Tag Archive for: Greater Boston Legal Services

Boston Globe

Below is an excerpt from a June 30 article published by the Boston Globe.

State lawmakers rejected a proposal on Thursday that would have raised maximum fines on troubled nursing homes from $50 a day to $10,000, prompting questions from elder advocates about the influence of industry lobbyists.

Records from the secretary of state show that the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, the industry trade group, has paid two Boston firms a total of $635,000 since 2011 to lobby lawmakers on nursing home issues. One of those firms, Travaglini, Eisenberg & Kiley, founded by former Massachusetts Senate president Robert E. Travaglini, received most of that money, $435,000.

Neither the trade group nor Travaglini returned calls seeking comment on the nursing home fines.

The proposal that would have raised fines also dictated that money collected from the higher fines be used to establish a trust fund dedicated to improving nursing homes. The higher fines were stripped from the state budget lawmakers approved Thursday.

Still, legislators left intact language establishing the trust fund, even though there will be no money to support it.

Read more at the Boston Globe.

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


Employing Civil Legal Aid in Closing the Wage Gap

By Lonnie Powers

Here’s an economic statistic that holds true in almost every part of the world: women are significantly more likely to be poor than men. In the United States, 16 percent of women live below the federal poverty line, compared with 12 percent of men.

Why is this? When we think about gender inequality in the workplace, it’s often in the context of the “wage gap,” the well-documented phenomenon of women making less than their male colleagues for the same amount of work. Though more American women are finishing college these days than men, a woman with a bachelor’s degree can still expect to take home a lower salary than a man with the same degree. Averaging incomes across the nation, women make about 78.3 cents for every dollar earned by men. President Obama, who signed the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act into law at the very beginning of his first term, has often called for measures to close the wage gap; however, income averages have moved very little over the past seven years, even at the White House.

But comprehensive data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research shows that closing the wage gap will not, of itself, solve the problem of female poverty. The likelihood of a woman being poor is closely tied to racial and socioeconomic factors that also affect men of the same background. The special economic pressures and social expectations that women live under, however, make them uniquely vulnerable to sliding deeper into poverty over time. Out of all the household types in the U.S., single mothers with children are the most impoverished by a large margin, bringing in lower incomes than single fathers with children, or childless single individuals of either gender. Women with limited support networks, who are attempting to allocate limited time and limited funds among the demands of employment, childcare, and household and medical needs, are often one misfortune from economic disaster.

So it’s not at all surprising that civil legal aid organizations, which assist low-income individuals and families who are facing non-criminal legal issues like eviction, unfair employment practices, and barriers to critical social safety nets, report that a whopping 70 percent of their clients are women.

Typical among these women is Carmelita, a healthcare worker and single mother from Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood. After Carmelita’s 7-year-old daughter was diagnosed with mental and psychological disorders, Carmelita asked that her full-time hours be reduced so that she could spend more time caring for her daughter–a job that too often fell to Carmelita’s 17-year-old son, at the expense of his educational needs. With no part-time work available at the health center where she was employed, Carmelita was forced to choose between her job and her daughter’s health and well-being. She resigned her position to seek a part-time job.

Carmelita believed she’d be eligible for unemployment benefits while she sought part-time work because she had left for a good reason. However, under a Massachusetts Department of Unemployment Assistance regulation, anyone looking for part-time work after a recent history of full-time employment was automatically denied benefits. Carmelita was told she could appeal, but her chances of prevailing seemed slim―until she contacted Greater Boston Legal Services. A legal aid attorney represented Carmelita at the appeal, and successfully argued that the unemployment regulation had exceptions for people with disabilities and it should be the same for the caretaker of a child with disabilities. The case set a precedent for other working parents to receive the same protection. Civil legal aid spared Carmelita and her family from financial ruin. More important, her daughter’s condition improved significantly.

Poverty has more than one cause. Naturally, fighting poverty requires more than one simple solution. In addition to closing the gender wage gap, the enactment of employment reforms that would give the most vulnerable women–low-income mothers who are the primary caregivers of their children–true stability is critical to fighting poverty among women. Onsite childcare options, or pay increases sufficient to cover the cost of childcare, would allow women to securely hold down a job instead of relying on ad hoc childcare arrangements, or being forced into poorly compensated part-time work. Paid maternity leave, a mandatory employment policy in every other developed country, would also give women the ability to care for newborn infants without risking their financial livelihoods. In Boston, Mayor Marty Walsh recently instituted a paid parental leave policy for all City of Boston employees, while Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Healey has done the same for her employees. Other employers should follow their lead and look for creative ways to address pervasive economic injustices.

Lonnie A. Powers is the Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. He has more than 40 years of policy and legal experience at the state and national levels, having devoted the majority of his career to establishing, building, sustaining and revitalizing legal aid organizations. Lonnie began his legal career in his native Arkansas, first with the Attorney General’s Office and later with Legal Services of Arkansas, where he served as Executive Director.

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