Partnerships urged at Worcester forum on battling poverty

WORCESTER — The Worcester Community Action Council held its annual Poverty Forum, “Driving Solutions in Partnership,” Thursday at the Hanover Theatre, with a call to action from Marybeth Campbell, executive director.

“Many of us in this room are nonprofits across health, human services, housing, transportation, child care. And we probably share a lot of the same clients,” Campbell said. “How do we identify who those shared clients are and figure how do we triage and help support those clients together beyond our one-off programs and services but really look at that continuum,” said Campbell, who served as moderator for the event.

Gina Plata-Nino, staff attorney, at the Central West Justice Center of Community Legal Aid, Luis Pedraja, president of Quinsigamond Community College; Laurie Ross, associate dean of the faculty and director of Clark University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning; and Ken Bates, president and CEO Open Sky Community Services, participated in a panel discussion on poverty.

Society teaches people in poverty that “being poor is the worst thing they could be in America, because you must have done something wrong,” Plata-Nino said. “And I see that from my clients constantly … Wait a minute. You are working two jobs. It’s not your fault.”… Read more in the Worcester Telegram.

Prisoners’ Legal Services files suit in alleged wrongful death case

A young mother limps toward a desk in the booking area of a Massachusetts police department one evening in late September 2018, holding her chest and repeatedly saying she is in pain. Madelyn Linsenmeir, 30, had been arrested for allegedly violating probation on a drug-related offense in another state.

The scene marks the start of a series of alleged missteps by the Springfield Police Department, the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department and others accused of denying proper medical care to Linsenmeir after she asked for it, according to the suit filed by the ACLU of Massachusetts, Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts and Goulston & Storrs… Read more from CNN.

Cambodian refugee deported 2 years ago returns to US

BOSTON — A Cambodian refugee who says he was wrongly deported nearly two years ago was reunited with his family in Massachusetts on Wednesday, becoming the fourth such refugee — and first on the East Coast — to be allowed back into the country since the Trump administration stepped up deportations of Southeast Asians.

Thy Chea arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport after successfully petitioning to get his green card reinstated and suing the federal government to allow him to return to the country.

The 50-year-old Lowell resident was welcomed by his family and supporters, who cheered, held signs and handed him flower bouquets as they greeted him at the baggage claim.

Chea quickly scooped up his young daughter and one-year-old son, who was born after he was deported and had never met him in person.

“I am so grateful to be with my family. It’s been 18 months,” he said tearfully. “This is my kid and it’s the first time I’m holding him and meeting him.”

Chea’s lawyers argued that his criminal charges weren’t deportable offenses and that he should have been allowed to remain in the country. The Board of Immigration Appeals agreed, reopening his immigration case and restoring his lawful permanent resident status last year.

Greater Boston Legal Services, which is representing Chea, then sued the federal government in December, saying immigration officials were still “unlawfully” refusing to facilitate Chea’s return.

“It’s been a long fight to get Thy back,” said Bethany Li, his lawyer. “We really hope this is the start of a lot more people coming back to our communities.” Read more from Boston 7 News.

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants Calls for Increased Civil Legal Aid at Walk to the Hill

Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph D. Gants joined hundreds of attorneys, law students and others last week in calling for increased state funding for civil legal aid to vulnerable low income Massachusetts residents in need at the annual Walk to the Hill at the Massachusetts State House.

“The good news is that the legislature in the past few years has been great to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation; between fiscal years 2018 and 2020 the legislature has substantially increased the amount appropriated to MLAC,” Chief Justice Gants said. “We are blessed with a legislature that knows the importance of civil legal aid to this Commonwealth and has acted on that knowledge. Our legislators ‘get it’…But that good news is also the bad news, because it means that legal services still turn away more than half of the eligible persons who come to them seeking legal assistance.”

Organized by the Equal Justice Coalition, the event called for increased funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, the largest funding source for civil legal aid organizations in the state, by $5 million in the Fiscal Year 2021 state budget, for a total appropriation of $29 million… Read more in The Chelsea Record.

