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News from the Massachusetts legal aid community.
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Volume 9, Issue 1
News in this issue...
MLAC
Equal Justice Coalition
Save the Date
Advocacy & Program Updates
Event Recap
People
Awards & Recognition
Media Highlights
People Pages

Want to see your news in Legal Aid Link?  Send it to the person responsible for communications and development at your organization.  The next issue will be published in May 2015.

Visit our website to read previous issues. 
MLAC
MLAC hosts annual constituent services briefing for legislators, staff

On February 12, representatives from the offices of over 30 state legislators gathered at the Massachusetts State House to hear advice from experts at MLAC-funded programs on how to provide help to constituents with legal problems in unemployment, housing, homelessness, income maintenance/government benefits, health care, domestic violence and family law. With many new legislators and senators in 2015, the briefing was a timely event and served as an important introduction to the many issues low-income individuals and families across the Commonwealth are facing. In addition to the presenters, staff from the programs were on hand to give legislators and their aides information on services their organizations provide. Thank you to everyone who joined us.

Bart Gordon, Racial Justice Fellowship applications coming soon

Applications for the Bart Gordon and Racial Justice Fellowships will be sent to programs by Joyce Allen-Beckford, Diversity Coalition Director, this month. Contact Joyce with any questions about the fellowships and application process at 617-391-5631 or jallen-beckford@mlac.org.
Equal Justice Coalition
Hundreds of attorneys, advocates attend 16th Annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid

Over 500 people braved snow and cold to attend this year's Walk to the Hill, a tremendous show of support for increased funding for civil legal aid. Chief Justice Ralph Gants and the other six justices of the Supreme Judicial Court, Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Bar Association President Julia Huston, Massachusetts Bar President Marsha Kazarosian, and numerous managing partners and bar leaders from across the state helped send the message that increased legal aid funding is critical for ensuring access to justice for our neediest residents.  Also on hand were two legal aid clients who shared how legal aid helped them escape domestic violence and stabilize their lives. Thank you to all legal services program staff who attended or volunteered, and helped make this year's Walk a success. See more photos from Walk to the Hill here.

EJC launches social media campaign to support Walk to the Hill

Before this year's Walk to the Hill, the EJC launched a social media campaign to build energy for its legislative campaign to increase funding for civil legal aid. Using the #IWalkforJustice hashtag, attorneys and advocates including Attorney General Maura Healey, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court Margaret Marshall, and Congressman Joseph Kennedy III, shared messages in support of equal justice for all. To see the photos, visit the EJC Facebook page

EJC Honors Legislators with Beacon of Justice, Supporter of Justice Awards

On January 12, the EJC co-hosted a reception with MLAC to welcome new legislators and honor legislative leaders for their support for civil legal aid. House Speaker Robert DeLeo, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, State Rep. Ruth Balser, and State Sen. Will Brownsberger were presented with Beacon of Justice awards for their outstanding support of state funding for civil legal aid through MLAC.  State Rep. John Fernandes and State Sen. James Welch were also honored with Supporter of Justice Awards for their participation on the Boston Bar Association's Statewide Task Force to Expand Civil Legal Aid in Massachusetts.  During his remarks, House Speaker Robert DeLeo described the benefit legal aid brings to the Commonwealth, saying, "Legal aid fosters equality and enables individuals to live safe and secure lives while making our state a more just place." MLAC Executive Director Lonnie Powers noted that the "vital work accomplished by civil legal aid agencies throughout the Commonwealth would not be possible without the support of these legislative champions."

