CLA op-ed: The difference an advocate makes in schools (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

Community Legal Aid Education Staff Attorney Jaz Williams (pictured above) penned a guest column in the Daily Hampshire Gazette about her experience working in schools first as a former special education teacher, and now in the role of an advocate. An excerpt is below.

“As much as I love my job, I remain aware that it should not take a legal advocate coming into the school to ensure that it provides adequate educational services to students. Unfortunately, the education arena remains one of the most glaring examples of wealth inequity and disparities families face in this country. By making education law a priority for our organization, Community Legal Aid leads the effort in our region to help families and students vindicate their educational rights.

Community Legal Aid’s core mission is ensuring equal justice for all, including, at the school level, for children as young as three, and there is always more work to be done. Every time I leave a successful meeting, or close a case with a good outcome for a child, I think of the hundreds of other families who are not getting the help and support that Community Legal Aid offers. Where children live and what school they attend can shape their entire future. This is especially true if a family is not receiving the proper tools and supports a child needs to be successful in school. To that end, if you or someone you know is facing educational barriers, contact our education team at Community Legal Aid.”

Read more in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.

Consolidation of senior care homes is uprooting hundreds across Massachusetts (The Boston Globe)

The Northeast Justice Center, a subsidiary of Northeast Legal Aid, and Greater Boston Legal Services senior attorney Betsey Crimmins (pictured above) were mentioned in an Oct. 9 Boston Globe article for their efforts to assist residents of long-term care homes amid a wave of closures and consolidations. An excerpt of the article is below.

Hundreds of older folks, many with disabilities, are being uprooted from long-term care homes across Massachusetts this fall in the wake of a brutal pandemic that claimed the lives of nearly 6,900 senior care residents and destabilized an already fragile sector.

Landmark was initially slated to close on Oct. 5. Its remaining residents got a reprieve after officials from the Boston Center for Independent Living and the Northeast Justice Center urged state elder affairs officials to press Landmark’s management to hold off on evictions.

Greater Boston Legal Services also threatened to sue Landmark if it didn’t give residents more time to find housing. “These are vulnerable people who had no recourse,” said the group’s senior attorney Betsey Crimmins.

Read more in The Boston Globe.

With aid drying up, advocates fear wave of evictions (The Boston Globe)

The Boston Globe quoted Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Staff Attorney Andrea Park (pictured above) in an Oct. 12 article examining the impact of waning COVID-era relief funds and legal protections for tenants. New rental assistance requirements and fewer available funds have led to an uptick in eviction filings. Below is an excerpt from the article.

The most drastic change to rent relief is the one Bertelson faced: the requirement tenants receive a Notice To Quit.

Legally, notices are not enough to boot tenants from their homes, said Andrea Park, a staff attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. Yet most are threaded with strong legalistic language that threatens eviction. As a result, she added, some tenants leave their apartments in fear, rather than staying put and fighting.

Park said the state failed to consider how requiring the notice could trigger other problems, such as the impact on tenants’ credit scores and their ability to secure housing in the future.

“There’s this perception that it’s just a letter,” she added. “But that’s underselling the power of the NTQ.”

Read more in The Boston Globe.

Trafficking Inc.: Forced labor in Massachusetts (GBH News)

Two legal aid attorneys—Caddie Nath-Folsom of the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts, a subsidiary of South Coastal Counties Legal Services, and Audrey Richardson of Greater Boston Legal Services—were quoted in an Oct. 11 GBH News article about labor trafficking. Below is an excerpt.

“Most people have interacted with someone who is being trafficked and don’t realize it,” said Nath-Folsom, who works with the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts. “Think of it more as someone who is being forced to work in terrible conditions, usually dangerous conditions, for unfair or no pay. And they can’t leave.”

And abusers are almost never held accountable. Massachusetts lawmakers passed a human trafficking law in 2011 to help victims and to prosecute perpetrators. But there hasn’t been a single forced labor conviction since the law passed, an investigation by the GBH News Center for Investigative Reporting has found.

In the meantime, attorney Audrey Richardson is still trying to seek help for her client Melba.

Read more at GBH News.

When migrants were sent to Martha’s Vineyard, a spirited team of Massachusetts lawyers jumped to help (The Boston Globe)

Emily Leung, supervising immigration attorney at the Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts (a subsidiary of South Coastal Counties Legal Services), was featured in an Oct. 7 Boston Globe article alongside immigration lawyers Susan Church, Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, Rachel Self and Julio Henriquez for their work managing the legal response on the ground to assist asylum-seekers flown to Martha’s Vineyard on Sept. 14.

Below is an excerpt from the article:

“The scramble in those early days — and the continued advocacy since then — exhibited, once again, the force of a spirited team of Massachusetts immigration lawyers, far from the southern border but able to flex their clout and power in the name of their advocacy. Their work put Massachusetts on the national map when it came to fighting Trump immigration policies and, now, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ controversial relocation program.

Among those who joined Self on the Vineyard early on were some of the state’s most high-profile immigration attorneys: Susan Church, of the Cambridge-based law firm Demissie and Church; Ivan Espinoza-Madrigal, executive director of Boston’s Lawyers for Civil Rights; and Emily Leung, of The Justice Center of Southeast Massachusetts.”

