- The May/June Issue
In this month’s A2J Dispatch, we celebrate Pride and explore the pro- and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation sweeping across the nation, we take a look at health inequity and discover how access to health care is closely linked to the fight for access to justice, we continue to explore how technology and AI are transforming the legal profession, and we learn about active judging and how some judges have started implementing a new approach to broaden access to information and resources for litigants who can’t afford legal help. All this and more in this month’s issue of the A2JC Dispatch.
A2J Commission News
- A2JC Finds Its Social Spot at the Legal Summit. A2JC hosted a Welcome Dinner & Fundraiser, a.k.a. “The Pizza Party,” on the first night of the Legal Summit. Boasting specialty pizzas, drinks, a convivial atmosphere and great company, the first year of the A2JC event at Dry Dock 28 was a hit! After joining the MSBA in June, 2018, the Commission finally found its social spot at the Legal Summit, which boasts a very filled and lively social calendar. Thanks to all who joined us this year and we look forward to seeing more folks next year on Wednesday, June 5, 2024!
- A2JC Chair, Ward Coe, Gives an A2JC Update at the Legal Summit Business Meeting. A2JC Chair, Ward Coe, delivered remarks and gave an update at the Legal Summit Business Meeting reporting on increases in civil legal aid funding, funding for access to counsel in evictions and raising a call to action for all MSBA members to use their voice in advocacy, serve a modest means client or take a case pro bono or give to a legal services organization.
- Panelist Discuss Nontraditional Legal Services at MSBA Legal Summit. Earlier this month, in an MSBA Legal Summit program entitled “Monopolizing the Law,” panelists Vicki Schultz, executive director of Maryland Legal Aid; Reena Shah, executive director of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission; Sarah Coffey Bowes, executive director of Civil Justice, Inc., and Jared Jaskot, principal at Jaskot.Law discussed the need and viability of non-traditional legal services and the potential to make legal help more accessible to people who might not otherwise be able to afford a lawyer.
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.
- Maryland Court Help Centers. People learn in different ways. Some folks would like more detailed information about court processes and procedures than they can get from written instructions or short format videos. For those individuals, the Maryland Court Help Centers offer a free series of live and on-demand webinars on a broad range of legal topics. Those interested can register for a scheduled live webinar on Filing for Divorce in Maryland, Child Custody and other topics. Participants in live webinars can participate actively and ask questions of the presenter. When someone needs help sooner, a full range of on-demand webinars are available as well on topics including Filing for Expungement, Facing Eviction for Failure to Pay Rent?, and Responding to a Complaint for Divorce. See the full list of offerings at: www.mdcourts.gov/legalhelp/webinars. Webinars are presented by attorneys with the Maryland Court Help Centers.
Local A2J News
- LGBTQ+ Rights. In the June 2023 edition of the Baltimore County Bar Association’s publication The Advocate, Lauren Pruitt, Esq. and Oliver Santos from FreeState Justice note that despite opposition, support for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation continues to grow and states like New York, California, and Maryland continue to pass laws that protect LGBTQ+ individuals.
- A2J and Active Judging. The fast-paced and high-volume nature of court proceedings can present several obstacles for litigants that end up in court. To address this issue, some judges have started implementing a new approach called active judging which aims to broaden access to information and resources for litigants who can’t afford legal help.
- A2J and Access to Medical Care. Access to healthcare for the elderly and access to justice are closely related as elderly individuals often encounter legal issues related to their healthcare troubles, such as denial of treatment, abuse, and neglect. In a recent article from the Baltimore Banner, it was disclosed that “more than 11,600 older and disabled Marylanders with Medicaid have been waiting as long as a year for help at home.” Family members that may serve as caregivers are forced to navigate an opaque and complicated process to get an application for Medicaid home- and community-based services approved.
- Health Inequities and Excess Deaths. New research sheds light on the scale and impact of health inequities on things like work productivity, family support, and community engagement. The data, which comes from the Journal of the American Medical Association, revealed that Black and African Americans experienced over 1.6 million excess deaths in the past two decades.
- Landlord-Tenant Abuse. Tenants oftentimes have to deal with landlord abuse when asserting their rights to report issues on the property. Some don’t come forward out of fear of retaliation and/or eviction. This month, Maryland Legal Aid is taking a landlord in Somerset County to court for alleged retaliation against tenants who reported poor living conditions in rental properties. Marylanders that have been similarly targeted are encouraged to come forward and seek assistance.
