Monthly Archives: August 2008

Residency rule unfair to students

Maryland Legal Aid staff attorney Sarah Morgan

Maryland Legal Aid staff attorney Sarah Morgan

Staff attorney Sarah Morgan‘s letter to the editor of the Baltimore Sun appeared today, a follow-up to an article earlier this week about Baltimore Co. schools requiring proof of residency before students can be enrolled for the new school year. “Prudence alone suggests that school system should undertake an investigation of residency and allow the child to remain in school in the interim,” Morgan wrote. “That way, the county would avoid removing children from school who may actually live in the county and have the right to attend county schools. Baltimore County’s new policy is also troubling because of its apparent disregard for basic due process rights.” Read the entire letter here

Legal Aid reaches out to Cecil Co. homeless

Legal Aid’s Northeastern Maryland office (in Bel Air, covering Harford and Cecil counties) conducted the first of what will be monthly outreach and intake sessions at an Elkton soup kitchen. “We had a good response,” said staff attorney Sarah Bowes, who noted that about 100 low-income people were at the lunch, offered every Friday. “There’s obviously a need,” Sarah reported. “A crowd gathered around us and we got a lot of questions on Social Security, housing, employment law and even a criminal question, which we referred to the public defender.”

When doing intakes, some people gave their addresses as “under the bridge” or “in the woods.” “It’s a rural area, so a lot of people who are homeless are sleeping in the woods,” Sarah said. “We did a lot of advising and our goal was to let people know we’re a resource. The lady who runs the kitchen was very excited we were there–she said, ‘You had quite a crowd there’–and asked us to come back.”

Legal Aid welcomes three new board members

Three new board members were appointed to Maryland Legal Aid’s board of directors by the Maryland State Bar Association and approved at the annual board meeting earlier this summer: Jessica A. duHoffman, a partner at Miles & Stockbridge in Baltimore; Sheila J. Sullivan, the District Public Defender for Southern Maryland in La Plata; and Carlos Braxton, Senior Grants & Contracts Associate/Attorney at The Johns Hopkins University, School of Medicine in Baltimore.

duHoffman was recently promoted to partner in Miles & Stockbridge’s commercial litigation group and practices in the area of commercial banking and banking litigation with emphasis on lender liability, commercial and consumer credit, and collections. She earned her JD at the University of Baltimore School of Law and provides pro bono work for the House of Ruth, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children and the Mid-Shore Council on Family Violence.

Sullivan supervises 18 assistant public defenders and 18 support staff that handle circuit, juvenile and district court cases in Calvert, Charles and St. Mary’s counties. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Law and is active in the Maryland State Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association and previously served as chair of the Calvert County Local Pro Bono Committee.

At Johns Hopkins, Braxton is responsible for drafting and negotiating clinical trial agreements for human subject clinical trials. He is a graduate of UB Law and was president of the Young Lawyers Division of Legal Aid’s Equal Justice Council from 2005 to 2007.

Legal advocates prepare for school enrollment problems

With the approach of the new school year only weeks away, Maryland Legal Aid and other legal advocates presented a training for lawyers and paralegals who will assist parents, guardians, and other caregivers with problems getting children enrolled in public schools.

“We know a lot of kids and their families will have problems enrolling in school,” said Sarah Morgan, a Legal Aid staff attorney who works on education issues. “Lots of kids are living with relatives, plus many kids in foster care have trouble enrolling in school when they change living locations. Also, homeless kids face unique barriers to enrollment and have special protections under federal law, including the right to stay in their old school if they move out of the school’s zone.”

The training for advocates, held earlier this month in Columbia, included presentations from lawyers from Legal Aid, the Public Justice Center (which produced a video on the rights of homeless students) and the Homeless Persons Representation Project.

In addition, a panel of Legal Aid lawyers reviewed some difficult school enrollment cases they’ve handled over the years.

“Every kid has the right to be in school,” Morgan said. “But often times they need a lawyer to help them through the bureaucracy and red tape. It’s critical that children not miss a day of schooling, especially at the beginning of the school year.”

Morgan also updated a brochure, “Enrolling Children in Baltimore City Schools: Know Your Rights,” that explains rights and procedures for parents, guardians and caregivers. For a copy, call Morgan at 410/951-7729.

Legal Aid helps elderly couple deceived by car dealer

Southern Maryland office (Hughesville) staff attorney Jake Ouslander (left) recently obtained an $8,000 settlement check for a Charles County couple, aged 79 and 86, subjected to unfair and deceptive sales practices when they purchased a car.

The story: In June 2007, the couple went to a Waldorf, Md., car dealer to purchase a car. Sales representatives separated the couple from each other and subjected each of them to a sales pitch that lasted about four hours, despite the wife’s entreaty to be allowed to leave because she was feeling ill and disoriented due to her diabetes and heart condition. Eventually, the couple were allowed to leave the dealership, having purchased a car that they felt they could not afford.

A few days later, they returned to the car dealer to complain about the pressure sales tactics. A representative of the car dealer agreed to rescind the sale of the vehicle and sell them another car at the blue book value. The couple signed the sales documents presented and took their car home. Later, they realized that the car was sold to them at almost twice its blue book value. In addition, they had not received credit for the cash prize that induced them to shop at that dealership, and they had unwittingly purchased a warranty policy.

“When the couple sought help at the senior outreach site, Jake advised them of the law and sent a demand letter to the car dealer,” reported chief attorney Seri Wilpone. “The dealer’s attorney informed Jake that the contract limited the resolution of disputes to the National Arbitration Forum. Jake’s clients asked him to seek damages in the National Arbitration Forum, and he filed a complaint setting forth the misrepresentations and unfair and deceptive practices of the car dealer and seeking compensatory and punitive damages.” Within a few weeks of filing the complaint, the car dealer made a settlement offer, which the clients accepted, and sent a check to Jake’s clients for $8,000.

Most of the time, Legal Aid clients are on the defensive side in arbitration claims, and the expense of defending in that forum is prohibitive for many of them, Jake explained. “Being on the affirmative side did have some benefits,” he noted. “It was nice to have a less formal process for filing and making discovery requests. The rules are much different than the rules of court, and I would recommend reading every applicable rule twice to make sure no mistakes are made. Ultimately, the clients’ commitment to pursing a vindication of their rights even in an unfamiliar forum persuaded the car dealer to settle.”

MD Legal Aid director interviewed by National Legal Aid & Defender Assoc.

Maryland Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr.

Maryland Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr.

An interview with Wilhelm Joseph, Maryland Legal Aid’s executive director, is the lead story in this month’s NLADA Client Update newsletter, “Called to Lead: One-on-One with Wilhelm Joseph.” The introduction calls Joseph a “pivotal equal justice leader.” In the interview, he talks about his upbringing in Trinidad. “I had a sense of vision and justice, which I think was inculcated in me by my grandmother, who got her sense of justice from her strong religious beliefs…I have not met a single individual yet in my life who walked the talk like my grandmother,” Joseph said. “And she taught me that adherence to principle and humility can in fact make you a very strong person.” To read the entire interview, click here.

Foreclosure crisis catching renters off guard

Foreclosure Legal Assistance Project attorney Kathleen Skullney is quoted in a front-page article in today’s Washington Post, “Foreclosure crisis catching renters off guard.” In Maryland, new owners of a foreclosed house are not obligated to contact renters in advance, Kathleen told The Post. Once a foreclosure is approved and eviction is legally allowed, the renter may have to leave on the spot. “The renter has no defense at that point,” Kathleen said. “If there ever was an overlooked and uncontemplated consequence of the foreclosure crisis, this is it.”

Read the article.