Undue process: Poor people lose homes, children and money without a lawyer

Greater Boston Legal Services attorney Zoe Cronin was interviewed by Salon for this article about the need for more civil legal aid services across the country.

An excerpt is below.

In 2009, Shirley Hall lost her job as a drug and alcohol counselor and received a foreclosure notice on her Philadelphia home. Her life, and the economy as a whole, went into total meltdown. And like many, Hall had no lawyer to assist her. She could not afford one.

“All I could do is cry and pray,” says Hall, now 58. “That’s all I did. And try to keep it a secret from my family…I was embarrassed.”

Then one day, walking through Center City, she came across Community Legal Services’ office. The legal aid firm, which provides assistance to those too poor to afford an attorney in civil matters, saved her home.

“Rasheedah Phillips was my attorney,” says Hall. “She brought me to tears she was so good. She was there every time we had a court hearing, which was every month. They walked me through everything, paperwork…She made me strong.”

Read the full story at Salon.com


The Bay State Banner

Below is an excerpt from a May 4 article published by The Bay State Banner.

Back in 1996, as public housing developments struggled with crime, Congress passed the so-called “one strike” law, mandating eviction of criminally-involved tenants.

Now, as the pendulum of public opinion swings from punishment to rehabilitation, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has instituted a new program to help ex-offenders clear their records so that they can obtain jobs and housing.

Last week officials from HUD and the Boston Housing Authority joined Mayor Martin Walsh at the Lenox/Camden public housing development to announce a $100,000 grant to assist ex-offenders. The grant, to be managed by the BHA and Greater Boston Legal Services, will help people between the ages of 16 and 24 who live in BHA housing, or would be eligible for BHA housing without a CORI, to seal their records.

Read more at The Bay State Banner.


Below is an excerpt from a May 1 article published by the Telegram.

Glenn Grabiec, general manager for the Spring Valley Lake Association in Victorville, has earned the “Rising Champion” Vision Award from the California Association of Community Managers for his outstanding work managing the homeowners association.

The Rising Champion award recognizes a manager with less than two years’ experience who has exhibited drive, determination and exceptional abilities early in their career. Before entering the community association management industry, Grabiec served with the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department for 28 years. The award honored Grabiec for returning the homeowners association to solid financial footing and for completing several long-delayed projects within the community.

The Vision Awards are the top awards in the community association management industry in California, now home to nearly 51,000 homeowners associations. This year’s Vision Awards ceremony was held recently at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, Calif., as part of CACM’s Southern California Law Seminar and Expo event which drew more than 1,200 community managers and HOA product and service providers.

Read more at the Telegram.

Wicked Local

Below is an excerpt from an April 21 article published by the Wicked Local.

The Massachusetts Bar Association will honor seven attorneys, including Margaretta Homsey Kroeger, of Newton, with Access to Justice Awards at the MBA Annual Dinner on April 28 at the Westin Boston Waterfront. Presented by the MBA, the Access to Justice Awards recognize the efforts of attorneys and law firms who have made significant strides in enhancing access to justice.

Kroeger will be presented with the Rising Star Award. As a government benefits attorney at MetroWest Legal Services, Kroeger, a Newton resident, assists clients who have been denied or improperly terminated from disability benefits, as well as those who have been denied other government benefits, such as food stamps, cash assistance, unemployment benefits, health insurance and emergency shelter.

In 2014, Kroeger volunteered to serve as co-counsel with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute in a lawsuit filed against the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance. The suit challenged a new automated procedure for those applying for or receiving food stamps, which resulted in thousands of people being improperly denied or terminated from receiving food stamp benefits.

Read more at the Wicked Local.

Five things you should know about Richard Dubois

With funding low, many legal cases going undefended

An article in The Boston Globe from October 14 highlights the need for more funding for Massachusetts civil legal aid organizations. The full article is copied below.

Massachusetts legal aid organizations turned away nearly two-thirds of people qualifying for civil legal assistance over the last year due to a lack of funding, leaving thousands of low-income residents without representation in cases from domestic violence to foreclosure, according to the findings of a statewide task force to be released Wednesday.

