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News from the Massachusetts legal aid community.
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Volume 14, Issue 2 - December 2020
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COVID Eviction Legal Help Project

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is managing a new COVID Eviction Legal Help Project to provide urgently needed legal assistance in pandemic-related eviction cases. The CELH Project expands the capacity of existing legal aid organizations to provide essential help to income-eligible tenants facing eviction due to COVID-19 and to landlords who are income-eligible owner-occupants of two- and three-family homes. MLAC oversees the delivery of services through contracts with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, the Volunteer Lawyers Project, and six regional legal aid organizations across the state: Community Legal Aid, De Novo, Greater Boston Legal Services, MetroWest Legal Services, Northeast Legal Aid, and South Coastal Counties Legal Services. Read more.

Equal Justice Coalition

Save the date for the Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid – January 27, 2021 at 11 am. This year’s event will be held online. The Equal Justice Coalition will support MLAC’s request of $35 million for civil legal aid in the state budget. More details coming soon.

Legal Aid in the News & other Advocacy Updates

Several excellent op-eds have been making the case for civil legal aid and related issues. In case you missed them:

A civil justice crisis is coming – Much greater funding for civil legal aid is needed.
By Lynne Parker (MLAC) and Susan Finegan (Access to Justice Commission) 

Warning: Debt collection tsunami coming 
By Jacquelynne Bowman (GBLS) and Richard Dubois (NCLC)

Police need to be removed from our schools
By Liza Hirsch (MAC)
 

GBLS Lawyer shares her story in The Boston Globe
'White, white, white. Then there’s me.' A Black lawyer shares her experiences 
By Danielle Johnson (GBLS)

DLC wins suit to ensure accessible voting 
The Disability Law Center prevailed in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of six individual petitioners, the Boston Center for Independent Living, and Bay State Council of the Blind concerning the failure of the Commonwealth's Accessible Vote By Mail program to provide meaningful access to voters who are blind or have vision impairments, mobility/dexterity disabilities, or other disabilities because the program prevented them from casting electronic ballots without third party assistance. 

CLA advocates for workers deprived of UI benefits 
On behalf of five Massachusetts workers, Community Legal Aid has sued the Department of Unemployment Assistance, the state agency that administers the unemployment insurance program. The plaintiffs are: a nurse, nursing assistant, machinist, payroll professional, and plant manager for a local food manufacturer. Initially, DUA approved their claims and began paying weekly benefits. But weeks later, DUA suddenly stopped paying benefits without first providing plaintiffs any notice or opportunity for a hearing, and demanded that plaintiffs repay benefits they had already received. The lawsuit alleges that DUA’s conduct violates state and federal laws, including the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process clause. Read more in
MassLive.

GBLS helps Mattapan tenants group negotiate deal with new building owners
On behalf of the tenants of Morton Village in Mattapan, GBLS attorneys reached an agreement with new property owners and the City of Boston that will allow tenants to remain in their units with modest rent increases over the next five years. Proponents believe this deal could help stabilize the housing market. Read more in The
Boston Globe.

DLC reaches accessibility enhancement agreement with HBO Max
DLC
, with co-counsel Disability Rights Advocates, represented blind individuals and advocacy organizations in a landmark agreement with WarnerMedia. In the agreement, WarnerMedia pledges to increase the accessibility of HBO Max by providing audio description to at least 6,000 hours in total by the end of March 2023 and ensure accessibility of the HBO Max website, mobile applications, and applications for Internet-connected TVs for individuals who are blind and use screen-reading software
. Read more.  

CLA client appears in NYT story on children with disabilities 
In early October, The New York Times published a story focusing on how poverty affects families with disabled children, with a spotlight on parents who are prevented from working because of the severity of their child’s needs. It includes the perspective of the mother of a student represented by CLA Staff Attorney Helene Busby.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Coming soon: MLAC Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Conference
DEI Director Tonysha Taylor invites everyone to stay tuned for details on MLAC's Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Conference in Spring 2021.

Statements against racism
Legal aid organizations across the Commonwealth have renewed their commitment to efforts to combat systemic racism.
Read more.

In Memoriam

Longtime GBLS attorney Brian Flynn passed away on November 25 after battling cancer for a year and a half. Not long before he died, Flynn—the managing attorney of GBLS’ Asian Outreach/Employment Law Unitwas awarded the National Employment Law Project Jerry Hildebrand Unemployment Insurance Champion Award. NELP wrote: “Brian has consistently provided jobless workers in Massachusetts with zealous advocacy and the highest caliber of legal representation. NELP’s decision to award Brian the Jerry Hildebrand Unemployment Insurance Champion Award is based on a demonstrated record of legal achievement that has advanced the development of substantive UI law and due process protections for unemployed workers, while providing advocacy models to be replicated by UI lawyers around the country.”

