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News from the Massachusetts legal aid community.
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Volume 10, Issue 4
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 February 2017.

Visit our website to read previous issues. 
A statement from MLAC Executive Director Lonnie Powers
The unexpected results of the presidential election have created great uncertainty among social justice advocates. Some of the leaders nominated for positions in the new administration, including the incoming Vice President, have supported the reduction or elimination of federal funding for the Legal Services Corporation. Doing so would be a serious blow to equal justice in our country.

Adding to this uncertainty are the at times seemingly contradictory policy positions taken by the President-elect that would be harmful to low-income people represented by civil legal aid programs. The potential harm faced by those to whom you, as staff of civil legal aid programs, have devoted your lives is deeply troubling. Your dedication and expertise are needed now more than ever.

Individuals, organizations, foundations, and state and local governments are already coming together to ensure that we have the resources needed to defend our clients’ access to justice. As just one example, a Massachusetts family foundation has made an unsolicited $500,000 grant to MLAC so that we may meet the anticipated increased need for legal assistance among immigrants.

As we rededicate ourselves to working in partnership with our clients, it is worth remembering that we have been here before. Richard Nixon tried to dismantle the Great Society programs enacted under Lyndon Johnson. Ronald Reagan came into office determined to eliminate the federal Legal Services Corporation, and George W. Bush attacked many programs vital to our clients. None of these efforts were successful. Then, as now, our allies determined that our country would not turn its back on low-income and marginalized people. These allies ranged from the American Bar Association to major foundations, to state and local governments, to many inspired individuals. With their support, the civil legal aid community successfully resisted efforts to divide us and to ignore those in need. In the weeks, months, and years ahead, we will be guided by this history and resist any attempts to hinder our work to expand access to justice for all.

Thank you for all you do and have done to help bend the arc of the universe toward justice.

Yours truly,


Lonnie A. Powers
Executive Director
Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation
MLAC
MLAC and programs host convenings around Massachusetts

In the last month, MLAC and the regional legal aid programs have hosted a series of convenings around the state. These meetings are intended as an initial step in an ongoing dialog between legal aid and its community partners with the goal of addressing the causes and ameliorating the effects of poverty through high-quality, strategically focused legal assistance. Attendees included program staff, board members
, clients, local bar association leaders, members of the judiciary, funders, and numerous community partners and social services providers. We thank you all for the time and energy you have given to the convenings; they wouldn't have been possible without your help. With one more regional convening scheduled for January, and a statewide convening planned for March, we are looking forward to learning more from our many partners and sharing the results of these important meetings.

MLAC Welcomes New Board Members, Staff Member

The board of directors of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), is pleased to welcome two new members, Edward McIntyre and Richard Vitali, who were recently appointed by the Supreme Judicial Court.
 
Edward McIntyre, of Clinton, is the Mediator-Arbitrator of McIntyre Mediation, where he has focused on alternative dispute resolution since 2008. He is also a sole practitioner with decades of experience in civil litigation, specifically cases involving serious and life-altering injuries. He is a current member of the Massachusetts Trial Court Department’s Standing Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution, and a former President of the Massachusetts Bar Association. He served as an officer in the US Army and is a Vietnam combat veteran.
 
Richard Vitali, of Lynn, is a private attorney whose practice includes civil litigation, real estate, housing, domestic relations, and criminal law. He has also served as Assistant City Solicitor for the city of Lynn since 1990. From 2011 to 2014 he was President of the Board of Directors of Neighborhood Legal Services. Following program reorganization in 2014, he became vice-president of the board of Northeast Legal Aid, an MLAC-funded program. He is the President of the grassroots consulting firm Business & Industry Advocacy Group, and is a former trustee of the Massachusetts Bar Association.


McIntyre and Vitale fill the positions formerly held by Mary Lu Bilek, former Dean of the University of Massachusetts School of Law, who was appointed Dean of the City University of New York School of Law in June; and Michael D. Badger of Worcester, who completed his term of service with the board in the spring.

Evan Molinari, a recent graduate of Bates College, joined MLAC in November as Communications and Legislative Campaign Assistant. Evan assists with social media, digital and print communications, and supports the Equal Justice Coalition's legislative campaign. 
Equal Justice Coalition
Save the Date for Walk to the Hill 2017! 
 

