Minnesota Disability Law Center Receives 2017 Public Policy Recognition Award

Pamela Hoopes, Legal Director

Pamela Hoopes, Legal Director

Arc Minnesota recognized the work of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) with its annual Public Policy Recognition award on May 25th. The award honors individuals or groups whose efforts in disability law and/or disability policy have benefited individuals with disabilities and their families. The Minnesota Disability Law Center has helped thousands of Minnesotans with disabilities achieve better lives. MDLC was celebrated for its advocacy and legal work – work that protects the rights and services of people with disabilities in Minnesota.

Arc Minnesota’s presentation lauding MDLC included its activities and successes over the past four decades, and Luther Granquist, former staff attorney; legal director Pamela Hoopes; and current staff attorneys Bud Rosenfield and Dan Stewart were all cited for their contributions to the organization’s work. Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s retiring executive director Cathy Haukedahl, and retiring attorneys Anne Henry and Patricia Siebert were also recognized for their distinguished service to the agency.

The Minnesota Disability Law Center is the designated protection and advocacy system for Minnesota and addresses the unique legal needs of Minnesotans with disabilities. The center provides free legal assistance to individuals with disabilities statewide on civil legal issues related to their disabilities. All individuals with disabilities are eligible to receive help, regardless of age or income level.

MMLA Succeeds in Asserting Racial Discrimination as Eviction Defense #WeAreLegalAid

Two Legal Aid clients faced termination of their tenancies and evictions from the same landlord. Both tenants have experienced long-term homelessness in the past.  Eviction would have doomed them to it again.

Joey Dobson, staff attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA), and the tenants’ case managers, suspected the landlord’s true motivations were illegal: he wanted to evict the two tenants because of their race—African American—and because one of them had reported his failure to treat the building for bed bugs.  Dobson had some circumstantial indicators of racism and retaliation, but little hard evidence.  She took a deposition of the landlord, who didn't make any overtly racist statements.  But the assumptions he made about his tenants were striking, and he lacked a good excuse for the different ways he treated another similarly-situated white tenant.

It was still a very tough case to prove in court.  Dobson was joined by supervising attorney Colleen Walbran, who recently joined MMLA. Walbran immediately plugged in her years of experience with housing discrimination, and the cases were tried back-to-back on the same day in favor of the clients. Managing attorney Luke Grundman said, “It’s the first time in recent memory that Legal Aid succeeded in asserting racial discrimination as a defense in an eviction case.”  Cheers for these undaunted lawyers! #WeAreLegalAid

Minnesota Legal Services Coalition Hosts "Connecting With Our Community" October 25 -27, 2017, Alexandria, MN

Legal Services State Support is pleased to announce that plans are underway for the 2017 Legal Services Statewide Conference: Connecting With Our Community.  The conference will be held at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center in Alexandria, MN from Wednesday, October 25 to Friday, October 27, 2017.  Conference participants can expect to learn more about innovative service delivery models in our community, how to better serve our diverse client populations, and how effective self-care translates into more sustainable and effective advocacy.

Zoua Vang, storyteller, strategist, and advocate, will officially kick off the conference with a special keynote presentation, “Our Community, Our Stories,” on Wednesday evening, October 25th.  Vang’s personal story inspires and profoundly illustrates why what we do matters. As a professional advocate, she will help us understand how to share and celebrate the work we do on behalf of clients every day.

On Thursday afternoon, conference attendees will experience a one-of-a-kind interactive session led by the Theater of Public Policy. Using improvisational comedy, we’ll think more deeply, and in a fresh, engaging way, about the issues we encounter daily and the policies impacting our work.

Stay tuned to State Support’s blog for more session and special guest details, a sneak peek at our full conference schedule, and the official launch of conference registration – slated for early September.

LSAP Supports New Federal School Lunch Law

Jessica Webster, staff attorney with the Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP), recently spoke to Kare11 News about how school policies differ when kids run out of lunch money, and how a new federal law will require school districts nationwide to make their policies entirely clear to parents and the state. LSAP and Legal Aid, long-time advocates of prohibiting the denial of hot lunches to low-income children, released a 2014 report on Minnesota school lunch practices. Watch /read more from Kare11.

Legal Aid's Legacy of Wraparound Services for DV Victims

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In We Arm Them With Lawyers, Attorney at Law magazine generously provides space for a monthly article on Legal Aid’s work. In this issue, We Arm Them With Lawyers reveals Legal Aid’s longstanding commitment to Minnesota’s domestic violence victims.

Using an approach referred to as "wraparound services," Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid's domestic violence work includes everything from family law advice and orders for protection, to basic necessities such as food, security, housing, health care, consumer protection, and emergency benefits. More recently, MMLA has collaborated with shelters, medical clinics, and community organizations to make access to a legal services safer and easier.

