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Unsung Heros

Posted: May 25, 2010
By: Tasha Norman
Source: The Legal Intelligencer

Sarah Schalman-Bergen
Berger & Montague


Sarah Schalman-Bergen, of counsel with the AIDS Law Project, was co-lead counsel on a case involving TIAA-CREF, a financial services company, which had presented a man's retirement benefits to his ex-wife, instead of his longtime partner who he had named as beneficiary.

In January, U.S. District Judge Stewart Dalzell ruled in favor of the client, Thomas Bernardo, Dr. John L. Turner's life partner of more than 27 years. Turner was one of the first physicians -- and among the only openly gay physicians -- to come forward to treat HIV in the earliest years of the epidemic.

The court decided that Bernardo was the lawful beneficiary of all of Turner's annuity contracts, and was therefore entitled to the full amount of money in dispute. After a March 29, 2010, mediation, TIAA-CREF paid Bernardo the full contract amount plus pre- and post-judgment interest, as ordered by the court.

Schalman-Bergen, despite working full-time as an associate with Berger & Montague, performed most of the research for this very complex litigation, which involved choice-of-law questions between the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and state law.

Her dedication to the case, considering her history of service, isn't surprising. Schalman-Bergen began working at the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania in 2007 as a student of Harvard Law School, where she advocated on behalf of HIV-positive individuals. After graduation, she was awarded the Shestack Public Interest Fellowship by Wolf Block, which allowed her to spend half her work time at the AIDS Law Project.

When the fellowship ended, she took a voluntary pay cut to continue her work with the AIDS Law Project. She met her billing requirements for both firms while spending more than 300 hours over two years just for this case.

She is currently an associate in Berger & Montague's antitrust department.

The full article is available here.