The A2J Dispatch
The Maryland Access to Justice Commission is proud to announce its newest project, Maryland Voices for Justice, of which this A2JC Dispatch is a part. Personal stories and news reports from the civil justice system are neither well-known, publicly told, or understood. Marylanders are thus often left in the dark regarding what civil justice means, the access to justice barriers many of their neighbors face and solutions to break down those barriers. We created The A2J Dispatch to change that. A curated collection, The A2JC Dispatch will deliver both local and national access to justice stories and news to your inbox on a monthly basis.
The August Issue
This month, the Supreme Court weighs in on a critical civil justice issue, a group of bipartisan Attorneys General call for full funding for the Legal Services Corporation and business leaders make their case for access to justice.
A2J Commission News
- President Joe Biden nominated Prince George’s County Delegate and Maryland Access to Justice Commissioner Erek Barron to become the next U.S. Attorney for Maryland. Read more here.
Local A2J News
The Eviction Moratorium and the Supreme Court
- The Supreme Court blocked the Biden administration’s latest eviction moratorium, putting more pressure on Congress to act. In response, local advocates and leaders urge for the state and federal government to respond.
Mobile Library Law Center
- A partnership between the Baltimore County Public Library and Maryland Legal Aid saw the debut of the Mobile Library Law Center this month. The mobile unit, staffed by a librarian and an attorney from the MLA, will offer free legal services in a variety of areas including housing, expungements, and government benefits. The unit is intended to serve residents with disabilities, seniors, veterans and those who are economically disadvantaged.
Water Affordability Program Could Burden Residents
- A payment clause in Baltimore’s Water4All Program, an initiative to help residents pay the high cost of the city’s water bill, might classify bill assistance as taxable income according to tax experts and activists. Advocates from the Baltimore Right to Water Coalition are urging the city to implement a one-to-one dollar tax credit for the Program, which is slated to start this fall, so that residents see actual savings.
- The IMAGE Center of Maryland and some Baltimore City residents who use wheelchairs are suing the city for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act due to the state of disrepair and inaccessibility of the city’s sidewalks. Attorney Cory Warren says the plaintiffs just want to see changes made, stating “We’re not filing the suit to make a ton of money, we’re filing the suit because we want people to be able to participate as Baltimore residents equally.” Read more here.
Eviction Prevention Efforts
- In Anne Arundel County, County Executive Steuart Pittman said officials have increased efforts to curb evictions. Pittman mentioned recent endeavors including increased outreach to landlords, more than doubling the amount of Community Legal Services staff available to consult with tenants and setting up office space next to the District Court in Glen Burnie to help tenants get representation. Officials continue to urge tenants facing eviction to show up in Court rather than immediately move out.
National A2J News
The Business Case for Access to Justice
- Leaders from some of America’s top corporations, including Merck & Co., The Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Home Depot and The Carlyle Group discuss the business community’s perspective on Access to Justice with the head of LSC on Talk Justice.
- In Mississippi, a partnership between local nonprofits and a California tech company has led to the creation of “Lex,” a free chatbox which uses conversational language to help Mississipians navigate the complexities of the civil justice system. The Advocacy Director of the state’s Center for Justice said the new tool will help “level the playing field.” Read more here.
- In Minnesota, federal CARES Act funds are being put towards new initiatives to bridge the justice in gap in rural areas. Justice buses will travel to remote areas of the state and provide legal aid and advice to people closer to their homes.
Bipartisan AGs Call for Funding
- At a recent forum held by the Legal Services Corporation, Democratic and Republican Attorney Generals from over forty states sent letters to members of Congress urging significant funding for the LSC, which is facing a budget shortfall in the wake of increased need during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Read more here.
Right to Counsel Gains Momentum
- In cities, counties, and states across the country, local governments are passing or considering right to counsel legislation for tenants facing eviction. With national and local moratoriums expiring or in limbo, millions of Americans could face eviction hearings in court without representation. Many housing advocates also urge the U.S. Department of Justice’s newly revived Office of Access to Justice to play a bigger role in leveling the playing field in housing court.
Why Rental Assistance Is Not Enough
- Eviction filings are continuing to increase despite nearly $50 million of federal funding being allocated for rental relief. Among the biggest barriers to relief are public awareness of eligibility and online-only applications for assistance. Read more here.
Uneven Justice for Non-English Speakers
- Across the country, outcomes of cases for non-English speakers are being impacted by language access issues including a shortage of interpreters, uneven training and credentialing, and a lack of information and funding. Critical miscommunications in translation are common, particularly in states where few important language access benchmarks in courts exist. Read more here.
Right to Counsel Laws in NYC to be Tested
- Funding for civil legal services has increased tremendously over the past five years in New York City but the looming eviction crisis will reveal how effective the program truly is. Though the city recently broadened the financial eligibility threshold for securing a free lawyer in housing court proceedings, the number of cases is expected to increase significantly in the coming weeks.
Legal Aid Goes on the Radio
- Legal Aid of Manasota, FL is starting a partnership with a local radio station. They will air a new segment on local radio called “Justice Matters” where they will take legal questions on the radio in an attempt to get more information about the civil justice system out to the public. Read more here.