By GREGORY N. HEIRES
Family, friends, coworkers and judges on Jan. 18 gathered to bid farewell to Joan Beranbaum, the director and chief counsel of the DC 37 Municipal Employees Legal Services Plan, who is leaving the union after 39 years with the program.
Beranbaum was among the first group of employees to join the legal services program when it opened in 1977.
Beranbaum learned about the job opening while she was working at the Legal Aid Society, where she was hired right after she graduated from New York University Law. MELS attracted her because it was a pioneering service for union workers.
At her retirement party, Beranbaum noted that over the course of her nearly four-decade career at DC 37, MELS handled the cases of half a million DC 37 members and retirees.
Speakers praised Beranbaum for devoting her career to working people rather than the rich and powerful. She remained passionate about her work and never lost her sense of mission throughout her career, they said.
William Whalen, the acting director and chief counsel of MELS, hosted and also spoke at the event, which was organized by a team of staffers organized.
Beranbaum joined MELS as a staff attorney. Two years later, she became a supervising attorney.
Beranbaum became the supervising attorney of the new housing unit in 1983 during a restructuring in which the plan established units devoted to specific areas, such as bankruptcy, family matters (divorce, spousal abuse, adoption and guardianship), consumer rights, government entitlements, finance (credit disputes and debt), preparation of wills, immigration and even name changes. In 2002, Beranbaum was appointed to head the legal service.
From the union, speakers included DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido, Local 1549 President Eddie Rodriguez, Treasurer Maf Misbah Uddin, Queens Library Local 1321 President John Hyslop, and former MELS Associate Director Robert A. Martin, who retired last year.
Other speakers included the Hon. Sylvia Ash, a justice of New York State Supreme Court, and the Hon. Associate Judge Sylvia O. Hinds-Radix, an associate justice in the Appellate Division, Second Department—both former MELS staffers—Justice Matt Cooper, a justice at the New York State Supreme Court and Beranbaum’s son, Ross.
The DC 37 Blog is an official online publication of District Council 37, AFSCME.