Meet Johanna

SPECIAL NEEDS ATTORNEY AND ADVOCATE

BIOGRAPHY

Johanna G. Burke graduated from Seton Hall Law School in 1994. She attended Montclair State University and obtained a Bachelor of Science in Accounting, with Honors, graduating in 1991. After graduating law school, she was a Judicial Law Clerk in Hudson County for the Honorable Joseph P. Healy, J.S.C., Family Part and the Honorable Francis P. Destefano, J.S.C., Criminal Part. Johanna decided to start her own legal practice, specializing in helping special needs families in 2013. This was inspired by her severely autistic 18-year-old son Aidan who also suffers from a multitude of other medical conditions and disabilities.

Johanna’s son Aidan is the reason she decided to fight for other families with special needs children. While starting her legal practice, she also worked a full-time job for Pearson publishing company in the Contracts-Rights Management Department negotiating various contracts which she did for the past 14 years. During her time in practicing part-time, Johanna helped over 45 families in the State of New Jersey obtain the appropriate services they needed either for their special needs child or adult by working with their school district, Perform Care, Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD), Department of Human Services (DHS), the Children’s System of Care (CSOC) and Care Management Organizations (CMO).

Johanna Burke

Johanna has extensive experience and has developed and maintained collaborative relationships in closely working with DDD, DHS, CSOC, the NJ Office of Advocacy, Perform Care and CMOs in the State of NJ. She helped place over 5 families in residential placement or crisis management placement either in the State of NJ or Out of State residential placement and worked directly with the Governor’s Office. She successfully returned 2 Developmentally Disabled adults who had been returned home to NJ under the Return Home NJ Law back to their original out of state placement.

Additionally, Johanna founded her own NJ 501(c)(3) Non-Profit called Fight 4 Autism back in 2014. Fight 4 Autism fundraises monies through special events and then gives back to families who are in need for various things for their children with special needs. To date, her organization has helped over 90 families pay for respite care, therapies, evaluations, exercise equipment, iPads, pools, fences, summer camp, dancing lessons, rent, medical expenses, etc. In July of 2018, Johanna had to make the most difficult and hardest decision of her life and put her 15-year-old son Aidan into a residential placement as she could no longer physically or emotionally be his primary caregiver.

As a result, Johanna decided to leave her job at Pearson and devote her career to practicing law full-time in September 2020. In December 2020, she joined The Law Firm of John Rue & Associates in an Of Counsel position. It is Johanna’s passion and joy to help special needs families get whatever services their children need and to help give them peace of mind with the knowledge that they are doing everything they can for their children to reach their best potential and become independent.

EDUCATION & BAR ADMISSION

BS, Accounting (Honors), Montclair State University, 1991

JD, Seton Hall School of Law, 1994

Admitted New Jersey Bar, 1996

Admitted U.S. District Court in New Jersey, 1996

PROFESSIONAL MEMBERSHPS

New Jersey State Bar Association

School Law Committee Member, NJ State Bar Association

Passaic County Bar Association

NJ Special Education Practitioners

Learning Disability Association of NJ

PUBLIC SERVICE

Founder, Fight 4 Autism, a NJ 501(c)(3) Non-Profit, 2014-present

Member, National Council on Severe Autism 2021

Member, Policy Committee, National Council on Severe Autism, 2021

Member, The Arc of NJ 2021

Board Director, The Zsido Ranch, a NJ 501(c)(3) Non-Profit, 2020-present

Board Trustee, Hawthorne Board of Education, 2009-2011

Chairperson for Special Education Committee, Hawthorne Board of Education, 2009-2011

Walk Co-Chair, Autism Speaks Northern NJ Walk, 2013-2014

Member, Autism Speaks Walk and Community Awareness Committee, 2010-2014

WORDS FROM OUR CLIENTS

Johanna Burke and I met at our mutual friend’s son’s funeral 3 years ago “extremely bittersweet!” I knew right away that she was a “Firecracker” so full of life! Johanna is not only an Amazing advocate/mother that fights for her son Aidan on a daily basis to make sure he is cared for, loved, and thriving to the most infinite extent, but she has a PASSION to do the same for others.

I retained Johanna because of the horrific physical/mental abuse my nonverbal son with Autism endured in his group home just May of this year. Each time I contacted Johanna with a concern or issue I was having with the group home staff it was addressed immediately. Johanna made sure my son was receiving the utmost appropriate care that he was entitled to and made sure he was safe until he was relocated to his new home. My son Brandon is happily thriving again!

I highly recommend Johanna Burke to anyone that wants an Attorney that will fight for your special needs child like she’s fighting for her own.

