Monthly Archives: July 2009

Legal Aid testifies at Access to Justice Commission event

Legal Aid staffers Jennifer Goldberg and Josie Babcox testified at the Maryland Access to Justice Commission “Listening Event” at the University of Maryland last night, raising issues that our clients and potential clients face in debt collection, landlord/tenant, and employment cases.

“Goldberg emphasized the particular troubles elder clients face when dealing with the court system,” said Katherine Jones, another Legal Aid lawyer. “Both lawyers emphasized the need for people to have representation by lawyers in these cases, and for increased funding to legal service programs to provide such services to more people.Many people from the community, and from legal service providers, testified about the problems people face in domestic violence cases, and in family cases, when going to court.”

Other Legal Aid staff, including executive director Wilhelm Joseph, attended in support of the commission’s efforts to secure justice for all. Several additional “Listening Events” are planned. The schedule and instructions for testifying can be found at http://www.courts.state.md.us/mdatjc/regionalevents.html.  The commission has found the events so helpful that more will be planned than are currently on that schedule, so check back for more information.

Maryland Legal Aid expands online custody forms interview

Two online tools unveiled by Maryland Legal Aid last year to help a parent seeking custody are now more powerful. Pro se (self-help) litigants can now file answers to complaints, motions for modification of custody and visitation, petitions for contempt, and answers to these types of motions and petitions.

The Child Custody and Visitation Interview is a website that interactively helps clients complete and fill out forms required by the circuit court to begin a custody proceeding—an online “automated custody interview.”

Unveiled last year, now the website is accessible to even more Maryland residents because it contains powerful tools that can by used by both plaintiffs and defendants in custody matters.

“Both parties can file the forms they need to tell the court their side of the story about the custody matter,” said Legal Aid’s Katherine Jones. “The new interactive interview walks the party through the process; answering questions they might have about how to complete the blanks on the forms. Now, no one should feel like the court isn’t listening to them just because they don’t have a lawyer.”

The new interview can be found linked from the Peoples Law Library.

Maryland Legal Aid is among an increasing number of pioneering legal aid organizations, pro bono programs, and courts using online document assembly to increase and improve access to the courts. This growing movement is made possible by the National Document Assembly Project of Pro Bono Net, a nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to justice. The NDAP allows self-represented litigants and pro bono and legal aid attorneys to quickly and easily draft complete legal documents such as requests for orders of protection and answers to eviction complaints, by answering questions via an easy-to-use online interface. This initiative is in use in 26 states and generated 111,000 documents in 2008.

The new online tools were developed by Legal Aid, the Maryland Legal Assistance Network, the Chicago-Kent College of Law Center for Access to Justice & Technology, Capstone Practice Systems, Inc., LexisNexis, and the Legal Services Corporation.

The website can be accessed at http://www.peoples-law.org (in the Family Law section under “Need Help with Maryland Custody Forms?”). A separate advocate-specific website, updated to include the additional forms (as well as the new interview questions needed for those new forms), is available at http://www.mdjustice.org (in the Children and the Law Resource Center; click on New Automated Maryland Custody Forms).

The latest version of Adobe Flash is required to access the Child Custody and Visitation Interview.  Most Maryland public libraries allow printing from public computers for a nominal fee.

For more information, call Katherine J. Jones at 443-604-4729, David Demski at 410-451-2892, or  Joe Surkiewicz 410-951-7683.

A fair shake for legal aid

Congress should increase funding for legal aid programs through the federal Legal Services Corp. and drop restrictions that limit the programs’ effectiveness, the Washington Post urged in an editorial today. The Senate is moving toward voting on a bill that would fulfill both objectives, but it could be improved. Maryland Legal Aid is LSC’s only grantee in Maryland.

“Senate lawmakers have thus far also not been as generous as their House counterparts in setting the LSC’s budget for fiscal 2010,” the editorial said. “Senators anted up $400 million — $40 million less than the House and $35 million less than requested by President Obama. The Senate should move closer to the House number, given the tremendous need for these services and the fact that even the $440 million would essentially only restore LSC’s funding to what it was a decade ago.”

To read the entire editorial, click here.

Baltimore v. Wells Fargo: “It’s always about money”

skullney1Foreclosure Legal Assistance Project staff attorney Kathleen Skullney was interviewed by Baltimore TV news channels 2 and 45 last week about the city’s lawsuit against Wells Fargo bank claiming it targeted African-Americans for subprime mortgages.  Former loan officials testified they used racial slurs about minority customers and referred to subprime loans as “ghetto loans.”  “It’s offensive no matter when you hear it and no matter how many times you hear it,” said Skullney, who had attended a hearing about whether the lawsuit should procede. “It’s always about money. It’s always been about money.” A federal judge later ruled to allow the lawsuit to procede.

Sun calls for end to LSC restrictions

An editorial in today’s Baltimore Sun called for the end to Congressional restrictions placed on federally funded organizations (including Maryland Legal Aid) that serve the civil legal needs of the poor.

“For the first time in more than a decade, Congress has a real chance to lift the crippling restrictions on the federally financed Legal Services Corporation (LSC) that have hampered the agency’s efforts to assist poor people seeking redress through the courts,” the editorial said. “At a time when many people are struggling against the threat of foreclosure, eviction or loss of health and unemployment benefits as a result of the economic downturn, the LSC’s services are needed more than ever. Congress should seize this opportunity to make them available as widely as possible.”

To read the complete editorial, click here.