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The October Issue
Each year the nation recognizes September 15 through October 15 as Hispanic Heritage Month. The national celebration is meant to recognize the history, culture, and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America.
Today, Hispanics and Latinos make up the largest racial and ethnic minority population in the U.S. In this month’s A2J Dispatch Story we explore how Maryland’s Hispanic and Latino communities have been disproportionately impacted by the fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting civil justice crisis. Notably, as we highlight through our A2J Story, for Hispanic and Latino families trying to navigate an eviction during a global pandemic, it’s clear that the help of an attorney who has the language skills and cultural competency are critical to retaining housing and preventing eviction.
A2J Commission News
In Memoriam. It is with great sadness that we share the passing of Supervising Attorney, Catrina Aquilino of Community Legal Services (CLS) of Prince George’s County. Catrina oversaw the expansion of CLS’s Latino Legal Access Clinic. Under her leadership, the Clinic grew into a staple resource for the Prince George’s County and Langley Park communities and was recognized as a 2021 Maryland Volunteer Lawyer Service’s Pro Bono Service award recipient. Catrina was a true advocate for justice and will always be remembered for her passion for making access to justice a reality for so many.
“Catrina was so impressive and will be sorely missed. She had a genuine desire to do what she could to ensure justice for her community. She was so helpful during the MD Attorney General’s COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force. She was responsible for many of the Spanish language translations of materials and also helped with putting on the Spanish language community forums,” said Reena Shah, ED of A2JC. CLS is part of the civil legal aid community supported by A2JC and its ED, Jessica Quincosa is a member of the Commission.
AG Frosh. A2J Commissioner, Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh, announced this month that he will not seek a third term as top law enforcement official in 2022. AG Frosh turned 75 years old earlier this month and has dedicated 35 years of his career to public service work as a legislator and attorney general. “Maryland has been fortunate to have an Attorney General so dedicated to access to justice issues. A2JC’s close work with him during the COVID-19 Access to Justice Task Force led to many reforms in the civil justice system. AG Frosh’s leadership on civil justice issues will be hard to replace,” said Reena Shah, ED of A2JC.
Access to Counsel Task Force. The work of the legislatively mandated Access to Counsel Task Force started up in October, 2021. Commissioner Victoria Schultz, is the Chair of the Task Force. The Task Force held multiple listening sessions and heard from leaders in other states who are also in the process of implementing the right to counsel in their jurisdictions, including WA, CT and NY. The Task Force also heard testimony from Chief Judge Morrissey on the Judiciary’s preparedness to implement access to counsel; DHCD’s rollout of the rental assistance and its tie to access to counsel; property managers; and legal services providers. More listening sessions are planned so that we can hear directly from impacted populations. The work of the three Committees of the Task Force – Funding, Implementation and Outreach & Assessment will begin in November. A final report is expected by January.
Pro Bono. A2JC congratulates Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service’s 2021 Celebrate Pro Bono Award Recipients for answering the call to action and volunteering their time and resources to help Marylanders navigate civil legal challenges. A2JC, joined by the Maryland Judiciary, MD AG and MSBA, urges legal professionals across Maryland to follow suit and commit to taking on at least one pro-bono case, or to devote a certain number of hours to helping Marylanders who are currently facing extraordinary civil legal challenges as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Answer the call here: https://probonomd.org/call-to-action/.
Access to Counsel Funding. A2JC, MLSC and PJC partnered to send a letter to Governor Hogan on September 28, 2021, requesting funding for the Access to Counsel in Evictions law, which became effective on October 1. Showing broad support for the need to prevent evictions and avoid the destabilizing effect of eviction, the letter was joined by many civil legal aid organizations: Bar Association of Montgomery County; Bar Foundation of Montgomery County; CASA de Maryland; Catholic Charities; Community Legal Services of Prince George’s County, Inc.; Disability Rights Maryland; FreeState Justice; Heartly House, Inc.; Homeless Persons Representation Project; HopeWorks; Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service; Mid-Shore Pro Bono; Pro Bono Resource Center; University of Maryland Carey School of Law Clinical Law Program; Women’s Law Center.
