Monthly Archives: December 2010

Legal Aid Commemorates Human Rights Day 2010

On Dec. 10, over 150 Maryland Legal Aid staff recognized Human Rights Day by participating in seven workshops across the state designed to share information on how human rights law could be applied to day-to-day case work. The event featured a three-part presentation which discussed how human rights values may frame the nonprofit law firm’s advocacy, how to apply international treaties to advocate for clients, and how Legal Aid’s work fits into a growing movement seeking to recognize economic human rights in the United States.  Presentations were followed by a discussion of four case studies from Legal Aid’s major practice areas: Child abuse, housing, unemployment insurance, and family law.

According to Frederick office staff attorney Alecia Frisby, who served as a facilitator with Hughesville office chief attorney Seri Wilpone at the Easton office: “I received several excited comments about inserting human rights into administrative arguments and got an overall feeling that people had become newly energized about the human rights framework by the presentation.” Wilpone added: “Attendees were consistent in saying that the training helped them see how to use a human rights argument, both in subtle and explicit ways.  The idea of leading an argument with a statement of common value, e.g., the opportunity for children and mothers to live free from violence, was something that was helpful.”

Events were also held in Easton, Annapolis, Riverdale, Hagerstown, Towson, with two workshops in Baltimore.  “This was a terrific collaborative effort between management and staff and highlighted the talent we have in our organization,” said chief counsel Shawn Boehringer. “The materials produced were top-notch and reusable, and all facilitators worked hard to plan and prepare for the event and make it meaningful.”

The Maryland Legal Aid workshops corresponded with Human Rights Day events around the world. The United Nations theme for the day honored “Human Rights Defenders who Act to End Discrimination.”  “Statements made by U.N. leaders on the day were relevant to our effort at Legal Aid and can serve to inspire and motivate us,” Boehringer said.

In his statement, U. N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon declared that “Human rights are the foundation of freedom, peace, development, and justice. Laws to protect and promote human rights are indispensable. But quite often, progress comes down to people, courageous women and men, striving to protect their own rights and the rights of others, determined to make rights real in people’s lives.”

In Geneva, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay commented on the Human Right to Healthcare: “Around 100 million people are forced into poverty each year because they have to pay for health care. Poor women are up to 20 times less likely than the richest 20 percent of women to give birth in the presence of a skilled health worker capable of saving their lives.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton addressed a Human Rights Day Town
Hall held at the State Department in Washington. Secretary Clinton noted: “We commemorate the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by a vote of 48-0 in the United Nations, the very core concept that each of us, all of us, are born with equal and inalienable rights. Those words hearken back to our own Declaration of Independence, which was such an incredible, historical event in addition to representing the very best of our values and aspirations.”

“Our Human Rights Day commemoration provides a segue into our 100th anniversary celebration, the theme for which will be ‘Advancing Human Rights and Justice for All:  1911-2011,”Boehringer said. “Baltimore CINA chief attorney Joan Little has been hard at work spearheading the planning for our next big human rights event–a symposium jointly sponsored by the law schools at the University of Maryland and University of Baltimore. The symposium will provide another exciting opportunity to enhance our Human Rights framework.”

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Slamming the courthouse doors

Poor defendants on death row, immigrants in unfair deportation proceedings, torture victims, domestic violence survivors and victims of racial discrimination – all these groups are consistently being denied access to justice while those responsible for the abuses are protected, according to a new report by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Jamil Dakwar, director of the ACLU Human Rights Programme, told the Inter Press Service, “Access to justice is a fundamental human right and bedrock tenet of American democratic system – it was even codified by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the U.S. championed 62 years ago.”

“Unfortunately, access to the courts and effective remedy have been severely curtailed over the last decade, especially for those who need it most,” he said. “It is time for our government and judiciary to recommit to respecting and promoting this essential right.”

To read the rest of the IPS article, click here. To read the ACLU report, Slamming the Courthouse Doors: Denial of Access to Justice and Remedy in America, click here.

University of Baltimore law students take the food stamp challenge

Some University of Baltimore law students inadvertently put one foot in the real world last fall when they signed up for the Law and Poverty Seminar. In addition to reading case law related to poverty, they were required to get face-to-face with the poor.

Or stomach-to-stomach.

While some volunteered at homeless shelters and worked on expungement cases at the Homeless Persons Representation Project, a majority opted to take the “food stamp challenge”: limit their expenditure on groceries to $26.75 for a week (the average food stamp benefit).

And no freebies from friends.

To read the rest of this “Of Service” column in The Daily Record (written by Maryland Legal Aid communications director Joe Surkiewicz), click here.

People’s Law Library launches redesigned website

The Maryland People’s Law Library today launched its newly redesigned website at www.peoples-law.org. The free legal information and self-help website now features expanded, updated and easy-to-find information about legal issues that are on people’s minds, issues such as housing and family law.

“The website helps to explain the law and legal issues in user-friendly terms that are easy to understand,” said Chief Judge Robert M. Bell of the Maryland Court of Appeals.

The People’s Law Library began in 1996, and for the past three years, the website has been managed by the Maryland State Law Library.  More than two million visitors used the People’s Law Library last year.

“The People’s Law Library is a vital resource for all Marylanders,” said retired Court of Appeals Judge Irma S. Raker, chair of the Maryland Access to Justice Commission. “It is the place where so many people turn first for information about legal issues and to find links for legal help. It is critical that we provide information and resources for all, and perhaps especially for the most vulnerable, including low-income Marylanders and those who are representing themselves in our state’s courts.”

“The new design has the user in mind,” said Steve Anderson, director of the Maryland State Law Library. “It’s easier to use and navigate, and the most popular search terms are on the home page. Overall, the website is now both more accessible and more streamlined to help visitors find information and resources quickly.”

Throughout its history, the People’s Law Library has been supported by Maryland’s non-profit legal services providers. Several legal aid programs, public interest attorneys and community advocacy groups have provided information for the website.

Joseph honored by Maryland Legal Services Corp.

Maryland Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm H. Joseph Jr. was awarded the Benjamin Cardin Distinguished Service Award last night at an awards banquet sponsored by the Maryland Legal Services Corp.

The award was presented by Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell, who noted that since arriving at Legal Aid in 1996, Joseph has nearly quadrupled its funding, raise salaries and enabled it to serve more than 50,000 Maryland families each year.

The Cardin Award is presented each year to an outstanding public interest attorney regularly involved in providing, promoting or managing civil legal services to the poor.

In the photo (left to right): MLSC president F. Vernon Boozer, Joseph, MLSC executive director Susan M. Erlichman and Bell.

Reena Shah honored by Daily Record

Chris Eddings, Wilhelm Joseph

Maryland Legal Aid staff attorney Reena K. Shah, who joined the Housing/Consumer Law Unit in Baltimore in 2008, was one of The Daily Record‘s 50 Leading Women honored last night in Baltimore. The honorees are all 40 or younger who are accomplished in their careers, involved in the community and show a commitment to making change.

Shah, 34, concentrates on housing in her legal work, representing clients dealing with eviction or other residential problems. “It’s about trying to deal with people in a very human way,” she said.

Throughout her career, Shah has shown a commitment to human rights, volunteering in AmeriCorps and later the Peace Corps in Nepal. She is currently launching a U.S. chapter of an Indian nonprofit, Odanadi, which rescues victims of India’s illegal sex trade.

Shah was unable to attend last night’s event. Accepting her award was Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm Joseph (right in the photo, along with the Daily Record’s publisher and president, Christopher A. Eddings).