Monthly Archives: May 2009

Judge Andre Davis reminds lawyers of their obligations

U.S. District Court Judge Andre M. Davis

U.S. District Court Judge Andre M. Davis

U.S. District Court Judge (and nominee to the Fourth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals) Andre M. Davis was the guest speaker at today’s 12th annual Equal Justice Council Awards and Recognition Breakfast at Camden Yards. “Not all lawyers appreciate their obligation to be available for pro bono service,” Davis told 190 lawyers, judges, political leaders and other legal professionals. “Process matters. And fundamental fairness of the legal system is something we can be proud of in the justice system. I salute what you’re doing and those who support Maryland Legal Aid.” This year’s awardees: Andrew D. Freeman, Stanford G. Gann Jr., and Sayra Wells Meyerhoff (Champions of Justice Award); Mark A. Stanley (Young Lawyers Division Leadership Award); Miles & Stockbridge and Rosenberg Martin Greenberg (Pacesetter Award); DLA Piper US and Venable LLP (Trailblazer Award); and G. Daniel Shealer Jr. (Executive Director’s Award). The Equal Justice Council is the private-bar fundraising arm of Maryland Legal Aid.

Permanent expulsions a tough lesson in city schools

sarahfox45Baltimore’s Fox 45 TV news interviewed Maryland Legal Aid staff attorney Sarah Morgan and one of her clients, whose 13-year-old daughter was permanently expelled from the city’s school system after she was accused of setting a fire in bathroom. “We think this is an extreme overreaction to the school safety problem,” Morgan told Fox 45’s Jeff Abell. “We understand it’s a serious problem that needs to be addressed. But this is zero-tolerance taken to a real extreme.” Click on the photo to see the video.

In Baltimore City, expulsions are forever

Maryland Legal Aid staff attorney Sarah Morgan

Maryland Legal Aid staff attorney Sarah Morgan

Students in Baltimore City caught committing arson or detonating explosives are being permanently expelled from city schools. While they may appeal, the Baltimore Sun reported today, if the expulsions are upheld, they are never to return to city schools.

Some parents of the expelled students are represented by Maryland Legal Aid. “The assumption is that when a kid is expelled, they get sent to an alternative school,” said staff attorney Sarah Morgan. “The school system is saying you lose your right to an education if you do certain things.”

Morgan represents two 13-year eighth-graders accused of setting trash can fires. She neither had a prior record of discipline problems. To read the article, click here.

Obama to Congress: Lift three LSC restrictions and increase LSC’s funding

The Obama Administration, in its budget released yesterday, called for the removal of select draconian restrictions on civil legal aid for the poor that are depriving countless families of equal access to justice.  The President’s Budget recommends that Congress remove three of the 13 -year-old funding restrictions imposed on independent legal aid organizations that receive part of their funding from the federal Legal Services Corporation (LSC), including Maryland Legal Aid.

Specifically, the President’s Budget proposes that Congress permit states, local governments and private donors to decide how their contributions to LSC recipient organizations will be spent.  Currently, LSC recipients are subjected to a uniquely harsh “poison pill restriction” that ties up all the funds of an organization once it receives its first dollar of LSC funds.  Nationally, this poison pill restriction ties up as much as $490 million in state, local, private and other non-LSC funds.

The President also proposes that Congress put legal aid attorneys on equal footing with all other attorneys by permitting them to seek attorneys’ fee awards when they have proven their case and when an underlying consumer protection, civil rights or other law authorizes the award.  Any fees collected from a wrongdoer in the litigation would, in turn, fund the representation of more individuals in need.

Lastly, the budget also proposes that legal aid attorneys be permitted to participate in class actions on behalf of their clients.  Class actions are sometimes the most efficient way to help groups of individuals, for example, those victimized by predatory lenders, foreclosure rescue scams, or other fraudulent activities.

In addition to lifting these three restrictions, the President’s budget seeks a $45 million increase in funding for LSC for FY 2010, which, if implemented, would bring the total funding level to $435 million, up from $390 million in FY 2009.

For more information on the restrictions and the changes that have been requested by access to justice leaders, click here.

New consumer protections for low-income patients

Legal Aid Housing/Consumer Law Unit senior attorney Louise Carwell

Legal Aid Housing/Consumer Law Unit senior attorney Louise Carwell

Legal Aid will monitor hospital compliance with two new bills signed into law yesterday by Gov. Martin O’Malley, senior attorney for consumer law Louise Carwell (left) told the Baltimore Sun.  The new standards tell hospitals who is eligible for free and reduced-price care and require them to provide information about financial assistance to all patients.

Even with the stricter rules, it will be up to consumers to speak up for themselves, Carwell said. “It will have to be enforced and often by the consumer, who will have to bring it into the discussion of a debt collection issue,” she said in the front-page article.  “Things are going to slip by unless the patient is heard. We will be vigilant in how the new law is implemented.”

Legislators passed the bills in response to a Sun series that documented how some nonprofit hospitals aggressively pursued collection of unpaid bills from poor patients, even though those debts are supposed to be covered by the rates they charge.

To read the entire article, click here.

Financial success on a public-interest salary

Supervising attorney Janine Scott

Supervising attorney Janine Scott

How can low-paid public interest attorneys–or anyone else, for that matter–weather the current economic crisis? Maryland Legal Aid supervising attorney Janine Scott offers some advice in the spring issue of the Management Information Exchange Journal, starting with the basics: know what you want out of life … and make every dollar count.

“As an attorney who has spent my entire legal career (with the exception of a one-year judicial clerkship) as a public interest attorney … I am living proof that you can not only survive but thrive financially as a public interest attorney during both good and bad economic times,” Scott writes in “Achieving Financial Success as a Public Interest Attorney.”

Scott offers advice on how to open a “fun account” by setting aside money to use for socializing, how to contribute to a retirement account, devising a spending plan, paying off debt and other specifics. Her new book, Legal Aid Wealth: Surviving and Thriving on the Salary of a Public Interest Attorney, will be released this spring.

Cell phone ban in district court not fair to the poor

The cell phone ban in district courts creates problems for low-income clients, Maryland Legal Aid senior attorney Susan Tannenbaum told the Daily Record in an article published earlier this week. “If you’re not familiar with the court system, there’s no reason to suspect you can’t bring your cell phone,” said Susan, who warns her clients about the ban. “Clearly it’s not fair to my clients because without knowing about [the cell phone ban] in advance, they possibly might not be able to defend themselves in court.”