The May/ June Issue
In this issue, we highlight the A2JC program on the Affordable Law Task Force at the 2022 MSBA Legal Summit. We also explore the role of nonlawyer legal aid; celebrate as two more localities establish A2Counsel programs in eviction; explore implicit imbalances built into the immigration system for detainees facing deportation; and share the announcement of the head of the DOJ’s Office of Access to Justice.
A2J Commission News
Ward B. Coe, Chair of A2JC addresses MSBA Membership at Business Meeting. At the MSBA’s business meeting on Friday, June 3, Ward Coe gave an update on A2JC activities and reported on the growth of A2JC effectiveness and influence since it was adopted by the MSBA. Ward thanked MSBA members, leadership and staff; the Attorney General’s Office and justice partners, including MLSC and other civil legal aid organizations, all of whom worked collaboratively together to achieve a statewide Access to Counsel in Evictions law and over $25M in funding to implement the law.
Affordable Law Task Force presents at the Legal Summit. A2JC and MSBA joined forces this year to study how to fill the justice gap for a whopping 30% of Marylanders who do not qualify for free legal services, but do not make enough money to even afford basic necessities. Sarah Frush, chair of the Task Force and head of Civil Justice, Inc. moderated a panel with Syma Siddiqui, corporate counsel at Johns Hopkins; Meredith Girard, Executive Director at Mid-Shore Pro Bono; and Nicholas McDaniels of LewisMcDaniels. They discussed how different programs in Maryland are trying to meet the need, including a Frederick County model that incorporates the courts, paralegals and private practitioners doing limited scope; a non-profit’s approach to developing a private “low-bono” panel; and offering legal insurance as an employee benefit.
Law School Deans discuss A2J at 125th Thought Leadership Event at Legal Summit. Deans (and Commissioners) Tobin and Weich engaged in a broad-ranging conversation about the future of legal education as part of the 125th Thought Leadership programming. During the course of the conversation, they addressed how they encourage law students to develop a service mindset; their thoughts on training paraprofessionals to meet the widening justice gap; law school debt and their involvement in supplying the pipeline of talent for the Access to Counsel in Evictions Program.
Vicki Schultz celebrated as new Executive Director of Maryland Legal Aid. At the 2022 MSBA Legal Summit, A2JC co-hosted a reception with MSBA and Maryland Legal Aid to celebrate Vicki Schultz as the new Executive Director of Maryland Legal Aid. David Shapiro, the newly installed President of the MSBA noted when introducing Vicki, “new leadership always presents new opportunities and I look forward to working with the Commission, Maryland Legal Aid and other civil justice partners to ensure that we at the MSBA continue to improve our programming and content; and ensure professional development and leadership opportunities for this segment of our profession.”
New Chair for Access to Counsel in Evictions Task Force. A2JC Executive Director, Reena Shah, has been named the new Chair of the legislatively mandated Access to Counsel in Evictions Task Force by Attorney General Brian Frosh. Shah, who previously chaired the Task Force’s Data Committee and served as Vice Chair of the Attorney General’s Covid-19 Access to Justice Task Force, will replace A2J Commissioner, Vicki Schultz. The Task Force will serve as an important convener and monitoring body to ensure that relevant stakeholders have an important voice and role in implementation of the state’s access to counsel in evictions program which is set to receive $12 million in FY2023 and another $14 million in FY2024 for implementation.
New Dean of Maryland Carey School of Law. We congratulate Renée McDonald Hutchins who was named the new dean of the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, effective August 1. The Commission has a permanent seat on the Commission for both law school deans, so looks forward to welcoming Dean Hutchins and working with her to continue collaboration and engagement with the law school community in important initiatives aimed at improving and expanding access to justice for all in Maryland. At the 2022 Legal Summit, we had a great conversation with Deans Tobin and Weich on the future of legal education and its connection to access to justice.
Eviction Data. Beginning January 1, 2023, in accordance with HB824, which is now law, the Maryland Judiciary will collect and report eviction data (e.g., case type, case number, date of eviction, and county/zip code of eviction) and importantly, the data will be reported online monthly and made available to state agencies and/or academic researchers. More granular eviction data will go a long way towards ensuring effective implementation of the state’s Access to Counsel in Eviction Program and enable important analysis including identification of eviction hot spots and areas for targeted outreach.
