Disability Law Center Wins Class Certification Motion in Federal Court

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This fall, the Minnesota Disability Law Center of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA) was successful in obtaining class certification on behalf of individuals with disabilities who are unnecessarily segregated in corporate foster care facilities. A decision was issued by the United States District Court in Murphy et. al. v. Piper et. al, which certified a class action for individuals with disabilities who want to live near family and friends. With this ruling, the federal court is allowing a challenge to the statewide practice of overreliance on corporate foster care settings as housing for those with disabilities and its failure to provide persons with disabilities information and access to reasonable and individualized alternatives. Moreover, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to consider the Department of Human Services’ request to reverse the certification order, so the case will now proceed through discovery and trial, if necessary. In failing to provide citizens with disabilities the opportunity to live in individualized settings, Minnesota has not been consistent with federal law. One of the lawyers for the Plaintiffs, Sean Burke, stated "We simply want a system in place that allows individuals with disabilities to live where they want, like everyone else, and in the most integrated setting appropriate to their needs."

Legal Aid staff who were instrumental in the achievement of this action include staff attorneys Sean Burke and Christen Champman, litigation director Justin Perl, Steven Pincus, Peter McGelliot, and Joe Anthony of the Anthony Ostlund law firm (co-counsel), and supervising attorney Bud Rosenfield. The decision can be found here.

SMRLS Housing Attorneys Help Secure Accommodation for Assistance Animal

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Lisa Hollingsworth and Laura Jelinek, attorneys with the Housing Equality Law Project at Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS), recently helped a client win a legal settlement with her landlord that will help other disabled tenants in the future. Litigation began because the apartment complex would not accommodate their client’s doctor-mandated need for an assistance animal. The client’s lawsuit alleged that her apartment complex violated the federal Fair Housing Act by refusing to let her keep an emotional assistance dog for her disability, and that she faced repeated bullying from property managers, including attempts to evict her.

"People's treating doctors recognize how much a companion animal can provide to people who are relatively shut in because of a disability," said Hollingsworth, who sometimes sees nearly 100 cases per year where requests for assistance animals are denied or ignored by a landlord.

Under the settlement agreement, the apartment complex must expand its policies on accommodating assistance animals, notify residents of policy changes, and state in advertisements that it is an "Equal Housing Opportunity Provider." Read more in the Star Tribune.

State Support Wins Self-Represented Litigation Network's "Best Forms" Competition

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The Forms and Technology Working Group of the Self-Represented Litigation Network (SRLN) recently announced the winners of its first ever Best Forms Contest. The group's goals were to recognize civil legal forms that utilize plain language, design, and interview and instruction elements to best advantage and ease from the self-represented litigant's viewpoint, as well as to collect a critical mass of forms as examples for the Forms and Technology section of SRLN.org.

Legal Services State Support is very pleased to announce that our staff were selected for both categories!

The winner of Best Static Form is Elsa Marshall, Education for Justice coordinator with State Support, for the Delegation of Parental Authority form.

The winner of Best Automated Form is Jennifer Singleton, legal/technology projects manager with State Support, for the Motion to Modify Child Support or Spousal Maintenance form.

There were 31 entries from around the country and the Working Group found judging the forms difficult. SRLN leader Katherine Alteneder noted that the contest demonstrated how process simplification goes a long way toward reducing the difficulty that self-represented litigants have when filling out court forms.

The Self-Represented Litigation Network (SRLN) is the only non-profit supporting justice system professionals focused on the question of how best to reform ALL aspects of the legal system (courts, legal aid, the bar and non-legal partners) so that SRLs experience the courts (and indeed the legal system) as a consumer oriented environment guided by the principles of equal protection and due process.

LSNM Partners to Form First Medical-Legal Partnership in North Dakota

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Thanks to a Bush Foundation community innovation grant, and the teamwork of Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota (LSNM), Legal Services of North Dakota (LSND), and Family HealthCare, North Dakota has established its  first cross-border medical-legal partnership (MLP).

Legal Advocates for Health joins other MLPs across the country that bring together medical and legal aid organizations to help disadvantaged people. Currently funded for two years, the project embeds a legal aid attorney with medical staff at Family HealthCare’s downtown Fargo clinic.

Helping patients with matters like benefits denial, employment discrimination or housing often means medical staff need to flag patients’ problems that call for legal aid. The three partners are currently seeking a qualified lawyer to lead Legal Advocates for Health, currently being staffed by two law students.