Read more in The Boston Globe. Leung and other advocates also spoke at a Boston Bar Association issue briefing about the crisis on Oct. 13.

SJC to referee another medical parole dispute (CommonWealth Magazine)

CommonWealth Magazine on Sept. 9 reported on an amicus brief filed by Prisoners’ Legal Services, the Disability Law Center, and the Committee for Public Counsel Services. Since the legislature established medical parole in 2018, prisoners’ rights advocates and Department of Correction officials have been in a near-constant fight about how the law is being implemented.

Tatum Pritchard, an attorney with the DLC, which filed a brief in the case, said the Legislature made clear that someone who is permanently incapacitated – physically or cognitively – should be eligible for parole, but the DOC inappropriately created a much narrower definition by focusing on activities of daily living. Pritchard said under the DOC’s definition, medical parole is reserved only for individuals who “really have no functional abilities at all.” 

The court could also address other related issues. DLC, PLS, and CPCS argued in their court brief that correction officials need to consider whether someone’s disability led to certain behavior in jail, like being disruptive, and whether that disability could be managed in the community. 

Read more in CommonWealth Magazine and in The Boston Globe.

SJC says Boston judge erred in denying marijuana expungement

A Sept. 8 Boston Globe article quoted Greater Boston Legal Services attorney Pauline Quirion, director of the CORI and Re-Entry Project at GBLS. The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that a Boston judge “abused his discretion” when he denied a request by a former defendant to permanently erase legal records of two marijuana possession arrests in the early 2000s.

The unanimous opinion, written by Associate Justice Serge Georges Jr., found that people previously arrested for cannabis crimes that have since been legalized are entitled to “a strong presumption in favor of expungement.” It orders a lower court to grant the request and effectively removes the power of state judges to deny similar petitions, unless they can cite a “significant countervailing concern.”

“This is huge,” said Quirion, the lead attorney for GBLS, who represented the former defendant in the case. “It’s a fabulous decision that reflects basic common sense: It’s clearly unjust to have to carry a criminal record for something that’s no longer a crime.”

By easing the path for other former defendants to obtain expungements, Quirion added, the SJC’s ruling would “help deal with the harm to communities of color that was inflicted by the war on drugs and tough-on-crime policies.”

Read more in The Boston Globe and in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly.

How a Massachusetts law meant to help victims is working against them

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute Deputy Director of Advocacy Jamie Sabino and Greater Boston Legal Services Senior Attorney Mithra Merryman were interviewed recently by WBUR regarding a law that was intended to protect the privacy and safety of victims of domestic and sexual violence, but has instead protected perpetrators and police. The Massachusetts law requires police to keep all reports and arrests related to sexual and domestic violence secret, something no other state does.

In fact, 16 police departments turned down WBUR’s request for records detailing their actions leading up to domestic murders, all citing the same statute.

It has also harmed victims by making it difficult ⁠— even impossible ⁠— to obtain records they need for custody battles and restraining orders.

Sabino, staff attorney at MLRI, said she was concerned about potential “unintended consequences” even as she helped advise lawmakers on the language in the 2014 bill.

Read more and listen to coverage at WBUR (Aug. 27 and Aug. 29).

Buried beach walkway raises accessibility questions

NBC Boston quoted Disability Law Center supervising attorney Tom Murphy in a recent article investigating accessibility concerns at Salisbury Reservation Beach.

On the walkway to the beach, the handrails are either barely visible or buried under several feet of sand.

Last year, Murphy reviewed utility poles that were placed right in the middle of new sidewalks in Dedham, explaining how they presented accessibility barriers for people in wheelchairs.

We asked Murphy about the beach ramp and he said the lack of maintenance appeared to violate the federal ADA law that requires equal access for everybody.

“They need to clear the ramp,” Murphy said. “Just like the roof on your house, these access features need to be looked at to make sure they’re still in operable, safe working condition and they’re usable.”

Read more at NBC Boston.

Massachusetts triple-deckers can be full of fire hazards. Here’s why.

Blair Komar Bates, a housing attorney at Community Legal Aid, was quoted in an Aug. 15 WGBH article about the hazards of old three-decker buildings in Massachusetts.

When Lorraine Adams sees a triple-decker in Worcester, she remembers the fires.

Adams was 15 when old electric wiring in a three-decker she and her family rented ignited a blaze that completely burned the building. Nobody was injured, but the family lost all of their belongings and had to immediately find somewhere new to live.

According to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, Massachusetts has a housing shortage of about 163,000 affordable rental homes. Komar Bates, a housing attorney with Community Legal Aid, said that means many lower-income people have little choice but to live in unsafe three-deckers. If a fire burns through the building, they’re vulnerable to homelessness if they can’t immediately find somewhere else to live.

“Landlords have disproportionate power right now to make tenants live in dangerous conditions,” Komar Bates said. “They can’t afford to move and they’re stuck in substandard housing.”

Read more at WGBH.