Chief Justice Gants, hundreds of attorneys call for increased civil legal aid funding at Walk to the Hill

Advocates request $29 million to expand access to representation in FY21

Kenda Cluff, a client of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, speaks at Walk to the Hill. Photo Credit: Elbert John

Tenants are fighting evictions in the midst of a housing crisis. Veterans are battling war-time injuries and legal issues. And a growing senior population is facing poverty and serious legal problems. Those are just some of the reasons the Commonwealth should provide more funding for civil legal aid, said Chief Justice Ralph Gants at the 21st annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid at the Massachusetts State House on January 30.

Chief Justice Ralph Gants

Chief Justice Ralph Gants speaks at Walk to the Hill. Photo credit: Jeffrey Thiebauth

Chief Justice Gants spoke in support of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation’s request of $29 million for civil legal aid in the Commonwealth’s FY21 budget—an increase of $5 million compared to current funding levels. The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is the largest funder of civil legal aid organizations in Massachusetts.

Approximately 700 people—attorneys from nearly 40 firms and companies, law students (including 95 from the University of Massachusetts School of Law), legal aid staff, and advocates—gathered for the annual lobby day.

Kenda Cluff, a mother of four young children and a client of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, described how legal aid lawyers helped her end an abusive marriage, gain sole custody of her children, and prevail in a lawsuit filed by her former in-laws seeking her share of the divorce settlement.

Kenda Cluff

Kenda Cluff shares how civil legal aid helped her and her children. Photo credit: Elbert John

“I know there are many people out there who are desperate to get out of awful situations like mine,” Cluff said. “The work these legal aid lawyers do is so important. It has a generational effect. My children’s lives are completely changed because of the help we received from legal aid. Without legal aid, my three daughters would think abuse is acceptable. My son would think it is okay to be abandoned or to abandon. I’ve given them new opportunity to move into a different direction in life. These types of changes have a ripple effect in this world.”

Unfortunately, insufficient funding for legal aid organizations forces them to turn away the majority of eligible people who seek help, Chief Justice Gants said. He urged the attorneys and law students gathered in the Hall of Flags to advocate on their behalf: “You speak not for yourselves, but for all those who have neither money nor power, but who might have the law on their side, if only they knew how to use it.”

Gants also emphasized the economic benefits that civil legal aid brings to Massachusetts and its residents: “Remember that a dollar devoted to legal aid is not merely an investment in justice; it has also been proven to be a sound economic investment that returns roughly between two and five dollars to the Commonwealth for each dollar spent.”

Civil legal aid organizations have received funding increases from the legislature in recent years, and speakers noted the continued need for that support. “More money for legal aid means more qualified people who get a lawyer,” said Louis Tompros, chair of the Equal Justice Coalition, a collaboration of MLAC, the Boston Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Bar Association.

UMass Law students

More than 90 students of the University of Massachusetts School of Law advocated for legal aid at the state house. Photo credit: Elbert John

Legal aid makes a “long-term difference in the lives of low-income residents in the Commonwealth,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. “One of the greatest strengths of legal aid advocates is their expertise, their capacity to confront and overcome the challenges that face our clients – life-threatening housing conditions, homelessness, domestic violence, deportation, loss of employment, elder abuse and neglect.”

Parker added, “Legal aid is vital to the health of our communities, the health of the judicial system, and the state’s commitment to access to justice.”

Christine Netski, president of the Boston Bar Association, said a growing number of immigrants are overwhelmed by the prospect of facing the court system alone. She recounted the story of Daniela, a young woman from Brazil who had become pregnant with twins as the result of a sexual assault. Immigration and Customs Enforcement began removal proceedings, but with the help of MetroWest Legal Services, she was able to avoid deportation and obtain a U visa. She now has steady employment and is working on her high school diploma.

“Immigration issues like those faced by Daniela are especially prevalent today,” said Netski, noting that the MLAC-funded Greater Boston Immigration Defense Fund is “one of the great legal services programs working to increase access to the justice system for members of our immigrant communities.”