In 2008, MMLA - St. Cloud joined in the formation of the now nationally recognized Stearns County Domestic Violence Partnership, which advises the Stearns County Felony Domestic Violence Court (DVC). “Before this project, the violent offender had a right to a public defender but the victims had no lawyer they could talk to about anything,” says Legal Aid Deputy Director Ann Cofell. “The DVC gives them that lawyer. It gives them a voice in the system.”  Read more in Attorney at Law magazine.

Minnesota Legal Advice Online: Brand New Look and Easier to Use

A few months shy of its third anniversary, State Support's popular pro bono legal advice website has a brand new look, and greatly improved usability for clients and lawyers. Freshly redesigned, Minnesota Legal Advice Online (MLAO), funded by a grant from the Court Technology Fund, is fully mobile-responsive – a critical element with 30% or more of its users arriving on a tablet or smartphone.

MLAO's web-based format helps eliminate the geographic and time barriers often faced when seeking legal assistance. Clients who live in remote areas, lack reliable transportation, or work night shifts can access legal clinic-style services that would otherwise be unavailable. Lawyers can respond to questions from clients anywhere in Minnesota, from wherever the lawyer is located.

Starting on March 23rd – the first week the redesigned site went live – 50 new questions were posted by clients. Volunteer lawyers are needed to answer questions and help keep pace with the rate of client submissions. State Support's current volunteer lawyers are busy closing out questions from the old iteration of the site, but more lawyers are sought to make sure people who need advice are getting it.

Minnesota Legal Advice Online site is a great way to engage in pro bono work. Like a brief advice, walk-in, or phone-in clinic, volunteer lawyers provide limited scope representation. There is no ongoing client relationship, and the time commitment is easy to manage – login and respond to questions when you have time, for as long as you want. The web-based platform has the added benefit of allowing lawyers to read and research a question before responding, if necessary.

Questions cover all areas of civil law, and range from procedural matters such as “how do I present evidence in my case?” to more subject specific issues like “I have a power of attorney for my brother who is in jail; the landlord won’t let us get his belongings from the apartment, what can I do?”

As with other pro bono programs, lawyers can earn CLE credits for participating. For every 6 hours of time volunteered through MLAO, lawyers can get 1 credit, with a limit of 6 credits redeemable for reporting requirements in Minnesota. Pro bono hours on the site also count towards the NorthStar Lawyers program. The site has a function that allows lawyers to enter and track the hours they spend responding to questions.

To sign up, visit www.mnlegaladvice.org and select “Lawyer Sign-up” from the top menu bar. If you have further questions, contact Emily Good at egoodmnlegalservices.org. We would love to have you volunteer!

State Support Announces "In the Know with Legal Aid" Podcast Series

Legal Services State Support is pleased to announce the first episode in its new podcast series "In the Know with Legal Aid." Legal projects manager Emily Good suggested the approach as another innovative way to provide learning opportunities and resources to the legal aid community.

Emily Good, Legal Projects Manager

Emily Good, Legal Projects Manager

The podcast format is a popular, informal way to present topical content that's shorter - typically 20 - 30 minutes - and can be listened to conveniently anytime. With the new series, State Support hopes to facilitate discussions on emerging civil legal issues that might get lost in a longer CLE, or are more time sensitive, and to share the expertise and insight of legal aid staff members statewide. For those interested in being interviewed for a podcast, the casual prerecorded format allows greater flexibility, minus the stress of a live presentation.

To suggest a podcast topic, or presenter, contact Emily Good at egood@mnlegalservices.org. Themes can include practice issues and considerations, legal challenges for which a full training might not be needed, and important rules updates or regulatory changes that are not major overhauls. The podcast can also include links and notes related to the discussion that will appear along with the recording.

In the first episode, staff attorney Meghan Maes of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) explains how one parent can go about getting a passport for a child when the other parent either isn’t available or isn’t cooperative. Emily and Meghan talk about Minnesota statutes, State department forms, and declaratory judgments.

Listen here:  Podcast 1: Passports and the Single Parent and find future installments on State Support's site.

Rise in Minnesota Volunteer Attorneys

Minnesota Lawyer recently covered the marked surge in legal services volunteerism, speaking with staff from Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) and Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN).

"Over the last couple of months, we’ve seen an increase in attorneys wanting to volunteer,” said Kirsten Olson, staff attorney and pro bono director at MMLA in Minneapolis. “That includes solo practitioners, larger-firm attorneys and even people who are out of the main legal arena right now such as retired attorneys and those working in education.”

One of the areas seeing vigorous interest is immigration law. “I think it does have to do with the election,” said Olson. “A lot of people say their interest in getting involved right now has been triggered by the change in the political environment and the ways that laws are being interpreted.” Olson also mentioned disability rights, gender justice and senior issues as areas of interest from volunteer attorneys.