Get Involved

Your voice helps ensure that Governor Baker and the Massachusetts Legislature understand the importance of legal aid funding. You can follow the EJC on Twitter, like the EJC Facebook page and sign up for action alerts at www.equaljusticecoalition.org.
Save the Date
February 27: Navigating the Clinical and Legal Choices of Elders with Mental Health Issues
The Mental Health Legal Advisors Committee will present a full-day seminar for social workers, attorneys, and other professionals of all levels of experience and those interested in advocating for elders with mental health issues. Hear from clinicians and attorneys to learn about the intersection of mental health and legal rights in health care planning, nursing home placements, and recovery and empowerment. Learn practical information, resources, and strategies to assist your elder clients. Earn 6.5 CEU credits. The event will take place at MCLE in Boston and will also be simulcast at UMass Medical School in Worcester. Learn more and register here.  Contact Ellie Sarcia, at (617) 338-2345 x121 or esarcia@mhlac.org for more information.


March 12 – 13, 2015: The National Consumer Law Center's Fair Debt Collections Practice Training, Washington, D.C. In this introductory course, legal aid attorneys will learn about the laws protecting consumers from abusive debt collection practices and as well as more in-depth sessions on developing these cases. Faculty includes top consumer litigators from across the country. CLE credit is available. Click here for more information or to register.
Advocacy & Program Updates
Community Legal Aid (CLA) Staff Attorney Amy Romero successfully tried an eviction case to a seven-person jury in the Worcester Housing Court. Her client had been forced to throw out many belongings and furniture as the result of a bedbug infestation that the landlord did not remedy in a timely manner. Amy’s client was awarded damages under the state’s anti-retaliation law and quiet enjoyment law, and the judge trebled some of the damages under the state’s consumer protection law. Jury trials in eviction cases are a fairly unusual occurrence in the Worcester Housing Court, and Amy’s client was delighted by the results. The trial preparation was a team effort, with great support from CLA Staff Attorney Jane Edmonstone and Litigation Director Peter Benjamin.

Massachusetts Advocates for Children (MAC) is working to ensure appropriate implementation of three of its priority bills that were recently signed into law: 1) MAC is working with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute (MLRI) and others to assure implementation of new MassHealth coverage for children with autism and is developing a curriculum for parent training based on the six provisions of the new Autism Omnibus Act 2) MAC’s Trauma and Learning Policy Initiative has been appointed to serve on the Safe and Supportive Schools Commission, as required by the safe and supportive schools provisions of the Gun Violence Reduction Act and 3) MAC is leading the Education Law Task Force in efforts to monitor local school districts and the State Department of Elementary and Secondary Education to assure implementation of the school discipline law, Chapter 222, that went into effect July 1, 2014.   

In January, the Center for Law and Education (CLE) and MLRI filed a Complaint with the federal Office for Civil Rights on behalf of individual Boston Public School (BPS) students diagnosed with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) and their parents. The Complaint challenges BPS’ failure to identify and evaluate students with SCD--who are virtually all African American and Hispanic--as having a disability that interferes with their learning and other major life activities, deprives them of the instructional aids, supportive services, and accommodations they need to stay in school and to enjoy the benefits available to all other students, and to make up work lost through SCD-related absences in violation of their civil rights under Section 504, the ADA and Title VI. The collaboration undertaken by the organizations’ Racial Justice and Equal Justice Works fellows also proposes comprehensive school and community-based remedies to support students with SCD while addressing the stigma that surrounds this ‘hidden’ disability.
Event Recap
Greater Boston Legal Services Lobby Day draws attorneys and advocates to State House

Greater Boston Legal Services’ (GBLS) annual Client/Staff Lobby Event for Civil Legal Aid took place on January 14.  GBLS advocates recruited clients and other legal aid supporters, and well over 100 people participated in the lobby day.  More than 50 GBLS staff members, fellows, volunteer attorneys, students, and an AmeriCorps legal advocate volunteered for a variety of roles to make the event a success.  One large group of volunteers led groups of clients, GBLS partner organization/agency representatives, client caucus members, and other supporters to nearly 70 different legislators’ offices. Participants shared their personal stories with their legislators and urged them to make a $10 million increase in the MLAC line item one of their top three budget priorities.
People
Community Legal Aid’s subsidiary, the Central West Justice Center, is pleased to announce that Ellen VanScoyoc has been promoted to Senior Supervising Attorney and will be responsible for supervising and managing the Central West Region’s immigration unit. Also joining the Central West Justice Center are two AmeriCorps fellows, Alex Bonazoli and Juana Matias.

