The CORE Matter: Mathew Rosengart Handles Legal Affairs for Sean Penn’s Nonprofit

In February 2018, Mathew Rosengart traveled to Haiti on behalf of Community Organized Relief Effort (CORE), the crisis response organization co-founded by Sean Penn and Ann Lee to aid underserved communities and provide emergency relief in the wake of worldwide disasters.

As CORE’s legal counsel, Rosengart, with the steady support of his firm Greenberg Traurig, has been there every step of the way.

“My role, along with my great team, is to strike a balance, ensuring that CORE can fulfill its important mission on the ground while minimizing risk from a legal perspective,” says Rosengart. “We want to protect them while ensuring that we, as lawyers, don’t get in the way.”

It was during his inaugural trip to Haiti that the attorney witnessed first-hand the country’s astonishing natural beauty as well as the incalculable, colossal loss suffered by its people.

“It was about a three-day trip and — just being with Sean — we probably packed two weeks of experience and education into the trip,” says Rosengart. “It was a fact-finding trip basically to learn more about Haiti and the work CORE was doing on the ground there.”

Staring out at the slum dwellings of Cité Soleil, an impoverished and densely populated shantytown located within Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, Rosengart became even more determined to help CORE in its collective mission to provide humanitarian aid worldwide.

“It made me feel incredibly lucky, and also entitled,” says Rosengart of the experience. “It was like a splash of cold water in terms of making me realize how fortunate I am, and we all are. It also inspired me.”

Penn originally established the nonprofit (then named JP/HRO) following the massive 2010 earthquake that ravaged Haiti, killing an estimated 250,000 and displacing an additional 2.3 million. Since then, the org has greatly expanded its mission. Most recently, throughout the pandemic, CORE made COVID-19 testing and vaccinations available to millions of Americans, including members of the Navajo Nation, as well as to countries such as Brazil and India.

Rosengart’s legal guidance has helped make possible this magnanimous humanitarian effort.

“As a large firm, we have resources throughout the country, and the world. I’m just a litigator,” says Rosengart. “But we have experts in literally every area of the law, from complex transactional matters concerning the implementation of COVID testing and vaccinations at Dodger Stadium to inner-city Atlanta, to Native American law and how best to operate in the Apache and Navajo Nations, which was helpful as CORE expanded into these geographical areas during COVID.”

CORE is now expanding its efforts in Poland, Romania and Ukraine, working to help Ukrainian refugees whose lives have been devastated during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s relentless military onslaught of the Eastern European nation.

“[Matt] has really been one of the pillars that we rely on so heavily because there is so much red tape and bureaucracy,” says Lee, who also serves as CORE’s CEO. “But he understands that we function on absolute weight on rapidity, rather than getting ourselves bogged down with legal issues and red tape. He makes it so easy for us because he’s on the same page. He knows the urgency, and he and his team are available to us around the clock. And to have that level of attention and being so closely aligned with our mission is rare. He’s been fundamental to our growth, our exponential growth.”

Without Rosengart’s legal expertise, CORE might very well “collapse,” says Matt O’Connell, chief business officer of the org.

“Days into the crisis in Ukraine, Matt had already been working to put us in touch with counsel in Poland and in other areas to help us to potentially establish a legal presence there,” says O’Connell. “Even if we don’t establish a formal legal presence there, Matt has helped us to navigate our way through the process of what it’s like to do business in Poland. This is a new theater of operations for us, so being able to have access to these resources has been invaluable during this rapidly evolving situation.”

Rosengart considers CORE one of his top priorities.

“I’ve been honored to be able to donate much of my own time historically, and the work I’m doing in connection with the Ukraine refugee crisis and CORE’s work in Poland is pro bono,” says Rosengart. “My firm is the only, or one of the only, large firms with an office in Warsaw. And while they are stretched thin — the partners are traveling to the border and bringing refugees into their own homes — it’s obviously rewarding to be in a position to help however we can.”