The June/July Issue
In this month’s A2J Dispatch, take a look at the different ways that financial hardship can impede access to social resources, representation, and public benefits/services for the Marylanders that need it most; we highlight the first episode of the limited edition Spark Series Insightful Voices podcasts; we explore the new laws on cannabis and what they mean for the expungement process; and we learn about how the right to counsel movement has gained traction in a number of jurisdictions across the country while also facing challenges attracting enough lawyers to meet demands. All this and more in this month’s issue of the A2JC Dispatch.
A2J Commission News
- Join the A2JC’s Delivery of Legal Services Committee! The A2JC’s Delivery of Legal Services Committee welcomes new members! As you renew your MSBA membership, choose to join the Committee for free if you are interested in joining a community of MSBA members who are passionate about an accessible, equitable and fair justice system. The Committee will focus on networking and events; educational programming; advocacy; and content generation. The co-chairs for the Committee this year will be Meredith Girard from Mid Shore Pro Bono and Zafar Shah from Maryland Legal Aid. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions!
- A2JC Panel at MSBA’s Legal Summit Discusses How to Build an Affordable Law Practice. Featuring private practioners who served on the MSBA and A2JC’s Affordable Law Task Force – Shuaa Tajammul, Jared Jaskot and Jane Santoni – and led by Task Force co-chair and moderator Sarah Coffey Bowes of Civil Justice, this MSBA panel focused on how to build an affordable law practice. Panelists discussed using legal technology, alternative fee structures, limited scope and fee-shifting as ways to build a financially sustainable practice while meeting a severe access to justice need.
- New Limited Edition Spark Series Podcast Now Live! New Insightful Voices Podcast. In the first episode of the limited edition Spark Series Insightful Voices podcasts, Donna Hill Staton, one of the co-chairs of the MSBA’s 125th Thought Leadership Initiative and the Principal of the Decision Point Strategy Group, LLC, interviews the inimitable Hon. Andrea Leahy from the Appellate Court of Maryland to discuss the series of events and actions that “catalyzed the transformational shifts necessary for Maryland to have a diverse judiciary that “many of us may now take for granted” today. Listen here: https://www.msba.org/for-members/legal-lab/. Read more here: https://www.msba.org/spark-series-podcast-changemaker/
- Attend A2JC’s Next Data & Legal Technology Committee Meeting! Join the A2JC’s Data & Legal Technology Committee’s next meeting on August 9 at 1pm. We will be joined by the Mid-Shore Council on Family Violence (MSCFV). They will be discussing their Geographic Information System (GIS) program. MSCFV’s program has revolutionized the way domestic violence victims access vital resources, earning notable recognition, such as the prestigious Domestic Shelters Purple Ribbon Award. Looking ahead, MSCFV plans to expand its GIS applications to include various non-DV programs (in which we hope to include the legal) and are currently developing client-facing applications focusing on employment and housing to provide information directly to the consumer. If you’re interested in attending the talk, email email@example.com!
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.
- How Can I Expunge My Criminal Record? A brochure published by Access to Justice of the Administrative Office of the Courts, is up-to-date with a new look and current content, including on expungement of cannabis-related charges. The brochure is available online in six languages at mdcourts.gov/accesstojustice/brochures. How Can I Expunge My Criminal Record? is one of six brochures in a series on access to court records available for order at mdcourts.gov/form/court-brochures-order-form.
Local A2J News
- Cannabis and Expungement. Two new laws, the REDEEM Act and the cannabis odor law, aim to release individuals and expunge their records for cannabis possession charges. Notably, communities impacted by marijuana criminalization have historically been communities of color. The new measures help clear barriers to employment, housing, and expungement for individuals affected by certain marijuana-related arrests.
- Access to Basic Needs. Last month, advocates in Maryland convened for the United Way of Central Maryland’s 98th annual meeting. They discussed the challenges faced by the nearly 900,000 families in Maryland identified as not earning enough to afford basic necessities . The implications raise several access issues, as financial hardship can compound disparities in access to social resources, representation, and public benefits/services.
- Hunger and Access to Food-Aid. Maryland Food Bank’s Community Impact Team (CIT), is one of the organizations working to create pathways out of hunger for Maryland residents. The group, which is dedicated “to finding solutions to the causes of hunger for Marylanders,” has been busy helping individuals apply for federal food-aid programs like SNAP and connecting them to other services and resources. Among other things, CIT conducts outreach events, uses the Maryland Hunger Map to identify priority populations, and offers personalized assistance to understand individual needs and barriers.
- Right to Counsel Beyond the Courtroom. Maryland is one of four states and over a dozen cities with right-to-counsel laws that help people avoid evictions. According to John Pollock of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, an attorney is still a great help even when tenants are evicted from their homes. Among other things, an attorney can help determine back rent, negotiate the time allotted to find another home, and in some cases help prevent the eviction from appearing on the tenant’s rental history or credit report.
- Right to Counsel – Lawyers Needed to Meet Demand. Right-to-counsel laws aim to level the playing field between landlords, who often have lawyers, and tenants, who typically lack legal representation. But, states that have implemented these laws, including Maryland, indicate that there is a significant need for more lawyers to match the demand. Among other things, advocates note that boosting recruitment, increasing salaries, and establishing eviction hotlines are crucial steps that can be taken to address these challenges.
