Legal aid kept him truckin’ (Worcester Telegram)

Below is an excerpt from a June 15 piece written by a Community Legal Aid client and published by Worcester Telegram.

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Driving around New England with 35 tons of stone and sand behind you isn’t an easy way to make a living. I know, because I’ve spent my entire career doing it. In fact, I’ve been around trucks my whole life. It’s the only work I know, and it supports my wife and our teenage son in our modest apartment in Dudley.

Or at least it did until last year, when I found out that no matter how many runs I did behind the wheel, I couldn’t make decent pay. I was working 60 or 70 hours in a week, but my employer only paid me for the time I was driving a loaded truck. All the paperwork and all the mandatory safety checks I had to do were on my own time. I didn’t get paid for any of it, and all the money I was losing meant I could no longer support my family.

One day, I just couldn’t take it any more. I called in to report for duty and was told to drive an empty truck nearly an hour from Chelmsford to Watertown, pick up a load, and drive it to Littleton. I asked my boss, “Are you going to pay me for the empty run to Watertown?”

“No,” he told me. “You know how it is.”

When I told him I wouldn’t drive for free, he told me to turn in my things. I assumed I was fired, so I did what he said.

I was shocked when I received a letter telling me my unemployment claim had been denied.

I didn’t know what to do. Eventually I noticed that the denial letter mentioned I might be able to qualify for free legal help to contest my denial of unemployment insurance. I called the number listed, and I was referred to Melissa Pomfred, a lawyer at Community Legal Aid in Worcester.

Melissa took my case, steered me through the legal system and state bureaucracy, and convinced the state that I was eligible for unemployment insurance.

Read more at Worcester Telegram.

A growing need for legal aid (Boston Globe)

Below is an excerpt from a May 29 op-ed published in The Boston Globe. The piece was written by Susan Alexander  executive vice president, general counsel and corporate secretary at Biogen IDEC in support of increased civil legal aid funding in Massachusetts.

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Shanice, a young mother of two, considers herself lucky to live in Cambridge public housing. She can’t afford to pay market rent for an apartment on her wages as a hotel worker, and she knows from personal experience that time spent on the waiting list for an apartment like hers can stretch on for years. So Shanice was shocked and frightened when she received a notice from the Cambridge Housing Authority saying that they were evicting her because she owed $197 in unpaid rent. Within 48 hours, a moving truck would be at her door.

Shanice had paid her rent and was sure the notice was a mistake, but she couldn’t afford a lawyer to contest the eviction. She was afraid that she would have to move to a homeless shelter with her 9- and 4-year-old sons. But Shanice was lucky. She found free legal help at Greater Boston Legal Services, where an attorney discovered that the Housing Authority had added maintenance fees to her rent and was trying to illegally evict her for non-payment of these fees. The charges were for minor issues, like failing to attach trash can lids. The attorney contested the eviction in housing court, and Shanice was able to keep her home.

People like Shanice face similar challenges every day in courtrooms throughout Massachusetts, but unlike her, they are often forced to navigate complex legal proceedings by themselves because they can’t afford an attorney. These are families facing eviction and foreclosure, working people who are denied unemployment, the elderly needing coverage for medication and mothers seeking child support.

Civil legal aid programs like GBLS, funded in part by the Commonwealth, have historically provided attorneys for residents unable to afford them. However, reduced funding has left these programs unable to keep up with a growing need for assistance. Today, civil legal aid programs turn away more than half of the people who request their help. Without an attorney, these litigants are at a disadvantage when facing mortgage companies, abusive spouses or partners, landlords and employers with greater means. A recent study by a Harvard Law School professor found that tenants who face eviction with a lawyer had significantly better outcomes than those who represented themselves.

Read more at The Boston Globe.

Legal-aid group helps Brockton woman (Boston Globe)

Below is an excerpt from a March 3 article, published by The Boston Globe, about a former South Coastal Counties Legal Services client who spoke at the EJC’s annual lobby day.

