March 23, 2021
James Maida speaks with a Rutgers Law student.

An innovative public interest program at Rutgers Law School will continue to serve vulnerable communities in the New Jersey region while providing Rutgers students with exceptional support and learning experiences, thanks to a new $1,275,750 gift to the university from James and Sharon Maida.

Additionally, the Maidas have donated $100,000 to support the James and Sharon Maida Endowed Scholarship at Rutgers Law School.

The new gift will allow Rutgers Law School to extend the Maida Public Interest Fellowships Program for the next five years, building on the founding $1 million gift from the Maidas that established the program in 2015, and an additional bridge gift from the Maidas in 2020.

James Maida RLAW '90, is the founder, president, and CEO of Gaming Laboratories International, headquartered in Lakewood, N.J., with additional worldwide locations. The first and largest testing lab of its kind, Gaming Laboratories International specializes in the testing, certification, and security of gaming, as well as consultation to gaming boards, lotteries, and casino operators globally. Sharon O'Mara Maida, a 1997 Rutgers Graduate School of Education alumna, is a pioneer in the field of orientation and mobility of blind and visually impaired children, and is nationally recognized for her work in this area. She also maintains a private practice specializing in children with visual impairments. They are the trustees of the James and Sharon Maida Foundation, Inc., which creates opportunities for young people to continue their education. 

The couple is passionate about “paying it forward.”

“The first five years of the Maida Public Fellowships Program were a pilot project,” says James Maida, who attended law school in Camden. “We developed an investing model to provide Rutgers Law students with a source of income, pair them with nonprofit organizations that need legal expertise, and connect those partnerships with a whole litany of folks who don’t have access to legal aid and lawyers.

“The project has been wildly successful, with tens of thousands of hours given in legal aid. It’s truly heartwarming to see how Rutgers Law is helping families and individuals. Sharon and I are honored to make this new investment to extend the gift for a total of 11 years,” he says. “The model we put forth really works. If I were another law school, I’d take a look at what we’re doing at Rutgers. Students no longer need to wait for third-year clinical experiences in order to seek out this type of civic duty early in their careers.”

This new gift will continue to benefit Rutgers students and the community through the Maida Public Interest Summer Fellowships, which pay up to 40 students each year to work for public interest legal organizations in positions that are normally unpaid, imparting valuable professional experience to the students while advancing the public good. Additionally, the Maida Post-Graduate Public Interest Fellowship funds the full-time salary of a selected fellow working in the public interest. These extraordinary funding opportunities help attract a cohort of high-achieving prospective law students with a demonstrated commitment to social change.

Since its inception in 2015, the program has funded 195 Rutgers Law student summer fellowships, allowing students to provide 73,800 hours of service to communities in need through the James and Sharon Maida Summer Public Interest Fellowship. The Maida Post-Graduate Fellowship has allowed six new graduates to deliver 12,000 hours of service.

Since its launch, the Maida program at Rutgers Law School has provided 85,800 hours of pro bono legal service that otherwise might have cost nearly $13 million. More than 50% of the Rutgers Law students participating in the Maida program have been placed with New Jersey organizations, with close to 30% in Pennsylvania, 10% in New York, and 10% in California, Washington, D.C., and other locations.

“Many people talk about ‘paying it forward,’ but it is both humbling and empowering to meet individuals like James and Sharon Maida who choose action over words,” says Kimberly Mutcherson, co-dean of Rutgers Law School in Camden. “This gift is literally making the law school a better place and gives us an opportunity to help our students and graduates build careers that use the law for the purpose of achieving justice. The impact of the Maidas’ visionary gift will reverberate for decades, if not generations. Their support is providing vulnerable communities with legal assistance that is especially important as people cope with the economic and health impacts of the pandemic.

“The Maida gift has helped to establish Rutgers Law School as a national destination for students with a deep commitment to public interest work. Thanks to Sharon and James, we will continue to provide those students with financial support and impactful learning opportunities at both of our locations in Camden and Newark.” 

Diego Gonzalez, a 2020 graduate of Rutgers Law School, has embarked upon his career goal of helping the immigrant community. Currently serving as a Maida Post-Graduate Public Interest Fellow for Make the Road New Jersey, Gonzalez is working to help “Dreamers” apply for DACA support. While a student at Rutgers Law School in Newark, he served as a Maida Summer Fellow for American Friends Service Committee in 2018 and Kids in Need of Defense in 2019.

“I will always be grateful to Mr. and Dr. Maida for supporting public interest law students in their determined dream to empower those that have been overlooked by our society,” says Gonzalez, who emigrated from Venezuela as a child. My goal has always been to find a way to help the immigrant community that I identify so strongly with. As a Summer Maida Fellow, I was able to realize that goal while also strengthening my legal and client skills. This prepared me for my dream job of working for Make the Road New Jersey, which also would not be possible without the Maidas.” 

Emahunn Campbell, a member of the Class of 2021 at Rutgers Law, thanks Sharon and James Maida for “planting the seeds for a better tomorrow.”

“As a Maida Fellow, I interned at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the nation's premier civil rights organization,” says Campbell. “While there, I worked on cases challenging the use of deadly force by police, prisoners' exposure to unjust conditions that were exacerbated by their increased risk of contracting COVID-19, and property management companies denying housing to applicants because of their past criminal record. Serving Black people and others through legal and non-legal strategies is one of the most rewarding experiences of my career thus far.”

Joshua Bauers was the first Maida Post-Graduate Fellow in 2015, when he joined the Fair Share Housing Center in Cherry Hill. He now serves as a staff attorney for that center.

“Few things directly impact a person’s overall existence as much as where they live,” says the 2015 graduate of Rutgers Law School in Camden. “It dictates where your children will attend school, whether you are likely to be a victim of a crime, your chances of landing a good-paying job or any job at all, and so many other central parts of our lives. With the work I am doing at Fair Share, I truly feel that I am having a tremendous impact on the lives of thousands of people.”

James Maida notes that, while he is honored to have the Maida name attached to the program, “it is not about us.”

“We provide funds for these students,” he says. “They’re the ones who go out and make a real difference. The true definition of philanthropy is to invest in others, and to encourage them to do so as well.

“All of us have an obligation to pay it forward in a way that matters, and Sharon and I are doing so with Rutgers in an area where lives often hang in the balance, where the stakes are critically high for individuals misrepresented or underrepresented in legal matters due to their socioeconomic status. This gift allows the Rutgers pro bono and public interest program to have a national reach and allows students to give back to their communities before they leave law school. Everyone deserves access to justice,” concludes the Rutgers–Camden law graduate.

Applications for the 2021-2022 post-graduate fellowship are due April 8. Contact Dean Friedman, jill.friedman@rutgers.edu, for more information. Applications for the 2021 summer fellowships are due April 5 and can be accessed by current students here.

Rutgers Law Media Contacts:
Mike Sepanic (Camden); Elizabeth Moore (Newark)

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