Greater Boston Legal Services’ new online interview form improves access to justice

By Quinten Steenhuis

MADE is a wizard-like online interview developed by me at Greater Boston Legal Services that helps tenants who are being evicted. It can be completed on a smartphone or desktop computer completely without the help of a lawyer. It covers 300 questions and it educates tenants about their rights, helps tenants file paperwork, and sends tenants automated text-message reminders about follow-up paperwork and their court date. Read more…

Massachusetts Advocates for Children Releases Special Education Rights Videos

Massachusetts Advocates for Children has released a series of informational videos on special education rights. Concise, straightforward, and available in English and Spanish, the videos are designed to help the parents understand their child’s legal rights and provide step-by-step instructions on how to ensure that those rights are protected. The videos are particularly geared towards families who are recent immigrants or have limited English proficiency who may find navigating the special education process especially challenging. Topics covered include:

• Requesting a school evaluation
Immigrants and special education
• Getting a qualified interpreter
• Getting documents in your language
Responding to the IEP, and
• Requesting a “second opinion” evaluation

The first video is below. The entire series is available in both English and Spanish. MLAC provides funding to Massachusetts Advocates for Children, whose mission is to “remove barriers to educational and life opportunities for children and youth.”

MBA Fetes Legal Aid Lawyers with Access to Justice Awards

Photo of Judith Liben
Photo credit: Jeff Thiebauth/Courtesy of MBA

Three legal aid lawyers will receive Access to Justice Awards from the Massachusetts Bar Association at its annual dinner on May 9.

Luz Arévalo of Greater Boston Legal Services will receive the Legal Services Award. Gina Plata-Nino of the Central West Justice Center will receive the Rising Star award. And Judith Liben of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Luz Arévalo oversees the Low-Income Tax Clinic at Greater Boston Legal Services. In addition to her work with individual clients, she has been involved in legislative efforts to reform state tax policies. She was instrumental in the recent passage of legislation extending innocent-spouse relief to joint tax filers and in a first-of-its kind measure allowing domestic violence victims to safely have access to the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Gina Plata-Nino, a staff attorney at the Central West Justice Center, a subsidiary of Community Legal Aid in Worcester, represents food insecure clients with disabilities, language differences, or other difficulties who are applying for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. She has also helped residents of Puerto Rico displaced by Hurricane Maria. Plata-Nino is co-founder and president of the Oon Jai Foundation, which seeks to alleviate poverty in Southeast Asia.

Judith Liben will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award for her more than 30-year career in tenants’ rights and housing access advocacy. Working at MLRI since 1989, Liben has testified on Capitol Hill and Beacon Hill, successfully urging lawmakers to pass the federal Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act and similar legislation in Massachusetts. She also lobbied state housing officials to institute a lottery system for low-income applicants to the Section 8 program.

“One of the most gratifying things about working at Mass. Law Reform is how it allows me the chance to work in a variety of ways with clients, colleagues and community groups.” Liben told the MassBar eJournal.

Read more about all the Access to Justice Award honorees in the MassBar eJournal.
Listen to more about the winners on the MassBar Beat podcast.

‘6th time was the charm’: Welfare family cap is finally lifted in Massachusetts

After many votes and multiple vetoes, Massachusetts lawmakers have lifted the “cap on kids,” which denies additional welfare benefits for children born while a family is already receiving welfare.

“Lifting the Cap on Kids will make a critical difference in the lives of 8,700 of the lowest income children in Massachusetts,” said Deborah Harris of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute in a statement. “With today’s vote, Massachusetts has affirmed the dignity and humanity of every child.”

“We are thrilled that our Commonwealth has repealed the cruel and unjust family cap,” said Jacquelynne Bowman, executive director of Greater Boston Legal Services, in a statement. “This is an important step in helping Massachusetts act on the promise of supporting very low-income families to meet their children’s basic needs.”

Read more on MassLive.

Community Legal Aid Attorney Gordon Shaw Selected for Excellence in the Law Award

Community Legal Aid is proud to announce that its Director of Client Access, Gordon P. Shaw, has been selected by Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly as the recipient of the 2019 Pro Bono Excellence in the Law Award. Attorney Shaw will be honored at an event on the evening of May 2nd at the Marriott Long Wharf Hotel in Boston.

Among many notable contributions to pro bono, Attorney Shaw has served as the supervising attorney for the Western Mass. Housing Court Lawyer for the Day (LFD) program for 20 years – a program which partners with volunteer lawyers in providing legal assistance to tenants and landlords who are without lawyers on the day of their court hearing.

Motivated by the challenges economically and socially disadvantaged populations face trying to obtain meaningful access to our legal system, Attorney Shaw has spent the majority of his legal career working on ways to enhance access to justice. Among his proudest accomplishment is the creation of the Massachusetts Legal Resource Finder, www.masslrf.org, one of the first on-line legal resource triage tools in the country.

After receiving his law degree in 1990 from Northeastern University School of Law, Gordon served two years as a judicial law clerk to the Massachusetts Superior Court, serving the second year as the Deputy Chief Law Clerk. He then spent several years in private practice prior to joining Massachusetts Justice Project (MJP) as a staff attorney in 1998, rising to Managing Attorney in 2005 and Executive Director in 2011. After MJP merged into Community Legal Aid in 2014, Gordon became the first Director of Client Access, where among other things, he oversees and manages the Volunteer Lawyers Service and CLA’s clinical program with Western New England University School of Law, where he also serves as an adjunct professor of law. He is member of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services, and is a member of the Northampton Housing Partnership.