Massachusetts Bar Association President John J. Morrissey lauded the pro bono efforts of lawyers across the state to provide free representation to unrepresented civil litigants. “But efforts of our volunteers alone cannot reach the goal of providing vital legal services to people in need,” he said. “We need more funding for civil legal aid programs so that legal aid attorneys don’t have to turn away more than half of the people that come to them.”

In closing, Cluff, the client of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, said, “I have no idea how much the help from the lawyers at South Coastal Counties would have cost. But it is priceless to me. It is my hope that sharing my story in front of so many unfamiliar faces will help a mother out there who is not willing to take another turn in an awful cycle of abuse.”

Losing home: With fixed incomes and increasing costs of living, seniors are bearing the physical and emotional brunt of rising rents, including eviction

Eviction is scary. And even the word itself sounds scary.

Eviction.

It sounds like a disease, and it does make people sick, sick with anxiety at the very least.

Homelessness is a very real possibility.

Eviction can happen for a myriad of reasons.

Most often the reason is non-payment of rent and it doesn’t have to be a lot of rent.

A recent New York Times story said many evictions come for amounts less than $600.

But sometimes a landlord just wants to repossess the house he or she owns for another purpose.

That’s what happened to an Attleboro woman named Kathy.

The 64-year-old retired security guard for LeachGarner, who didn’t want her full name used, eventually landed on her feet and has a new home in River Court, a public housing apartment building run by the Attleboro Housing Authority…

With the help of a lawyer from South Coastal Counties Legal Services she got through Attleboro Council on Aging, she was able to put off the eviction until the following May.

She found an apartment one day before she was scheduled to go to court, so she avoided the legal trauma and potential physical eviction.

And her chances in court, if it went that far, would not have been good.

According to Masslandlords.net, as many as 99.8 percent of all cases involving judgments are decided in favor of the landlord… Read more in The Sun Chronicle.

Lt. Gov. Polito announces $3M to fight domestic violence

LAWRENCE — For the advocates, attorneys and law enforcement officials gathered at the Northeast Legal Aid office at 50 Island St. Tuesday morning, the murder of a domestic violence victim is an all-too-common occurrence.

And Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, in her comments to the people who work in the trenches of domestic violence, sexual assault and child sex trafficking, said their efforts were greatly appreciated.

“This is heavy stuff, hard stuff,” said Polito, speaking to about 50 people from all over the state who were gathered for an announcement of the disbursement of $3 million in federal grant funds to 37 non-profits and public safety agencies engaged in the fight against domestic abuse and sex crimes.

“The conversations you are having in your community are challenging, and we appreciate your line of work, your focus and your professionalism,” she said.

…One of the agencies likely to be at the table is Northeast Legal Aid, a nonprofit corporation with offices in Lynn, Lowell and Lawrence, according to Executive Director George Weber.

The group received $48,000 in grant money from Polito on Tuesday which, Weber said, would be used to fund a lawyer who can work closely with the Cambodian-American community in Lowell and Lynn. The person has already been hired and she knows Khmar, the language used by what he said were the second and third largest populations of Cambodian refugees in the country.

“She can bridge that cultural gap,” he said, providing family law services for survivors of domestic violence… Read more in The Eagle-Tribune.

The Telephone Is A Lifeline For Prison Families. And Calls Are Outrageously Expensive

By Bonita Tenneriello and Elizabeth Matos, Prisoners’ Legal Services

Nehemie Sans-Souci, a mother of two, works at an assisted living facility 80 hours a week and also, somehow, manages to study for her nursing degree. Her husband William is incarcerated. While Nehemie visits him as often as she can, much of the time the telephone is their only connection — and the high cost of those calls means she loses that connection for a week or more at a time.

“Sometimes I get stressed because of school, work and kids, and I just want to talk to him, and I can’t,” she says. “It just gets me frustrated and I’m sad.” While the free world barely notices cheap, flat-rate phone calls, prison families pay sky-high rates. Nehemie and others who have incarcerated loved ones regularly have to ration their love, because they can’t afford not to.