More than 30,000 low-income clients were denied legal services in 2013, meaning many were unable to pursue cases or were left to represent themselves in court, where they often lost their cases, according to the 37-page report.

“The overused word ‘crisis’ actually applies here,” said Harvard Law School’s dean, Martha Minow, a member of the task force. “When you have people who are literally not represented in actions where they can lose their homes or face physical violence, where they can’t get legal remedies to which they’re entitled, there’s a failure to live up to the rule of law.”

At least two dozen of 134 lawyers and staff at Greater Boston Legal Services have been laid off since 2008 and another nine will leave due to further cuts at year’s end.

The 32-member task force, which also included Fidelity Investments counsel Jonathan Chiel, EMC Corp. general counsel Paul T. Dacier, and Governor Deval Patrick’s chief legal counsel, Katherine Cook, was convened by the Boston Bar Association. It studied the state of civil legal aid in Massachusetts for 18 months.

Unlike criminal cases, in which legal representation is guaranteed by the Constitution, there is no such guarantee in civil cases. These cases are often taken by lawyers working for free, and by legal aid attorneys in agencies partially funded with taxpayer money.

Much of civil legal aid work is financed by the Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts, an arcane fund generated from the pooled interest paid on small amounts of money that lawyers hold in trust for clients. That fund has shrunk dramatically in recent years, due to historically low bank interest rates.

In 2007, the fund generated nearly $32 million in annual interest; this year, it is expected to shrink to $4.5 million.

“We have a staggering problem funding legal aid in Massachusetts,” said Julia Huston, president of the Boston Bar Association. “There is a tremendous need, and that need has become more dire given the economic conditions of the last few years.”

Massachusetts spends about $15 million yearly for legal aid. The report calls on the state to provide an additional $30 million over the next three years.

The task force surveyed 13 major legal service agencies, including Greater Boston Legal Services, collecting data over three separate weeks in 2013 and annualizing it. The report characterized the findings as “stunning and discouraging.”

Overall, only one in three people who qualified for help received it, the survey found. In cases, involving family law, such as child custody and domestic abuse, four of five eligible clients were turned away. In consumer and employment cases, nearly three out of four could not get legal help.

“A whopping 11,843 disadvantaged individuals or families facing eviction or foreclosure were turned away over the course of one year,” the report said.

Ginette Brillant, a Haitian immigrant who worked at Beth Israel Hospital for 25 years, is an example of the impact that legal aid can have, according to the report. Brillant put $20,000 down on a house in Randolph and paid $1,700 a month in a rent-to-own arrangement. She later learned that her broker was a scam artist and that the house was in foreclosure.

She asked the bank’s property manager to make much-needed repairs because water was leaking from the master bedroom and bathroom ceilings. The repairs were not made, despite orders by the board of health, and the ceiling eventually collapsed, according to the report.

With help from an attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, Brillant eventually won a judgment of nearly $50,000 in damages from the bank plus $30,000 in attorney’s fees.

Dick Bauer, a senior lawyer at Greater Boston Legal Services, said if no one had represented Brillant, she probably would have been evicted, lost her deposit, and ended up in a homeless shelter or motel.

“We’re talking mostly about people with kids,” he said, who often end up “under a bridge or spending the night in an emergency room of a hospital.”

The task force also surveyed judges, with 80 responding. More than 60 percent of the judges said the number of litigants without representation increased following the economic downturn.

Nearly 90 percent of judges said evidence was improperly presented in 90 percent of the cases in which people were not represented by lawyers. More than 60 percent said that the lack of legal representation hindered the court’s ability to ensure equal justice.

The report argued that the benefits of representing eligible people in eviction and foreclosure proceedings far outweighed the costs of providing services. It estimated that providing legal help to the poorest families and individuals alone would save the state about $25.5 million in emergency shelter services and other costs.

Read the article in The Boston Globe






Mass. needs more funding for civil legal assistance