Through Collaboration Between Mental Health and Legal Professionals, Clients Receive Better, More Effective Support and Services
Legal Aid routinely collaborates with caseworkers and others in the community who work with our clients. Without the support of dedicated caseworkers, some clients might never get to Legal Aid to request our assistance. And when caseworkers, lawyers and clients work together effectively, all of the parties can learn from each other and complement each other’s efforts to the ultimate benefit the client.
Such was the case with Ms. F. After a long history of abuse, Ms. F was receiving treatment through Community Connections, an agency that provides comprehensive mental health treatment and supportive services. Ms. F and her community support worker, Lauren, came to Legal Aid, where they met Jennifer, a Legal Aid attorney. Together, Lauren and Jennifer were able to guide Ms. F through the stressful process of appealing a denial of Social Security benefits. Thanks to Lauren’s efforts, Jennifer was able to get medical records from Ms. F’s psychiatrist that provided detailed support for her claims of impairment. It was also critically important to have Lauren, who Ms. F already knew and trusted, assisting Ms. F and supporting her through what can be a lengthy and stressful process. read more…
Jessica Rosenbaum, Executive Director of the D.C. Access to Justice Commission (and Legal Aid Alum) to Receive 2013 Justice Potter Stewart Award from CCE
Legal Aid congratulates Jessica Rosenbaum on her well-deserved receipt of the Justice Potter Stewart Award, given each year to “individuals and organizations whose work on behalf of the administration of justice has made a significant contribution to the law, the legal system, the courts, or the administrative process in our nation’s capital.” The award will be presented at a dinner this evening held at the Organization of American States, 200 17th St NW, Washington, DC 20006. Jess’s co-honorees are long-time friend of Legal Aid, Jim Sandman, now President of the Legal Services Corporation, and William J. Garber, a D.C.-based attorney in private practice.
Jess started her legal career at Legal Aid. After graduating from Harvard Law School, she joined Legal Aid, first as a Skadden Fellow and then as a Staff Attorney. She is currently the Executive Director of the Access to Justice Commission, where she has been a leading voice on access to justice issues and has played a significant role in the Commission’s successes, including advocating vigorously for the D.C. Council’s access to justice funding, the Raising the Bar in D.C. Campaign, and numerous court and other reform efforts. Legal Aid is delighted that Jess is being recognized for her many contributions to the D.C. legal services community and congratulates her on this well-deserved honor. Legal Aid’s own Jack Keeney, Jr., Director of the Barbara McDowell Appellate Advocacy Program, was a recipient of the award last year.
Recently Released D.C. Bar Family Law Task Force Report Makes Key Recommendations to Improve Access to Justice
Last month, the D.C. Bar Family Law Task Force issued its final report. Chief among the Task Force’s recommendations are expanding the reach of the Family Court Self Help Center by establishing a second office near the Paternity and Support Branch courtrooms, implementing the Domestic Relations Comprehensive Case Management and Scheduling Plan, permitting limited scope representation in Family Court, expanding the Court Facilitator/Attorney Negotiator Program, reinstating the Office of Parenting Coordinator, and expanding the hours of the Supervised Visitation Center. The initial reaction to the report from the D.C. Superior Court has been encouraging; shortly after its issuance, Chief Judge Lee Satterfield indicated that he is open to discussing almost all of the report’s recommendations.
Legal Aid has participated in the Task Force since its inception in 2009, and Stephanie Troyer, a Supervising Attorney in Legal Aid’s Family Unit, has served on the Task Force since 2010. Created by the D.C. Bar Board of Governors to recommend pathways to expand access to justice and improve the administration of justice, the Task Force surveyed attorneys, stakeholder groups, and pro se litigants regarding the Domestic Relations and Paternity and Child Support branches of the D.C. Superior Court. The Task Force also looked into best practices for innovative programs around the country, as well as the success of current models and practices in Superior Court.
Legal Aid will continue to work with the D.C. Bar and other Task Force members to pursue and facilitate the implementation of these critical recommendations.
Legal Aid, as Amicus, Prevails before en banc D.C. Court of Appeals in Case Involving Contracts Entered Into by Mentally Incapacitated Persons
On May 2, 2013, the D.C. Court of Appeals issued an en banc decision holding that a contract executed by a mentally incapacitated person is not inherently void, but rather only voidable at the election of the incapacitated person or her representatives. The ruling, which overturned an 1892 precedent, brings the District of Columbia in line with 40 other states in expanding the contracting rights of persons with mental disabilities. The Court recognized that archaic legal notions of mental incompetence – the view that, in the words of a 1901 Supreme Court decision, “a lunatic has no mind” – “have given way to a more nuanced understanding of mental capacity,” which recognizes that a person with diminished capacity still may be able to execute beneficial and enforceable contracts. The Court also noted that applying the modern rule would prevent others from taking advantage of a person’s mental disability by refusing to perform an otherwise fair deal; for example, an insurer could not refuse to provide coverage on the ground that the insured lacked capacity when she purchased the insurance. In short, as the Court held, the modern rule “better ‘protects’ mentally incapacitated persons by facilitating meaningful participation in society.”
The case arose out of a landlord-tenant dispute, in which an investor who purchased property at a tax sale sought to evict the tenants living there on the ground that the prior owner was incapacitated when she leased the property as a rental. Legal Aid submitted an amicus brief on behalf of Bread for the City, AARP Legal Counsel for the Elderly, University Legal Services, and the Washington Legal Clinic for the Homeless. The Blog of the Legal Times reported on the decision late last week.