- Cannabis Law Changes. Political and legal leaders gathered in Baltimore’s Mondawin neighborhood earlier this month to “spread the word about” new laws like that shorten the expungement waiting period for certain cannabis-related arrests and new legislation that redefines neglect in child-in-need of assistance cases involving cannabis use by parents. Paywall
- Access to Care and Medicaid Unwinding. So far, across D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, between 15-30% of potentially eligible Medicaid patients have lost Medicaid coverage as a part of the “Medicaid unwinding” process. In Maryland, the race to re-enroll those who have lost coverage and prevent further loss has presented challenges with barriers such as limited access to computers, language barriers, and complex individual circumstances make re-enrollment difficult for many.
- Access to Care Cont’d. Earlier this month, a new law went into effect, clearing the way to provide health insurance (e.g., healthcare services, dental care, and prescription drug coverage) to pregnant individuals regardless of their citizenship status. Advocates estimate approximately 6,000 non-citizen pregnant individuals will be eligible within the first year. “By removing barriers to pregnancy care, we create the best chance possible for a healthy baby Marylander,” says Meena Brewster, St. Mary’s County Health Officer.
- The Elderly and Maryland’s Renters’ Tax Credit. The Maryland Renters’ Tax Credit Program addresses many of the financial security issues that older Maryland renters face. Last month, new laws went into effect permitting renters over age 70 to apply retroactively for the Tax Credit within 3 years of eligibility beginning after June 30, 2019. “Economic insecurity is a daily reality for thousands of older adults . . . [m]any of these older adults are eligible for assistance programs” like Maryland’s Renters’ Tax Credit that would help them remain in their homes.
- Access to Basic Needs Cont’d. According to the ALICE Essentials Index there’s been a 53% increase in the costs for basic needs like food, housing, and child care from 2007 to 2021. The predicament is particularly challenging for workers in common occupations like retail sales, where data shows that wages have not kept pace with the rising costs. For low-income households with civil legal issues, the circumstances make affording a lawyer less likely, even when needed the most.
- A2J and Medical Debt. More than 100 million people or 41% of American adults, struggled to pay medical bills in 2022. . . A recent article from PEW looks into how the legal system plays an under-recognized role in the cycle of past due health care bills.
- Civil Asset Forfeiture. The House Judiciary Committee unanimously advanced a bill, known as the Fifth Amendment Integrity Restoration Act (FAIR), to limit civil asset forfeiture, a law enforcement practice that allows authorities to seize property or money suspected of being involved in a crime, often without requiring a conviction or even charging the property owner with a crime. The bill would change the burden of proof for the government, give courts more involvement in asset forfeiture cases.
- Technology and the Courtroom. In a recent episode of LSC’s Talk Justice Podcast, a panel of lawyers and judges share insights into what legal professionals need to know to incorporate the latest options for court proceedings into their practice and discuss how technology-driven advancements continue to play a central role in Texas courts.
- Squatting and A2J for Homeowners. While pandemic-era policies produced new renter protections, landlords and homeowners point out that squatting has become a widespread problem as property owners face challenges in evicting squatters due to slow court processes and lack of enforcement. To address this issue, some argue that legislative action is needed at the local and state levels to protect property rights and ensure timely access to justice for homeowners.
- Right to Counsel. According to the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC), last month, Jersey City became 16th City and 21st Jurisdiction to establish a right to counsel for tenants. NCCRC maintains a matrix outlining each of the tenant RTC laws and ordinances. There are now 16 cities, 4 states, and 1 county with a right to counsel for tenants.
- A2J for Children in Foster Care. Recognizing the lack of legal representation for children in the foster care system, Darcy Olsen founded the Center for the Rights of Abused Children and successfully campaigned for a reform granting abused children in Arizona the right to an attorney. In a recent article, Olsen argues that children in state care deserve the same due process rights as the criminally accused and highlights the positive impact legal representation has on children’s outcomes in the foster care system.
- ABA Manual of Fundraising Ideas for Civil Legal Aid. The ABA Manual of Fundraising Ideas for Civil Legal Aid has been updated! The revised Manual provides basic “how-to” information on the many strategies that bench, bar and legal aid leaders use to raise funds for civil legal aid. Access the updated chapters at: https://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_aid_indigent_defense/resource_center_for_access_to_justice/resources—information-on-civil-legal-aid-funding/aba-manual-of-fundraising-ideas-for-civil-legal-aid/
- A2J and Domestic Violence. The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear a case that examines the constitutionality of a federal provision restricting firearm possession for individuals with domestic violence restraining orders. The case could have significant implications for the safety of domestic violence victims. Notably, fear of retaliation, limited access to legal help, and financial constraints all play a role in how domestic violence survivors access the justice system.
- The Justice Gap and Remote Rural Areas. Through its Community Justice Worker program, the Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC) has sought new ways to bridge the justice gap in remote rural areas of Alaska. The program “looks beyond lawyer-based solutions to achieve justice” and is the first of its kind in the nation. Among other things, the program empowers legal advocates in rural Alaska communities to provide certain legal services with ALSC’s training and supervision.