“Training [the medical point of contact] is really important [with regard to] what questions to ask,” said LSNM's executive director Anne Hoefgen. “If you ask [patients], ‘Do you have a family law issue,’ they might not know what that is." Read more.

Minnesota Legal Advice Online & ProJusticeMN Featured in Bench and Bar

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October's edition of Bench and Bar of Minnesota features all things pro bono. Among them, legal aid's options for the busy Minnesota lawyer: Minnesota Legal Advice Online and ProJusticeMN.  These time-saving and innovative online outlets for assisting low income Minnesotans are explained in a featured article by State Support's Emily Good.

MN Legal Advice Online is a virtual legal clinic with a flexible commitment. Through an email conversation, volunteers select submitted questions they want to answer based on their subject matter knowledge. The site easily tracks volunteer hours for CLE credit or North Star Lawyer certification.

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ProJusticeMN.org, a website supporting pro bono attorneys and legal aid attorneys, assists volunteers in finding a pro bono case or project, or an upcoming legal training. The site also has an extensive poverty law resource library with practice manuals, document assembly tools, interview guides, and settlement checklists for different areas of law. Read the full article in Bench and Bar.

Celebrate National Pro Bono Week Minnesota Style

The last week in October offers a special opportunity to celebrate the value of pro bono work by participating in Minnesota's activities as part of National Pro Bono Week. The ABA's country-wide effort, highlighting local action and celebration, promotes recruitment of volunteers, recognition of the efforts of current pro bono volunteers, and seeks to increase support and collaboration. Pro bono plays a vital role in closing the justice gap by helping to increase the number of low-income individuals who can get legal advice at crucial moments.

As part of the local celebration, the Minnesota State Bar Association is hosting “Beyond Status: Meeting the Legal Needs of Today’s Immigrants.” The CLE will take place on Tuesday, October 24th at midday, hosted at the offices of Stinson Leonard Street. Presenters include pro bono attorneys and legal aid staff who will discuss ways they serve immigrant clients in housing, employment, public benefits, DACA and preparedness matters. Immigration is continually in the news, but the legal needs of immigrants extend beyond status. Noting the need for this topic, moderator Emily Good of Legal Services State Support, said “because of their status, their language, their race, immigrants’ legal problems can be amplified and complicated.” Registration for this event, as well as a full schedule of events around Minnesota for the week, are available on ProJusticeMN.org.

SMRLS Produces Healthcare-Legal Partnership Informational Video

Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) has produced an informational video about its exciting new healthcare-legal partnership with Bethesda Family Medicine Clinic in St. Paul. At the clinic, doctors work with SMRLS attorneys to address their patients health-harming legal needs. In the video, SMRLS attorneys Meghan Scully and Rebecca Dodson explain how healthcare-legal partnerships work, and the benefits to clients. Doctors and clients also share their experiences of the partnership's personal and community impact. Read more about this holistic approach that is "Putting Health Back in Healthcare."

Legal Services Advocacy Project Publishes Annual Session Summaries

The Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP) is pleased to present its 2017 Session Summaries. These summaries cover the specific changes to Minnesota law made by the 2017 Legislature in a wide range of legal areas most relevant to low‐income and financially‐fragile Minnesotans and those who serve them. The summaries are divided by area of substantive law, and contain contact information for the lead LSAP attorney in that area. Staff is still working on the health and disability law section, so check the link for updates in the next few weeks. Read the summaries.

Bilingual Paralegal Among Minnesota Lawyer's 2017 Unsung Legal Heroes

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Maria Patino, bilingual paralegal/intake specialist with MMLA - Willmar, has been named a 2017 Unsung Legal Hero by Minnesota Lawyer.  The Unsung Legal Heroes award honors law office employees who consistently go above and beyond the call of duty, often behind the scenes. This award is reserved for the state’s most talented and dedicated legal support professionals.

Honorees are nominated by colleagues, supervisors, and peers, and chosen by a panel of prior winners of the relevant award. This year, Unsung Legal Heroes and Up and Coming Attorneys, are recognized in a special publication by Minnesota Lawyer, profiling each honoree. Read more about Patino, and view the entire digital edition of this special publication.

Registration Commences for October Statewide Conference!

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State Support is excited to announce that registration opens today 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-goers can expect to learn more about innovative service delivery models, how to better serve our diverse client populations, and how effective self-care translates into more sustainable and effective advocacy. Attendees can earn up to 13.75 hours of Minnesota CLE credit, including standard, elimination of bias, and ethics credits.

