In a few short weeks, Major League Baseball spring training starts and Little League try-outs in Fairfield will be the talk of the town. These days we take for granted that girls have the right to play, but that was not always the case. In 1974, a young Fairfield native, Melissa Needle, was forced to sue the National Little League for the right to play on the town’s Little League team.
Melissa was a 3rd grader at Stratfield Elementary School when she fought in Federal Court and ultimately won the ability to “play ball.” Her lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court in New Haven with the help of her mother, Nancy Needle, a Fairfield school teacher and Attorney Charles Needle, her father and dedicated coach. Their lawsuit charged that Little League officials were discriminating against Melissa, by permitting only boys to play little league. The claim was ultimately rolled into a national class action lawsuit with eight other plaintiffs from different states and the National Little League Association was forced to change their rules. And, Melissa was finally able to step up to the plate!
Melissa’s tenacity and boldness were not a random act of nature, as she is a third-generation lawyer--the product of two generations of amazing lawyers, who gently guided her in her legal career. Attorney Michael Needle, Melissa’s Grandfather, who practiced in Boston for 61 years and her father, Charles, who still continues practicing after 59 years.
Michael Needle grew up in Dorchester, MA in a humble household. Michael Needle’s father, Melissa’s great-grandfather, was a tailor who immigrated from Belarus in 1905 via Ellis Island and struggled to make a living after settling in Massachusetts. Michael worked from a very young age selling newspapers to help contribute to his family household. His hard work ethic defined him throughout his professional life. Michael Needle worked his way through college and ultimately graduated from Suffolk Law School in 1927 and immediately started practicing law. He was also a CPA.
Timing was never good for Michael Needle as he had to work harder than ever through the great stock market crash in 1929, the depression, and World War II. And through all the difficult years, his priority was family, especially his son Charles. Despite the tuition hardship, he worked to send his son to the Boston Latin School.
As it turned out, this was a very wise move as Charles thrived at school and was accepted to Harvard University. Young Charles graduated in the Class of 1959. He went on to Wesleyan University for a Master’s Degree in Teaching, followed by Yale Law School, graduating in 1963.
Attorney Charles Needle started practicing law at Goldstein & Peck in 1963, a prominent Connecticut law firm. But the real story began in 1971 when six Yale Law School classmates and one Harvard Law School contemporary left Goldstein & Peck to form Zeldes, Needle & Cooper, a very bold and controversial move at the time. Zeldes Needle & Cooper emerged in the 1970s as one of Connecticut’s top litigation, commercial and criminal law firms and grew to over 30 lawyers in the 1980s and 1990s.
Charlie and his wife Nancy were residents of Fairfield for over 40 years, where they raised their three kids, Howard, Melissa and Alison. Melissa Needle graduated Whittier Law School and started practicing law in 1990. Although she spent two years as Corporate Counsel in NYC, she wanted to work more closely with clients and shifted her practice areas to Divorce and Family Law. This meant a move home, back to Connecticut, where she cut her teeth, working for eighteen years at several of the top boutique family firms in lower Fairfield County.
In 2010, Attorney Melissa Needle was inspired to form her own firm with long-time paralegal, Jessica Calise, which eventually evolved into Needle | Cuda: Divorce and Family Law. Needle | Cuda now has five lawyers, three paralegals, and administrators. Melissa saw an opportunity to take a balanced and holistic approach to divorce and family law. Her observation was that most firms were either super aggressive or too “touchy-feely”.
Melissa is known in the legal community as a fierce and forceful litigator, yet, she has a reputation for being a compassionate human being with extraordinary integrity. Melissa projects not only as a commanding lawyer but also as caring mother, wife, daughter, sibling, and friend. Her eye is always on the big picture and looks to protect the long-term interests of her client’s family unit. Melissa and her Partner, Attorney Alexander Cuda, along with the rest of their team, think of their practice as being in the business of helping people move their lives forward. Completing the process by successfully negotiating a separation agreement and obtaining a dissolution of marriage in family court is part of the equation – but one can fall short if each spouse does not have a sustainable, enforceable, long-term path forward for themselves and for the needs of their children.
Needle | Cuda: Divorce and Family Law has grown into one of the premier divorce and family law firms in lower Fairfield County. Attorney Charles Needle joined the firm two years ago and serves “Of Counsel.” His extraordinary commercial and litigation background and 59 years of experience and wisdom is a tremendous resource to the firm. Plus, Charles and Melissa get to share their love of the law every day.
The Needle Family Law legacy has continued on to a fourth generation. Melissa’s daughter graduates Brooklyn Law School in May and will begin work in New York at a prominent global law firm. Melissa’s nephew and Charlie’s Grandson is a magna cum laude graduate of Fordham Law School and is a third year associate at another prominent international firm. Additionally, one of Charles’ nephews is a cum laude graduate of Villanova Law School and is currently an Associate In Philadelphia.
Born from a core value of fairness and equity instilled from an early age, coupled with a young athlete’s desire to just play ball, Melissa’s journey to becoming a notable attorney was as good as a home run. Hard work, compassion, and determination not only describe Attorney Melissa Needles but defines the entire Needle clan.