Statewide Low Fee Family Law Project Now Accepting Referrals

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Last fall, the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA) and the Hennepin County Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service (HCBA LRIS) began a collaboration to expand the existing HCBA LRIS Low Fee Family Law Project to include service throughout Minnesota. Both organizations have recruited attorneys from across the state to participate and continue to encourage participation from attorneys interested in serving modest-means clients. Potential clients are those who exceed legal aid income guidelines and are not eligible for pro bono legal services, yet cannot afford the services of a private attorney.

Because of the great initial response, HCBA LRIS is now able to handle referrals for eligible clients from legal aid programs. Programs may direct clients to contact HCBA LRIS at 612-752-6666 and find more information on the LRIS website

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LRIS staff members screen clients by phone for initial financial eligibility. In order to qualify for services, potential clients must be currently employed, or on Social Security, and have an income source that falls between 125-250% of the federal poverty guidelines. Clients pay a billable rate of $55 per hour. There is a required retainer of $500, and a $30 administrative fee paid by the client.

Why participate as a provider?

Interested attorneys can build their practices through the project or expand their practice to include alternative fee arrangements. Attorneys are particularly needed in the northeast and northwest areas of greater Minnesota. Attorneys can receive new business in the following areas: separation or divorce, child custody and parenting time, paternity and child support, domestic abuse and Orders for Protection, and post decree issues.

Specifically, the project seeks to expand the number of attorneys providing unbundled (or limited scope) legal services. Numerous resources exist to help attorneys build unbundled practice into their service mix. For more information, including sample billing and retainer forms, see the MSBA website at www.mnbar.org/unbundled. Attorneys can contact Dana Rindahl at dana@hcba.org or call 612-752-6627 for additional information about how to apply.

SMRLS Attorney Named Rock County's “2018 Face of Hope” by the Southwest Crisis Center

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Meghan Maes, supervising attorney with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services - Mankato, has been named Rock County's 2018 Face of Hope by the Southwest Crisis Center (SCC) of Worthington.  

SCC works with people experiencing domestic and sexual violence in Rock, Cottonwood, Jackson, Pipestone and Nobles Counties, and Maes is being honored for her impactful work in helping to support survivors and victims of domestic and/or sexual violence, as well as her dedication to raising awareness of domestic and sexual violence through collaboration, volunteerism, and education.

Maes is a 2011 graduate of Hamline University School of Law, and received her undergraduate degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato. At SMRLS, she practices exclusively in the areas of family law and obtaining civil protective orders on behalf of survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and stalking. 

“I am privileged to work with survivors. I am drawn to represent survivors because I want to provide a safe space for survivors to explore their legal options. I believe access to the justice system and resources can help survivors put themselves in the best position to make decisions about their safety and the safety of their family. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with survivors and am constantly in awe of their courage,” Maes said. 

She will receive her award at SCC’s Faces of Hope Banquet on April 21st in Pipestone. The banquet brings community members together to increase awareness of domestic and sexual violence and trafficking through supporting the work of the Southwest Crisis Center.

Innovations for Clients: Referral Portal on LawHelpMN.org

by Emily Good, Legal Projects Manager

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State Support is moving forward behind the curtain on the LawHelpMN.org redesign. This is the second post in our series highlighting what to expect and anticipate in the coming months. 

One of the motivations for redesigning the site is to improve legal services provider listings and make each organization's information more targeted to the individual legal needs of users. In particular, a new centralized referral portal will enable easier referrals between legal services providers, a key recommendation in the “Analysis of the Civil Legal Aid Intake Infrastructure in Minnesota” report from June 2017. The  report recommended an “up-to-date database maintained of the case acceptance standards of each LSAC funded program, available to all programs to minimize referral of applicants to other legal aid organizations that will not serve them.” 

Legal services provider listings will be password protected, and organizations will be responsible for updating their own information about case priorities and contact information on the site. When a provider receives a grant to expand services, or target services to a particular population, they can enter the parameters for those types of cases into the referral portal themselves, and subsequently receive the targeted referrals they need. In turn, they will be able to log in and view information about each of the other LSAC-funded programs in order to make accurate referrals to clients they’re unable to serve. 

