Leveraging Technology for Justice

The August edition of Attorney at Law magazine features an overview of the work of Legal Services State Support to leverage technology for access to civil legal justice in Minnesota. State Support's efforts are directed and supported by the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition programs, and its technology initiatives are developed in cooperation with Minnesota's legal aid and national legal aid communities. Read the full article in the digital edition of Attorney at Law.

Minnesotans With Disabilities File Federal Class Action Lawsuit Seeking To Live In Their Own Homes

Last week, a group of people with disabilities filed a class action lawsuit in federal district court in Minneapolis on behalf of people with disabilities who are being denied access to homes of their choice. The lawsuit claims that the Minnesota Department of Human Services allows very few people to access individualized housing options and refuses to help hundreds of people currently forced to remain in corporately owned and operated group homes. They experience isolation, lack of control, and an overall helplessness about their lives. The plaintiffs are asking for help to find and move into homes they choose with services they control.

Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Minnesota Disability Law Center is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit with co-counsel Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louwagie P.A. Legal Aid attorney Sean Burke stated, “The system Minnesota has relied on has not evolved since the early 1980’s. The State has promised people with disabilities the chance to be integrated into their communities, but for many it only offers housing in group homes. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires more than that.”

Lead Counsel for plaintiffs, Justin Perl, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Litigation Director, added, “Our clients just want to live where they want and with whom they want, just like people without disabilities. Unfortunately, the system Minnesota has created for them has needlessly segregated them from the rest of society. It is simply unacceptable, and a violation of the ADA, to foreclose our clients from access to housing options that exist in the community.”

Dionne Swanson, a plaintiff in the suit, remarked “I’m 43 years old and I want to have the freedom to make my own choices, basic stuff - like what time I go to bed.”

Read more in the Star Tribune.

VLN's New Criminal Expungement Guide: Valuable Assistance for Pro Se Petitioners

Volunteer Lawyers Network has published a new legal information guide aimed at pro se petitioners seeking to expunge a criminal record. Using a straightforward, numbered format that includes visual prompts and sample documents, "Criminal Expungement in Minnesota: A Step-by-Step Guide for Pro Se Petitioners" explains how to complete the necessary paperwork, and provides tips for increasing a favorable outcome. Using a guide developed by the Court as inspiration, Yaima Couso, VLN’s Robina Fellow, decided to memorialize in writing the information already being covered at VLN’s monthly criminal expungement seminars because she noticed that helping pro se clients with expungement often involved writing down step-by-step what needed to be done.

Of the new guide, Couso said “I think the criminal expungement process can be overwhelming and confusing, even for experienced attorneys. Having an easily accessible step-by-step guide can help alleviate a lot of the anxiety of going through expungement.”

The complete guide is available on LawHelpMN.org in both PDF and online viewing formats.

Legal Services Advocacy Project Publishes Annual Session Summaries

The Capitol.JPG

The Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP) is pleased to present its 2016 Session Summaries. These summaries cover a wide range of substantive areas, and the specific changes to Minnesota law made by the 2016 Legislature that are most relevant to the lives of low‐income and financially‐fragile Minnesotans, and the attorneys and advocates who serve them. They are divided by area of substantive law, and contain the name and contact information for the lead LSAP attorney in that substantive area. We hope you find them useful. Read the summaries.

Minnesota's LawHelp Interactive Part of Growing Nationwide Trend

Yesterday's New York Times essay on the rise of online legal forms aimed at millions of Americans needing legal help for civil problems is encouraging validation for Minnesota's legal aid community. The Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, and its project office Legal Services State Support, were early partners in Pro Bono Net's LawHelp Interactive initiative - a guiding force in the development of online interactive interviews which then generate corresponding court forms.

In 2015, over 23,000 legal documents were created in Minnesota using interactive online forms, the 6th most in the nation.  LawHelpMN has 18 interactive interviews (with 4 in Spanish), including interviews for creating eviction expungement documents, a motion to modify child support, and a power of attorney.

On the work being done in Minnesota, Mary Kaczorek, supervising attorney at State Support said, “As in Michigan and Maryland, the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition has been a leader in using technology to increase access to justice. Our criminal expungement document assembly tool – hosted on LawHelp Interactive – won a 2011 Innovation Award from Law Technology News. Tools like this help maximize limited resources and expand legal aid’s reach to provide critical help to underserved populations across Minnesota.”

VLN’s Martha Delaney Honored with National Pro Bono Award

Martha Delaney (L), Deputy Director, Volunteer Lawyers Network

Martha Delaney (L), Deputy Director, Volunteer Lawyers Network

Volunteer Lawyers Network’s Martha Delaney was awarded the Tanya Neiman Pro Bono Professional of the Year Award by the National Association of Pro Bono Professionals at the 2016 Equal Justice Conference in Chicago.  This award recognizes steadfast commitment and exceptional contributions to the delivery of pro bono legal services.  NAPBPro’s announcement referenced Martha’s work in promoting outcome measurement, innovation, holistic services, inclusivity, poverty competency among attorneys, and industry best practices. Most recently, Martha has been instrumental in reframing pro bono work in a broader context of social justice. Congratulations Martha!