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 25. 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 morning, October 26, the community will come together for a conversation between the two newest associate justices on the Minnesota Supreme Court. Justices Margaret Chutich and Anne McKeig will discuss their backgrounds and respective journeys to the bench, and share some reflections about their first years on the Minnesota Supreme Court. The conversation will include their thoughts on access to justice issues and legal aid's role in Minnesota's civil justice system and the delivery of legal services.

A highlight of this year's offerings will certainly be a one-of-a-kind interactive session led by The Theater of Public Policy (T2P2). Described by the Star Tribune as "CSPAN being swarmed by the cast of SNL," The Theater of Public Policy explores big ideas using improv comedy.

To register for the conference, and find out more about breakout sessions, speakers, and social activities, visit our conference page and click on the Register tab. Then, just select your participant type. Please encourage your colleagues to register - in 2015 the conference attracted over 200 attendees!  See you at Arrowwood! 

ProJusticeMN: Brand New Design and Intuitive Features

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State Support is pleased to announce a brand new design and custom features for its dedicated professional community website. Freshly redesigned, ProJusticeMN curates content specific to the site’s two primary audiences: the legal aid community and volunteer attorneys. Here are some of the great new custom features on the mobile-responsive site:

  • A new design for the Case Placement Tool that highlights the estimated time commitment, the skill level needed to assist with the case, which skills are developed, and whether the organization posting the case offers mentorship, free training, and/or malpractice insurance.
  • New Library functionality allows you to quickly and easily navigate the library folders and offers new search and filter capabilities.
  • The Calendar features a new user-friendly design and improved search filters.

If you're not yet a member, join us today! If you have questions or feedback about the site, contact Jennifer Singleton at jsingleton@mnlegalservices.org. We'd love to hear from you!

Equal Access to Communication

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Legal Aid's Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) is a vital resource for those whose rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Minnesota Human Rights Act are in peril. Upholding equal access to communication is one of the hallmarks of MDLC's work. In a recent case, an MDLC client was denied access to routine bank transactions because his credit union changed its policies about accepting IP relay calls for deaf customers, making his access far more difficult than that of hearing customers.

"It's a pleasure to represent a client who is willing to speak out for their rights," said staff attorney Rick MacPherson, counsel on the case. "One person's willingness to enforce the law can bring about equal access for others who are deaf to the services and benefits everyone else enjoys." Read the full article in Attorney at Law magazine.

Sneak Peek: Conference Schedule 2017 Online Now!

With the official launch of registration only one month away (Sept. 6), State Support is excited to unveil a sneak peek at the wide array of sessions planned for the Legal Services Statewide Conference in October. This year's conference, "Connecting With Our Community," provides conference-goers with up to 13.75 hours of practical and meaningful CLE credit, along with the annual awards banquet, and opportunities to network and relax with statewide colleagues. On Thursday evening, October 26, the conference itinerary will feature a special screening of the Academy Award-nominated documentary 13th. Named for the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the film was directed by Ava DuVernay and is a Netflix original documentary. It takes an in-depth look at the racial inequality in the United States prison system, focusing on the criminalization of African Americans and the prison boom.

If books are more your style, join your colleagues on Wednesday evening, October 25, in a thought-provoking conversation about Bryan Stevenson’s bestselling memoir, Just Mercy.  A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice, Just Mercy will engage our minds and inspire us to continue pursuing justice for all.

Start planning your personal itinerary now, and join us at Arrowwood Resort and Conference Center October 25 - 27, 2017.  Look for the official registration invitation in your inbox, or check SCHED for registration links starting on September 6. See you at the conference!

SMRLS Now Offers Free Legal Help to Scott County Crime Victims

Kevin Jonassen, Staff Attorney, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services

Kevin Jonassen, Staff Attorney, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services

With a two-year Department of Justice grant, Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) now participates in the Minnesota Crime Victim Legal Services Project. Along with its project partners, SMRLS is helping create the resources needed to provide wraparound legal services to victims of crime in Scott County, one of only three sites in the state offering services through the pilot program.

The program's attorney, Kevin Jonassen, provides free assistance to crime victims needing help with such things as referrals to other programs, legal advice, and legal representation, if needed. The program can also assist with reparations, restraining orders, housing issues, ID theft repair, divorces, and other issues. It also seeks to address barriers that keep people from accessing the legal system after being victimized. Read more about this cutting edge program.