The 18th Annual Walk to the Hill will be held Thursday, January 26, 2017 at the State House. We look forward to seeing you there! If you can't make it to the State House on the 26th, but still want to speak up in support of civil legal aid, stay tuned for information on how you can "Talk" to the Hill!

Know someone with a compelling legal aid story to share?

This year, we're continuing our #LegalAidChangesLives project, sharing stories. If you know someone
a colleague or a clientwho has an inspiring story to tell about the importance of civil legal aid, please contact Catherine Rizos at crizos@mlac.org.

Get Involved

Looking for other ways to get involved in the budget campaign? Follow the EJC on Twitter, like the EJC Facebook page and sign up for action alerts at www.equaljusticecoalition.org. In the weeks leading up to Walk to the Hill, we also invite you to share a photo as part of the #IWalkforJustice social media campaign.
Save the Date 
March 27-28, 2017: The National Consumer Law Center hosts the Fair Debt Collection Practices Conference in New Orleans, featuring both an introductory and advanced track. For more information visit the NCLC website.
Advocacy & Program Updates
Mass Legal Answers Online Launches
Mass Legal Answers Online, a new resource for low-income Massachusetts residents seeking answers to civil legal questions, launched in November. The website--www.masslao.org--is part of the American Bar Association's Free Legal Answers project, and is being administered by the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute with the assistance of the Volunteer Lawyers Project.
 
How Mass Legal Answers Online works:
  1. Low income (250% of poverty or below) Massachusetts residents go to www.masslao.org, answer a few eligibility questions, then create an account on the secure website.  Once the account is created, clients can log in and ask up to three civil legal questions per calendar year.
  2. Volunteer attorneys also create accounts on the site. When they log in, they see the list of questions that clients have asked and select the questions that they want to answer.  The attorneys then answer the clients' question through the website.
  3. All communication between the client and the attorney stays on the website itself, although attorneys and clients are notified by email when new responses have been added to the site.  The attorneys' assistance is limited to advice through the website; they cannot represent clients in court, prepare paperwork or meet with clients by phone or in person.
  4. The questions and answers are not viewable by the general public or searchable in Google.  They remain in the password protected website.
  5. Only civil legal questions can be answered through Mass Legal Answers Online. 
Tennessee was the first state to launch its online legal advice program in 2011 and has answered over 10,000 questions since that time. Now, the American Bar Association is supporting a national roll out of the website, by providing the software, tech support and malpractice insurance for the pro bono attorneys. For more information about the site, see the frequently asked questions for clients and attorneys.

An ERLI Start
 

Eastern Region Legal Intake (ERLI) is a new project by the Volunteer Lawyers Project (VLP) that provides intake, advice and referral services to low-income callers in the eastern region of Massachusetts. ERLI will replace the services formerly provided by the Legal Advocacy and Resource Center. To maximize efficiency, clients will be screened in a two-tier system to ensure that eligible callers speak with an advocate as soon as possible. Clients in need of legal advice will be scheduled for telephone advice sessions with pro bono attorneys. This will cut down on wait times on the helpline and ultimately allow more callers to speak to advocates. ERLI staff members include: Director Steve Russo, Supervising Paralegal Eric Davey, Attorneys Lola Remy, Fernanda Naspolini, Maddie Thomson, and Stephanie Heron Rice ; paralegal Natasha Lewis; and AmeriCorps members Lucyanna Burke and Emma Brenner-Bryant. They speak a variety of languages including Spanish, Portuguese and Haitian Creole. ERLI helpline hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to noon. The helpline phone number is 617-603-1700. ERLI will soon have an online intake option as well. If you are interested in volunteering with ERLI contact Eric Davey at edavey@vlpnet.org.    

VLP Partners with Attorney General on Wage Theft Project  
Wage theft and worker exploitation are rising in Massachusetts. VLP is excited to announce a new partnership with the Attorney General's Fair Labor Division and various community partners to combat wage theft and worker exploitation through monthly Wage Theft Clinics. These clinics will provide much-needed assistance to aggrieved workers by providing them with limited legal consultation, education, and outreach related to workers' rights law. VLP will also screen wage and hour cases at the clinics to refer out to its employment panel for full representation. Please email staff attorney Hsindy Chen at hchen@vlpnet.org to sign up for a volunteer opportunity, attend a training, or if you have any questions.

