State Reps. Barber and Brodeur to Visit Housing Court

Media Contact:
Catherine Rizos
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State Reps. Christine Barber and Paul Brodeur to Visit Housing Court

BOSTON, May 5, 2016—State Representative Christine Barber of Somerville and State Representative Paul Brodeur of Melrose will visit Housing Court at the Brooke Courthouse in Boston at 9am on Thursday, May 12, 2016.

Barbara Zimbel, a civil legal aid attorney from Greater Boston Legal Services, will give the lawmakers a tour of Housing Court, which has jurisdiction over civil and criminal actions relating to the health, safety, or welfare of the occupants or owners of residential housing. They will be joined by Massachusetts Bar Association President Robert W. Harnais and Equal Justice Coalition Chair John Carroll.

“Approximately 90 percent of people in Housing Court attempting to defend themselves in foreclosure or eviction proceedings do not have legal representation because they cannot afford an attorney,” said Carroll. “We know that two-thirds of those who are facing eviction and have an attorney are able to keep their housing while only one-third of those without legal representation are able to do so.”

Harnais added: “Statistics clearly show the incredible difference legal aid makes when it comes to improving access to justice. But I’m a proponent of seeing is believing, and the unfortunate reality is you can see the effects of inadequate funding for legal aid every day in our courthouses. With so many of our citizens fighting for their homes without a lawyer, it is clear we need to do better. No one should face losing a home on their own.”

Earlier this year, the Equal Justice Coalition released a video about the need for civil legal aid in Housing Court. It can be viewed here.

About the Equal Justice Coalition

The Equal Justice Coalition, a collaboration of the Boston Bar Association, Massachusetts Bar Association and the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), works to increase the state appropriation for civil legal aid through MLAC (line item 0321-1600).

Paying for civil legal aid (MetroWest Daily News)

Below is an excerpt from a February 29 op-ed, published by MetroWest Daily News, supporting increased civil legal aid funding in Massachusetts.

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Americans like to think of the law as a great equalizer, the courts as instruments of justice in which the scales are balanced, where every party has an equal chance to make a case and win a judgment. We like to think, as Bob Dylan wrote, “that the ladder of law has no top and no bottom.”

The reality is that the scales are weighted against anyone who goes into court without a lawyer. That’s why the Supreme Court has ruled that if a defendant in a criminal case cannot afford a lawyer, a public defender will be appointed to represent him or her. Without a boost from an attorney, most people simply cannot climb the ladder of law.

But the same isn’t true in civil court. If you have a dispute with a landlord or tenant, if you’re fighting foreclosure, seeking a divorce, resolving a consumer complaint, fighting for custody of your children or involved in a hundred other matters that bring people into civil courts, it’s up to you to find a lawyer or find yourself at a distinct disadvantage when you come before a judge.

The best hope for most poor people in these situations is to get a lawyer through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation and its associates, which include MetroWest Legal Services, headquartered in Framingham. The need is great – up to 90 percent of complainants in state family and probate courts cannot afford a lawyer, according to one estimate.

Read more at MetroWest Daily News.

Legal services advocates for more funding (MetroWest Daily News)

Below is an excerpt from a February 24 article, published by MetroWest Daily News, about the push for increased civil legal aid funding in the MetroWest region and across Massachusetts. Lonnie Powers, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, and Elizabeth Soule, Executive Director of MetroWest Legal Services, are both quoted.

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FRAMINGHAM – When 5-month-old Phillipe was orphaned in 2006, his uncle Elvio Maia knew he wanted to adopt him.

Phillipe’s mother – who was Maia’s sister – and her 11-year-old son were murdered by husband and father Jeremias Bins.

But Maia, an undocumented immigrant, initially couldn’t find a lawyer to represent him in the adoption process because of his status.

Through MetroWest Legal Services, a legal advocacy group, Maia was able to find a free lawyer and adopt Phillipe.

Maia was lucky, but his situation is common. According to MetroWest Legal Services, nearly 90 percent of complainants in Massachusetts family and probate courts don’t have a lawyer.