Julie Thelen, development coordinator with the Volunteer Lawyers Network in Minneapolis noted, “We have monthly training sessions for about 800 volunteer lawyers every year. There’s a lot of demand for help serving undocumented (immigrant) clients, as well as need for lawyers who work in family and employment law.”

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Both organizations, and most that coordinate volunteer lawyers, offer in-person training in specialized areas of law as well as printed materials. Staff tailor work to direct volunteer skills where they’re needed, and many organizations offer malpractice insurance.

The ProJusticeMN.org website aggregates volunteer opportunities for many of the state's legal services organizations and offers a case placement tool, opportunities to quickly offer legal advice online, and a guide for pro bono opportunities, among other services. Read the full article.


CMLS and MMLA Add Perspective to Prospect of Funding Cuts

Minnesota Lawyer recently reached out to Central Minnesota Legal Services (CMLS) and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) for a feature about community concern over the prospect of funding cuts to legal aid.

Commenting on the income disparities legal aid lawyers face, as well as the challenges in retention for programs, Cathy Haukedahl, executive director of MMLA, said: “If we can make some improvement where we are a little more competitive, we would have more retention. That would benefit our clients and most of our folks would be happy to stay because they love the work they do.” The hope is that a small boost in state funding would make this possible.

At the same time, for programs like CMLS, the prospect of losing funding from the federal Legal Services Corporation (LSC), could have a dramatic impact. Executive director Jean Lastine noted, "There wouldn’t be an immediate shutdown or anything but we’d probably lose half our lawyers." While concerned, she pointed out it is not the first funding crisis legal aid programs have faced.  Read the full article.

Tribal Court Appellate Case Makes Lasting Impact on Housing Evictions


During the past year, Anishinabe Legal Services (ALS) has utilized tribal funding sources to undertake a major housing case on behalf of low-income tenants living in units managed by the White Earth Housing Authority.

The local Indian Housing Authority had a practice of boarding up housing units immediately upon certain suspected lease violations — a violation of the due process rights of many eviction defendants.  In this eviction case,  ALS lost the trial court decision, but staff attorney Steve Campbell immediately appealed. The Court decided to allow the client to occupy her unit until a decision on the appeal was made. This enabled the client, a single pregnant mother, to live in her home for several months until the Court of Appeals ultimately decided that the Housing Authority was required to file an action in Court to board up her unit. They also ruled that the client had not willingly violated the terms of her lease.  The Court ordered the client’s lease to be renewed, and her eviction overturned.  By this decision, several additional pending eviction cases were settled with favorable outcomes for tenants.  As a result, the Housing Authority is also reviewing their administrative policies.

St. Thomas Law School Dean Stresses Importance of Legal Aid Funding

Robert K. Vischer, dean of the University of St. Thomas Law School, and member of the Legal Services Corporation's leaders council, was featured in this week's op-ed section of the Star Tribune. Vischer makes a compelling case for the retention of the primary funding agency for civil legal aid by outlining LSC's measurable and meaningful contributions to individual self-reliance and empowerment, the nation's growing justice gap, and the agency's significant economic benefits for state and local governments. Read the full opinion.


Legal Services For Immigrants Strengthened by Landmark Gift to U of M Law School

On February 6th, the University of Minnesota Law School announced a transformational $25 million gift from the Robina Foundation. The grant—the single largest philanthropic gift in the Law School’s history—will fund the newly named James H. Binger Center for New Americans, establish a James H. Binger Professorship in Clinical Law, and provide Law School student scholarship support.

The gift will provide permanent financial support to the University of Minnesota Law School for the ongoing operations of the James H. Binger Center for New Americans. The Center brings about transformative change by creating a national model for the provision of comprehensive and cohesive legal services for immigrant communities through a variety of means, including improving federal immigration law and policy through impact litigation; protecting detainee rights and improving access to legal representation for refugees and immigrants; educating noncitizens about their legal rights; creating dynamic and comprehensive immigration clinics for students; and collaborating with others on immigration issues. During its four-year pilot program—supported by the Robina Foundation—the Center won a landmark case at the U.S. Supreme Court; won political asylum for clients from around the world; and won release for detained immigrants in Minnesota.

The Center has three law firm partners—Dorsey and Whitney, Faegre Baker Daniels, and Robins Kaplan—and three nonprofit partners—the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, and The Advocates for Human Rights.

Founding partners Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid have worked with the Center for the past three years with a specific emphasis on the Center’s detainee rights work. Dean Garry W. Jenkins said, “The Binger Center will leverage a unique collaboration among our clinics, prominent law firms, and respected nonprofit organizations, enabling our exceptional faculty and students to continue to work on landmark immigration reform cases for generations to come.” Read more in the Star Tribune.