The February Issue
This month we follow as A2JC joined forces with MSBA for the third annual MSBA Day to bring together Maryland leaders, elected officials, and MSBA members to learn about key priorities for the legal profession and we revisit A2JC’s efforts to push key priority bills this legislative session. We also hear the stories of real individuals who, through help from attorneys from the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, were able to persevere in the highly complex immigration system where 46% of all cases pending before the immigration courts have non-citizens in proceedings without legal representation. This month’s A2J Dispatch Stories are taken from testimony provided by impacted individuals before the House Judiciary Committee and in support of HB 114, Access to Counsel in Immigration Proceedings Program.
A2J Commission News
- Partial Victory in Funding Access to Counsel in Evictions. After months of advocacy spearheaded by the Access to Justice Commission with its partners, including the Maryland Legal Services Corporation, the Public Justice Center, the Office of the Attorney General and key legislators, Governor Larry Hogan, through DHCD will be using $5.4M from the billions of Emergency Rental Assistance Program (ERAP) to fund the Access to Counsel in Evictions law. While the amount is not the full amount of $11.8M requested, it is still a major success for A2JC and advocates working to implement a statewide Access to Counsel in Evictions law. Governor Hogan addressed this topic in his interview for MSBA Day here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tl7Y27kk3zo at 25:40.
- All Featured Speakers Address Access to Justice Issues on MSBA Day. A2JC and MSBA join forces to put on a formidable lobby day. Joined by U.S. Senators Cardin and Van Hollen, Governor Hogan, Attorney General Frosh and leaders in the Maryland General Assembly, A2JC succeeds in its mission to raise awareness and elevate the profile of access to justice issues, including civil legal aid funding and data transparency. It was heartening to hear both U.S. Senator Cardin and Van Hollen support funding Access to Counsel in Evictions as well as an evictions data base; hear Governor Hogan address the funding that he decided to put in the budget after A2JC’s consistent advocacy; Senate President Ferguson speak about how he’ll be working the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to move access to justice legislation.
- Story Map 2.0. A2JC is excited to launch version 2.0 of the Civil Justice for All Story Map. A2JC started on its path to make more civil justice data accessible, finding that the lack of that data was in itself a barrier to access to justice for all. A2JC’s Story Map is an interactive data tool to help elected officials, media representatives, civil justice advocates, community leaders and the public understand the civil justice system and its impact on Marylanders. “This tool makes civil justice data available at anyone’s fingertips. It is curated and easily searchable. This data should help and inform public policy on the civil justice system,” said Reena Shah, Executive Director of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission. The data from the Story Map also made it possible for A2JC to make county-specific Civil Justice Fact Sheets for legislators to understand the impacts of the civil justice system on their constituents. Learn more here: https://www.mdaccesstojustice.org/storymap
- 2022 A2JC Legislative Priorities. A2JC continues to advocate during the 2022 legislative session to pass key priorities. (Pictured Ward Coe, Chair of the Access to Justice Commission testifying in support of HB724 in the House Judiciary Committee.)
- Access to Counsel in Evictions Funding – One of the most pressing needs for Marylanders at risk of losing their homes is ensuring they have counsel at eviction proceedings where only 1% of tenants have representation compared to 96% of landlords. A2JC’s top priority this legislative session is passing HB724/SB662 because these bills fund the Access to Counsel in Evictions Program, which will dramatically reduce evictions. A2JC also supports other proposals in the legislature to help fund the Access to Counsel law.
- Eviction Data – Eviction is a complex legal process. A2JC is pushing for a real-time eviction data dashboard. The lack of real-time eviction data prevents effective implementation of the Access to Counsel in Eviction Program. SB629/HB824 provides a solution to this data problem and would allow for identification of eviction hot spots; targeted outreach; and an equity analysis.
- Access to Counsel in Immigration and Foreclosure Proceedings – The momentum and recognition of the importance of access to counsel in all types of civil proceedings continues. A2JC strongly supports HB114/SB129, Access to Counsel in Immigration Proceedings and HB1038 Access to Counsel in Foreclosure Proceedings. During testimony before the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee on Feb. 3, A2JC ED, Reena Shah, emphasized that “[g]reat laws are passed all the time, but they are seldom used by the people they are meant to protect, unless an attorney is involved.” Access to counsel is cost-effective and helps level the playing field.
Civil Legal Aid Legislative Spotlight
In an effort to increase awareness of the advocacy conducted by civil legal aid organizations, the A2J Dispatch started a new segment during the 2022 legislative session, highlighting the advocacy priorities of our community of civil legal aid organizations.
The Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP) is one of the many civil legal aid organizations that conduct direct services, but are also active during the legislative session to push for meaningful reforms that are helpful to their clients. HPRP’s mission is to end homelessness in Maryland by providing free legal services, including advice, counsel, education, representation and advocacy, for low-income persons who are homeless or at risk of homelessness. During the 2022 legislative session, HPRP is prioritizing the passage of these bills:
- Trans Health Equity Act, SB682 / HB746 – Maryland Medicaid denies dozens of necessary gender-affirming care procedures to transgender Marylanders. This bill would modernize our Medicaid policy by tying coverage to current and nondiscriminatory medical standards. Providing this care will be cost neutral in the long run, and it will significantly improve quality of life and reduce discrimination for Maryland’s transgender community.
- Department of Human Services – Family Investment Program – Contract and Program Review – HB1041 / SB829 – Recognizing that many of the policies that shape the Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA) program today are rooted in a history of anti-Black racism, this bill creates a one-time comprehensive review of the Temporary Cash Assistance program by an experienced outside consultant who will assess through an anti-racist and trauma-informed lens the extent to which the Maryland Department of Human Services (DHS) is implementing policies equitably and employing best practices to achieve the best outcomes possible for children and their parents. The bill also improves the vendor contracts DHS uses to administer its work program by making them performance-based with the goal of increasing the quality of the work program experience and improving employment and economic outcomes.
- TCA: Pathways to Employment and Economic Security, HB1043 / SB828 – This bill exercises flexibility that federal rules give to states to administer the required Temporary Cash Assistance work program to increase flexibility around work assignments, schedule, affirm the dignity of families, and increase economic security. The bill also reforms Maryland’s overuse of an unpaid “work experience” category that does not result in participants developing marketable skills or obtaining employment or wages high enough to end poverty.
In an effort to increase awareness of the powerful, essential role civil legal services play in our community, the A2J Dispatch features an A2J Stories segment, highlighting the stories and work of one of Maryland’s civil legal services organizations. With each story we aim to dig deeper into the issues faced by Marylanders and how civil legal aid makes a positive difference.
This month’s stories are those of real individuals who, through help from attorneys from the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition, were able to persevere in the highly complex immigration system. Below, we meet Micheal, Catherine and Victor, individuals who bravely chose to tell their stories and testify before the House Judiciary in support of proposed bill HB 114 (Access to Counsel in Immigration Proceedings Program). Their names have been edited to protect privacy.
- Micheal, a resident of Baltimore has lived in Maryland for 12 years and works as a painter to support his family. Micheal was separated from his family for 11 months after being detained by ICE. Unable to afford a lawyer, Micheal feared being deported and permanently separated from his family. “Having someone to defend you in front of the judge is very important” and “people should not be separated from their families because they do not have access to a lawyer.” A month into his case, Micheal found out that he qualified for free representation with the CAIR Coalition. “When I had my hearing, my lawyer defended me before the judge, she knew what to say and what to do. I felt that I was not alone and I was able to fight my case and win.”
- Catherine, a resident of Baltimore has lived in the United States for 17 years, is married and the father of 4 children. In 2019, Catherine was detained by ICE which left his family no financial support. Catherine was also unable to afford a lawyer and feared it would result in his deportation. Catherine contacted Baltimore’s SAFE City Program and was able to obtain a lawyer from the CAIR Coalition. “[M]any in our community who have to work hard to support their families and have no money to pay for a lawyer.” With the help of a CAIR attorney, “I felt so much better because someone was there to help me and explain [things] to me.”
- Victor, a carpenter and resident of Hyattsville, Maryland immigrated to the United States to escape gang violence that threatened his life in his home country. After being separated from his wife and 4-year old child in an immigration detention center, Victor called the CAIR Coalition where he was able to obtain an attorney through the Universal Representation Program for Prince George’s County. “At first I had no hope. But it was while we were in the middle of working on my case when my attorney explained my rights and how to fight my case, and gathered evidence for my case, that I felt encouraged.”
Through their Detained Adult Program (DAP), the CAIR Coalition works with the hundreds of adults who are detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) in the Capital region each year, providing information, support, and legal representation. For additional information on the CAIR Coalition and its important work in Maryland’s civil legal aid community visit: https://www.caircoalition.org/
** To have your organization’s story highlighted in the Stories segment of the A2J Dispatch please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Local A2J News
- Tax Sale Foreclosure Prevention. When homeowners fall behind on their taxes due to illness or joblessness, tax-lien and foreclosure investors seek to buy their homes over the unpaid taxes. This month a joint training project between Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) and PBRC’s Home Preservation Project, is free to lawyers who are interested in learning about tax sale foreclosure in Baltimore City and lawyers who agree to attend one Baltimore City tax sale clinic and accept at least one pro bono tax foreclosure case within one year of registration for the training.
