The November/December Issue
In this month’s issue of the A2J Dispatch, we learn about how A2JC is gearing up for the 2023 legislative session, we spotlight and express a heartfelt thank you to our volunteers who give their time and talent to advance access to justice issues, we explore how language barriers are preventing access to mental health care for certain children, and we learn about new legislation that looks to reform unfair medical debt practices and protect consumers.
A2J Commission News
- A2JC Executive Director, Reena Shah, joined A2J Commission EDs from LA, OK, DC, MA and AZ on December 12, 2022 to present to the newly re-established Office of Access to Justice in the U.S. Department of Justice on national priorities developed and agreed upon by 40 Commissions across the country. The national priorities shared include: Convening and Leadership; Collaboration and Innovation; Data and Evaluation; and Resource Development for civil legal aid organizations, pro bono programs and A2J Commissions.
- A2JC lays out top priority for A2JC in the upcoming legislative session in TDR article: A2J Commission will seek additional funding sources for the access to counsel in evictions law. “A stable funding source is critical to give the legal services community the confidence to hire attorneys for the program,” said A2J Executive Director, Reena Shah.
- The 125th Anniversary Thought Leadership Initiative, which explores the legal profession’s role and responsibility in advancing access to justice, among other topics, will host the Spark Series Capstone Program on January 20, 2023. Seats are limited, register today!
- MSBA Day, which is a joint lobby day between MSBA and A2JC, allows us to share A2JC priorities with the legislature. We’ll be back in person in Annapolis on January 24, 2023. Register here to lend your voice to our advocacy efforts!
- Thank you to the 300 attorneys who filled out the Affordable Law Task Force Survey!
A2J Volunteer Spotlight
A2JC expresses a heartfelt thank you to volunteers who give of their time and talent to advance our work! We would not be able to achieve as much as we do without you!
This month, we spotlight Dr. Carolyn Lichtenstein, a retired professional who holds a Ph.D. in statistics and worked for 30 years as a data analyst, statistician, and project manager at companies who served as federal contractors to support the work of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Center for Mental Health Services and the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.
“I wanted a volunteer position in which I could contribute my statistical and data management skills to improve racial and economic equity. Working with the A2JC has been very rewarding, and I think the data projects I have worked on will be useful to those working in the access to justice field.”
Dr. Lichtenstein has been instrumental in enabling A2JC to develop civil justice data tools, including the Civil Justice Data Dashboard, Story Map and Housing Data Dashboard. Dr. Lichtenstein also helps A2JC conduct and analyze surveys and support the work of A2JC’s Legal Technology Committee. Read more about her experience here.
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.
- The Maryland Judiciary provides a comprehensive array of videos on legal topics to assist litigants navigating the courts. The My Laws, My Courts, My Maryland video library includes over 120 titles on a broad range of topics including civil matters likely to be handled by self-represented litigants. Most videos are also captioned and accompanied by a Tip Sheet, transcripts in English and Spanish, and links to other relevant material. Videos can also be found embedded in relevant Legal Help pages on the Maryland Judiciary website, www.mdcourts.gov.
Local A2J News
- Access to Counsel in Evictions. With the access to counsel in evictions law now funded statewide, advocates are gearing up for the 2023 legislative session with hopes of solidifying additional tenant protections especially as rents continue to rise and more and more people are unable to afford rent.
- Law Clerks and Pro bono Activities. Last month, a MD Judicial Ethics Committee opinion explained that although pro bono work is a key professional responsibility for lawyers in Maryland, judicial law clerks may not offer assistance to clients who walk into clinics or who need direct representation in common areas of need that are largely uncontested like uncontested divorces, adoptions and guardianships, name changes and birth certificate corrections, deed changes, and expungements.
