Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services Celebrates 110th Anniversary

Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) is excited to announce its 110th anniversary this year. SMRLS has experienced incredible growth since its humble beginnings in 1909. In the early days, SMRLS (then known as Legal Assistance of Ramsey County) typically only handled family law, social security, and landlord-tenant cases for clients in Ramsey County. Today, SMRLS is the largest provider of legal aid in Minnesota, closing more than 9,000 cases annually and serving an additional twenty thousand low-income residents through community outreach and training opportunities.

Former executive director Bruce Beneke has seen many changes In his four decades with SMRLS, but many important things have remained consistent.

“I’m most proud of the people who’ve been a part of SMRLS,” Bruce says. “The courage and strength of our clients; the dedication, compassion and outstanding work of our staff, board, pro bono, and Campaign lawyers; and the critical support of bar, judicial, corporate, community, legislative and local public and private funding leaders have, together, created a wonderful equal justice village and brought hope, empowerment and opportunity to persons in great need.”

SMRLS is commemorating this milestone anniversary by sharing the memories of some of SMRLS' longest-serving volunteers and staff on its website. Stories will be posted throughout the year at smrls.org/anniversary. Supporters and community partners are encouraged to visit the page each month to learn about SMRLS’ history, as told by the people who know it best. If you wish to share your story, please send an email to cla@smrls.org.

In addition, SMRLS’ celebration of “110 Years of Providing Access to Justice” will take on a festive note at its June 6th fundraiser Social Justice Uncorked. Tickets are available here.

Innovations for Clients: LOON Takes Flight

Legal Organizations Online Network: LOON

Legal Organizations Online Network: LOON

By Betsy Parrell, Supervising Attorney

Starting today, staff from sixteen Minnesota legal services organizations are working toward better coordination and referrals through access to a new online tool: LOON (Legal Organizations Online Network).

As an integral part of the LawHelpMN.org rebuild project, LOON is a password-protected, online database developed to house up-to-date information about legal services available across Minnesota.  Service listings in the database include information about case types and priorities, case acceptance guidelines, clinics, and eligibility criteria. 

LOON aims to improve client referrals by enabling legal services providers to make more accurate referrals amongst each other through access to detailed, real-time data. LOON will also power the referral information that will be available to everyone on the new LawHelpMN.org, once launched.  In addition, because of LOON, staff at individual organizations no longer need to maintain and update their own legal services referral information, which can easily fall out-of-date.  

The organizations currently participating in LOON are:

  • Anishinabe Legal Services

  • Central Minnesota Legal Services

  • Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota

  • Judicare of Anoka County

  • Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota

  • Legal Assistance of Dakota County

  • Legal Assistance of Olmsted County

  • Legal Rights Center

  • Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, Inc.

  • Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid

  • Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services

  • Standpoint

  • The Advocates for Human Rights

  • Tubman

  • Volunteer Attorney Program

  • Volunteer Lawyers Network

These sixteen organizations have password access to LOON, and the ability to update and maintain their own service listings.  For organizations that do not currently have password access such as specialty legal service providers, law libraries, court-based self-help services, bar association referral programs, and community mediation State Support will gradually add their services to LOON and coordinate with them to maintain and update their listings.

State Support is grateful for the expertise shared by staff members of the sixteen participating organizations. Their feedback was used to guide the development of LOON’s technical infrastructure and user interface. Staff from these organizations also worked diligently to update and verify the accuracy of their listings in anticipation of LOON’s launch today. Additionally, over 100 individuals at these organizations registered for trainings offered by State Support on how to search service listings, in order to be prepared to use LOON effectively to make referrals.

Continued coordination and communication will be critical to LOON’s success. Staff members from the participating organizations will need to communicate with each other, and with State Support, to ensure that the accuracy and quality of information in LOON, and the tool itself, can continue to improve. Working together, we can make LOON a robust, reliable tool that helps all of us better serve client needs across the legal services delivery system.

Mayo Clinic Recognizes SMRLS, LAOC, and Partners With Shared Value Award

Rochester’s famed Mayo Clinic lauded Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) and Legal Assistance of Olmsted County (LAOC) this month for their efforts to prevent evictions in Olmsted County. Along with collaborators Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota and Olmsted County District Court, LAOC and SMRLS received the 2018 Mayo Clinic Shared Value Award for their “Eviction Prevention” project.  

Mayo’s annual award addresses community-wide health priorities in Olmsted County, and the Eviction Prevention project is designed to help address financial stress and mental health.

Karen Fairbairn Nath, executive director of LAOC noted, “Once a notice of eviction is filed with the court, the eviction is permanently on an individual’s record and may, at minimum, prevent a person from obtaining future rental housing. This often brings on a cascading set of negative effects, including longer-term financial instability and mental health stress for individuals and families, among others.” Read more about the project and award.

SMRLS' Minnesota Supreme Court Victory Yields Custody Clarification

SMRLS2015Logo.jpg

Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS) attorneys recently prevailed in an appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The case, Christensen v. Healey, was centered on whether to apply the Minnesota best-interests-of-the-child standard or the endangerment standard to the father’s motion to increase his parenting time to every other week.

In the case, the parents had stipulated joint legal custody, with sole physical custody and the child’s primary residence with the mother. When the child was 7, the father moved to expand his parenting time to alternating weeks throughout the entire year. He lived an hour away from the mother’s residence.

Applying the endangerment standard, the District Court found the modification would change physical custody and primary residence, and dismissed the father’s motion. The Court of Appeals reversed this decision, holding that the District Court improperly focused only on the proportion of parenting time.

After SMRLS' appeal to the Minnesota Supreme Court, the decision was reversed, concluding that the modification was a de facto change in physical custody to which the endangerment standard applied.

As a result of the Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision, district courts must evaluate modification motions under the totality of the circumstances to decide if it is a substantial change that would modify the parties’ custody arrangement. But, a motion for equal parenting time is not automatically a motion to modify custody because joint physical custody need not be equal parenting time.