Earlier this week, lawyers from across the District gathered at a reception hosted by Jones Day to honor 36 law firms that together contributed $3.6 million last year to local civil legal services through the D.C. Access to Justice Commission’s second annual Raising the Bar in D.C. Campaign. Judge David Tatel delivered an impassioned speech thanking the D.C. legal community and urging them to do even more. Legal Aid is grateful to all of the law firms recognized through this campaign for their contributions to improving access to justice in the District.
This week has been National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, and April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Organizations across the country are hosting events and supporting campaigns to raise awareness about sexual assault and the rights of victims of such violence.
In the District of Columbia, a victim of sexual assault is entitled to several rights. In addition to pursuing criminal charges through the police and the United States Attorneys’ Office, an individual can file for a Civil Protection Order (CPO) based on a single incident of sexual assault, even in the absence of any particular relationship with the assaulter. A sexual assault survivor can also receive safety planning and other legal and social support services through the various organizations and agencies represented at the Domestic Violence Intake Centers. Legal Aid, for instance, meets with survivors when they file for CPOs against their abusers/aggressors, and provides legal representation throughout the CPO case. In addition, Legal Aid connects survivors with various social service providers for counseling, housing, safety planning and other services. Sexual assault victims may also be entitled to critical services through the Crime Victims Compensation (CVC) Program. CVC can assist survivors with temporary emergency housing, relocation expenses, and the costs of replacing locks and enhancing security at survivors’ homes. Particularly for low-income survivors, these resources can mean the difference between remaining in and leaving an abusive situation. read more…
Though Collaboration with Law Firms, Pro Bono Attorneys Recoup $50,000 in Unemployment Benefits for Low-Wage Workers over Past Six Months
Six months ago, Legal Aid joined forces with Arnold & Porter and McKenna Long & Aldridge to serve even more low-wage workers who have been wrongfully denied unemployment benefits. Having been trained and mentored by Legal Aid attorneys, the pro bono attorneys involved in this project have zealously represented newly unemployed workers at their unemployment hearings, which are scheduled on an expedited calendar at the District’s Office of Administrative Hearings.
Since 2011, Arnold & Porter has provided generous support to Legal Aid through Equal Justice Works, allowing us to expand our public benefits practice to include unemployment insurance cases. Now, 18 months into the project, Legal Aid has represented more than 25 low-wage workers and has counseled over 100 others.
Last Thursday, over 550 lawyers, judges, government officials, and friends of Legal Aid attended our annual Servant of Justice Awards Dinner. We are delighted to announce that the event was a resounding success, raising over $880,000 – more, even, than what our 80th Anniversary dinner raised last year.
Philip W. Horton of Arnold & Porter LLP and Tangela S. Richter of Capital One served as the evening’s co-chairs. Board President Deanne Ottaviano of Arent Fox LLP kicked off the evening with a warm welcome, offering thanks to everyone who has ever contributed to Legal Aid for their generous support. In his remarks, Executive Director Eric Angel noted that as a result of this support, today, Legal Aid is larger than it has ever been, is helping more clients than ever, and – as the large swaths of the District struggle to emerge from the financial crisis – continues to provide critical civil legal services that are perhaps more relevant than ever. read more…
Tomorrow night, April 18, Legal Aid will recognize John Payton (posthumously) and Paul M. Smith with its highest honor, the Servant of Justice Award. Both honorees made the struggle for equal justice part of their personal and professional identities through their commitment to and concern for the individuals, communities, and causes for which they have fought. If you do not already have plans to do so, please consider joining us for the dinner at the JW Marriott.
The night will be special. Gay McDougall, John Payton’s widow, will be in South Africa at the time of the dinner but has prepared a videotaped acceptance. Elaine R. Jones will be accepting the award in person. The Honorable Donald B. Verrilli, Jr., will be presenting the Servant of Justice Award to Paul Smith. John Payton and Paul Smith are truly deserving of Legal Aid’s Servant of Justice Award. read more…
Legal Aid Opens New Site in Southwest D.C. at Friendship Baptist Church, Made Possible as a Result of a Large, Multi-Year Gift from Kirkland & Ellis LLP
This morning, Legal Aid opened the doors to its newest intake site, located at Friendship Baptist Church in Southwest DC (900 Delaware Avenue, SW). Going forward, the new SW office will maintain walk-in intake hours from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm on Tuesdays and Fridays.
The opening of this new intake location was made possible as a result of an extraordinary, multi-year donation that Legal Aid received from the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis LLP. The firm has committed $125,000 per year for a minimum of five years, which will allow Legal Aid to expand its presence into Southwest, reaching low-income residents who may not otherwise have access to legal services. In addition to providing financial support to Legal Aid, Kirkland attorneys and legal assistants will staff the site under Legal Aid’s management, and provide advice and representation to clients needing legal assistance.
“Kirkland’s multi-year commitment to Legal Aid and this project are unprecedented in our more than 80 year history,” said Eric Angel, Legal Aid’s Executive Director. “This donation truly raises the bar for giving to legal services in DC. This new project will enable us to make justice real for hundreds upon hundreds of additional DC residents. We are delighted to have the opportunity to expand our presence into a new quadrant of the District.” read more…