Legal aid adds millions to Ohio economy

The Ohio Legal Assistance Foundation released an economic impact study showing that legal aid generated millions of dollars in economic activity for the Ohio communities it serves.

An example: In 2010, legal aid saved nearly 1,000 homes across the state from foreclosure, according to the report. Since even one foreclosed home in a neighborhood can lower property values for other homes by as much as 2.1 percent, the study estimates that legal aid helped protect more than $2.7 million in home value.

To read a Dayton Business Journal article about the report, click here. To read the report, click here.

Legal Aid helps solve Howard Co. rental dispute involving Rottweiler

Metropolitan Maryland office staff attorney Sara Wilkinson

Metropolitan Maryland office staff attorney Sara Wilkinson

Maryland Legal Aid helped Hazel Sanders,  70 years old and disabled,  and her Rottweiler service dog obtain an affordable apartment after the management company agreed to drop objections based on the Maryland Court of Appeals decision earlier this year defining pit bulls as inherently dangerous, the Baltimore Sun reported today.

“Sanders reached agreement in mediation last week through the Howard County Office of Human Rights, where she had filed a complaint against Equity Management II for refusing to make an exception to its no-pets policy for a service dog, as federal law requires,” the article said.

Sara C. Wilkinson, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Bureau Inc., who represented Sanders, said the issue of the Court of Appeals case never came up in the four- to five-hour mediation session last Thursday at the Howard County Office of Human Rights, in Columbia,” the report said.

To read the article (behind a pay wall), click here.

Legal Aid honored by Annapolis Housing Authority

Last night, the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis board of directors adopted three “Resolutions of Appreciation” recognizing Maryland Legal Aid staff attorneys Margaret Leonard and Amy Siegel, and Anne Arundel office chief attorney Anita Bailey, individually, and the Anne Arundel County office of Maryland Legal Aid in general, for its “dedicated advocacy and legal services on behalf of the residents of the public housing community”. . . and to “express their sincere appreciation . . .for its commitment and services to the betterment of the lives of the citizens of the City of Annapolis.”

Leonard, Siegel and Bailey were presented with signed and sealed certificates of appreciation by HACA’s executive director Vince Leggett, and HACA’s Board Chairman, Carl Snowden (also the Director of Civil Rights for Maryland’s Office of the Attorney General).

“In presenting the certificates, Mr. Snowden noted that while many might assume that the relationship between HACA and Legal Aid was primarily adversarial, he acknowledged that, to the contrary, HACA enjoys a cooperative relationship with Legal Aid and that Legal Aid has made HACA a better organization through their advocacy in making sure that HACA adheres to federal regulations and other laws in the administration of their programs,” Bailey  said. “To say the least, we were very honored by this recognition.”

Organizations create legal safety net for the homeless in Frederick Co.

No Published CaptionFor homeless Frederick County residents, perseverance and community support are key to navigating the legal system, according to advocates, the Frederick News-Post reported today.

“Attorneys provide free or low-cost legal advice to homeless families in cases ranging from minor criminal charges, such as panhandling or loitering, to bad debt and landlord-tenant disputes, which may have led to their becoming homeless,” the article said.

“When it comes to civil cases, several organizations in the county provide services, including the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, the Frederick County Bar Association and the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau,” the article continued.

“The Legal Aid Bureau served 1,871 people in Frederick County in 2011, and an additional 69,305 people throughout the state.

Alecia Frisby [above], a staff attorney at Legal Aid, said the office also refers about 20 cases each month that can’t be handled by her office to the bar association for assistance.

“When it comes to issues in court — criminal or civil — the homeless face more hurdles than other residents, dealing with problems such as how to receive notices from the court without an address or maintaining documents that can help their cases without a place to store paperwork.

“While most people can establish mailing addresses, Frisby said, phone access is a far greater challenge. In cases that move quickly — such as administrative agency appeals and those in District Court — she sometimes needs to ask clients without phones to return to the office several times a day, just in case they need to follow up on something.

“The Legal Aid Bureau tries to be flexible to help with the current needs of their clients, she said. In recent years, they have added weekly clinics that address unemployment and bankruptcy issues.

“‘I think we do the best we can. We’re constantly evolving. We’re always trying to determine what are the needs of our client base and how can we respond,’ Frisby said.”

To read the entire article, click here.

Migrant farmworkers’ advocates file complaint with UN

From the Huffington Post:

WASHINGTON — Caitlin Berberich, managing attorney with the Southern Migrant Legal Services, a project of Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, said that when paralegals visit migrant camps, they are almost always ordered to leave by the landowners — sometimes with threats of police calls or worse. “One grower” in Arkansas, she said, chased “after our interns and our paralegals carrying a chainsaw.” The blade was not turned on, but the “Texas Chain Saw Massacre”moment left an impression.

“We regularly had employers follow them off, escort them off in their cars,” Berberich said of her legal team. “A couple growers we know are notorious for preventing us from having access.” One camp, she explained, has a security detail, its main purpose apparently to escort Berberich’s paralegals off the property.

Berberich’s experiences are not unfamiliar to lawyers, health care workers, and community advocates who have attempted to oversee migrant camps and check in on the tomato pickers, sheep herders, and other migrant workers across the U.S., from eastern Maryland to remote corners of Colorado to whole swaths of the deep South. Often these advocates provide the only ties the migrant workers have to local communities and address vital issues like wage theft and basic health needs like HIV testing.

On Thursday, a coalition of 28 nonprofit legal and social service organizations filed a complaint with the United Nations, alleging that migrant workers have been unlawfully denied access to assistance. The complaint, organized by Maryland Legal Aid with help from the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law, argues that these barriers amount to a violation of human rights law.

