“Maryland’s new cannabis law will also make it easier to expunge some charges and convictions” Article Published by The Baltimore Banner

The Baltimore Banner published a cover story written by Brenda Wintrode featuring the new cannabis law and what it will mean for expungements. MVLS’ Workforce Development Manager, Chris Sweeney is quoted below.

Having a cannabis charge show up in a background check can be like “putting an extra barrier in front of you” when applying for jobs and promotions said Chris Sweeney

Read the full article in The Baltimore Banner here.

Remembering Donald P. McPherson III

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) is saddened to learn of the passing of Don McPherson, former board president and member of our advisory board. 

Don and his wife, Ann, were among the earliest supporters of MVLS. Don served on the MVLS board of directors from 1991 to 2010 and led the board from 2002 to 2003 as president. He later joined the advisory board, where he served up until his passing. 

There was no one who, for me, exemplified what it meant to be a servant leader more than Don McPherson,” shared Bob Brennen, who served on the MVLS board alongside Don for 19 years. “Don was kind, calm, steady and generous in his leadership. And constant. A lot of people often contribute their time and energy to causes in torrents and big waves when time opens up in their busy lives. Don’s leadership and commitment were always like the gentle waves of an ocean against a shore; unrelenting and never failing. And always with wit, grace, and a lovely bow tie. He is and will be missed.” 

Other members of the MVLS advisory board – former board presidents and members – shared a similar respect and appreciation for Don’s leadership and service, noting his wise counsel, his kindness, his humor, his steadfastness, and his dedication to providing free legal services to people who would otherwise not be able to afford them.  

His passing is a great loss and we will miss him,” shared fellow advisory board member Larry Coppel. Each person who shared their sentiments with us noted how much they would personally miss Don. 

Larry Coppel, Don McPherson, Natalie McSherry, and Bob Brennen pictured together at an MVLS event.

An accomplished attorney, among many other things, Don’s promotion of pro bono service through MVLS was a beacon for others to donate their time and resources to provide free legal help to people who would otherwise be left to navigate the legal system on their own. Don’s commitment to MVLS was inspired by his father’s lifelong pro bono practice, something that Don never forgot. 

In our more than forty year history, it is hard to think of someone that contributed more than Don” said Susan Francis, MVLS’ Executive Director. “Without his constant guidance and support, MVLS would not be the impactful organization it is today. Don offered all that he could to help ensure that individuals wouldn’t be left alone to navigate the judicial system. He was also kind, unassuming and a pleasure to spend time with. The MVLS board, advisory board and staff are grateful for all that Don gave to MVLS and will miss him deeply.” 

Don’s legacy will live on through the incredible impact he made on us at MVLS.  

MVLS extends our sincerest condolences to Don’s wife, Ann Teaff, and to his family, colleagues, and friends.  

“Baltimore native helps families through unique calling: Untangling tangled titles” Article Published by The Daily Record

The Maryland Daily Record published a cover story featuring the critical work, and impact of MVLS Tangled-Title Attorney, Tim Chance.

Tangled titles happen when a person has a legal interest in a home in which they live, but their name is not on the deed. They might be paying the mortgage, property taxes and utilities, but are not seen as the legal owner by the state of Maryland. “It’s a nationwide issue, and we see a lot of it particularly in Baltimore City where a home has been with a family for decades and passed from one generation to the next,”

Tim Chance
MVLS Tangled Title Attorney, Tim Chance working with a client during a previous My Home, My Deed, My Legacy Homeowner Clinic.
MVLS Tangled Title Attorney, Tim Chance working with a client during a previous My Home, My Deed, My Legacy Homeowner Clinic.

How Can I Be of Service? – A Profile of Community Partnership in East Baltimore

In 2022 alone, MVLS has handed out more than 600 bags to neighbors in the Greenmount West, Barclay, and Midway neighborhoods of East Baltimore. That equates to 4,200 fliers and factsheets with information that ultimately connects residents to free legal help like the kind we provide. We couldn’t have that kind of impact alone.

