Monthly Archives: July 2010

Dundalk family faces home foreclosure, ruined credit

WYPR-FM reported this morning that a Dundalk family losing their home by foreclosure can’t find new housing because their applications to rental agencies repeatedly get denied. Consumer law expert Cheryl Hystad, director of advocacy at Maryland Legal Aid, was interviewed for the report.

Hystad said finding temporary housing is a big problem in the foreclosure crisis and every year Legal Aid helps hundreds of people facing foreclosure–finding a place to move into is something she called an insurmountable problem for the recently foreclosed. Hystad suggested the Dundalk family–which includes a five-year-old boy diagnosed with autism–contact the Baltimore County Department of Social Services.

“I’ve heard of them putting people up in hotels and things with some emergency funding,” said Hystad, adding that Legal Aid’s Baltimore County office is also helping the family find temporary housing. To hear the report, click here.

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Volunteer your time

From today’s On the Record blog from the Daily Record: “Ben Rosenberg of Rosenberg Martin Greenberg had a pretty strong reaction to contributor Joe Surkiewicz’s column in this week’s Maryland Lawyer section,” wrote reporter Caryn Tamber. “Surkiewicz, the director of communications at Maryland Legal Aid, wrote about the tremendous need for more volunteer lawyers.

“Rosenberg, co-chair of the Legal Aid’s Equal Justice Council, which works to fund Legal Aid, called me Monday afternoon to enthusiastically second Surkiewicz’s message.

“’As a result of a number of factors, all of which have sort of come together in sort of like a perfect storm, the demand for legal services to the underrepresented and people who can’t afford legal representation has exploded, while at the same time what we had thought of as a stable funding source has imploded, and that’s the IOLTA funding,’ Rosenberg said.”

Pilot self-help program debuts in district court

Anne Arundel County residents are flocking to the Glen Burnie District Court Self-Help Center to get free help to represent themselves in court, the Baltimore Sun reported this morning. “Staffed by members of the Legal Aid Bureau, the pilot program is aimed at the meat-and-potatoes civil cases–small claims, landlord-tenant disputes, creditor-debtor issues and protective orders–that can clog the court system and lead to frustration when people try to handle the cases themselves,” the article said.

“Open since December, the four-person center has assisted more than 1,850 people–the monthly number reached a high of 543 in June, said supervising attorney Sarah Coffey Frush,” the article continued. “The center averaged fewer than 10 daily visitors in the first three months. But as word spread, numbers have climbed.”

The read the report, click here.

Where are the lawyers?

After Katrina, almost 9,000 prisoners — mostly pretrial detainees awaiting trial on non-violent charges — languished nearly nine months before their day in court. The reasons: the destruction of justice system’s infrastructure, the evacuation of the detainees from flooded New Orleans, and the decimation of the public defender’s office.

After 9/11, more than 100,000 New Yorkers lost their jobs, and between 3,000 and 6,000 individuals and families were displaced by the destruction of the Twin Towers.

The survivors of the nearly 3,000 who died, in addition to facing the trauma, required emergency legal assistance such as obtaining death certificates, applying for emergency funds, probating wills, and seeking answers to legal and tax questions.

Yet the response by the private bar to these crises belied the profession’s ethical responsibility to meeting social responsibilities, argues University of Maryland law professor Douglas L. Colbert.

“Many volunteer lawyers came forward and helped with free legal assistance,” Colbert said. “They don’t see themselves as superheroes, only regular attorneys meeting their ethical duty in a time of crisis. Yet, why so few? Lawyers are aware of their ethical responsibility as public citizens to meeting social responsibilities.”

Colbert researched the legal profession’s responses to the two crises in a Howard Law Review article, “Professional Responsibility in Crisis.”

Louisiana’s bar revealed only “a small cadre of [about 100] heroic attorneys . . . gave generously of their time to people who were in dire need of legal representation,” Colbert wrote.

Even as more lawyers volunteered, most of “Louisiana’s [16,000] lawyers continued to remain on the sidelines and had not sufficiently replenished the ranks of this exhausted group of volunteers,” he wrote.

Ultimately, “hundreds more of Louisiana’s bar members contributed some pro bono, mostly on the civil side,” Colbert said.

In New York, the bar’s response to 9/11 was similar — in the low-single-digits.

While 3,000 lawyers volunteered their help, “the profession’s response … offers no grounds for complacency,” write Stanford Law professor Deborah Rhode in a critique referenced by Colbert.

About 95 percent of New York’s bar members “declined to participate and contribute any time to 9/11 victims’ needs” — and many who did, volunteered “relatively modestly.”

Colbert’s question: “In a profession as proud as ours, what can be done to enlist more volunteers acting as moral agents for the public community?”

And mine: With local civil legal aid and public defender offices swamped — and not just with the “historically” poor, but with formerly middle-class people capsized by the recession — isn’t Maryland facing its own Katrina?

To read the rest of this Daily Record “Of Service” column, click here.

Know Your Rights to Fair Pay

Know Your Rights to Fair Pay/A Guide for Workers in Maryland

Maryland Legal Aid released a new booklet, Know Your Rights to Fair Pay, loaded with legal information to help workers. Topics include workers’ compensation, wage deductions, retaliation, definitions of employee and independent contractor, minimum wage, overtime, and more. The booklet, downloadable as a PDF file,  is available in English (FairPay_booklet_English FINAL May 2010 ) and Spanish (FairPay_booklet_Spanish_FINAL May 2010

Perry Hall man battles leaky ceiling

A Baltimore County man with a leaky ceiling in his apartment called Fox 45 News with his problem . . . and Fox 45 called Maryland Legal Aid for some expert legal guidance for renters who find themselves in similar situations. “People who rent many times feel they’re at the mercy of the landlord,” said Baltimore County office (Towson) chief attorney Ann Lembo (left). “The difficulty for a lot of people is being able to describe to the judge what their case is, being able to show that they have gone through all the steps they need to go through. That’s why calling the county inspector helps them with that–because there’s a written record.”

To see the segment, click here.