The information entered will also be used in the legal services provider directory that is visible to the public (although some detailed information will only be visible to fellow LSAC grantees). Having a centralized place where organizations update their own intake and contact information will help minimize the time individual offices spend calling around to verify what other offices are doing. 

State Support has shadowed intake staff at Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and the Volunteer Lawyers Network in order to better understand the work flow and referral processes at these organizations. The referral portal will function as an additional tool to support the busy work of intake staff, and will especially help newer intake staff learn the priorities and work of other organizations.

Housing Preservation Project Keeps Affordable Housing in Reach

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With its integrated Housing Counseling, Information, & Litigation Project, the Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM) demonstrates its commitment to the housing needs of low-income people in northern St. Louis County. The Project's goal is to ensure and preserve safe and affordable housing options by providing litigation, conflict resolution, and legal counsel in four primary areas:

  1. Eviction Defense – both post-filing and pre-filing of court eviction;
  2. Income maintenance – public benefits, unemployment issues,  wage and garnishment matters, Social Security termination, spousal maintenance and child support;
  3. Safe housing – repair and habitability as well as Fair Housing issues; and
  4. Housing denials – Subsidized housing application denials and private housing discrimination. 

LASNEM is unique as the sole legal component in the area's housing continuum. In its collaboration with community service providers such as the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA), Range Transitional Housing (RTH), Range Mental Health Center (RMHC) and St. Louis County, LASNEM's Housing Counseling, Information, & Litigation Project seeks creative solutions to housing the homeless and maintaining housing for those at risk in an area where affordable rental housing is in short supply. The Project actively participates in the Coordinated Entry System (CES), attending and leading weekly shelter meetings that address solutions for every homeless household in northern St. Louis County. LASNEM assists approximately 400 households with housing related issues each year, and provides legal information, education, and guidance to its community partners about changes in housing laws and community housing trends.

Because of the often adversarial, costly, and time-consuming nature of the Court process, LASNEM has developed strong working relationships with landlords – both public and private – in order to be involved in addressing issues before they reach the Court system. These relationships help prevent litigation and obtain the best outcome for the tenant, with less time and cost for the landlord. Landlords are also asked to refer tenants at risk of losing housing, or being denied housing, to LASNEM.  

The Project conducts landlord forums as needed to address systemic issues, as well as educational events on relevant landlord- tenant law. The Project also works closely with housing providers and social service agencies to keep abreast of issues and to work on systemic and individual solutions.

LASNEM’s housing advocate, Heather Lindula, represents the legal aid perspective in several community capacities such as the Rural Housing Coalition, and the Heading Home St. Louis County Governance Board. She actively participates in the Prevention Rapid Rehousing subcommittee of the Governance Board, chairs the Coordinated Entry subcommittee, and is the Coordinated Entry Planner for northern St. Louis County.  Last year, Lindula was instrumental in implementing the first annual Northern St. Louis County Housing Summit, which  identified  barriers to housing and possible  solutions. LASNEM’s managing attorney, Bill Maxwell, provides legal work for Habitat for Humanity  and is a member of the Board of Directors of Range Transitional Housing.

As part of its commitment to community education, LASNEM conducts monthly trainings on the rights and responsibilities of renters at Merritt House – a treatment facility for individuals with significant mental health and chemical dependency needs and at area schools and other gatherings of community members. Through these efforts, LASNEM improves awareness of housing rights and mitigates future housing problems.

Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services and Children’s Minnesota Announce New Healthcare-Legal Partnership

 Brianna (Breezy) Boone, staff attorney, SMRLS

Brianna (Breezy) Boone, staff attorney, SMRLS

Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) and Children’s Minnesota (Children’s) have launched a new health care-legal partnership (HLP) to address legal issues that stand in the way of healthy kids and families.
 
SMRLS attorney Brianna Boone holds office hours five days a week at the Children’s St. Paul hospital campus, working alongside inpatient hospital and outpatient clinic staff. Ms. Boone assists patients and their families with a variety of legal needs, including issues related to housing, public benefits, immigration, and family law. Depending on the families’ situation, she provides a range of support from brief legal guidance to full representation in court. Patients receive increased access to protections and resources that allow them to meet their basic needs, leading to improved health and overall well-being.
 