“Receiving the bag was like Christmas coming to her door.”

It’s the efforts of community partners like the ones being honored at this year’s Celebrate Pro Bono awards ceremony – the Greenmount West Community Association, Greater Greenmount Community Association, and Jubilee Baltimore – that make it possible.

Watch the video to hear directly from community partners about their work to support their neighbors through an incredible resource-distribution campaign.

Lauren Kelly-Washington, President of the Greenmount West Community Association and Community Engagement Specialist at Jubilee Baltimore, spoke to us about her work with MVLS. MVLS undertook an effort to stuff bags with fliers and factsheets, including about accessing the Water4All Discount, applying for the Homeowner’s Assistance Fund, and getting connected to free legal help to prepare deeds, expunge criminal records, and navigate tangled titles. Then, Kelly-Washington worked with her community association’s resident ambassadors to knock on doors and deliver these resources throughout the neighborhood.

Kelly-Washington shared that her neighbors were grateful for the outreach, “There was a resident who said that receiving the bag was like Christmas coming to her door.”

The community association members also worked to identify neighbors who were on the 2022 tax sale list. Block captain Nancy Kinlin remembers “There were plenty of neighbors on the list. Homeowners living in their primary residence…affected by tax bills to the point where they could be potentially evicted from their homes.”

“No one wants to lose good neighbors over something as easy to remedy as a tax sale bill,” emphasized Kelly-Washington.

In addition to the resource distribution effort, MVLS volunteers are working with homeowners from the Greenmount West neighborhood on legal issues central to them keeping their homes, including tangled titles, estate planning, and applications to the City’s various homeowner incentives.

“It’s really this opportunity to say: how can I be of service? And that’s exactly what MVLS is doing. They provide a service where they are committed to helping our residents who have been here a long time,” explained Kinlin.

Melvin Jadulang, of the Greater Greenmount West Community Association, helped coordinate similar work in the Barclay and East Baltimore Midway neighborhoods and will join Kelly-Washington in accepting a 2022 Community Partner Award this fall.

“Our volunteers work tirelessly to advocate and connect our neighbors to resources that enable us to have a vibrant and connected community,” explained Jadulang. “Getting the word out isn’t easy and partnering with MVLS has helped us support a better quality of life for our neighbors.”

Community associations like Jadulang’s, Kelly-Washington’s and Kinlin’s are crucial to raise awareness about the kinds of issues that can be resolved with free legal help, and their relationships with their neighbors help MVLS establish a baseline of trust with incoming clients. That’s not always easy, given that the legal system has caused grave injustice in these same people in the past.

But free legal help also has the potential to empower communities, something that is central to why Kelly-Washington and Jadulang see partnership with MVLS as worthwhile. Both cite pro bono legal representation, estate planning, outreach, and advocacy as crucial services that contribute to the fabric of neighborhood stability.

Susan Francis, Executive Director of MVLS, discussed why community partnerships are central to the mission of MVLS:

“Working with Jubilee, working with Greater Greenmount Community Association, working with Greenmount West Community Association, really enabled this opportunity for MVLS to get into targeted communities. She concluded, “We are so grateful to Lauren, Nancy, Melvin, and all of our incredible partners for helping us get legal help to the people who need it most.”

Working Together for Justice

Part of our 2022 Annual Report Impact Series

Jennifer Jones went to graduate school with the goal of becoming a social worker. Going to law school wasn’t on her radar, but when a couple of professors encouraged her to consider a combined law and social degree program, she took her first law class. To her surprise she really enjoyed it, “and the rest is history.”  

Practicing law has given Jones the opportunity to serve people, albeit in a different way. She started volunteering with MVLS in 2021, and has taken on 11 cases since then, most of them in family law.  

Jones recently closed a particularly contentious divorce case that she took on “low bono” through MVLS’ Judicare Program, through which family law attorneys can receive modest payments for their work. She helped her client, who was navigating the process of ending an abusive marriage, fighting for financial support and, ultimately, obtaining her independence.  

“If you weren’t doing it, it’s very likely an injustice could occur.”