Attorney Shaw is based in Community Legal Aid’s Northampton office. He is a resident of Leeds where he lives with his wife Arlene Correa.

Community Legal Aid, Inc. (CLA) provides free civil legal services to low-income and elderly residents of central and western Massachusetts. CLA also provides free civil legal assistance to victims of crime and survivors of domestic violence. CLA works to assure fairness for all in the justice system, protecting homes, livelihoods, health and families.

Updated MassProBono site simplifies search for pro bono work

By David Spinosa

MassProBono is a comprehensive, yet easy-to-use online resource for lawyers, law students, and other legal professionals who want to find the right volunteer opportunity.

Starting in 2010, MassProBono is a collaboration between legal aid groups, bar associations, the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission, and the Volunteer Lawyers Project of the Boston Bar Association that supports legal professionals in their pro bono efforts. Almost a decade later, this vision hasn’t changed – but its resources have expanded.

With more than 100 legal aid organizations and programs listed, as well as 63 specific projects, MassProBono’s website, MassProBono.org, offers pro bono opportunities for many interests and schedules. The specific filters allow users to look for organizations or projects, or search by an area of law and county. Each listing and project has easy-to-follow and relevant information about the program as well as contact information.

MassProBono also includes an extensive library of resources from “Know Your Rights” manuals to court forms. Checklists and guides offer volunteers an overview of several areas of law – a valuable resource if they are volunteering with Eastern Housing Court’s Lawyer for the Day Program or taking on a Guardianship case.

As MassProBono’s partnerships and resources have grown, so has its technology. To keep people updated on what’s going on in legal programs around the state, MassProBono has added a calendar feature with upcoming trainings and events as well as a Twitter feed.

Each MassProBono resource and feature has been designed to make pro bono searches easier and more enjoyable. MassProBono will be hosting a webinar Tuesday, June 4th, to go over how to best use the site as well as some of its newer features.
If you are interested or have any questions about MassProBono, please email David Spinosa, dspinosa@vlpnet.org.

David Spinosa is an AmeriCorps Legal Advocate with the Volunteer Lawyers Project.

Massachusetts’ contentious tactic to fight its opioid crisis: jailing addicts

The scene plays out every day in Massachusetts, thousands of times a year.

A loved one is addicted to opioids. Their life is spinning out of control as they use more and more. Their family panics. Rehab can be unaffordable – and it may require waiting for a spot. But they need to get their loved one somewhere they can’t use before it’s too late. Read more about Prisoners’ Legal Services‘ advocacy in The Guardian.

More Workers Are Suing Happy Lamb Hot Pot

In October 2018, nine current and former employees of Happy Lamb Hot Pot in Cambridge filed a complaint with the United States District Court of Massachusetts alleging restaurant management committed a number of labor law violations. Allegations included failing to pay overtime wages, pocketing and improperly distributing workers’ tips, and refusing to let workers use accrued sick time.

Attorneys representing the workers filed a supplemental complaint with the US District Court of Massachusetts, which includes the names of five additional workers, bringing the total number of plaintiffs suing Happy Lamb Hot Pot to 14. The supplemental complaint states that the alleged violations occurred at both Boston-area locations of Happy Lamb Hot Pot, in Central Square, Cambridge, and in Chinatown, Boston. Greater Boston Legal Services represent the workers, who are mostly Chinese or Latino. Read more in Eater Boston.

Nonprofit law firm receives $90,000 grant to assist veterans

NORTHAMPTON — Community Legal Aid will create the first veterans medical-legal partnership, or VMLP, in the state with a $90,000 grant from United Way of Hampshire County.

Located at the Edward P. Boland Northampton VA Medical Center, the VMLP will help low-income veterans in Hampshire County navigate the legal system. Medical-legal partnerships pair lawyers with specializations in areas such as health care and homelessness with veterans who face problems that may affect their health. Issues around hunger, financial insecurity and domestic violence are among other problems lawyers will assist veterans in navigating.

“We want to catch something in the courtroom rather than in the emergency room,” said Daniel Bahls, Community Legal Aid’s lead VMLP attorney. Read more in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

MLRI prepares know-your-rights info for striking Stop & Shop workers

In response to a strike by Stop & Shop workers that is entering its second week, the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute has prepared know-your-rights information for striking workers who may be eligible for SNAP assistance.

The brochures, in English and Spanish, detail when striking workers are eligible for assistance from SNAP, the federal nutrition benefits program.

“We all hoped this strike would not last this long (especially during religious holidays for many who celebrate). But unfortunately it has, and it has caused a substantial hardship on thousands of workers and their families,” said Georgia Katsoulomitis, executive director of MLRI. “We hope for a just and equitable resolution to the issues these hard-working Stop & Shop employees have raised so that they can get back to work.

“Thank you to all our legal aid partners and colleagues for what you are doing to help and support these workers and their families.”

The information on SNAP eligibility for striking workers is available here.