- Legal Help/Assistance for Non-citizens. Foreign-born Americans, particularly refugees and asylum seekers, are met with a slew of civil legal problems that often require navigating various assistance programs and applying for critical benefits. The Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services (LIRS) has opened a Welcome Center in downtown Baltimore. The center, which has already assisted around 60 individuals, provides services such as legal assistance, healthcare, housing support, job training, and mental health counseling.
- Cannabis and Expungement Options. In a recent WBAL interview with MVLS’ Workforce Development Manager Chris Sweeney covers important changes that will be taking effect on July 1st regarding new expungement options for cannabis charges.
- Renters’ Rights. Even when renters know their rights, asserting them may require the help of an attorney. One Maryland renter is fighting for her security deposit back with interest after discovering state regulations require landlords to refund deposits with interest and within a specific time frame. The renter, Dorene Mack, claims she received less than her initial deposit and no interest after 27 years. While opportunities exist for renters to recover their money, “the system needs to do more to educate tenants,” says Tim Chance, a tangled title attorney with the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS).
- Electronic Court Filings for Baltimore City. Baltimore City will become the final jurisdiction in Maryland to implement electronic filing of court records on May 6, 2024, the Maryland Judiciary announced. “
- State Supreme Court Diversity. Newest State Supreme Court Diversity — May 2023 Update from the Brennan Center for Justice reveals that state supreme court benches fail to reflect the racial, ethnic, and gender diversity of the communities they serve and the diversity of the legal profession.
- Virtual Court Hearings. Low income litigants forced to appear in court face financial hardship such as missing work, transportation and childcare costs. Now, state courts across the US are permanently adopting virtual proceedings into their operations to increase accessibility and efficiency.
- Impacts of Health Inequity. The Associated Press spent the past year exploring how the legacy of racism in America has laid the foundation for the health inequities that Black people face, in a recently published article, authors, By Kat Stafford, Aaron Morrison and Annie Ma share stories of how these health inequities have their roots in a long history of medical racism.
- Eviction-related Legal Services. In a recently released brief, LSC examines the innovative approaches that legal service providers have developed to increase access to eviction-related legal services in the United States.
- Non-lawyer Legal Help. When Alicia Mitchell-Mercer, co-founder of the North Carolina Justice for All Project and a former paralegal, wanted to help a church member seeking a restraining order, she found her hands were tied due to strict limitations on non-lawyer legal help. The experience led her to advocate for legal paraprofessional licensing programs, and despite facing criticism, many licensed legal paraprofessionals have expressed satisfaction with new rules enabling them to assist clients that may not be able to afford a lawyer.
- Disaster Relief and Legal Aid Resources. The Legal Aid Disaster Resource Center (LADRC) is a collaborative national website designed to efficiently address the civil legal needs of low-income individuals affected by disasters. The website, which has recently undergone renovations, offers a wealth of crucial information and resources for legal aid providers, pro-bono attorneys, volunteers, legal organizations, and those impacted by disasters.
- Right to Counsel. Only 3% of tenants are represented by attorneys in landlord tenant cases, while nearly 82% of landlords have a lawyer on hand, according to the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel (NCCRC). Right-to-counsel programs that offer tenants free legal representation have grown in popularity across the country. Earlier this month Jersey City implemented a right to counsel program that’s set to serve 1,500 clients a year with 12 attorneys on hand.
- Artificial Intelligence and Regulation. Discussions about the growing need to address the implications of artificial intelligence and the need for regulation have led to regulatory efforts in places like the European Union and China. In a recent episode of the ABA’s Legal Rebels Podcast, panelists discuss What AI regulation in the US could look like.
- Artificial Intelligence and Legal Services. Panelists discuss the potential impact of generative artificial intelligence on legal services on a recent episode of LSC’s “Talk Justice” podcast. Talk Justice Co-host Cat Moon is joined by guests Sam Flynn, COO and co-founder of the no-code automation platform, Josef; Natalie Anne Knowlton, founder of Access to Justice Ventures; and Tom Martin, CEO and founder of the no-code AI platform, LawDroid.