“The most rewarding thing for me in this case was how happy the client was. For many years she had wanted to leave, but believed that being married was the only way she could survive financially,” Jones explained. Jones’ client, who has a disability that prevents her earning an income, courageously took the step of seeking a divorce after her situation became untenable. While it was an incredibly difficult time, with the client experiencing immense anxiety, Jones shared that “she now lives the peaceful life she has wanted for so long… an outcome she never thought would be possible.” 

Despite the high stakes of civil legal cases, which span from family law issues like divorce and custody, to issues that cause long term financial instability, the United States does not guarantee counsel for people navigating these problems. For Jones, it’s gratifying to know that she’s offering her clients something that they truly need.  

“And if you weren’t doing it, it’s very likely an injustice could occur,” Jones added. A recent study by the Task Force to Study Implementing a Civil Right to Counsel in Maryland indicates that clients are 6.5 times more likely to succeed if they have attorney representation. MVLS matches volunteers like Jones with clients to provide free legal help for the duration of their case.  

For Jones, volunteering has an additional reward.  

“I really want it to be highlighted how the legal community at large is supportive of the work and is willing to be a resource. You’re not going to have a handle on every situation. If I get stuck on something, I’ve found that when I reached out to other attorneys who had that expertise, they were more than willing to give me some help.”  

“The legal community at large is supportive of your work and willing to be a resource.”

John Hotz provided that help to Jones during her most recent case. One of the few experts on an issue that ended up being central to her client’s case, Jones shared, “John gave generously and freely. He was so kind and so helpful. Because of his contribution, my client secured benefits that she was entitled to but otherwise wouldn’t have had the means to secure.” MVLS encourages volunteers to seek out mentors or other experts in our network as they navigate their case.  

MVLS also has a Pro Bono Portal that is available online and updated daily. The portal allows potential volunteers to preview cases and select one that’s the right fit for their availability, experience, and location. Jones urged potential volunteers to view the portal and take a case: “It’s not a fair playing field when one party has an attorney and the other doesn’t because they can’t afford one.” 

374 volunteers like Jones took a case with MVLS during the past fiscal year, and another 19 provided formal mentorship support, giving a combined 11,533 hours of pro bono service. If you are an attorney or tax professional, you can visit www.mvlslaw.org to join this dedicated group and sign up to take a case today.  

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) Announces 7 New Staff Members

BALTIMORE, October. 20, 2022 – Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), the
largest provider of pro bono legal services to low-income Marylanders, today announce the recent hiring of seven (7) new staff members – Kim Caspari, Esq., Maura Connell, D’Khyra McFadden, George Townsend, Esq., Theo Sullivan, Imani Walton, and Ian Williams.

“MVLS is pleased to welcome these seven talented individuals to our team.” said Susan Francis, Executive Director. “MVLS’ impact is ultimately made meaningful by people, including our volunteers who accept pro bono cases and our staff, who create a supportive environment for our clients and our volunteers. We look forward to having these new staff members join us in our efforts to ensure a fair legal system.” she added.


Kim Caspari

“I am excited to join MVLS because
this organization is a great vehicle for pro bono legal assistance. MVLS is a great model for community service.”

Kim Caspari, Esq., APGRB Staff Attorney
Maura Connell

“I am excited to join MVLS because I want to learn more about the legal issues that Marylanders face.”

Maura Connel, Legal Advocate
D'Khyra McFadden

“I am excited to join MVLS because I am striving to serve a community that is being given little to no resources due to a negligent system.”

D’Khyra McFadden, Intake & LITC Legal Advocate
George Townsend

“I am excited to join MVLS because: I am excited to work with Marylanders in need of legal assistance, to support folks in asserting their legal rights and accessing the resources they need to thrive.”

George Townsend, Esq., Workforce Development Attorney
Theo Sullivan

“I am excited to join MVLS for the chance to meet and help clients from all over Baltimore city and Maryland.”

Theo Sullivan, Workforce Development Paralegal
Ian Williams

“I am excited to join MVLS for the chance to meet and help clients from all over Baltimore city and Maryland.”