Referrals are made to the HLP by members of the health care team, including social workers, community resource navigators, and health care providers. Ms. Boone meets with families during their child’s inpatient hospitalization, and with outpatient families who are on campus for follow-up clinic visits and routine appointments. “I can really see the direct benefit of working onsite at Children’s. Having an office on the hospital campus eliminates barriers to access that would prevent most families from receiving our help,” Ms. Boone said.

“At Children’s, we aim to be every family’s essential partner in raising healthier children, and oftentimes socioeconomic factors are barriers to doing so,” said Maria Christu, Children’s Chief Legal Officer. “Being able to connect our patients to a trusted partner like the HLP is a great step toward breaking down those barriers. This partnership brings tremendous value to our patients and their families and therefore, to our communities as well.”

In addition to working with patients and their families, Ms. Boone also consults with health care professionals across Children’s to provide education and training. During 2018, Children’s HLP will provide legal education opportunities on some of the most common legal issues impacting families including: rights of unmarried parents, a tenant’s right to housing repairs, and government benefits, such as food support and disability insurance. Through these education opportunities, SMRLS and Children’s hope to create a more holistic approach to addressing patients’ needs. Health care providers and social workers will become better equipped to support the social and economic issues affecting the immediate and ongoing health of their patients.
 
“We’ve only had this partnership since October and I’m already seeing its impact,” Ms. Boone said. “Creating a new way to treat all of a patient’s needs is exciting.”
 
To learn more about this health care-legal partnership, please contact SMRLS supervising attorney Meghan Scully at Meghan.Scully@SMRLS.org.

Innovations for Clients: What to Expect from the New LawHelpMN.org

by Jenny Singleton, Legal/Technology Projects Manager

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State Support is excited to announce that work is underway to redesign LawHelpMN.org, Minnesota’s acclaimed legal information website for the public. The redesigned LawHelpMN.org  will improve client services by enhancing Minnesota’s online and client referral tools. We’ll keep you updated on our progress via periodic blog posts highlighting what to expect and anticipate in the coming months. 

A key feature of the new site will be a  “triage” system to more fully integrate self-help resources, like State Support’s library of fact sheets, with referrals to legal aid organizations. After users answer a series of questions about their legal problem and eligibility criteria, the site will display the most relevant self-help resources and the organizations and legal clinics most likely to help. For an example of a triage system, visit Michigan’s Guide to Legal Help

In addition to using triage to better connect the public with legal resources, the new site will pilot an improved online intake system for two organizations in Hennepin County (Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid and the Volunteer Lawyers Network). Clients whose legal problem and eligibility criteria match them with one of these organizations will be able to seamlessly submit an online application to the organizations, right from LawHelpMN.org.

Finally, the site will debut a centralized user-friendly portal that legal aid organizations can use when making client referrals. Legal aid organizations will be able to update their organizational profiles to reflect changes in the services they offer, which will give the legal aid community, and the public, real-time, accurate information about the types of cases legal aid offices in Minnesota can handle. The portal will use the OpenReferral data standard, which will facilitate future integrations with other databases, like United Way 2-1-1.

The LawHelpMN.org redesign is being conducted in partnership with Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, the Volunteer Lawyers Network, and the Minnesota Judicial Branch. The project is made possible through grants from the Legal Services Corporation Technology Innovation Grant Program, the Minnesota Legal Services Advisory Committee, and the Minnesota Court Technology Fund.

Housing Court Workgroup Honored by Dispute Resolution Center

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Gerry Kaluzny, supervising attorney with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS), along with his colleagues in the Second Judicial District’s Housing Court Workgroup, were recently honored with the A. M. "Sandy" Keith Alternative Dispute Resolution Award. 

The award, presented by the Dispute Resolution Center (DRC), recognizes an individual or group committed to the promotion and support of the use of alternative dispute resolution processes, particularly in conjunction with the courts. The award was presented at DRC’s 35th Anniversary and Volunteer Recognition Celebration, held the evening of Wednesday, December 13, 2017, at Mitchell Hamline School of Law.

