The July/August Issue
In this month’s issue of the A2J Dispatch, we share fond memories of A2JC volunteer Emily Myers, We explore state regulatory reforms that leverage nonlawyer professionals, we share more about the work of the Affordable Law Task Force (which is run by A2JC and the MSBA), we learn about the looming hunger cliff and the rise of food insecurity in Maryland, we take a look at Frontline’s eviction new documentary and we highlight many other notable local and national A2JC news stories.
A2J Commission News
- In Memoriam – A2JC Volunteer Spotlight: Emily Myers, Rising 2L Maryland Carey School of Law, Former A2JC volunteer
It is with the heaviest heart and deepest regret that I share the difficult news of the sudden and untimely passing of one of A2JC’s volunteers. A2JC has for many years relied on volunteers to help power our work. I’ve had the opportunity to work with students, retirees and others in the prime of their career, who find A2JC by word of mouth or on the web and are willing to lend their time and talents for the cause of civil justice for all.
I started working with Emily at the start of June. She had a full time paid internship for the summer, but really wanted to volunteer with A2JC, even if just for a few hours a week. I love supporting students who have a passion for justice, but generally do not like bringing on volunteers for less than 8 hours a week because it is hard to rationalize the time it takes to manage them with the amount of work they could produce. However, Emily’s interview and reference check confirmed what was clear in her cover letter and application – that Emily was a very smart, talented and passionate individual and that A2JC shouldn’t miss out on working with her.
I knew Emily briefly – a bit over two months and never met her in person. But in that short time, the work she delivered made me amass a great deal of respect and appreciation for her talents. I could tell that she was destined to do great things in this profession and for this profession. Emily was one of those people, where I could explain an assignment and she would JUST. GET. IT. She would not only deliver something that was thoughtful, well-written and clearly organized, but it was clear that she wasn’t just completing the assignment. She was issue spotting, thinking strategically and bringing solutions to the table to the larger context related to the assignment. This is rare. Indeed, I found her work and thoughtfulness to be on par or better than most seasoned professionals with whom I work. So, after just a few short assignments, I was convinced she could handle an entire project, rather than a one-off assignment.
Then, she missed one of our regular Thursday check-in meetings on July 28. I didn’t think much of it because she had indicated that her summer internship was demanding. I expected her to email me or that we would just catch up over the next week. Then, I got an email from one of her professors who served as her reference requesting a call to discuss Emily. Unfortunately and very sadly, the professor shared the news of her passing and the shock that her friends and professors in law school felt as they tried to absorb the inexplicable loss. The last time I spoke to Emily over Zoom was on Thursday, July 21 and she passed away on July 25. I still have not processed that she is gone. I am reflecting on the loss to A2JC, but also our legal community, knowing that she was someone who would have made a great impact. I have not been able to remove our weekly meetings from the calendar and may not for some time to keep her memory alive.
When she started working with me, I told Emily of my desire to start spotlighting our volunteers in the A2J Dispatch as a form of appreciation and recognition. I had asked her to draft a blog post about why she wanted to work with us, the access to justice issues she witnessed while working for the circuit courts and her thoughts on possible remedies to correct the hurdles faced by low-income litigants.
Click here to read what Emily wrote in her own words about how to help alleviate the burden on low-income litigants who are applying for fee waivers.
- A2JC Data & Legal Technology Committee Seeks Additional Members: The lack of civil justice data is a barrier for access to justice. A2JC has been trying to solve this problem by developing first-of-their-kind civil justice data tools, including, most recently, the Housing Data Dashboard, to inform policy reform and evaluate program effectiveness. A2JC’s Data & Legal Technology Committee, formerly chaired by Commissioner Matthew Stubenberg and now by Dawn O’Croinin of the AG’s office, is seeking new members with an expertise in data collection and analysis or an expertise in legal technology. Please email Reena Shah at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in joining!
- Affordable Law Task Force Set to Release Survey to Maryland Attorneys. There are many Marylanders who do not qualify for free legal services, but still cannot afford to hire an attorney at market rate. A2JC is partnering with MSBA to run the Affordable Law Task Force (ALTF), which is exploring existing innovations to serve modest means Marylanders, while learning from other states about their programs, interventions and best practices. In the next week or so, ALTF will release a survey to all Maryland attorneys aimed at ascertaining how attorneys are offering legal services to clients of modest means and what support they may need to bolster their work. Survey results will help inform the Task Force’s recommendations.
Local A2J News
- E-Filing and Eviction Data. District Court in Baltimore County recently launched an E-rent Pilot Program allowing landlords to electronically file failure to pay rent documents with the court. “This data will assist in directing resources to landlords and tenants in the jurisdictions most in need. We are confident this pilot will be a model of success for the entire state.” said Chief Judge John P. Morrissey, District Court of Maryland. E-filing is expected to become mandatory in Landlord-Tenant cases in all MDEC jurisdictions.
- Immigration. Last year the legislature passed the Dignity Not Detention Act, which ended private detention in local Maryland jails by ICE. Now, immigration advocates say ICE is transferring detainees to other facilities far from their families and lawyers, and taking new detainees out of state.
- Evictions. With the support of the activist group CASA, a group of neighbors in Laurel, MD rallied together to express their concerns to their landlord, but they were met with court notices for failure to pay rent cases and the threat of eviction. Meanwhile, Montgomery County relaunches its COVID-19 rent relief program. The program had stopped taking applications June 30, but county leaders have decided to reopen the application portal for the time being.
