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.
Melinda Hugdahl, staff attorney with the Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP), was this year's keynote speaker at the Secretary of State’s annual Safe at Home luncheon.
Safe at Home is a statewide program that helps those who fear for their safety maintain a confidential address. Many program participants are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. In 2012, Melinda was awarded the NASS Medallion Award for her outstanding contributions to the program.
Regarding her keynote address, Melinda said, “It was a tremendous honor to speak at the Safe at Home luncheon. The domestic violence advocates that are part of the Safe At Home Program are critical to the program’s success, and it was a great opportunity to say “thank you.” In addition, it was also an opportunity to talk about the amazing work done every day by our Legal Aid programs across the state for victims of domestic violence, and how our partnerships and victim-centered approaches are key to a victim’s safety and stability.” #WeAreLegalAid
With the inclusion of Judicare of Anoka County, Inc., the online client intake system operated by Legal Services State Support now supports all seven Minnesota Legal Services Coalition programs. The Coalition programs provide comprehensive legal services to clients in all 87 Minnesota counties. In addition to the Coalition programs, the Volunteer Lawyers Network and the Volunteer Attorney Program also participate in the online intake system.
The statewide online intake system provides a single, convenient point of access for starting the application process. After a potential client answers a few questions in the online intake interview, the system determines which program is most likely to be able to serve them, and sends the potential client’s information to that program. Clients can access the system at any time, and from any place they can connect to the internet.
Commenting on the announcement, State Support's supervising attorney, Mary Kaczorek, said, “Statewide online intake is another great example of how the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition is working to improve access to justice for all Minnesotans. A centralized online access point helps clients quickly get to the right program for their legal issue. This saves time for clients, and for program staff across the legal services delivery system." The interview is featured on LawHelpMN.org and on participating programs’ websites. See the interview at www.justice4mn.org.
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.”
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!
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.
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.
The Education for Justice Program (E4J) of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and State Support is pleased to announce that its complete library of English language fact sheets has been updated for 2016, and includes four new additions. E4J fact sheets are part of a highly utilized compendium of fact sheets covering a broad array of civil legal topics in plain language. E4J fact sheets are among the most frequently viewed resources on LawHelpMN.org.
Here are the newest additions to the fact sheet library:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Low-income people in northern Minnesota who can't afford a lawyer can seek access to justice through the Volunteer Attorney Program (VAP) in Duluth. VAP's executive director, Dori Streit, understands the obstacles, and her commitment is inspiring to others. In fact, she'll be honored next month with the MSBA's Bernard P. Becker Emerging Leader Award.
"All attorneys have an ethical obligation to aspire to provide 50 hours of pro bono service per year," Streit said. "We work to make it easier for attorneys to do their volunteer work by screening clients for eligibility and keeping track of the details." Read the full story.
Legal Services State Support is excited to announce a brand new Eviction Expungement interactive interview available online through LawHelpMN.org. The Eviction Expungement interview was created by Jenny Singleton, Legal/Technology Projects Manager at State Support, with substantive legal expertise contributed by Lindsey Hanson and Drew Schaffer of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, guidance from Central Minnesota Legal Services, and support from LSC's Technology Initiative Grant Program.
The free online interview is for those who want to ask the court to remove an eviction from their record, and who have either a Minnesota eviction case where the rent was not subsidized, or have a Minnesota eviction case where the renter received a Section 8 Voucher. The interview takes users step-by-step through all the information they will need to submit to the court in order to request the expungement. The interview then compiles the user’s information to suggest what evidence the user should try to get and create the forms the user will need to file with the court. To access the new interview, visit LawHelpMN.org. Other interactive interviews and forms are available on LawHelpMN.org/FormHelper.
The Star Tribune recently interviewed Suzanne Pontinen, executive director of Volunteer Lawyer's Network (VLN), about how the program's civil legal services are as needed as ever. VLN manages 21 clinics and offers poverty law training to its network of nearly 1,400 volunteers, including 800 to 900 attorneys who volunteer annually. In 2014, as part of its work, VLN helped 120 people avoid eviction, and 68 people get old criminal records expunged. Read the full interview.