Earlier this year, Chief Judge John Guthmann convened a working group of community stakeholders to address challenges to the rental market that frequently find their way into the Second Judicial District Housing Court.  In addition to SMRLS, the group included Volunteer Lawyers Network, the McKnight Foundation, the National Center for State Courts, Family Housing Fund, Ramsey County Human Services, Dispute Resolution Center, Ramsey County Court Administration, St. Paul PED, and landlord representatives. At the conclusion of the group's work last June, a report was issued with recommendations for improving the housing court for both tenants and landlords. 

Significant recommendations and action items from the report included:

  • Strengthening information available to tenants and landlords before and at court
  • Providing space at the Housing Court for Ramsey County emergency assistance workers to provide information and screening on emergency assistance for tenants in need of rental assistance
  • Expanding representation options with pro bono attorneys and law school clinics
  • Making it easier for tenants to obtain expungments by modifying settlement forms and having judicial officers recommend expungment by agreement
  • Developing a “pilot” mediation program for evictions in advance of the court date or filing
  • Exploring the viability of a Housing Court Administrative order or rule that would maintain the confidentiality of an eviction filing until the case is determined on its merits. 

Governor’s Elder Abuse Consumer Workgroup Issues Recommendations

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Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) was named by Governor Dayton as one of five members of the Elder Abuse Consumer Workgroup, a body he appointed in late November to offer recommendations (by January 26th, 2018) on how to address the egregious problems surfaced by a Star Tribune expose on elder abuse (see "Left to Suffer"). The Governor asked AARP to chair the group, which also consisted of the Alzheimer's Association - Minnesota/North Dakota Chapter, Elder Voice Family Advocates, and Elder Justice Center. 

Supervising attorneys Genevieve Gaboriault and Ron Elwood represented MMLA in the Consumer Workgroup and contributed to the report submitted to the Governor. The report's recommendations are aimed at improving the system of care, services, and protections for older and vulnerable adults, and are grouped into four areas:

  • Strengthening and expanding rights of older and vulnerable adults and their families
  • Enhancement of criminal and civil enforcement of rights
  • Development of a new licensure framework for assisted living and dementia care
  • Improving Department of Health licensing regulation, Office of Health Facilities Complaints enforcement and investigative process, and Minnesota Adult Abuse Reporting Center reporting protocols.

On the conclusion of the group's work, Elwood noted, "The Workgroup is proud of the report and recommendations it has developed in a inordinately short period of time, and hopes the legislature will adopt as many of the recommendations as possible.  The situation is grim, and, as the group concludes, 'immediate and dramatic fixes' are necessary."

Read the full report is available here.  

LASNEM Attorney Appointed to 6th Judicial District Bench

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Robert Friday, director of advocacy for Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM), has been appointed state district judge by Governor Mark Dayton. Friday, the newest judge on the Iron Range, is a staunch advocate for low-income families and youth. The 6th District includes St. Louis, Carlton, Cook and Lake counties, and Friday will be at the St. Louis County Courthouse in Virginia.

As director of advocacy at LASNEM, Friday manages the legal work of the program, provides legal education in the community, and works with the Volunteer Attorney Program in Duluth.

Commenting on his legal services work, Friday noted, "There is no other area of law that impacts a community more than family law. Other than minor criminal charges, the most likely reason someone is going to interact with the court system is family issues. Our children are our future, and we need to protect the best interests of our kids."

LASNEM executive director Dori Streit said, "Bob has been my partner in vision for legal services for many years. He'll continue to be a huge ally, but we will all miss working with him." Read more in the Duluth News Tribune

SMRLS Prevails in Appeal Holding Recipients of Housing Support Harmless for Overpayments

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In an appeal interpreting new law by Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS), a Human Services Judge concluded that recipients of Housing Support (formerly Group Residential Housing, or GRH) are to be held harmless for overpayments.  The judge also determined that Ramsey County, acting on instructions from the state Department of Human Services (DHS), had incorrectly determined that SMRLS' client's agency-error overpayment of $97 in General Assistance was collectable.

The client, a resident in a GRH facility since March 2017, worked for temporary agencies and properly reported her income, but her county worker got confused because she reported the jobs as if the work site, rather than the temporary agency, was the employer.  The county originally assessed more than $5000 in overpayments.  After SMRLS got involved, the county reduced the overpayment to $1400 in Housing Support plus $97 in GA (representing one month's grant).

