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Introducing the A2J Dispatch

The Maryland Access to Justice Commission is proud to announce a new project entitled Maryland Voices for Justice. This project was launched because we recognized that stories and news about the civil justice system – all the way from what it is, the access to justice barriers Marylanders face and the solutions to break down those barriers – are not well known or understood. 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 June Issue

In June, we celebrate Pride month and June 15 was also World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, so our focus this month is on exploring the unique ways in which civil justice issues impact the LGBTQ community as well as older Americans. We also explore what the Access to Justice Commission has been up to and share stories from our broader access to justice community – both local and national.

A2J Commission News

Pro Bono Call to Action. On July 1, 2021 at 10:00am, Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera, Attorney General Brian Frosh, MSBA President Natalie McSherry and A2JC Chair Ward Coe will hold a press conference to herald a Pro Bono Call to Action urging all attorneys in Maryland who are able to help deal with the expected crush of civil legal cases spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic. Join the press conference here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EAk-BlHaowQ. Click here to answer the call. 

Access to Counsel. Maryland became the second state in the nation to afford “access to counsel” to its residents in eviction matters; however, to have the desired effect of reducing evictions, the law must be funded. A2JC is convening stakeholders and working with partners to urge Governor Hogan to use a small portion of the billions coming into the state from the federal government to fund access to counsel. See coverage of the issue here. Understand the disparate impact of housing and evictions on communities of color here

Civil Justice for All Story Map. The lack of civil justice data is a barrier to access to justice. The A2JC’s new Story Map is a unique tool that combines stories, statistics, data and interactive maps to show for the first time the impact of the civil justice system on Marylanders across the state. See WBAL’s coverage of the Story Map here.

The Promise of Civil Justice for All: An Interview with Reena Shah. The spring issue of the The Maryland Association for Justice’s magazine, The Trial Reporter, featured an extensive interview with A2JC Executive Director Reena Shah. This in-depth interview reviews the barriers within the civil justice system that obstruct civil justice for all and what A2JC is doing about it. The interview starts on page 18 of the magazine, available here.

A Change in Court Forms & Microsite to Help Maryland Debtors. Effective July 1, 2021, the Maryland Judiciary revised its Consumer Debt form, adopting several of the recommendations from the Maryland Attorney General’s COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force’s Consumer Protection Committee. The updated form provides more explanation of the process, the negative consequences of default and resources of where to get legal help. The same Committee also created a microsite, http://www.debtcollectionmaryland.org, filled with helpful information for debtors defending a consumer debt case.

A2J Stories

In an effort to increase awareness of the powerful, essential role civil legal services play in our community, the A2J Dispatch will feature an A2J Stories segment, highlighting the stories and work of one of Maryland’s civil legal services organizations. We will dig deeper into the issues faced by Marylanders and how civil legal aid makes a positive difference. 

What do Tom, a Baltimore City man who suffered a debilitating stroke and could not afford essential repairs to his home, and a Carroll County family who was struggling to create a respectful environment for their transgender son in school have in common? Both received critical help from a civil legal aid organization. Read how Tom got ensnared in the civil justice system when his friend decided to loan him some money and how Senior Legal Services of Baltimore City helped him here and how attorneys from FreeState Justice – a legal services organization that specializes in assisting LGBTQ+ Marylanders made a positive difference in this young student’s world. {VIDEO} 

National A2J News:

Justice Index. Maryland scored second in the nation for access to justice, according to the 2021 Justice Index just released by the National Center for Access to Justice. While that is encouraging, the news should be taken with a grain of salt: the state’s score was well below “passing” standards, earning less than 65% overall. Maryland scored 50% or less on civil justice factors concerning disability and basic access to attorneys.

Tiny Chats. A domestic violence survivor discussed the struggle of trying to represent herself and navigate the family court system effectively when divorcing her abuser. The interview is available via the “Tiny Chats” series, hosted by the National Center for State Courts. {VIDEO}

Special Education. While the pandemic disrupted educational processes and access for all students, the situation was even more severe for those enrolled in special education programs. Disability and education attorneys around the country, including Maryland, discuss the unique challenges the pandemic has raised and their efforts to ensure school districts are fulfilling their obligations to students with special needs. Read more here.

Local A2J News:

MLSC Leadership. Maryland Legal Services Corporation announces new Executive Director: https://www.mlsc.org/mlsc-announces-appointment-of-executive-director/

Civil legal aid organizations take part in marking World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Attorney General Frosh, the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, CHANA Baltimore and other civil legal and social services organizations joined forces to present Protect Week, providing a score of programs focused on elder abuse awareness and prevention. Read more here

Maryland Gov. Hogan is wrong to cut extra unemployment benefits, says Attorney General and A2J Commissioner Brian Frosh. Read the attorney general’s opinion, published in the Washington Post earlier this month, here. Sally Dworak-Fisher of the Public Justice Center and Benjamin Orr of the Maryland Center on Economic Policy echoed these sentiments in the Baltimore Sun. Many Maryland legal organizations are also calling on the judiciary to reform eviction court policies and procedures as the courts get back to business. Read more about this situation here.