#thisisherpassion #fight4autism

– PRISCILLA QUESADA

WORDS FROM OUR CLIENTS

Johanna is the best! I don’t think anyone else could have done what she did for my daughter. Everyone who knows the obstacles we faced agrees. My daughter is now 30 and over the years we worked with numerous advocates and attorneys. Johanna is by far the best. She said she would fight for us and never give up. She is professional, really well organized, articulate, personable, knowledgeable, on top of everything and she was always available. She is also compassionate and understanding and thinks outside the box. We never went to court. Johanna was able to work with NJ to negotiate a resolution. Jen is now “home” happy, safe and thriving, living a rich fulfilling life. We will be forever grateful!

Many already know our story. Johanna was able to get the media involved and our story was on the front page of the Record and NJ news on TV. We were victims of the “Return home NJ” program.  NJ cut funding for Jen’s out of state program where she was thriving forcing her back to NJ against our wishes. I found a group home in NJ considered one of the best but shockingly, she was abused and neglected there.  All of the NJ group homes we looked at or tried were run the same way and had similar problems.. I had hired a reputable law firm but they were unable to help and fortunately I found Johanna when the timing was right to resume the fight to return Jen to her out of state home. It took persistence but Johanna never gave up as promised.

- JOAN SULLIVAN

WORDS FROM OUR CLIENTS

I really cannot say enough about the services of Johanna Burke. My daughter had been struggling in school for years with an IEP. I felt hopeless and at my wits end. Dealing with the school and all the state regulations was very confusing to me. That is when I reached out to Johanna. Johanna began advocating for my daughter and her rights. For the first time in many years I felt heard. The proper programs and assistance were finally put into place. To this day I am beyond grateful.

- MARGE ORTH 

WORDS FROM OUR CLIENTS

Johanna Burke, Esq., has been my sons attorney since 2017. Prior to hiring Ms Burke, my son struggled in a school that was not meeting his needs for several years. It was not until I hired Ms. Burke that my son began to progress tremendously and make strides that he never would have made without her assistance. Her first hand experience with Autism and special needs education paired with her knowledge of the law is beyond comparison. Johanna worked with me tirelessly. I do not know where we would be without her dedication to ensuring my son had everything he needed and deserved. I cannot put into words how much of a difference she has made in our lives. We don’t know where we would be without her. I’m not only proud to call her my son’s attorney, but even more grateful to now call her my friend.

- LISETTE BONACCULTA

WORDS FROM OUR CLIENTS

There is so much more to raising an autistic child that nobody tells you. The ins and outs are extremely overwhelming. Once my daughter needed a new out of district program, Johanna Burke, Esq. stepped in. Making sure her IEP was up to snuff and navigating the state services that Emma was not getting, and I was getting nowhere with on my own. As the years went by, and my daughters behaviors became too much to handle in the home, Johanna once again stepped in and guided me through the very scary world of group home visits. Leaving no stone unturned she held my hand as the decision was made to place Emma into an amazing program. Accompanying me to find the new school and making sure every single thing possible was available to her and still is. Even today she is battling the social security system to make sure that my daughter gets every single thing she deserves. Her professionalism and knowledge that she has of the special needs system are indescribable. Hers is a name that most districts know, and even fear. She stops at nothing for the families she represents. My family is forever grateful to have her in our lives.

- ELIZABETH UTVIK

WORDS FROM OUR CLIENTS

Johanna and I met through a mutual friend on Facebook. I needed an attorney to help me acquire appropriate services and a proper program placement because my son’s school district was failing to do so. I am now in the process of opening an adult day care for adults with autism.  I was extremely consumed and overwhelmed by the extensive paperwork. Johanna was not phased by any of it. She was able to guide me through the entire application process and state requirements. I am opening this daycare because of my son and FOR my son.  Johanna understands how important this is to me. I have not only gained an extremely knowledgeable attorney, but also a friend. Her expertise and support brings me peace and strength. I could not imagine this journey without her help.  Johanna Burke is an intelligent, strong and kind woman. I am honored to have her by my side.

- BEATRIZ WAHL

WORDS FROM OUR CLIENTS

When retaining an attorney, I have learned first-hand that it is not about who is the most reputable attorney, or who has won the most cases. It is about the passion and the connection that makes the ultimate difference. That is Johanna Burke! She gets it because it hits home! She is passionate, responsive, and relentless! It is always a plus when one can share your pain, experiences, and goals. I was so disappointed with the majority on the list for special needs attorneys in the state of NJ. Between the prices and no replies, it was an added stress. Having a child with special needs is heavy but when you find yourself in need of an attorney many only see the dollar! And what they can suggest we do! Perhaps they have become so desensitize to our stories’, but this is not Johanna! She wants to help this population and services them not only through her being a special needs attorney but through her nonprofit for the special need’s population. I truly am forever grateful for her professional work and for her determination in achieving what was in the best interest of my son.