Event Recap

Northeast Legal Aid recently held a Pro Bono Appreciation event in October to celebrate its volunteers. U.S. Rep. Lori Trahan was the keynote speaker for the virtual event. U.S. Sen. Ed Markey sent in a video clip of appreciation, as well. NLA thanked several long time volunteers and awarded certificates of appreciation.

Awards & Recognition

Prisoners’ Legal Services advocates honored with BBA President’s Award
Elizabeth Matos, Michael Horrell, David Milton, James Pingeon, Bonita Tenneriello, and Jessica White received the award for representing incarcerated individuals during the COVID pandemic. Read more.


Advocates selected for ground-breaking program to advance racial equity

Four Community Legal Aid staff members—Daniel Bahls, staff attorney Housing Unit and Veterans Medical-Legal Partnership; Alyssa Golden, staff attorney Re-Entry/Housing Project; Nina Harrison, racial justice fellow; and Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies, managing attorney of Worcester and Fitchburg Offices—and Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and Prisoners’ Legal Services Attorney and Bart J. Gordon Fellow Mario Paredes have been selected to participate in the 2020 Racial Justice Institute, a leadership program organized by the Shriver Center on Poverty Law. The Institute is a seven-month training program designed to equip and coordinate anti-poverty advocates to affirmatively advance racial equity and tackle issues stemming from structural racism which harm their communities. Read more.

Clockwise from top left: Nina Harrison, Alyssa Golden, Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies, Daniel Bahls

People

The National Consumer Law Center has hired Kyra Taylor, a staff attorney who focuses on student loan issues; Steve Sharpe and Sarah Bolling Mancini are now full-time staff attorneys, focusing on foreclosures and mortgage lending. Samuel R. Shepard is the N. Neal Pike Fellow working on disability rights and consumer law protections.

Northeast Legal Aid said goodbye to Housing Unit advocate Molly Lowell, and welcomed aboard Adela Perez-Franco. She is joined by six lawyers who will participate in the COVID Eviction Legal Help Project: Jolie Main, Danielle Richmond, Sarah Sloane, Katie Gracza, Blake Giosa, and Jacob Steinmann.

In October, NLA’s Bart Gordon Fellow, Judrick Fletcher and AmeriCorps Attorney Sunny Lyu joined the Housing Unit. Emma Hollis, a family law advocate, was married on Halloween. She is now Emma Powers.

Attorney Claribel Morales (right) has been awarded a Bart Gordon Fellowship by MLAC to work at Community Legal Aid. The fellowship will support Ms. Morales’s housing work throughout Western Massachusetts, where she will assist tenants facing homelessness or discrimination. Read more

Community Legal Aid has expanded its education law practice from Hampden and Worcester Counties to Berkshire, Franklin, and Hampshire Counties. The pandemic causes confusion and stress for families concerned about their children’s rights and Community Legal Aid is eager to respond to the increased need. Attorneys are available to provide assistance with the myriad COVID-related and other education issues families will face now and in the future as schools reopen. Community Legal Aid is very appreciative of the generous funding provided by several organizations. This funding allowed CLA to hire attorney Dahlia Romanow to serve students and their families. Read more.

Chloe Cable, Ginger Gates, Matt Steele, and Liz Valentin (clockwise from top left) joined the Disability Law Center. Cable focuses on rights of individuals with disabilities and is passionate about the intersection of disability rights with other identities, particularly race and sexuality. Gates focuses on the monitoring and investigating mental health facilities and is committed to advocating for the rights of individuals with mental health disabilities. Steele previously worked at Disability Rights New York where he focused on housing, employment, and mental health treatment issues; Steele will continue this focus at DLC. Valentin joins DLC as a new CLAVC attorney. She previously clerked for Associate Justice James R. Milkey at the Massachusetts Appeals Court and served as an AmeriCorps Attorney at Community Legal Aid.

Nina Loewenstein (right) comes to DLC from Disability Rights New York as a temporary one-year attorney and will focus on developing reports and assisting with systemic advocacy efforts.

Resources

New Resources from the National Consumer Law Center
NCLC released two new reports in late October: No Fresh Start 2020: Will States Let Debt Collectors Push Families into Poverty in the Wake of a Pandemic?a 50-state review of exemption laws (Massachuseets earned a high B); and Clearing the Path to a New Beginning: A Guide to Discharging Criminal Justice Debt in Bankruptcy. And be sure to check out NCLC's Digital Library for updated materials for practitioners on a variety of consumer laws. 

Technical Assistance Available on Disability Related COVID-19 Issues
The Disability Law Center’s in-house expert is available to provide non-client technical assistance to legal service agency staff on disability-related COVID-19 issues. Common issue areas relating to the pandemic and disability rights include issues with employment, housing, health care, accommodations from businesses and with services, and community inclusion. Please call DLC if you have a client with a disability that has a COVID-related issue and you would like to speak with one of DLC's attorneys.

Stay in touch with MLAC Communications
Michelle Deakin
Director of Communications

mdeakin@mlac.org 617-391-5627
 
Evan Molinari
Communications Associate

emolinari@mlac.org 857-241-2024


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