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CIVIL SUPPORT: Brockton resident Daniele Bien-Aime  had a difficult spring in 2011. Her mother had just died, and a week later, Bien-Aime was diagnosed with breast cancer, which resulted in a bilateral mastectomy.

Things then got worse for Bien-Aime, a native of Haiti who was a Haitian Creole interpreter at a Brockton hospital. She lost her job because of the time she needed for her cancer treatment, which included chemotherapy, and so also lost her health insurance, and the ability to pay her rent and to care for her two teenage daughters.

However, that’s when things started to turn around. Through contacts at the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center, Bien-Aime heard about the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. She contacted the nonprofit organization, which got her in touch with Weayonnoh Nelson-Davies, who works for South Coastal Counties Legal Services. Eventually, Bien-Aime got her job and insurance back, avoided eviction from her apartment, and put her life back on track. Bien-Aime, 42,  also became an American citizen last July.

“I could not have gotten through all that without her help,” Bien-Aime said of Nelson-Davies, calling her “heaven-sent.”

In late January, Bien-Aime was one of hundreds who took part in the 14th annual Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid, where Governor Deval Patrick asked participants to urge their legislators to support increased funding for the state-supported Legal Assistance Corporation, which provides services for those who can’t afford to pay for them.

Bien-Aime, who declined to name the hospital where she works, said she developed an infection four months after her surgery, and that without insurance to help pay for her health care, “I would have died.”

Read more at The Boston Globe.

EJC Honors Four Legislators with Beacon of Justice Award

Media Contact:

Tom Brant

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation

617-391-5627

tbrant@mlac.org

Equal Justice Coalition Honors Four Legislators with Beacon of Justice Award

BOSTON, January 18, 2013 – The Equal Justice Coalition honored four Massachusetts lawmakers with Beacon of Justice Awards at a reception yesterday at the John Adams Courthouse in Boston.

The honorees were selected for their outstanding support of state funding for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC). MLAC makes grants to organizations that provide civil legal services for low-income residents with critical problems, such as domestic violence and eviction due to foreclosure.

Justice Ralph D. Gants of the Supreme Judicial Court spoke at the reception, which also welcomed newly-elected legislators who began their terms Jan. 1.

“I thank the awardees for their support of civil legal aid,” Justice Gants said. “They are champions of justice.”

The awardees are:

  • House Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad (D-Somerset);
  • Senate President Pro Tempore Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst);
  • Ruth B. Balser (D-Newton); and
  • Brian Joyce (D-Milton)

“We are thankful for these legislators’ extraordinary effort in support of civil legal aid in the Commonwealth,” said Sandy Moskowitz, chair of the Equal Justice Coalition. “They understand the need for the Commonwealth to invest in providing legal services for low-income people facing critical civil legal problems and have been consistent supporters of that investment.”

The awards were presented by representatives of legal aid organizations that serve constituents in each honoree’s district.

“I am very moved to receive this recognition from the Equal Justice Coalition, whose work is so essential for making sure that our judicial system works for all the people,” said Rep. Balser. “I value their partnership.”

“The MLAC provides our neediest residents with critical legal assistance and protects some of our most vulnerable citizens from abuse,” said Sen. Joyce. “The MLAC keeps families in their homes, protects our seniors and offers justice to residents who cannot otherwise afford to have their voices heard. It is an important program for many residents in the Commonwealth and I was happy to support its continued good work.”

“I deeply appreciate this honor from the Equal Justice Coalition,” Sen. Rosenberg said, “especially so because it comes on the eve of our celebration of Martin Luther King’s life and legacy. Dr. King said ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’ I believe that and I gratefully accept this award as a reminder that there is more work to do.”

About The Equal Justice Coalition

The Equal Justice Coalition is a collaboration of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, Massachusetts Bar Association and Boston Bar Association. It advocates increasing the state appropriation for civil legal aid, which funds programs throughout the state that provide legal advice and representation to low-income Massachusetts residents facing civil legal problems.

EJC Announces New Director [PDF]