MN Unbundled Law Project: Clients Can Now Apply Through LawHelpMN.org

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Applying for services from the Minnesota Unbundled Law Project just got easier. Last week, online integration with the LawHelpMN Guide was activated, allowing users to apply directly from LawHelpMN.org.

Also known as limited scope representation, “unbundled” legal services allow an attorney and a client to customize legal services according to the client’s needs and budget. Services could be limited to a certain issue in a case, legal advice, review of court documents, or coaching a client who will provide self-representation.

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Now, when the MN Unbundled Law Project comes up as a service option via the LawHelpMN Guide, the applicant simply clicks the blue Apply Online button to begin. The short application asks for contact information and a little about the case. Once submitted, the MN Unbundled Law Project matches the applicant with a lawyer and sends an email to both requesting a consultation.

Launched last fall, the MN Unbundled Law Project brings together the work of the state’s largest bar organizations to increase access to limited scope/unbundled legal services for all Minnesotans. It provides an easily accessible platform for clients interested in more affordable legal options to connect with the attorneys interested in assisting them.

J. Singleton, program manager of Legal Services State Support, noted “The new integration with the Minnesota Unbundled Law Project is a great addition to LawHelpMN.org. Our goal is to provide a great user experience and this new feature allows users to seamlessly ask for a consultation without having to enter their information on multiple websites. This is a great step toward making our complex legal system just a little bit easier to navigate.”

LASNEM and MMLA Staff Honored at Minnesota Justice Foundation Annual Awards Celebration

Lori Leistritz, Legal Advocate, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, Minneapolis

Lori Leistritz, Legal Advocate, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, Minneapolis

Tonight, beginning at 5:00 p.m., the Minnesota Justice Foundation (MJF) will hold its Annual Awards Celebration at the Lumber Exchange Building in Minneapolis. Every year since 1991, MJF has honored the work of public interest attorneys, private pro bono attorneys, advocates, and law students whose commitment to service shines as a beacon of hope and embodies the very best of our profession.

This year, MJF is pleased to present its 2019 Advocate Award to Lori Leistritz, legal advocate with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA), Minneapolis. Leistritz has worked at MMLA for 30 years, and for the last 19, as a paralegal in the public benefits unit. Leistritz began volunteering for MMLA while she studied Russian Language and Literature at the University of Minnesota. Her first paid job at Legal Aid was as a part-time switchboard operator in 1989. She now represents clients in healthcare, Social Security disability and other benefits programs, and handles appeals up to the federal district court level.

Leistritz is an exceptional advocate who goes far out of her way to serve her clients. She meets clients where they are, whether in the hospital, in a homeless or battered women's shelter or couch-hopping at a friend's place. She sees each client as an individual and seeks to help them achieve their goals. She is amazingly creative, identifies solutions where others see no hope, and educates her colleagues, just as she does her clients.

Rachel Weis, Managing Attorney, Legal Aid Service of Northeastern MN, Grand Rapids

Rachel Weis, Managing Attorney, Legal Aid Service of Northeastern MN, Grand Rapids

With its 2019 Direct Legal Service Award, MJF recognizes Rachel Weis, managing attorney of Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM), Grand Rapids. Weis grew up in Woodbury, Minnesota and graduated from the University of St. Thomas with a degree in Sociology and a minor in Communications and Women’s Studies. She chose to pursue a law degree at the University of St. Thomas School of Law because of their mission, which focuses on social justice.

For the past 10 years, she has been a zealous advocate for the communities of Itasca and Cass Counties, including the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. Weis consistently juggles a heavy caseload of complex poverty law matters ranging from divorce and custody to housing evictions and government benefits, striving to meet the needs of the far flung rural populations she serves by practicing in both district and tribal courts. She is a true example of how to work for and with clients who are in crisis, and who are often facing significant hurdles that include extreme poverty, lack of access to phones or internet, lack of personal safety and chemical or mental health struggles. She sees her clients for the individuals they are, and without judgment, fights hard on their behalf. As managing attorney to the Grand Rapids office, Ms. Weis provides strong leadership and sets an example for her co-workers by adapting her practice methods to ensure client needs are being met, along with the expectation that they will do the same.