Of the people who approach MetroWest Legal for help, two-thirds are turned away because there isn’t enough funding to match the need.

In an effort to meet that need, the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation is seeking an additional $10 million in state funding in fiscal year 2017 for MetroWest and other legal services offices around the state.

On Monday, Maia and legal services representatives met with the Daily News editorial board to advocate for that additional funding. Tuesday they made a similar case in front of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Read more at MetroWest Daily News.

Legal aid community to call for $10 million budget boost (Metro.us)

Below is an excerpt from a January 27 article, published by Metro.us, about the EJC’s annual lobby, Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. Lonnie Powers, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, is quoted.

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Civil legal aid probably saved Lisa’s son’s life.

That’s what the 55-year-old Medford mom will tell a crowd of lawyers on Thursday, when advocates gather to call for a massive boost in state funding for civil legal services for low-income residents.

Lisa, who asked Metro not to print her last name, said were it not for help from a Greater Boston Legal Services attorney, her son would have lost his MassHealth coverage and access to methadone, the drug that has helped him stay mostly sober for more than three years.

If his supply had been abruptly cut short, she said, he more likely than not would have started using heroin again.

“He told me, ‘If I get kicked off the methadone you might as well just bury me,’” Lisa said.

The Equal Justice Coalition on Thursday plans to gather hundreds of legal professionals and lead its annual “Walk to the Hill” to call on the state to increase the budget for civil legal services – free attorneys for low-income people who can’t afford a lawyer, and whose cases aren’t criminal and therefore don’t qualify for appointment of a public defender.

The attorneys help with everything from eviction and unemployment hearings to appeals on domestic violence and restraining order cases to, as with Lisa’s case, help navigating the complicated health care system.

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, a quasi-government group that gets money from the state to address the issue – which it then funnels to groups like GBLS or uses to pay for training and non-legal advocacy – is asking for a $10 million funding increase this year from about $17 million to $27 million. It got a $2 million bump last year.

Read more at Metro.us.

 

Criminal Justice Reform Must Include Civil Legal Aid (HuffPost)

Below is an excerpt from a December 2 op-ed published on HuffPost. The piece was written by Lonnie Powers, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC), in support of increased civil legal aid funding.

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Last month, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker and legislative leaders announced the formation of a bipartisan working group that will partner with the Council of State Governments (CSG) to review our criminal justice system in order to reduce recidivism and incarceration rates. The CSG’s Justice Center has been working with states across the country to apply its Justice Reinvestment model to analyze criminal justice data and help policymakers pinpoint what is driving recidivism, so that they may craft cost-effective solutions.

The effort is part of a nationwide trend toward dramatically reducing our country’s bloated prison population, which includes a long-awaited, bipartisan federal criminal justice reform bill. As our country moves toward reversing decades of overly harsh sentences for non-violent crimes and mandatory “three strikes” life sentences, criminal justice reform packages must also incorporate civil legal assistance for those newly released from prison.

Civil legal assistance is necessary to help avoid the stigma associated with having a criminal record, which can be devastating to people trying to rebuild their lives after a period of incarceration; it’s well known that having a criminal record is a serious obstacle to employment. Background checks are sometimes necessary for the safety and security of the workplace, but many employers refuse to consider anyone with a criminal record (even though such blanket practices violate civil rights laws). Worse, those in Boston affected most by these policies come from the city’s communities of color, where rates of incarceration―as they are nationwide―are much higher than among white populations. Meanwhile, the existence of a criminal record can mask existing racism by giving employers an excuse not to hire an otherwise qualified applicant.

Civil legal aid can help those with a criminal record navigate the complicated process of expunging or sealing their records. Expunging a record means that the record is destroyed and, for all intents and purposes, never existed in the first place. If someone has been the victim of identity theft and a criminal record exists with their name, a judge may order that the record be changed so that their name is replaced with “Jane Doe” or “John Doe.” Juvenile arrest records that are kept by police, and abuse prevention orders obtained under fraudulent circumstances are also eligible for expungement.

Read more at HuffPost.