff attorney for Community and Economic Development where she works with area non-profit organizations to further community and economic development goals for the greater WNY area. She also provides assistance to clients who are facing property tax foreclosure. 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 previously worked with VLP in the Positive Families and Individuals project providing representation to clients impacted by HIV. She has worked in New York City as a trial attorney in the housing unit of both Queens Legal Services and the Legal Aid Society’s Harlem Community Law Office. 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.
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.
Derek Wheeler, Esq.
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.
Shelby Maroselli, Esq.
Family Law Staff/Unemployment Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 305
Valdora E. Estridge, Esq.
Unemployment/Family Law Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 303
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.
Kerisha Hawthorne-Greer, Esq.
Pro Bono Department Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 337
Kerisha Hawthorne-Greer, Esq. received her Juris Doctor (cum laude) from the University at Buffalo Law School in 2014 and her BA (summa cum laude) in English Literature and Psychology from SUNY Geneseo.
Kerisha is committed to expanding civil legal services to low income individuals and families. Prior to joining VLP in April 2017, she worked with Legal Services of Central New York in Binghamton. She currently works as part of VLP’s Pro Bono Team, developing initiatives to increase access to legal services in low-income communities and encouraging WNY attorneys to volunteer their time and skills in assisting VLP clients.
Kerisha is a member of the New York State Bar Association, the Bar Association of Erie County, and the Minority Bar Association of Western New York.
Amanda Warner, Esq.
Pro Bono Department Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 334
Amanda Warner rejoined VLP in 2017 as a staff attorney for the Pro Bono Program, working to develop initiatives to increase access to legal services in low-income communities and to encourage Western New York attorneys to volunteer their time and skills in assisting VLP clients.
Prior to rejoining VLP, Amanda worked as a consultant to local nonprofits and foundations, and as a contract based attorney for Frederick Law Offices, PLLC.
Amanda previously served as Pro Bono Coordinator for the 8th Judicial District at VLP, where she collaborated with leaders in the Western New York legal community to coordinate and support multiple volunteer projects designed to address the unmet legal needs of low-income individuals throughout eight counties.
Amanda holds a Bachelors of Arts in Communication, summa cum laude from the University of Maine, and Juris Doctor, cum laude, from University at Buffalo Law School. She is also a graduate of the Harvard Business School Club of Buffalo’s Non-Profit Management Program.
Immigration Staff Attorneys
Emma L. Buckthal, Esq.
Senior Immigration Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 302
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.
Ramon Irizarry, Esq.
Immigration Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 332
Ramon D. Irizarry received his Juris Doctor from Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson School of Law and his BA in Legal Studies from the University at Buffalo.
Prior to joining VLP in 2015, he had his own practice and was active in the areas of family and criminal law and served on the Fourth Department’s Attorney for Children panel.
Ramon provides weekly “know your rights” presentations, in English and Spanish, to noncitizens detained by the Department of Homeland Security at the Buffalo Federal Detention Facility in Batavia. He also represents noncitizens facing removal through our New York Immigrant Family Unity Program.
Ramon is a member of the Erie County Bar Association.
Brenda Cisneros Vilchis, Esq.
Immigration Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 304
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.
Molly M. Deacon, Esq.
Immigration Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 307
Daniel E. Jackson, Esq.
Immigration Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 333
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.
Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) Accredited Representative
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 318
Maria Valeri joined the Immigration Program at the Erie County Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project, Inc. in 2015 and received full accreditation from the Board of Immigration Appeals in March of 2016. Prior to joining VLP, Maria worked as a paralegal for over 25 years in law firms in Buffalo and Niagara Falls. Along with her efforts in our Western New York Immigration Assistance Center which provides training and other legal support to mandated legal service providers representing noncitizens, Maria also represents noncitizens who are survivors of domestic violence and trafficking, and assists VLP’s work representing unaccompanied immigrant children.
Positive Families & Individuals Staff Attorneys
Nikole Wynn, Esq.
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.
Sara Stoessel, Esq.
Positive Families and Individuals Staff Attorney
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 319
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.
Christine C. Biggie
Volunteer Attorney Coordinator
(716) 847-0662 Ext . 317
Social Media Coordinator
(716) 847-0662 Ext . 322
CRLS Outreach Coordinator
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 306
Paralegal/Secretary/ AOM Coordinator
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 327
Paralegal/Say Yes Coordinator
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 300
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 335
(716) 847-0662 Ext. 310