Ian Williams, Consumer Protection Project Paralegal
Imani Walton

“I am excited to join MVLS because I align with the mission and vision of this organization and find it rewarding to be able to play an important role in accomplishing the organizational goals.”

Imani Walton, Administrative Assistant

About Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS)
Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) removes barriers to justice through free civil legal
help, community engagement, and advocacy for equitable laws. The organization matches clients with
volunteer lawyers, tax professionals and staff attorneys who represent them in a wide range of
consumer finance, family and housing situations, including foreclosure, bankruptcy,
divorce/custody, deed changes, as well as income tax disputes, estate planning, and criminal record
relief. MVLS advocates for racial equity in Maryland’s legal system and works in concert with
community partners to move toward a fair legal system that is free of injustice and equitably
serves underrepresented Marylanders. For more information about MVLS, please visit www.mvlslaw.org.

#

Media Contact
Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service
Chandler Walters
Phone: 443.451.4095
Email: cwalters@mvlslaw.org

Ten Volunteers, Two Community Partners Will Receive Awards from MVLS During National Celebrate Pro Bono Week 

Baltimore – October 14, 2022 – Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) is pleased to announce its 2022 Celebrate Pro Bono Award Winners. Volunteers and community partners who have helped the organization fulfill its mission to remove barriers to justice through free legal help, community engagement, and advocacy for more equitable laws will receive their awards at the October 25th Celebrate Pro Bono event, to be held at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum. Additionally, MVLS named nine volunteers who accepted 10 or more pro bono cases with the nonprofit during the past year.

The award winners are as follows:  

  • Volunteer of the Year, Michael J. McKeown
  • Law Firm of the Year, Law Office of Jo Ann Camm & Associates
  • Young Volunteer of the Year, Tina J. Azarvand, Esq.
  • Community Partner Award, Melvin Jadulang, Greater Greenmount Community Association
  • Community Partner Award, Lauren Kelly-Washington, Greenmount West Community Association & Jubilee Baltimore
  • Mentor of the Year, Robert D. Anbinder, Esq.
  • Mentor of the Year, Christopher R. Rahl, Esq.
  • COVID-19 Response Award, David Z. Lomke, Esq. & The Law Office of David Z. Lomke, LLC
  • New Volunteer of the Year, Christina Moore, Esq.
  • Special Recognition Award, Elizabeth Hayley-Marie Johnson, Esq.
  • 10 Years of Service, Jose Z. Canto, Esq.
  • 20 Years of Service, E. Hutchinson Robbins Jr., Esq.

Volunteers recognized for taking 10 or more pro bono cases include:

  • Constance M. Hare, Esq.
  • David Z. Lomke, Esq. & The Law Office of David Z. Lomke, LLC
  • Elva E. Tillman, Esq.
  • Jennifer A. Jones, Esq.
  • Jo Ann Camm, Esq.
  • Joseph E. Stolz, Jr.
  • Samuel C.P. Baldwin, Jr., Esq.
  • Thomas E. Mulinazzi, Esq. & The Mulinazzi Law Office
  • Tresa Fitch Drakeford, RN, Esq.

Collectively, the 2022 award winners have taken on 139 pro bono cases, dedicating well over 500 hours to clients in need of free legal help. The community partner awardees notably hosted seven presentations and events with MVLS and distributed 600 bags stuffed with resources and informational materials to their neighbors.  

Tickets to MVLS’ Celebrate Pro Bono event are $50 and on sale now at www.mvlslaw.org/mvls-events/celebrate-pro-bono. Please visit our event page to learn more about the event and about the organizations and individuals whose sponsorship makes the event possible.  

About the National Celebration of Pro Bono, from The American Bar Association: Pro bono work is a professional responsibility and an individual ethical commitment of each lawyer. The ABA Committee launched the National Celebration of Pro Bono in 2009 because of the increasing need for pro bono services during harsh economic times and the unprecedented response of attorneys to meet this demand. Every October since 2009, legal organizations across America participate in the National Celebration of Pro Bono to draw attention to the need for pro bono participation, and to thank those who give their time year round. 

About Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service: Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) removes barriers to justice through free civil legal help, community engagement, and advocacy for equitable laws. The organization matches clients with volunteer lawyers, tax professionals and staff attorneys who represent them in a wide range of consumer finance, family and housing situations, including foreclosure, bankruptcy, divorce/custody, deed changes, as well as income tax disputes, estate planning, and criminal record relief. MVLS advocates for racial equity in Maryland’s legal system and works in concert with community partners to move toward a fair legal system that is free of injustice and equitably serves underrepresented Marylanders. For more information about MVLS, please visit www.mvlslaw.org. 

Community Partner Spotlight: Mr. Mack Lewis Foundation

Each month we recognize one of our community partners who displays the values that we expect of ourselves and seek in our partnerships.

How long have you been in existence, and what is your organization’s mission?  

The Mr. Mack Lewis Foundation has been in existence over 71 years. Our Mission is to save youth in underserved communities while reducing juvenile delinquency, neighborhood destabilization and combating racism. 

Gregory Wilkes – Executive Director

Get the full story, and learn more about the Mr. Mack Lewis Foundation on our Community Partner Page!

Planning for the Future

Part of our 2022 Annual Report Impact Series

David Oliver first learned about Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service through an email.  

A lifelong Baltimorean, Oliver owns a home in West Baltimore. When the president of his neighborhood association messaged him and his neighbors to share a list of free legal services, he saw that MVLS was providing that help.  

“…it’s so peaceful knowing that, if something should happen, my family will inherit what I had.”

That email came in handy about a year later when Oliver realized that he needed to make some changes to his estate planning documents. He called MVLS and reached a member of the outreach team. As Oliver remembers it, he was told that he had called just in time and invited to attend an upcoming My Home, My Deed, My Legacy Clinic.  

He did. “And from there, Tim became my representative,” Oliver explained, referring to Tim Chance, MVLS’ Tangled Title Attorney.  

MVLS hosts anywhere from four to six of these My Home clinics each year. Clinics provide an opportunity for clients and potential clients, often recruited by their neighborhood associations or other community nonprofits, to meet with MVLS volunteers and staff attorneys for brief advice or for full representation.  

Tim Chance at MHMD March 2022 Clinic
Tim Chance, MVLS’ Tangled Title Attorney, looks on as volunteers meet with clients at a My Home My Deed My Legacy Clinic.

While Oliver came to the clinic looking to update just one of his estate documents, Chance was able to prepare a total of four legal documents most common in advance planning: the life estate deed, power of attorney, advance directive, and a will. “We wanted to make sure everything was done correctly,” Oliver explained.  

“It’s tricky because people think that once you pass, things go to your next of kin. Which isn’t the case without a lot of red tape and fees,” Oliver added as he described why estate planning appealed to him.  

Over the past decade, drawing on lessons learned from our clients and community partners, MVLS has come to understand the important role that legal services, and advance planning in particular, can play in building generational wealth in historically disinvested Black Baltimore neighborhoods. In the West Baltimore neighborhood where Oliver lives, 88% of residents are Black. The median household income is less than $22,000 and 27% of homes are considered vacant or abandoned. In a city with a well-known history of redlining (the institutionalized denial of homeownership based on race), ongoing practices of under-appraising Black owned homes, and where the majority of our clients facing tax sale are Black, MLVS sees an institutional responsibility to act. By providing free help to residents who have tangled titles, are navigating probate or like in Oliver’s case, are doing proactive estate planning, we can make it easier for families to preserve what is often their biggest asset – their home.  

“The most rewarding thing is that I got it done. And it’s so peaceful knowing that, if something should happen, my family will inherit what I had,” he concluded.  

Thanks to our donors, volunteers, and community partners, MVLS provided estate planning and administration services to 465 clients like Oliver in FY22. You can learn about upcoming community events and clinics, including the next My Home My Deed My Legacy Clinic scheduled for September 29, 2022 here.