- Funding. Earlier this week, Maryland submitted its 2022 State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) Annual Performance Report to the Department of the Treasury. The report includes details about the state’s performance outcomes for programs that were implemented to help Marylanders during the pandemic, and describes the state’s use of American Rescue Plan funds from March 3, 2021, through June 30, 2022. Read the report here.
- Food Insecurity. Many civil legal aid organizations help hungry Marylanders fill out SNAP applications to increase food security, but now advocates warn that a “looming hunger cliff threatens greater hardship for many in Maryland” if SNAP emergency assistance ends. And according to a June 2022 report on food insecurity in Maryland that was published by the Maryland Food Bank, 46.9% of families say that their children were sometimes or often not eating enough because food was not affordable. Read the full report here.
- Low-Income Tax Clinics. In a recent episode of the ABA’s podcast, People in Tax, Janice Shih, an attorney with one of Maryland’s civil legal aid organizations, MVLS, discussed “the challenges and rewards of volunteering with Low-Income Tax Clinics” . . . and how remote work in the pandemic has actually helped Low-Income Tax Clinics connect with more clients.
- A2Counsel in Evictions Symposium. Save the Date! On Friday, September 30, 2022, Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC), who celebrates it’s 40th anniversary this year, will offer a full day of free training for pro bono attorneys interested in participating in the Access to Counsel in Evictions program by representing tenants facing eviction.
- Professional Skills Academy. The Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland (PBRC) is accepting applications for its 2022-2023 Professional Skills Academy. In the a one-year, cohort-based program, fellows learn from experienced attorneys while defending low-wage workers against fraud, preventing unlawful evictions in rent court, counseling at-risk immigrants, and preserving intergenerational wealth for low-income families. Interested attorneys are encouraged to apply to the Academy by Monday, August 15th. To apply, please visit: https://probonomd.org/academy/.
National A2J News
- A2J and Regulatory Reforms. A2JC’s Affordable Law Task Force recently learned more from folks who helped develop Utah’s Regulatory Sandbox that allows for regulation of non-legal actors to address the civil justice gap. And in Oregon, the state Supreme Court has given final approval to a program that allows licensed paralegals to provide limited legal services in family law and landlord-tenant cases. Now, advocates in California are calling for similar “regulatory sandbox” initiatives and reforms.
- Evictions. A new Frontline documentary “Facing Eviction” offers a look at the existing housing crisis, this time through the eyes of tenants, landlords, judges and law enforcement. And, this month the National Center for State Courts recently announced the recipients of $10 million in grants for state courts to strengthen eviction diversion efforts. Also, this month the White House convened an event thatbrought together stakeholders from across the country to discuss the successes of using Emergency Rental Assistance Program funding to establish eviction diversion and right to counsel programs to address the eviction crisis on a long-term basis.. The White House shared its Fact Sheet on building lasting eviction prevention reform.
- A2J and the Courts. A recent ABALaw Practice Magazine article entitled, “America’s Lawless Courts” argues that, among other things, “state civil courts are primarily lawyerless, traditional adversary litigation has largely disappeared, . . . and people’s court experiences amplify inequality and human suffering.” Yet, the Chicago Bar Foundation’s new study on recruitment and retention of lawyers in the legal aid community and identifies “challenges and real opportunities . . . to recruit and retain a diverse, talented, and dedicated group of legal aid advocates to serve as the backbone for the broader efforts to ensure access to justice.” Read the study here.
- Expungement. In a recent episode of LSC’s Talk Justice Podcast, legal experts share their perspectives on the expungement process, the difficulty individuals face determining eligibility and undergoing expungement, and how new technology and policy can help give people a second chance.
- A2Counsel Movement. Momentum builds as advocates win access to legal counsel for tenants. “[We’re] connecting jurisdictions to each other so that everyone’s learning from everyone else. There are dozens and dozens of places that are in the pipeline that we’re talking to.… We see things happening in the next couple years that will even add to what’s been accomplished,” says National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel Director John Pollock in a recent article from Truthout.
- Medical Debt Crisis. According to data collected by NPR, Kaiser Health News, the Kaiser Family Foundation America’s medical debt crisis has touched more than half of all U.S. adults in the past five years and 1 in 7 adults who have had health care debt say they’ve been threatened with a lawsuit or arrest. Now nursing homes have started suing friends and family to collect on residents’ unpaid bills . . . and in most cases the people sued don’t have an attorney, or the nursing homes win default judgments because the defendants fail to respond.
- Legal Aid and Food Insecurity. Last week, lawmakers convened a “panel of experts to discuss how legal aid providers are able to secure critical benefits for constituents, including food and nutrition assistance, at a time when food insecurity is of particular concern. The panel comes ahead of the White House’s Conference on Hunger, Nutrition, and Health in September 2022.”
- Legal Tech. London-based legal tech platform founded by lawyers helps parties settle disputes virtually via negotiation, mediation & arbitration—without stepping into a physical court. When they founded Resolve Dispute Online (RDO) Aditya Shivkumar and Joe Al-Khayat wanted to do something about the fact that most people are disconnected from the legal system.
- A2J and Commercial Bail. A new fact sheet from the Center for American Progress, outlines how ”the commercial bail industry traps people in predatory contracts [and] . . . in racially and economically unjust outcomes, high rates of pretrial incarceration, increased costs to taxpayers, and negative public safety consequences.” Bond companies then use the civil justice system and abusive debt collection practices to protect their bottom line.