The December/January Issue
In this month’s issue of the A2J Dispatch, we reflect on the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in the fight to make equal access to justice a reality for all Americans, we learn about key recommendations outlined in the 2023 ACE Task Force Report, we highlight MSBA Day and A2JC’s legislative priorities, we learn about recent A2J and justice tech trends, and we explore how technology, in general, has played an increasingly important role in promoting access to justice. Read all this and more here.
A2J Commission News
- MSBA Day. MSBA Day takes place on January 24, 2023. MSBA Day is one of the many advocacy-related efforts on which MSBA and A2JC join forces. This year’s MSBA Day will feature these A2JC legislative priorities: Continuous State Funding for the Access to Counsel in Evictions Law and a General Increase in Civil Legal Aid Funding. See more information on MSBA Day here and 2023 Priorities here.
- ACE Task Force 2023 Report. A2JC Executive Director, Reena K. Shah, chairs the legislatively-mandated Access to Counsel in Evictions (ACE) Task Force. The Task Force delivered its 2023 Report to the Governor and General Assembly on December 30, 2022. Key recommendations include providing continuous support for state funding to fund the ACE law; uniformity in state courts regarding application of ACE law; and a centralized number for all information and services related to ACE. Read the full report here.
- Profile of Senator Jeff Waldstreicher. Keep a lookout in the next Maryland Bar Journal for an A2JC Profile of State Senator and A2JC Commissioner, Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher!
- TDR Eye on Annapolis Edition and TDR Commentary. A2JC ED and Chair of ACE TF, Reena Shah, makes an urgent plea for stable and continuous source of funding for the ACE law: “The stakes are high for vulnerable Marylanders facing eviction says Reena Shah, executive Director of the Maryland A2J Commission and Chair of the ACE Task Force, “with stable and continuous funding, the ACE Program is poised to serve as the strongest bulwark against evictions.” (paywall)
- Evictions. The Baltimore Banner recently did a story on the rising eviction numbers in MD: “We are starting to get concerned that while the case filings remain low, the number of evictions is approaching pre-pandemic levels,” Reena Shah, executive director for Maryland Access to Justice Commission. (paywall)
- A2JC’s Delivery of Legal Services Committee. A2JC is pleased at the potential for more impact in the legislature this year by working in alignment with the A2JC DLS Committee, which will be advocating on broader justice-related policy issues.
Tips from Maryland Judiciary’s Access to Justice Department
We are pleased to offer recurring content from the Maryland Judiciary’s Access to Justice Department as part of the A2J Dispatch.
Resources for the Self-Represented. The Maryland Judiciary publishes an annual report summarizing court-based services for the self-represented as well as extensive program demographic data about the users of these services. Find a copy of the Fiscal Year 2022 report on the Judiciary’s website here.
Local A2J News
- Human Trafficking Awareness Month. This month, the Human Trafficking Prevention Project (HTPP), a partnership between Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and University of Baltimore School of Law, hosts a free training for licensed attorneys on the crime of human trafficking, common misconceptions, as well as information on the availability of criminal record relief under Maryland law and how these remedies help survivors to heal. For more information visit: https://mvlslaw.org/event/human-trafficking
- Tenant’s Rights. Baltimore City Sheriff Sam Cogen ended the Sheriff’s Office practice of posting eviction notices in mailrooms or outside of apartment complexes instead of on tenants’ doors as required by law. The change in practice comes after advocates found that when eviction notices were posted in common areas, tenants often did not know when their eviction was happening, making the already-violent eviction process even more traumatic.
- Consumer Law. Under current laws, debt collectors that have won in court can take the last dollar out of an individual’s bank account-leaving the person with nothing. Now, New bill that looks to help low-income individuals maintain dignity while in debt. HB 42, would allow an individual to protect $500 in their bank account from debt collectors. Read more about the issue and legislation here.