Local A2J News
- ERAP Shortfalls and Rental Protections Expire. The Emergency Rental Assistance Program in Frederick County has a projected need of over $9-million and a potential of almost $5.4-million dollars,” says Monica Bearden, the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer for the Division of Citizens Services. Meanwhile, in Montgomery County, officials and advocates express concerns that the end of the cap on rent increases and fee protections could result in steep rent hikes. “Unlike most areas across the country, MoCo residents have been able to avoid sky-rocketing rent increases,” said State Senator, Jheannelle Wilkins (D-District 20).
- A2J and Homeownership. With a community walk in Johnston Square neighborhood, advocates find an innovative way to share information about financial resources for families hit hardest by COVID, and with the tax sale deadline quickly approaching this summer attorneys like Tim Chance, an the Maryland Volunteer Lawyer Service, also look to connect people with legal assistance to ensure they have steps in place to keep their homes. Data shows that over 11,500 residential only properties are on the tax sale list and nearly half owe less than $1,000 in tax liens. “These people, if they knew how much they owe and they were given a payment plan or were given the opportunity, they could keep their homes,” says Sean Kennedy a fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute.
- A2J and Medical Care for Immigrants. Thousands of uninsured and undocumented, immigrant mothers face tremendous medical debt and barriers to critical medical care in Maryland and across the nation. Now, new legislation in Maryland will make it so that undocumented immigrants who are pregnant or have just given birth in Maryland will be eligible for Medicaid starting July 1. As undocumented mothers gain these new legal rights, access to legal help will be all the more important with “close to 6,000 pregnant immigrants who have not had prenatal care due to not having health insurance.”
- Justice Gap. In a recent podcast for National Law Review, Susan Francis, the Executive Director of the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) discusses the gap between the civil legal services needed, the costs for those services, and the lawyers available to provide those services. The full episode is available at: www.natlawreview.com/article/garrulous-gavel-lawyers-all-humans-and-legal-services-gap-susan-francis-podcast
- New Lawyers and the Fight for A2J. Law schools play a critical part in the fight for access to justice and an important role in developing future lawyers that advance justice. So does Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta who delivered the Commencement Address at the University of Baltimore School of Law where she encouraged graduates to “strive for equal justice . . . [and to] fulfill our obligation to provide legal representation to those who cannot otherwise access lawyers.”
National A2J News
- DOJ Announces new Head of A2J Office. The U.S. Department of Justice has picked a Deputy Associate Attorney General Rachel Rossi, who previously served as a Los Angeles public defender, to lead its revamped Office for Access to Justice. The Office, which was restored as a standalone office in October 2021, will work to improve the federal government’s efforts in addressing the most urgent legal needs of communities across the nation.
- Right to Counsel Initiatives. New Orleans and Detroit recently joined more than a dozen cities and states in guaranteeing renters facing eviction the right to a free lawyer. Currently, more than 10 cities and three states (including Maryland) have enacted right-to-counsel laws in recent years. At the same time, lawmakers in other states, including Illinois, Delaware and New York, are considering right-to-counsel bills.
- A2Counsel in Immigration. Local access to counsel programs that provide attorneys to individuals facing deportation are becoming more common in cities and states across the country – immigration advocates hope to use the “momentum and scale up” initiatives on the federal level. At the same time, a three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has ruled against detained immigrants, holding that individuals “facing removal proceedings, although entitled to due process under the Constitution, are not entitled to the same process as citizens.”
- New ERAP Data studied in New York. Trends in new ERAP data sets suggest that there are important lessons to gather from the state’s ERAP outreach initiatives and process, including ERAP application submission, as well as the strategies, resources and relationships that helped drive application rates up. For example, in the Bronx, which has the state’s highest estimated density of renter households, the county saw a higher [ERAP] application rate than any other county with nearly 22%.
- Nonlawyer Legal Assistance. Legal technology company’s use of nonlawyers to help individuals facing debt actions likely does not violate the state’s unauthorized practice of law rules, says federal judge in New York’s Southern District. In the case, which was argued on May 12 plaintiffs Udo-Oko (a pastor) and Upsolve (a legal tech and financial education and civil rights nonprofit) sought to clear the way for nonlawyer volunteers to help those facing debt collection suits.
- Justice Gap 2022. LSC recently released an important and far-reaching report, The Justice Gap 2022: The Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-income Americans, assessing the civil justice issues faced by low-income Americans. On April 28, 2022, LSC invited many notable speakers to offer reflections on the report via Facebook Live. For a recap of the program visit: https://www.msba.org/the-justice-gap-2022-the-unmet-civil-legal-needs