MJF’s 2019 award winners also include Michael F. Cockson of Faegre Baker Daniels, LLP, recipient of the Private Practice Lawyer Award; and Law Student Award winners Brooke Hein, Mitchell Hamline School of Law; Abyan Gurase, University of Minnesota Law School; and Madison Van Cleave, University of St. Thomas School of Law.

Tickets are available at the door. For more information, click here.

Legal Aid Files Class Action Lawsuit Against Minneapolis Landlord

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Following the Minnesota Attorney General’s announcement of the State’s civil suit in Hennepin County District Court this month, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) has filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of the current tenants of Steven Meldahl. As with the AG’s suit, MMLA alleges that Meldahl, landlord of twenty five properties in North Minneapolis, charges excessive rents and late fees beyond the statutory cap, aggressively files evictions on tenants that get behind in rent, fails to make repairs to his properties, coerces tenants to repair his properties and retaliates or evicts tenants that call city housing inspectors.


Speaking with Insight News, Mark Iris, staff attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, said “Meldahl has been profiting off the backs of low-income tenants in North Minneapolis. These are people that already have few options and even fewer resources to assert their rights to safe and healthy housing. Our lawsuit is merely an attempt to restore Meldahl's tenants with the fundamental housing rights that all other tenants in Minnesota are afforded: raising children in a home without exposure to mold or lead, being able to call on maintenance to have working appliances, paying a consistent and predictable monthly rent. We are optimistic that both lawsuits will have a direct impact on improving the housing conditions of Meldahl's tenants and indirectly benefit tenants across the state.” Read more in the Star Tribune.

Minnesotans With Disabilities Obtain Significant Legal Victory in Federal Class Action Lawsuit

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Minnesotans with disabilities obtained a significant legal victory on September 27, 2019, when a U.S. Federal District Court declared that the policies and practices of the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) are violating their constitutionally protected due process rights. The ruling from the Court came in the lawsuit of Murphy v. Harpstead, which was filed by a group of individuals with disabilities who live in group homes, called corporate foster care, and who seek changes to Minnesota’s Medicaid service system so that they may live more independent and integrated lives in the community. In granting Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment, U.S. Senior District Court Judge Donovan Frank determined that DHS is violating the due process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Medicaid Act by failing to inform persons with disabilities that they are being denied a service to help them move to and live in the community. As the Court noted, DHS’s current policies and practices unlawfully force individuals to “wait indefinitely for requested services, never receiving an explanation on the status of the request, and without an opportunity to appeal” those service denials.

Judge Frank also denied DHS’s attempt to have the rest of the case dismissed, determining that Plaintiffs’ legal claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and Medicaid Act will be allowed to proceed to trial. In denying DHS’ Motion for Summary Judgment, Judge Frank determined that “a systemwide remedy is the only way to provide relief” to improve the lives of people who seek to move out of group homes but are unable to do so under Minnesota’s current system. MMLA’s Litigation Director Justin Perl, lead counsel for the Plaintiffs, stated, “Actions speak louder than words. For decades, DHS has made promises to our clients to provide services in the most integrated setting, and yet it has failed to honor that legal obligation, even though it is responsible for running the very program at issue in the suit. The current system is chock full of problems, and we are prepared to take the case to trial to protect the rights of the class members who have waited too long for DHS to do its job. We believe this case will improve the lives of all individuals living in group homes, by informing them of their housing options and supporting people with disabilities in an integrated setting in the community, just like people without disabilities. We need a consistent statewide system, as Judge Frank recognized, not one that is often dependent on the county in which one lives. It is time for DHS to stop shirking its responsibility to some of the most vulnerable members of our society. If it chooses not to do so, we are prepared to take the matter to trial in order to protect the rights of our clients.”

Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Disability Law Center is representing the Plaintiffs in the lawsuit with co-counsel Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louwagie P.A and Nichols Kaster PLLP.