My recent case was a challenging one, one in which every attorney called “a difficult one”! Most attorneys said it would take a year and a year in attorney fees would have crippled me. In a time of despair and at the height of Covid-19, Johanna took on my case and did not disappoint. We landed victory! 😊

Thank you, Johanna Burke!

- ROXANNE ZSIDO

WORDS FROM OUR CLIENTS

Our child suffers from multiple handicaps and at the time was unable to walk. We looked through several different programs to find the school that best suited him. We were truly unable to do so until we were introduced to Johanna Burke. She began advocating at first to open some doors and show us the possibilities. Johanna Burke is a professional advocate for our Special Needs Child. She was extremely patient and thorough when helping us place our child in a proper school environment. She knows the laws and rights of these individuals and was determined to not only find my son suitable placement in an amazing school, but helped us coordinate with other organizations for proper resources to continue working for our child. Johanna did not just send us on the right path and walk away, but continues to check in on our child and his needs. She continues to support us and mentor us along the way. She is an amazing and dedicated person who truly cares about the client and the whole picture. Our family is blessed to know her and work with her.

- THE FECZER FAMILY

WORDS FROM OUR CLIENTS

I first met Johanna Burke, Esq. when I hit the lowest point of my life. My adult son was evicted from his group home in the middle of the night and taken to jail instead of the hospital. My son Tyler had gone through all of the group home providers and none would take him due to his severe behavior. Tyler had left a successful placement when he aged out at 21 years old. However, that placement was out of state in PA. Getting the State of NJ Division of Developmental Disabilities to allow him to return to the placement was impossible. They just decided to leave him in jail. Community life for him in a group home was challenging because he is not employable and needs 1:1 supervision. Even with 1:1 supervision, he still got violent. A typical day for him was get up, get agitated, go to the ER, spend the day, go home and repeat, daily. The hospital did not want him coming daily and often tried to get DDD to re-evaluate placement. DDD was not forthcoming. Johanna Burke came onto the case. With her advocacy and legal means, she was able to get DDD to agree to take Tyler back to Woods Services, in PA. There was a state wide moratorium on sending folks out of state for care. Somehow, she made it happen. My son has been back for years now living a happy, successful, productive life thanks to Johanna’s advocacy and legal expertise. Johanna is not like other attorneys. She cares deeply about her clients, and their families. She is one of the kindest people I know. I have remained friends with her and share many positive updates with her regarding Tyler. Tyler loves her and talks fondly about her often. I would highly recommend Johanna Burke, Esq. and her legal services. I really don’t know where we would be had we not chosen to use Johanna. She never gave up on us!

- RITA O'GRADY

WORDS FROM OUR CLIENTS

I first met Johanna through a mutual friend on Facebook when my son was being taken advantage of at a pediatric residential facility in Cherry Hill, NJ. I spoke with Johanna about everything he was going through and she jumped right in! It didn’t matter to her that he was in Cherry Hill and she was in Hawthorne. It didn’t matter to her my financial situation (she said we’d figure it out) She drove to every single meeting. She was implemental in getting my son removed from the house he was wrongfully placed in and into another that better suited his needs. A house he thrived in. A house he wouldn’t have been able to get into if not for Johanna. She is determined, she is tough, she is relentless and she’s a mom who gets it! She understands all our hopes and fears. She is deeply hurt when one of our children is hurt. Physically & emotionally. Was it the endless meetings, phone calls, research and determination? Was it the fact she’s a mom with a developmentally disabled son too? Was it her sitting up late at night and listening to me cry? I can’t tell you one thing because it’s everything!! Everything this fierce warrior does she does it passionately! She’s considered part of my family since the first time we met and always will be. I have so much love and respect for this woman. We love you!

- LISA & JOEY EGAN

WORDS FROM OUR CLIENTS

Johanna has always been forthcoming and available for our family. I passionately believe that she is a tremendous force with all the right motives for anyone who is disabled and needs services, be it educationally or medically. She has a kind and generous spirit and my son respects her and has great affection for her, as do I and his two brothers. We believe she saved his life. I only wish we knew her earlier in our ordeal.

We trust that as his representation Johanna will make sure his placement, as he returns to New Jersey, will be the most appropriate one.

Johanna is a highly skilled, responsible and dedicated attorney. We highly recommend her.

- MARY BRADY-MORAN