- A2J and the Legislative Session. Over a hundred bills were pre-filed ahead of the legislative session, including for example, a bill that would prohibit landlords from increasing a tenant’s rent solely because of a judgment entered against them in failure to pay rent case is just one of many bills that were pre-filed for 2023 Legislative Session. For a quick look at some of the other bills introduced earlier this month, click here.
National A2J News
- Right to Counsel Movement. Justice for Breakfast, you’ll hear from National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC) staff about the Coalition’s role in advancing the civil right to counsel as they debunk myths and explore the civil right to counsel landscape and significant developments that the NCCRC has led or supported. Learn more and RSVP for Happening Jan. 26 at 9am Here.
- A2J and Nonlawyer Assistance. Experts say experiments with nonlawyers providing legal assistance and increased right-to-counsel programs offer some hope for a narrowed justice gap in 2023. “I think we’ve made some progress in recognizing that there is a justice gap,” Legal Services Corp. President Ron Flagg told Law360, “the jury’s out as to what progress we’ll make in 2023.”
- Hospital Pricing Transparency. Hospital debt is a leading cause of consumer bankruptcy, which can interfere with food and housing insecurity, as well as client mental health. For attorneys, it can be helpful to know how to use hospital pricing data to advocate for your clients dealing with medical debt. On January 25th, the National Consumer Law Center will host a how-to session on accessing and using the hospital price transparency data for those advocating for clients and/or interested in pushing policy solutions around medical debt.
- A2J and Elder Care. Advocates argue that nursing facilities, and other stakeholders are ignoring residents’ decision-making rights considering the persistently high usage of psychotropic medications facilities. In a new series of briefs, Justice in Aging makes and evaluates several proposed reforms, focusing on proposals’ real-world impact on residents. Learn more here.
- SNAP Benefits. 2023 federal spending bill clears way for states to use federal funds to replace SNAP benefits “that are determined by the State Agency to have been stolen through card skimming, card cloning or similar fraudulent methods.” Prior to the bill’s passage, states could choose to reimburse participants using their own funds — but most do not, including Maryland.
- Immigration. As migrants continue to seek entry into the United States, many have landed in Miami, they are turning for help to civil legal aid organizations like Catholic Legal Services, which offers low-cost and free legal services to migrants fighting deportation orders, applying for naturalization, seeking asylum, work permits and other immigration needs. The number of people who want help “is so large that we could not individually represent all the people who need it,” said Randolph McGrorty, co-founder and executive director of Catholic Legal Services.
- A2J and Justice Tech. Jason Tashea, founding director of Georgetown Law’s new Judicial Innovation Fellowship (JIF), joins LSC’s Talk Justice Podcast to discuss how placing technologists and designers in courts can improve access to justice. And in Georgia rural communities will soon receive kiosks to aid in pro bono civil legal assistance. At the kiosks, users will be able to apply for legal services, meet with their attorneys virtually and access automated self-help tools for pro-se litigants.
- A2J and Tech Trends. Access to Justice among Top Ten Tech Trends for 2023. Advocates note that remote litigation may be here to stay as individuals no longer have to leave their city or take leave from their job to appear in court. The evidence is in the data, for example in Maricopa County, Arizona failure-to-appear rates in eviction cases dropped from 40% in 2019 to 13% in 2021.
- A2J and Law Schools. Villanova named as a finalist in Bloomberg Law’s inaugural Law School Innovation Program for its Leveraging Technology to Promote Access to Social Justice course. Bloomberg’s Program highlights instructional programs that advance new approaches to legal technology implementation and legal education.
- Medicaid Coverage. New rules allow states to kick some people off Medicaid starting in April 2023 and advocates warn that millions could become uninsured. Unfortunately, “it’s not unusual for people who are eligible for Medicaid to nonetheless get dropped from the program because of language barriers or administrative oversight . . . advocates also note that receiving proper notice will be hard for those who may not have a stable home address or access to internet or phone services to check their status.”