“Jersey Strong” has a lesbian power couple kicking ass and taking names

Brooke Barnett and Maggie Voelael are used to having cameras follow them around. The criminal defense attorney and her life and business partner were featured on the Sundance Channel series Brick City in 2009 and again in 2011. Now they are showing a little more of themselves on Jersey Strong, a docu-series premiering in September on a new channel called Pivot.

“We work together, we live together, we’re raising two teenagers,” Brooke said during TCA. “It follows our lives, the relationships I have with my clients. I deal with some pretty powerful things, from homicides to drug cases.”

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The show also follows Jayda, a former client of Brooke’s that also appeared on Brick City.

“I represented her in Season 1,” Brooke said. “I kept her out of jail. What happened is they basically decided to take Jayda’s life and my life and follow these two women – she has children, we have children. We come from totally two different backgrounds, but we’re trying to instill the traditional values in our  family, whether you’re in a same sex marriage, a hetero marriage, whether you’re black, you’re white, from an urban community of you’re from the suburbs.”

Jayda came from a life of gang activity and grew up a Blood whereas her husband is a Crip. Cameras follow Jayda as she attempts to keep her young son educated and in positive activities while also visiting with young women in her community and helping them improve their own lives. Jayda and Brooke both think everyone deserves a second chance in life, and they want to be a part of achieving that change for those who might need help.

One of the clients we’re introduced to in the first episode of Jersey Strong is Kwadir, who was shot by a Jersey City cop one night and is now blind. Now he faces charges because the cop claims Kwadir was concealing a weapon.

“Now he’s learning Braille and we follow that through the show and his journey, and how he says basically it took something like this to open up a door to know that he wants to become a teacher for the blind,” Brooke said. “But he’s facing some heavy duty charges, and I represent him in a criminal case in Jersey City which will start in September  and I’ll also represent him in a civil rights case in Federal Court that’ll go at the end of February.”

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But as Brooke says in the first episode, she works hard and then she plays hard. Her relationship with Maggie is loving and adorable, and their kids (Maggie’s from a previous marriage) are very inspired by the works their mothers do. Kevin is a third year law student at Penn State and works at the firm as Brooke’s protege, and daughter Nicole reads her college entrance essay aloud at the dinner table about how proud she is to have Brooke as her mother.

“You’ve got your Law and Order aspect, these moments where you’re on the edge of your seat ‘What’s going to happen with this motion? Is the judge gonna grant it?’ The hard cross examination—you’re getting an inside look and it’s real life,” Brooke said. “But then you have the moments where we have 28 of [Kevin's] fraternity brothers at our house with the DJ and having a good time or Nicole writhing her college essay on how when we first got together she thought I was just Maggie’s friend and the next things she knows I moved into the house just like so many of us—if I were to call myself a lesbian—with basically the U-Haul truck, a garbage bag full of clothes and a dog and just never left. And how she looks at it to say, it’s amazing how I’ve been in their lives for six years and she feels like I was there all those years that I didn’t get to.”

Cameras follow Brooke, Maggie and their family from the firm to the court to the house to family vacations. Maggie said she doesn’t mind, but it can take a toll.

“I did Brick City with her already, so I know what I’m signing up for and I don’t mind the cameras at all. It’s been a little trying on our relationship,” she said. “It’s not like other reality shows. We have a job—a serious job  that we do so it’s not like housewives, like that’s all we do. We’re attorneys with salaries, we have to make that money and also have time for filming. It’s challenging but we’re surviving.”

2013 Summer TCA Tour - Day 3

Season 1 will have 10 episodes, premiering September 14, and Brooke hopes that what comes across most about her family is that it’s about love.

“[Our kids] have three parents that love them. [Maggie's] ex-husband, I have a great relationship with,” she said. “That’s something that we just instill and I hope that that comes out. That it’s not about having the traditional mother and father. We all take roles—there are roles just like in hetero relationships. It just goes to show that a family is made up of the love you have for one another. It’s not based on gender or sex.”

As for the darker side of the job, Brooke just wants to make sure justice is served, no matter who someone is or where they come from.

“I’m a lover of people and, that’s my thing,” she said. “There’s all walks of life that walk into our office. I represent gay, straight, Jewish, Italian, Black, White, and for someone like me who came from—I was born in Queens but I grew up Malboro, New Jersey, I relate to these people. They’re somebody’s son, they’re somebody’s brother, they’re somebody’s husband—it’s powerful.”

Jersey Strong premieres on Sept. 14 at 10:30 p.m. on Pivot.

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