A Housing Success Story from VLP
VLP attorney Milton Wong (pictured) recently assisted a client who had moved into an illegal basement apartment due to difficult financial circumstances. After a few months, pipes began leaking in different parts of the apartment. The client complained numerous times to the landlord, who failed to fix the problems. Soon mold began to grow throughout the apartment and on the client’s personal property. The client had to stay at friends’ homes due to the mold, and she began withholding rent. The landlord filed for eviction claiming the client was never a tenant and was instead a trespasser. VLP represented the client in her action and brought numerous counterclaims against the landlord for his unlawful behavior. Ultimately, with a trial date a few months away, the landlord settled for $11,000, vindicating the client’s claims and allowing her to replace her personal belongings that had been destroyed by mold.

A Victory for Affordable Housing in Dorchester/Mattapan
A coalition including Greater Boston Legal Services, City Life/Vida Urbana, pro bono law firms Goulston & Storrs, Jones Day, and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, the Department of Neighborhood Development, and the Boston Public Health Commission recently negotiated the sale of 59 housing units owned by a bankrupt landlord who had let the properties fall into a state of disrepair. The properties, on Orlando Street in Mattapan and Waldeck Street in Dorchester, were purchased by the nonprofit Codman Square Neighborhood Development Corporation, permanently preserving the affordability of the units for the low-income tenants. Read more about this case in the news section below.

Mass Advocates for Children (MAC) supports students in addressing racial climate at Boston Latin School 
 
MAC’s Boston School Reform Project was one of the original groups that urged the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate reports of racism and discrimination at prestigious Boston Latin School. U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz found the Boston Latin School did, in fact, violate Title IV of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. MAC is hopeful that Boston Public Schools will use the resolution agreement to address issues of racism and discrimination at not only at BLS, but throughout the entire district. Read the full joint statement from civil rights and advocacy organizations here

MAC invited to present at White House convening on school discipline
Susan Cole, Director of MAC’s Trauma & Learning Policy Initiative, was invited to the White House in September to speak about policy reform at the Trauma-Informed Approaches in School: Supporting Girls of Color and Rethinking Discipline convening. Susan led two afternoon breakout sessions, where she discussed Massachusetts’ Safe and Supportive Schools Law as a way to set the conditions for whole school inclusive safe and supportive environments for all students, including those impacted by adverse experiences. You can watch a video of the Massachusetts' delegation's presentation here.
 
Bill Crane blogs for MAC
Bill Crane, Of Counsel at MAC, wrote a two-part series on transition services for the organization's blog this fall. Bill is a regular contributor, and a valued resource for MAC; he provides pro bono expertise now that he is retired as a hearing officer. The blog is circulated widely and gets many hits! Learn more about Bill and his work here.

New Resources from the National Consumer Law Center
 
Reports Legal Analysis Policy Briefs & Fact Sheets
Event Recap
CPR Celebrates 40th Anniversary
The Center for Public Representation commemorated its 40th anniversary October 21, with more than 100 supporters, friends and colleagues. Following afternoon panels reviewing the Center’s past and envisioning its future, the celebrants gathered for an evening of dinner and dancing. “The Center has always been about – and only about – individuals with disabilities,” said Steven Schwartz, one of its founders. “They are our friends, our family, our teachers, and even our faith.”
 
Forty years ago, the Mental Patients Advocacy Project (the Center’s first initiative) implemented a national demonstration advocacy program at the Northampton State Hospital and filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of current and future hospital residents (Brewster v. Dukakis) that transformed the community service system in Western Massachusetts.  Since then, the Center has trained nearly 100 advocates and attorneys who, together with Center staff, have litigated more than 50 class action cases and other law reform initiatives throughout the country on behalf of individuals with disabilities. As a result, numerous public institutions have closed and community services have been expanded for more than 100,000 individuals with disabilities. 


An Equal Justice Celebration on the South Coast
On November 28, South Coastal Counties Legal Services hosted its fourth annual Equal Justice Celebration, attended by over 250 attorneys, elected officials, and business and community leaders. Congressman Joseph Kennedy III was the keynote speaker and the Honorable Bettina Borders received the 2016 Servant of Justice Award. Read more about the event in the Herald News.