- Consumer Debt. Under today’s laws debt collectors in Maryland can take the last dollar out of an individual’s bank account. A new house bill could change that by protecting the last 500 dollars in an individual’s bank account and making that money untouchable to debt collectors. The bill, HB 322, is sponsored by Del. Lesley Lopez would change state debt collection practices that deepen poverty and widen the racial wealth gap.
- Debt Collection Licensure. Recent Court of Special Appeals decision makes way for consumer claims that allege certain companies that engage in debt collection activity without the appropriate licenses violate the Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Act. In it’s holding in Leslie Williams v. eWrit Filings, LLC, the court explained that the activities of failure to pay rent (FTPR) filing companies constitutes debt collection activity for purposes of Maryland Collection Agency Licensing Act.
- Civil Services for Migrant Children. The immigration system is highly complex and ever-changing. Navigating the system can be nearly impossible for an adult, let alone a child. Nearly 5,500 unaccompanied migrant children were relocated to Maryland between October 2020 and September 2021, the highest number in the past six years. Amid food insecurity, financial woes and mental health struggles, advocates say that the influx of minors has pushed Maryland’s community organizations to their limits.
- Eviction Filing Fees. Attorney General Brian E. Frosh wants lawmakers to raise eviction filing fees to deter “serial eviction filings” in the state of Maryland. Frosh said that low eviction filing fees have led to multiple filings against the same tenant in a single year and surrounding states with higher filing fees have much lower eviction filing rates than Maryland.
National A2J News
- A2Counsel Cleveland. A recent report from STOUT demonstrates Clevelanders saw positive results after the city implemented its A2Counsel in Eviction Program last year. Almost 60% of eligible residents had lawyers for eviction cases, in comparison to the 1-2% previously and 93% of residents who wanted to avoid eviction were able to achieve that outcome.
- A2Counsel in Imigration Proceedings. 46% of all cases pending before the immigration courts have non-citizens in the proceedings without legal representation. Advocates supporting immigrant and civil rights ask the Biden Administration and Congressional leaders to allocate federal funds to provide “immediate and dramatic” expansion of legal representation for people facing immigration proceedings in an effort to increase fairness and government efficiency.
- Legal Aid Funding. The federally funded Legal Services Corporation (LSC) current funding of $465 million is not enough to address the unmet need for civil legal aid services, says both chairs of the Congressional Access to Legal Aid Caucus. “It is long past time for Congress to step up support for our front-line legal aid responders as they grapple with the pandemic, while continuing to assist veterans, the elderly, survivors of domestic violence, and others.”
- Immigration Court Backlogs. At the end of 2021, almost 140,000 immigration court cases were added to an existing backlog of about 1.5 million. The immigration court backlog has reached its highest level ever and a majority of immigrants navigate the immigration court system without a lawyer. In addition to more courts and judges, “an important change that would help with the backlog and overall due process would be to provide lawyers for every person going through immigration court proceedings.”
- Rental Assistance. A growing number of landlords are taking federal rental assistance to cover months of back rent but still moving to evict tenants. Even though billions in emergency rental assistance (ERA) funds have been paid out to help renters avoid eviction, some tenants who received ERA funds are reporting that landlords continue to threaten eviction — sometimes days after receiving federal help and in a new survey of 120 legal aid attorneys and civil rights advocates, 86% reported cases in which landlords either refused to take assistance or accepted the money and still moved to evict tenants.
- Justice Technology. In a recent episode of LSC’s Talk Justice podcast, guest experts take a look at soon-to-be launched Justice Technology Association and its plan to build community around efforts to provide innovative and accessible solutions to common legal issues. The full panel discussion is available here: legaltalknetwork.com/podcasts/talk-justice/2022/02/
- Homeownership Gap. Last year, investors bought nearly 1 in 7 homes sold in America’s top metropolitan areas. “Unlike mom and pop landlords, large out-of-state investors typically don’t have much empathy for their tenants . . . Residents can be a day late in paying rent and face an eviction notice.” In many instances investors end up buying properties that might otherwise be the first home purchases for families, this in turn exacerbates the homeownership gap and eliminates opportunities for wealth accumulation for minority families looking to amass wealth.
- Informal Eviction and Displacement. Advocates note that the ability to understanding of displacement and housing insecurity in the United States is incomplete as some evictions occur outside the legal system, through so-called informal evictions. Unlike formal evictions, informal evictions leave no paper trail and usually occur when no claim has been filed but tenants move out of their homes after being harassed and receiving warnings or threats from their landlord.
- Eviction Disparities. In a recent episode of KQED podcast SOLD OUT: Rethinking Housing in America, hosts explore The Color of Evictions, and follow the journey of real life tenants, while examining the factors driving the racial disparities in eviction rates – including generations of racist housing policies and predatory home lending practices.