In many Massachusetts counties, a 15-minute call can cost $5, $6 or more, plus outrageous administrative fees. How many of these calls a day does it take to help a child with homework, to reassure a spouse or a mother that their loved one is okay? Normal communication can cost thousands of dollars a year. This forces an agonizing choice when a loved one calls from prison — whether to accept the call or buy groceries… Read more from WBUR.

Leticia Medina-Richman: Local organization provides free legal services to immigrants, refugees

Leticia Medina-Richman, Central West Justice Center

I was pleased to read Razvan Sibbii’s Jan. 6 column (“The resistance, as organized by immigration lawyers”) calling attention to issues that immigrants are facing at the border, and highlighting what attorneys like Megan Kludt are doing to address this crisis.

I commend Kludt for her volunteer work and for her advocacy for immigrants and refugees. While the crisis at the border is understandably the focus of much press, I want to remind our community that the Central West Justice Center (CWJC), an affiliate of Community Legal Aid, Hampshire County’s legal aid organization, also provides critical free legal services to immigrants and refugees who are unable to afford a lawyer and would struggle to navigate the complex American legal system on their own… Read more in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Chief Justice Gants, Bar Leaders Rally Jan. 30 for Civil Legal Aid Funding

At 21st annual Walk to the Hill, hundreds of attorneys to advocate for $29M for Civil Legal Aid

BOSTON (January 23, 2020) – Chief Justice Ralph Gants of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, bar association leaders, and law students will join hundreds of private attorneys from more than 36 law firms at the Massachusetts State House on Thursday, Jan. 30 at 11 a.m. for the 21st Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. Attendees at this annual lobby day will request a $5 million increase in state funding for programs that provide civil legal aid to low-income Massachusetts residents.

“Legal aid providers funded by MLAC are on the front lines combatting the challenges of our turbulent times: eviction and homelessness arising from rising rents, deportation and family separation resulting from ICE’s immigration policies, elder abuse and domestic violence, families torn apart by opioid abuse, veterans struggling with physical, mental health, financial, and legal problems arising from their military service,” said Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Ralph Gants. “Fighting the good fight requires more than dedication, courage, and perseverance, which legal aid providers have in abundance; it requires funding sufficient to give them the staff and the resources they need to achieve justice.”

In addition to Chief Justice Gants, speakers at the Walk to the Hill will include: Christine Netski, president of the Boston Bar Association; and John Morrissey, president of the Massachusetts Bar Association.

“Civil legal aid is essential to help people in crisis avoid homelessness and unemployment and gain access to essential benefits and services, including veterans’ benefits, healthcare, and quality education. Legal aid lawyers also support survivors of domestic violence, older adults living in poverty, and immigrants,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. “Civil legal aid is often life changing for people, creating stability and opportunity – and delivering hope and justice”

Following the speaking program, attorneys will visit their legislators and urge them to provide a $5 million increase in funding for MLAC, the largest funder of civil legal aid in Massachusetts, for a total appropriation of $29 million in the FY21 state budget.

Walk to the Hill is sponsored by the Equal Justice Coalition, a collaboration of the Boston Bar Association, Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. The event is co-sponsored by numerous county and specialty bar associations throughout Massachusetts.

SPEAKING PROGRAM
11:30 to 12:10 pm
Great Hall of Flags
Massachusetts State House, Boston

The order of speakers is:
• Louis Tompros, Chair, Equal Justice Coalition
• Lynne Parker, Executive Director, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation
• Chief Justice Ralph Gants, Supreme Judicial Court
• Christine Netski, President, Boston Bar Association
• John Morrissey, President, Massachusetts Bar Association
• A client of South Coastal Counties Legal Services
• Jacquelynne Bowman, Executive Director, Greater Boston Legal Services

Media are welcome to attend the speaking program.

About the EJC
The Equal Justice Coalition is a collaboration of the Boston Bar Association, Massachusetts Bar Association, and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation working to increase state funding for civil legal aid.
www.equaljusticecoalition.org
@equaljusticema
#IWalkforJustice
Media contact:
Michelle Deakin
617-391-5627
mdeakin@mlac.org
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