After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, attorneys in Newtown and across the state promised to assist the town and the victims' families any way they could.
So far, one major contribution has been to help manage the money from donations that have poured into the town from across the country. Rob Morris, chairman of Pullman & Comley, is the pro bono counsel for the My Sandy Hook Family Fund, which has so far raised $1.4 million for family members of victims of the December massacre.
Morris got involved when one of the fund's Newtown founders called a Pullman partner and asked for legal advice. The partner referred the organizers to Morris. "I met with the group a few days after the fund was set up," Morris said.
Also at the meeting were representatives from the state Attorney General's Office and Department of Consumer Protection, who were there to make sure the money was being distributed in accordance with state law. "The last thing [the organizers] wanted was for anyone to get into trouble," Morris said.
Morris said he was able to give organizers input as they wrote a protocol for handing out the money. There were also questions about taxes. Everyone was fairly sure the families wouldn't have to pay income taxes on the donations because the money was a gift, but the fund's organizers wanted to be sure.
"So we wrote to the [U.S.] Secretary of the Treasury," Morris said, adding that about two weeks ago he got a response saying that the money will not be taxed. "The IRS recognized this was a gift. They put it in writing."
Some of the victims' families have already received distributions, while others have not accepted the money yet. Some want to talk to other family members about how to divide up the money. Others want to consult financial advisors. Still others have had their own questions for the Internal Revenue Service.
Some other Sandy Hook-related fund-raising efforts are giving money to assist gun control advocates, create permanent memorials and provide counseling for first-responders. The My Sandy Hook Family Fund was set up solely to address the needs of the immediate family members of the 26 victims.
One of the issues that came up during the discussions, said Morris, was, "How do you define need?"
Morris said some families may need money for basic living expenses, because they haven't been able to return to work yet. Others may need a vacation for emotional healing, or to grieve with a family member who lives across country. "The people who started the fund decided they don't want to have to define what 'need' is for each family," Morris said. The bottom line, he said, is families are allowed to do whatever they want with the money.