Mass Advocates Celebrating Voices
 
Photo: from left, Karen Holmes Ward; Kim Janey, Michael Curry, Jerry Mogul. Photo Credit: Tony Irving

During Massachusetts Advocates for Children's annual Celebrating Voices event on October 19th, emcee Karen Holmes Ward of WCVB-TV led attendees through a creative program, with Charlie "Coach" Titus running a live auction. Over 300 guests attended this special evening at the Seaport Hotel, beginning with a cocktail reception and exciting silent auction, followed by dinner and music by Kenny Grubbs. Spoken word artist Art Collins enlivened the celebration with the moving tribute to our honoree, Michael Curry, an attorney, leader, advocate, and mentor dedicated to health care access, social justice, and the advancement of equal opportunity and a partner in MAC's work as the president of the Boston branch of the NAACP. MAC Project Director Kim Janey delivered powerful remarks on the 20th anniversary of one of MAC’s signature programs, the Boston School Reform Project, working to eliminate gaps in opportunity and achievement through systemic policy change. Visit MAC's Facebook page for video clips and photos by guests and photographer, Tony Irving. MAC would like to send special thanks to the Seaport Hotel, who was able to accommodate the event when a labor strike at Harvard required a change of venue with only a week's notice.
People
Alison Barkoff joined the Center for Public Representation as Director of Advocacy at its new Washington, D.C., office. The office, which opened in early September, is located at 1825 K Street, Suite 600, Washington, D.C., 20006.  Alison is working on policy and litigation related to community integration and inclusion, including Olmstead, Medicaid, employment, housing, and education. Alison previously served as Special Counsel for Olmstead Enforcement in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. She also worked with the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services and with the Department of Labor. She has an adult brother with an intellectual disability and has been involved in disability advocacy most of her life.  

In October, Goulston & Storrs hosted a celebration in honor of Joanna Allison, recently appointed as the Executive Director of the Volunteer Lawyers Project. Joanna has more than two decades of solid, innovative, successful service with VLP. She has been the interim Executive Director during the past year; in this role she has guided the organization through many challenges with a steady hand and vision. The VLP Board, through a search committee, implemented an extensive and thorough process to arrive at this momentous decision. After several rounds of interviews it was proved clear that Joanna was, on so many levels, the superior choice.

Zoe Cronin, Greater Boston Legal Services' Director of Development, has been selected as the new Managing Attorney of the Housing Unit and is transitioning between units. Previous Housing Unit Managing Attorney Jay Rose has moved into a new position as Community Lawyer/Special Projects Liaison. Ana Cruz, formerly of Bay Area Legal Services, starts as Director of Development in January 2017. Tom Gunning, previously GBLS’ Associate Director and Director of Program Operations, is now Associate Director and Chief Development Officer. Brian Flynn has been named Managing Attorney of GBLS’ Asian Outreach and Employment Law Units. Lead Attorney Monica Halas continues to focus on specific priorities and projects that impact low-wage workers.
Awards & Recognition
Pauline Quirion, Lead Attorney and Director of the CORI Project at Greater Boston Legal Services, was recently appointed to the Attorney General's Advisory Council on Racial Justice and Equity, designed to address persistent racial disparities and barriers for communities of color. Read more about the council here, and see member bios 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. 

Medical-legal partnership broadens health efforts to fight for social justice (Worcester Telegram)
The Telegram highlights the medical-legal partnership between Community Legal Aid and UMass Memorial Medical Center, funded by a two-year, $200,000, Pro Bono Innovation Fund grant from the federal Legal Services Corporation. 

Profile: Elizabeth Soule of MetroWest Legal Services (MetroWest Daily News)
In honor of MetroWest Legal Services' 40th anniversary, the MetroWest Daily News profiled MWLS Executive Director Betsy Soule, who shares the impact legal services has on low-income residents in their service area, including a moving story of how MWLS attorneys and staff helped find emergency shelter for a homeless young woman and her baby daughter. 

Mismanaged Dorchester, Mattapan properties secured as affordable housing through non-profit purchase (Dorchester Reporter) 
Law firms, city agencies, and advocacy groups including Greater Boston Legal Services worked together to win an important victory for affordable housing in Boston, negotiating an agreement that allows 59 low-income tenants to remain in their homes.

Massachusetts Awarded $100,000 Grant to Improve Access to Justice (Massachusetts Court System)
Massachusetts is one of seven states to receive a grant through the Justice For All project, housed at the National Center for State Courts. The Access to Justice Commission, Massachusetts state courts, legal aid providers, and other stakeholders will work together to identify gaps in services and propose new methods for addressing residents' unmet legal needs.
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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