Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin

January, 2005

PRO BONO PROFILE
"Helping Good People Through Difficult Times"
By Lisa Muscara

It is 5:30 a.m., and groups of men have already gathered in clusters in the convenience store parking lot. They mill about waiting, hopeful that the day will bring them the opportunity to work. A well-used cargo van pulls into the lot, and its passenger recruits men for a day’s work. Some of the waiting men eagerly accept the offer and step into the van. They are driven off to an unknown destination, where they will be expected to provide manual labor for the next eight hours to earn their day’s wage – five U.S. dollars. This is Baltimore City, and each morning this scene repeats itself here and in other lots just like it across town.

Blanca Picazo knows all about this scenario. The clients she works with at the St. Michael Outreach Center/Centro Asistencial de San Miguel in Fell’s Point have given her an understanding of the unique issues these day laborers face when an employment dispute arises. Picazo describes how complicated these cases can be. “These cases are hard,” she explains. “They might take forever; they may never get an award. And especially working with Latinos, the situation is really much, much more complicated. Many of them don’t have work permits, or if they do they don’t know who has employed them because the employers just come and pick them up and take them places and they don’t know even where they are being taken, or who is the employer, or if they have a claim. It’s really hard.” When these difficult cases come across her desk, she calls local attorney Terry Jay Harris. “He is always willing,” Picazo says. “Whenever I have someone that I think may need him, he says, ‘Okay’. I really admire him, and I really respect him for that.”

Harris began working with clients from the Outreach Center almost immediately after he was admitted to the Maryland Bar, and he recalls that some of his very first cases came from the Center. Harris is a solo practitioner, maintaining the Law Offices of Terry Jay Harris. He describes his practice as 75 percent standard general practice and 25 percent environmental practice. In addition to his work with St. Michael’s clients, Harris has also provided pro bono services for environmental issues and community associations. Rather than working through a legal services organization, Harris has worked on these cases independently, “just me in my little law office”. He finds support from colleagues for this breadth of casework, calling on a number of different mentors “so that I don’t wear any single one of them out”.

“That’s why I went into law,” Harris explains of his commitment to pro bono work. “My whole reason for doing this is to help people out, whether they can pay or not.” Picazo has seen him take this commitment to great lengths. “I have seen him working on the day after Thanksgiving,” she recalls. No one else was working, but there was this client that could only meet him at 5 o’clock that day, and so he was here (at the Center) meeting with him.”

Harris has developed a great affinity for working with clients from St. Michael’s. “The law is tough,” he explains, “and these folks going into the Outreach Center are just good people in difficult circumstances, just by the nature of their language ability and immigration status, which puts them at an enormous disadvantage.” Undaunted by the complexity of the cases or the time-commitment they may require, Harris has stepped in to advocate for St. Michael’s clients whenever called upon. Picazo has seen the difference Harris has made in his clients’ lives and commends him for his dedicated service. “I respect him a lot and admire him because that kind of attitude in attorneys – I don’t see it so often,” she notes. “You know, [being] willing to do whatever it takes.”

St. Michael Outreach Center/Centro Asistencial de San Miguel is described on the St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore website as “a bilingual (English/Spanish) program created in collaboration with St. Michael Catholic Church. St. Michael Outreach Center provides bilingual and culturally sensitive services to support the local community of Southeast Baltimore, which includes a high concentration of Spanish-speaking immigrants. The Center is committed to creating a welcoming, friendly environment to serve those with immediate needs while providing the educational and personal development resources to help persons become self-sufficient and achieve their life goals.” The Center provides a wide range of services, including a food pantry, which provides emergency and supplemental food; domestic violence prevention, with a safe house, counseling and referrals, victim’s advocacy, support groups, educational workshops and abuser intervention program; education offering cooking classes, health and life skills education, bilingual computer learning, and ESOL classes; support, including information and referral, translation services, advocacy, assistance with employment/housing and cultural programs. The Center welcomes volunteer support. For more information, call Ana Rodriguez, Volunteer Coordinator, at (410) 732-2176.


Lisa Muscara is Director of Volunteer Services for the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland.

 

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: January, 2005

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