Community Legal Services and Counseling Center (CLSACC) was pleased to welcome two new attorneys in December. Geraldine Gruvis-Pizarro is a justice AmeriCorps attorney working in the immigration unit with immigrant children. Esther Laine is working as a family law attorney, focusing on assisting Haitian survivors of domestic violence.

MAC has added to its staff two distinguished volunteers who are working part-time: former state representative Alice Wolf, who is assisting on legislative advocacy, school discipline advocacy and advocacy related to the new Chapter 70 school finance commission; and former hearing officer of the Bureau of Special Education Appeals, Bill Crane, who is providing technical assistance to MAC attorneys and member of the special education private bar, as well as writing a monthly blog.
Awards & Recognition
Patricia Baker, Senior Policy Analyst at MLRI, was recently honored as one of two recipients of the 2014 Changing the Equation Award from the EOS Foundation.  Recipients are chosen for their "sustained and significant efforts to change the equation on the affordability of healthful food for low-income individuals." Read more about Pat's work and accomplishments here[PDF].

Monica Halas, GBLS Employment Law Unit Lead Attorney, received the Women's Bar Association (WBA) 2014 Lelia J. Robinson Award at the WBA Gala in November 2014. Monica is an employment law expert who has worked at GBLS for 36 years.  View the WBA’s video tribute to Monica here.
Media Highlights
These are just a few highlights of recent media coverage.  For a full list, visit the News section of the MLAC website. 

US orders Mass. to fix food stamp procedures (Boston Globe)
The US Department of Agriculture, which administers the federal food stamp program, found that inadequate training on a new requirement to include photo ID on electronic benefit cards was leading to unfair denial of benefits for many Massachusetts residents, particularly those who are elderly or disabled. 

Debt weighs heavily on those trying to rise from poverty (Boston Globe)
A recent survey, designed with help from NCLC and other agencies, found that
debt from stretches of unemployment, medical costs, and student loans plague low-income individuals, often making it hard to find work and rise out of poverty. 

New program offers free legal help to low-income entrepreneurs (Boston Business Journal)
The brainchild of Jared Nicholson, a Harvard Law graduate and Skadden Fellow, Northeast Legal Aid's new "community development practice" offers free legal advice to low-income business owners and entrepreneurs, helping them lay a strong foundation for success.

Tentative deal reached in second Bridgewater hospital lawsuit (Boston Globe)
A judge has tentatively approved the settlement of a class action lawsuit aimed at improving the treatment of patients with mental illness at troubled Bridgewater State Hospital, including a drastic reduction in the use of physical restraints and solitary confinement.  Prisoners' Legal Services and the Disability Law Center were both very involved in the campaign to improve conditions for prisoners at the hospital. 


Tread lightly in calling for no-frills civil legal services for poor (Boston Globe)
Responding to the suggestion that increased access to legal services could be facilitated by licensing “legal technicians” with limited training, CLA director John Mannina points out that the legal aid community already places substantial responsibilities in the hands of supervised paralegals. However, in complex cases where outcomes could critically affect people’s families, livelihoods, and individual rights, there is no substitute for an experienced attorney.

Civil Legal Assistance Saves Money and Helps People Escape Poverty (TalkPoverty.org)
In this blog post, MLAC Executive Director Lonnie Powers discusses the role of civil legal aid organizations in improving working conditions, securing federal benefits, fighting eviction orders, and reducing domestic violence—and how addressing these issues helps people escape poverty.
People Pages
CLICK HERE to print "People Pages," an alphabetical directory of Massachusetts Legal Services staff members and their contact information.  (Note: You must log in to MassLegalServices.org to access this list.)  You can also look up staff individually by last name using the search function on MassLegalServices.org
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