To read the entire article, click here.

Legal Aid files complaint with U.N. about migrant camp access

WASHINGTON, Dec. 13, 2012—A coalition of 28 non-profit legal and social services organizations submitted a complaint today to the U.N. arguing that the practice of denying farmworkers the right to have visitors and social services providers the right to meaningful access to migrant farmworker labor camps is a violation of human rights law.

Maryland Legal Aid, with technical assistance provided by Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law, spearheaded the complaint submitted to Magdalena Sepúlveda Carmona, U.N. Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, by legal services, healthcare, workers’ rights, anti-trafficking organizations, and other community service programs that serve migrant farmworkers, representing all 50 states.

“This is the first time in history that these types of organizations have  joined together to submit a complaint  to a U.N. Special Procedure,” said Lauren E. Bartlett, director, Local Human Rights Lawyering Project at the Center for Human Rights & Humanitarian Law at American University Washington College of Law. “The legal aid and other organizations are making history by taking such a strong stance on expanding the rights of migrant farmworkers across the United States.”

Migrant farmworkers often live on the rural farms and ranches where they work. “They are completely cut off from the rest of society,” said Reena Shah, Human Rights project director at Maryland Legal Aid, one of the organizations that signed the complaint. “They cannot get legal help or go see a doctor when they need to – even if they suffer from HIV/AIDS or pesticide poisoning or fall prey to domestic violence or even child abuse.”

“Farmers and ranchers regularly harass outreach workers and even threaten violence if they attempt to talk to migrant farmworkers,” said Nathaniel Norton, supervising attorney, Maryland Legal Aid’s Farmworker Program. “Without the right to receive visitors and access justice, the ongoing human rights violations will continue to go unaddressed and will likely be exacerbated.”
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights is expected to review the complaint and communicate with the U.S. government towards a solution to the issue of migrant camp access and the right of farmworkers to receive visitors.  The joint legal aid complaint argues that a coordinated federal solution is necessary, given the widespread problem and the inconsistency in state-based policies.

To read the entire press release (with contact info), click here.

Human Rights Day celebrated around the world—just not here

Reena Shah

Reena Shah

From Reena K. Shah, Esq., the director of Maryland Legal Aid’s Human Rights Project:

When I was in the Peace Corps in Nepal, I used to walk from village to village telling the poor and marginalized that they had certain “rights” regardless of whether their country’s laws reflected those rights and regardless of whether their country’s government upheld them.

I told them that all the countries and all the leaders of the world had come together to make a bold and universal statement that human rights belonged to every single one of us simply by virtue of our humanity.

And inevitably during my stay there, school children and elders alike would come together and celebrate Human Rights Day every Dec. 10.  It was a day to acknowledge the inherent dignity of all humans and commit to working towards renegotiating the social contract in a way that actualized the principles of peace, freedom, justice and equality for all.

It is striking to me that as people around the world are celebrating again today, there is, in the words of Martin Luther King Jr., an “appalling silence” here in the U.S.

This same silence was evident during this past election cycle when neither candidate spoke about human rights nor was questioned about them.

This is especially remarkable considering human rights are as American as apple pie and baseball.

After all, the Four Freedoms speech by President Franklin Roosevelt is cited as the opening salvo of the modern human rights movement.  And Eleanor Roosevelt is the central figure associated with drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the premier human rights document.

Lesser known may be that Martin Luther King Jr. actually had a vision of unfettered human rights for all, not just civil rights.  His message was one of racial equality, economic justice and poverty alleviation – pressing America to recognize economic rights as co-equal with political and civil rights.

Undeniably, America has embraced the mantle of promoting and applying the principles of the indivisibility and interconnectedness of all human rights – civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights – in everyplace in the world. Just not at home.

And it is not as if there is no need for human rights in the U.S.  Currently, about 46.2 million people or 15 percent of Americans live in poverty.  More egregiously, over 25 percent of American children under the age of five live in poverty, with the rates for black and Latino children being 42.7 percent and 36 percent.

Considering that poverty among children carries consequences far beyond childhood in everything from education outcomes and worker productivity to long-term health costs, these numbers should be as shocking to the American psyche as those pictures from Abu Ghraib and allegations of torture that a decade ago made the world – and more importantly, Americans – question the U.S.’s commitment to human rights.

If we were truly a nation committed to the fulfillment of everyone’s human rights – our priorities would be different, our budget allocations would be different.  But in America, the deficit is not of resources, but of will.

What is necessary to create this will?  The underlying issue is there is not a mass conscientiousness about human rights.  So, the first step is for all of us to be aware—to know about our human rights; to understand their value; to talk about them; to see things in human rights terms; and to apply them domestically, as much as internationally.

Like the anti-apartheid movement demonstrates, human rights can bring forth a sea change in the lot of the oppressed.  Let’s remember that apartheid was sanctioned by the State and laws were the State’s choice tools to legitimate oppression.  But South Africans knew about their human rights.  They knew in their gut that even if something was legal, it did not make it right.  So, they rose up and demanded justice.

What we have today in America is not overt oppression, but its subtler cousin – where systems, legal or otherwise, are structured to reward the most powerful, while many struggle to obtain the most basic human needs such as food, housing, and health care.

And this is where human rights can be an instructive counterweight.  Human rights inform us to look beyond existing law to justice.

People around the world know about human rights – it’s a global movement and a common language of those struggling for justice.  The U.S. has been busy leading the rest of the world in this movement, but has left its own people behind.  It’s high time now for Americans to become aware and join that movement.