- Language Access and Medical Care. Nationwide, the number of children ages 3 to 17 who experienced anxiety or depression increased 25% from 2016 to 2020. Now, a new report from two Baltimore-based social justice groups report that language barriers are preventing children from immigrant families in Maryland from accessing mental health care even though mental health providers are required to provide interpretation and translation services. Read the Report Here
- A2J and Technology. Georgetown Law recently launched its newest access to justice initiative. The program stations fellows in state, local and tribal courts to help identify and gather information about problems that may benefit from technological solutions.
- Unemployment Claims. Earlier this month, attorneys that helped plaintiffs bring a lawsuit against Maryland’s Labor Secretary received a $330,000 payout for their work. In Gorres et al v. Tiffany Robinson, plaintiffs called out the obstacles embedded in the state’s unemployment claims system. In addition to the payout, the state agency responsible for processing unemployment claims promised new reforms and improved claim processing times.
- Medical Debt. According to data 12% of Maryland residents had medical debts in collection in 2021. Last month Senator Chris Van Hollen introduced legislation aimed at reforming medical debt practices to protect consumers. “When folks are sick or in the hospital, the last thing they should be worried about is whether they’ll lose their house or their wages for seeking care,” said Van Hollen.
- Court Help Center Opens in Charles County. Last month, the Maryland Center for Legal Assistance (MCLA), celebrated the grand opening of a new all-civil court help center in La Plata. Although this center is in the circuit court, litigants with District Court matters can also find assistance at the center.
- Hunger and Food Insecurity. Many households have no choice but to rely on SNAP benefits to ensure their family members can eat everyday, but there have been thousands of claims of EBT card fraud reported across the nation including in Maryland. Advocates argue that states should do more to help SNAP theft victims as regulations prohibit federal funds from being used to replace stolen SNAP benefits.
National A2J News
- Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland delivered Remarks at the Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable earlier this month. Garland recapped the Roundtable’s work from last year which examined the ways in which the pandemic exacerbated access-to-justice gaps. ”This year, the [Roundtable’s] work continues – this time to focus on bridging those gaps by examining the ways in which simplifying government forms and processes can help the American people access federal services, benefits, and programs,” Garland said.
- Medical Legal Partnerships. This month, the University of Chicago Medicine , together with Legal Aid Chicago, launched their Recovery Legal Care initiative which stations two full-time lawyers within the health system’s Level 1 trauma center. The program will provide bedside civil legal help for patients and families recovering from violent injuries.
- ABA Free Legal Answers. The ABA’s virtual legal advice platform, ABA Free Legal Answers, surpassed 250,000 questions. On the platform, participants submit civil legal questions and receive responses from volunteer attorneys or a list of relevant resources. “For more than six years, ABA Free Legal Answers has provided a critical resource for civil legal matters for those who cannot afford an attorney and have nowhere else to turn,” ABA President Deborah Enix-Ross said in a news release. “We have now topped the quarter-million mark in questions and have more than 11,000 volunteer lawyers nationwide generously providing services.
- Housing Crisis. Advocates note that rising rents and high mortgage rates in the US continue to put a squeeze on low income families. At the same time, housing data has revealed that the average minimum-wage worker continues to struggle to find affordable housing around the country with nearly every state in the US lacking an adequate supply of affordable housing.
- A2J Tech. On a recent episode of LSC’s Talk Justice podcast, panelist, Amanda Brown (Founder and Executive Director of Lagniappe Law Lab, co-chair of the Louisiana Access to Justice Commission’s technology subcommittee and member of the Legal Service Corporation’s Emerging Leaders Council) discusses a legal access points research project which focuses on centralizing access points in certain areas of Louisiana that are often described as legal desserts, and illustrates how collaboration and modern data methods can support important strategic A2J goals.
- Veterans Healthcare and Benefits. Recent changes in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) benefits mean more veterans and surviving spouses may qualify for additional benefits, and they may not know it. New laws passed this year, under the PACT ACT, have worked to streamline access to healthcare benefits for veterans and their surviving spouses and the Veterans Health Administration has announced that it expects a surge in PACT Act-related care claims in the months to come.