Minn. Stat. 256P.08, which establishes uniform overpayment and underpayment procedures for several state public benefit programs, became effective in 2016.  It says that GA recipients are not responsible for agency-error overpayments "unless the amount of the overpayment is large enough that a reasonable person would know it is an error."  DHS issued instructions to counties saying overpayments are collectable if the overpaid amount exceeds the correct grant amount for the month.  Because the client's correct grant amount for GA should have been $0, Ramsey County concluded that the $97 overpayment was collectable.  The Human Services Judge held that DHS had applied the wrong standard and that the $97 overpayment was not large enough to make the client responsible for it.

Minn. Stat. 256P.08 also states that recipients of Housing Support "are exempt from this section."  No other provision of law grants the state or county authority to collect Housing Support overpayments.  DHS has written instructions to counties on its CountyLink website that mirror the overpayment procedures in Minn. Stat. 256P.08, except for the provision that forgives agency error overpayments.  The Human Services Judge concluded that this guidance is not supported by legal authority and that the apparent intent of the legislature was to hold Housing Support recipients harmless for overpayments.

Both Human Services Judge Kathleen McDonough, who decided the appeal, and Co-Chief Human Services Judge AmyLynne Hermanek, who approved the decision on behalf of the Commissioner, are former Legal Aid attorneys. The case is docket no. 197507.  For more information, contact staff attorney, Ben Weiss at ben.weiss@smrls.org

Legal Aid: Keeping Roofs Over Families' Heads in Landmark Victory Appeal

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Legal Aid represented a young man with disabilities who lives on SSI as his sole source of income and yet manages to rent independently in the private market.  The young man fell behind on rent one month, but managed to pay the entire balance at the eviction hearing in court.  His landlord filed another eviction anyway, arguing that the client had to pay the attorney fees it claimed from the case—an amount nearly five times his rent—in order to stay in his home.  Legal Aid fought the case to the Court of Appeals and prevailed, securing a published decision that protects the right of tenants to keep their homes notwithstanding onerous attorney fee provisions in lease agreements. 

Congratulations to managing attorney Luke Grundman, and staff attorney Georgina Santos, for their work on this landmark decision that protects tenants' right of redemption at a critical time in history, as Minnesota experiences an acute shortage of affordable housing for the most vulnerable among us. Read the decision in ACC OP (University Commons), LLC v. Rodriguez from the Minnesota State Court of Appeals. 

Want a Training? State Support Wants to Hear From You

State Support is expanding our training services approach to better support the access to justice community, and we'd like to hear from you about topics and  trainers you're interested in, and how we can help. In addition to  planning and hosting our own statewide trainings as we always have, we can also assist programs with training and event support on an ala carte  basis. Depending on what you need, we can help run a webinar, publicize  your event, apply for CLE credit, process registrations, or provide other support to you to help make your CLE or event a success.

We have two models:

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Traditional Training
You have an idea for a webinar or in-person training, but do not want to help plan or coordinate the training. This is State Support’s traditional training model. You help us refine the topic and brainstorm speakers, and then we take it from there.

Co-Sponsored Event
You have a speaker, topic, and location arranged and want support putting on the event. We work together to decide which of these services State Support will provide:

☐ Create an online registration page to process payments and/or to track attendance of an in-person event (Requires 4 weeks’ notice)

☐ Apply for CLE credit (Requires 4 weeks’ notice to have the event code before the event. This can also be done after the event.)

☐ Publicize the event with an email announcement to State Support’s list of 2K+ members of the legal aid and pro bono community (Requires 3 weeks’ notice)

☐ Create a webinar registration link to send out before a webinar (Requires 2 weeks’ notice if we are not creating an online registration page)

☐ Run the webinar during event

☐ Introduce speakers and/or facilitate questions during the event

☐ Provide other in-person support during an event

☐ Provide a link to the recording of the webinar

☐ Post the recording link and materials in ProJusticeMN.org after the event

☐ Provide some other kind of support for the event

Ready to get started? Contact us at 651-228-9105, statesupport@mnlegalservices.org, or complete our training suggestions form at: goo.gl/forms/KAPkAACCHs2UClK62