MDLC on the Effects of New Wage and Hour Rules for Home Health Workers

A new federal home care labor rule is having unintended consequences for some of Minnesota's most vulnerable. The new law requires overtime pay and travel costs, which has resulted in a shortage of home care workers, as employers cut hours to save money.

Hundreds of Minnesotans with disabilities are now faced with gaps in care and how to meet them. Disability advocates such as the Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) have alerted policy-makers, and the Minnesota legislature is considering new funding  to help pay for overtime and travel costs for roughly 25,000 home care workers who provide services through the state’s Medicaid program. 

“If nothing is done, vulnerable people are going to face some desperate choices,” warned MDLC staff attorney Anne Henry.  Read the full Star Tribune article

MMLA Among Advocates Supporting Proposed Section 8 Ordinance

If a proposed Minneapolis ordinance passes, it would mean more housing choices in low-poverty areas with good schools for those using Section 8 housing vouchers. Currently, landlords can legally turn away potential tenants using vouchers, though Minnesota law prohibits discrimination based on enrollment in public assistance. Landlords cite concerns about additional inspections and maintenance costs associated with the ordinance. 

Among those supporting passage of the ordinance are Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA), and HOME Line, a tenant advocacy group. Lael Robertson, supervising attorney with MMLA, noted landlords' freedom to continue screening tenants based on other criteria. 

“The purpose of the ordinance is not to require landlords to take vouchers,” Robertson said. “It really is to say, ‘Don’t deny them because they’re a voucher holder.’ There’s a difference there.”
Read the full Star Tribune article. 

Number of North Star Pro Bono Volunteer Lawyers Continues to Rise in Minnesota

by Lindsay Davis, Access to Justice Director - Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA)

Every Minnesota lawyer should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono publico legal services per year (Minn. R. Prof. Conduct 6.1).  While the total number of official pro bono hours is not tracked in Minnesota, the number of MSBA members certifying themselves as “North Star Lawyers” (those who have volunteered at least 50 hours per year) is at its highest yet with 980 for 2015.  This is an increase of 13 members over 2014.  Overall, the percentage of MSBA members certified as North Star Lawyers increased to 6.71% from 6.46%.  More significantly, the number of hours of service increased from 108,500 to 113,000. This represents a 4.1% increase in the total hours of service.  The estimated value of this service is $22.6 million. 

A recognition ad with the names of each North Star Lawyer ran in the print edition of the Star Tribune on May 5, 2016.  A similar list will run in the May/June edition of the MSBA’s Bench and Bar magazine.  To learn more and find out how you can become a North Star attorney, visit: www.mnbar.org/northstar

National ProBono.net Features Local VLN Attorney James Mason

James Mason, Dorsey & Whitney LLP

The week of April 24 was the Inaugural National Reentry Week, as part of the Obama Administration and Department of Justice’s efforts to strengthen the criminal justice system. It seems fitting that the national site ProBono.net would feature a pro bono attorney who focuses on reentry issues. Thankfully for Minnesotans, they featured attorney James Mason, an energetic and passionate Minnesota volunteer who focuses on criminal expungement work through the Volunteer Lawyers Network. Read the full story here.

Everyday Heroes: Legal Aid Service of Northeastern MN and the Volunteer Attorney Program

What happens to those seeking justice in a civil case who can't afford a lawyer? What about those threatened with eviction, dealing with child custody issues, facing bankruptcy, collection notices, or any number of other non-criminal, yet profoundly significant, legal proceedings? How do those unfamiliar with the law and court procedures navigate such difficult situations? These are some of the questions posed, and answered, in a Duluth News Tribune article about the lawyers and advocates of the Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM), and the Volunteer Attorney Program (VAP). These "everyday heroes" are ensuring that Northland county residents who cannot afford an attorney in a civil legal case are getting the access to justice they need.

"LASNEM and the Volunteer Attorney Program — Without these two outstanding organizations, the legal needs, in civil matters, of thousands of Northland residents would go unmet. Civil Gideon may or may come to fruition someday. Until then, we all owe a debt of gratitude to these organizations, the staff and lawyers of LASNEM, and the staff and volunteer attorneys for the Volunteer Attorney Program. Let’s all say thanks to these folks on Law Day — and maybe every day." Read the full article.

MLSC’s Inspiring Video About the Impact of Legal Aid

The seven legal services programs comprising the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition recently teamed up to adapt an inspiring video about what legal aid does for the most vulnerable in our community. The video, originally produced by Cleveland Legal Aid (CLA), tells the legal aid story in a fresh, new way. CLA encouraged programs across the county to customize the video, and Legal Services of Northwest MN, Inc. worked with the Ohio videographer to spotlight the impact of civil legal aid in Minnesota.  Please share the video far and wide, and help MLSC tell the legal aid story in Minnesota.