Is it really going on 10 years?

MCBA President Steve Modica, in one of our monthly leadership meetings, reminded me that in 2015 we would be celebrating 10 years of co-location in the Telesca Center for Justice. REALLY…10 years!? Already? It feels like it just happened, this can’t be.

So I went back and checked. We signed the leases on June 27, 2005. The next 6 months began the construction phase of co-location. Since the Monroe County Bar Association offices were already located in the Four Corners Building, and in order to vacate for the future home of VLSP, the MCBA’s construction began immediately. We moved into our beautiful new space in September of 2005.

Telesca Center Sign Outside Close Up

Meanwhile, the 8th and 9th floor was undergoing a major transformation in order to make way for the largest partner in the building, the Legal Aid Society. Simultaneous to LAS, construction was underway on the 3rd floor, the future home of Empire Justice Center.

Between January 2005 and January 2006, VLSP, LAS and EJC would be officially moved into their new spaces. LawNY (formerly MCLAC) would be another year out as they were relocating to the 4th floor, and the current tenant would remain in that space for another year.

VLSP Lobby Front

To refresh your recall, we had set out to raise $700K, in order to reimburse the landlord for assuming the cost of the construction of the respective space. Then we raised it to $1,000,000 to provide each of the partners with funds for the actual relocation expenses since this was a non-budgeted event for everyone. We had three years to raise these funds, and just in case you forgot, we not only raised the $1,000,000 mark, in the end, we exceeded it by an additional $1,700,000.

With the reimbursement to the landlord, this payment also secured the future of the partners home in the Telesca Center for Justice through 2020 at a below market rate of $10/SF.

The most spectacular and stunning outcome of the $2.7M was the start of Phase II of Co-Location which was the 1st floor lobby transformation. A transformation that would remove the enormous and non-functioning escalator (and collector of dust), replacing it with beautiful space to welcome our thousands of guests each year, as well as to honor the donors and bar leaders that made the Partnership for Equal Justice Campaign so very successful. We honor Hon. Michael Telesca, our beloved Federal Court Judge; Justin Vigdor, Chair of the Campaign; the late William McKnight, former Nixon attorney and a great champion of civil legal services; and finally, we honor Hanna Cohn, the former Executive Director of VLSP and the person that had the co-location vision more than 30 years ago now.

IMG_6578 cropped

Both co-location and phase II with the lobby renovation would not have been possible had it not been for the support of Assemblyman David Gantt. Assemblyman Gantt provided the seed money to launch the Partnership Campaign, and when the lobby became Phase II in order to create a more welcoming place for the clients we serve, he came through again.

In addition to all of the champions we mention above, the lobby also serves to honor all of the donors that made this imagined vision a true reality in the form of the Telesca Center for Justice. The Telesca Center remains the only one of its kind in the nation, despite bar leaders, judges, and other law related groups visiting and touring the Center over the years to learn how we accomplished what we did.

Once the lobby was completed, the additional funds went on to provide a desperately needed new phone system to replace the phone system that was invented by Alexander Graham Bell (Although some argue that Innocenzo Manzetti considered the idea of a telephone as early as 1844, and may have made one in 1864, as an enhancement to an automaton built by him in 1849. He is considered by many as the inventor of the telephone.) — but who am I to argue the identity of the actual inventor.  I did not want to risk that one of you was a telephone historian and would take issue with my fact. The point is, our phone system was close to being that old.


In terms of the activity underway at the Telesca Center, the partners are all busting out of their respective offices as a result of the additional funding made available through funding for civil legal services made possible by Chief Judge of the State of New York Jonathan Lippman. In fact, LawNY was in such dire straights for space that they have recently relocated part of their team next door in the Union Trust Building on the first floor. This has resulted in the start of new dialogue among the partners about more space in that building as well.

In addition, The Rubin Center for Education recently underwent a complete makeover thanks to Senator Joe Robach for the technology and furniture upgrades that have made this great resource room even more useful. No more negative complaints on the CLE evaluation forms because everyone loves the comfortably, padded furniture. And with three big screens across the front of the room, and an improved sound system, there is not a bad seat in the house.

CLE Room Speakers Table

The Telesca Center for Justice is what it is today, nearly 10 years later, because of the cooperation and willingness of the four legal service partners – Empire Justice Center, LawNY, Legal Aid Society of Rochester, and Volunteer Legal Services Project – along with the MCBA and the Foundation of the Monroe County Bar. Each day, the Telesca Center starts buzzing with activity by 8AM with meetings and visitors — from clients to attorneys and staff.


There is not a day that I walk in, and still not take pause in my head about — “Wow, look what we did!” As I pass Hanna’s portrait, I wish her good morning, and at night when I leave, feeling a wee bit draggy some days, I swear I hear her tell me, “It was another good day Mary!” And she is right, it was another good day, made better just by being part of the Telesca Center for Justice.

Thank you for checking in,



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