Meet Johana, a Prince George’s County resident who, like many Marylanders, struggled to make ends meet due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Johana was able to secure emergency rental assistance funds to pay her rent, but her landlord still moved to have her evicted. While a host of rules and regulations exist for tenants struggling to make rent, many tenants are unaware of the legal protections available to them and, as a result, are unable to effectively assert their rights. “A lot of the tenants don’t realize that [by accepting] emergency rental assistance payments, the landlord has agreed to not evict for 90 days and that includes withdrawing any active cases that have been filed . . . we’ve seen it happen where the landlord actually shows up with an attorney and is trying to proceed with the case,” says Jessica A. Quincosa, Executive Director at CLS of Prince George’s County. Read the full story here: https://www.msba.org/hispanic-heritage-month/
Local A2J News
- Victim Services. Advocates say swift action by the Governor is necessary or victim service providers will not have the staff or capacity to meet the increased demand for victim services in Maryland as they face an estimated 20% funding cut. “Victim service providers . . . respond to crime victims needing help by providing emergency housing, counseling services, and legal assistance. We need funding to compensate the staff that provide these crucial services,” says Lisae C. Jordan, Executive Director & Counsel of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
- Pro Bono. “Encouraging employees to get involved in pro bono service is a great way to strengthen their emotional connection to the community and enrich the experiences of employees in and outside the office,” says Jhonell Campbell, legal counsel at T. Rowe Price Group Inc. and board member at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service. “With so many Marylanders in need of support right now, it is never too late to explore ways pro bono legal services can be a mutual benefit to corporate employees and employers.”
- Eviction Prevention. State and local governments in Maryland have been distributing rent relief funding, but fair housing advocates have long said that money isn’t getting to Marylanders quickly enough to prevent evictions. There are 131,000 households behind on rent in Maryland with an estimated $429 million in total rent debt, according to the National Equity Atlas, and roughly 80% of tenants behind on rent in Maryland are people of color.
- Low-Income Taxpayer Clinics. Educators and legal advocates applaud the expansion of three low-income taxpayer clinics brought about by legislation passed during the 2021 General Assembly session which set aside funding for the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law, the University of Baltimore School of Law and the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service to give free assistance to clients with state-specific legal issues such as MVA holds, audits, Earned Income Tax Credit denials and tax identity theft. Previously, the law clinics could only assist with federal tax issues.
- Grant Program. Montgomery College is one of only two recipients in Maryland to receive federal Citizenship and Integration Grant Program funding in FY2021. The college was awarded $250,00 grant for the Montgomery College Citizenship Preparation Program which helps prepare lawful permanent residents (LPRs) for naturalization by, among other things, providing citizenship preparation classes and naturalization application services.
- Medicaid Estate Recovery. Advocates note that “the advice of an attorney can be crucial to protecting assets from [Medicaid] estate recovery” (i.e., Medicaid’s ability to recover long-term care expenses paid on behalf of recipients from their estates after death) and “data indicates that Medicaid estate recovery falls hardest on beneficiaries of modest means, particularly people of color.” These facts make legal aid projects like Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service’s “My Home, My Deed, My Legacy” all the more important for individuals trying to keep their homes like 76 year old Baltimore resident Jaunice Stanford, who applied for and was granted a rare hardship waiver after enlisting the help of Tim Chance, staff attorney with Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service.
National A2J News
- SEO. People facing civil justice issues—such as housing disputes or consumer debt claims—often turn to the internet before turning to a lawyer they oftentimes can not afford. By focusing on search engine optimization, civil courts and legal aid providers can help more people find their websites and access important legal aid information and other civil services.
- ABS. A new Alternative Business Structure (ABS) framework, which permits companies other than law firms to apply for the right to provide legal advice, has been implemented in states like Utah and Arizona, the goal being to increase the public’s access to legal services. Some say allowing non-law businesses to provide these services, has the potential to lower legal fees and improve access to justice.
- LSC. Members of Congress and leaders of the legal community joined the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) on October 19 for a virtual forum on access to justice looking at housing instability, domestic violence and the challenges the pandemic and natural disasters present.
- USPS. As of October 1, the US Postal Service implemented new changes aimed at increasing the delivery time for about 40% of first-class mail delivery across the country. Tiny Chat and Lori Shemka discuss the ways courts can better inform court users and reconsider operations to avoid complications, including how courts can and should adapt to these latest changing USPS procedures and the implications of recent changes.
- Podcast. Former Massachusetts Representative Joe Kennedy III and Rohan Pavuluri, CEO and co-founder of the bankruptcy nonprofit Upsolve (a leading resource helping low-income and working-class families overcome financial distress) join LSC President Ron Flagg on episode twenty of the Talk Justice podcast. Together the panel discuss shifting the narrative on access-to-justice advocacy.