Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) Announces New Pro Bono Program Manager

BALTIMORE, Jan. 31, 2022 – Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), the largest provider of pro bono legal services in Maryland, today announced the promotion of staff member, Makeisha Gibson, from Senior Paralegal to Pro Bono Program Manager. In her new role, Makeisha will be responsible for the successful operations of our Pro Bono Program. In addition, she will manage a team of five intake paralegals and support MVLS’ staff attorneys and volunteers. 

“We are so pleased to welcome Makeisha into her new position at MVLS.  Makeisha is not only a highly competent team member, but she also exhibits a deep commitment and empathy to our clients and volunteers.” said Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service’s Executive Director, Susan Francis. “Makeisha has demonstrated committed leadership to her MVLS colleagues both as a paralegal and Senior Paralegal, and we have no doubt she will continue to be a key element to MVLS’ success in her new role.” 

Makeisha GibsonMakeisha joined MVLS eight years ago as a paralegal and was previously promoted to Senior Paralegal in 2019. Makeisha continues to grow, and provides excellent communication, guidance, and structure for her paralegal team. She is currently a co-chair of MVLS’ Anti-Racism Committee, and member of the Pro Bono Coordinating Council Leadership Committee. Makeisha graduated from University of Maryland, College Park with a Bachelor of Arts.  .

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 

MVLS announces Saad Malik to join Board of Directors

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) Announces New Member to its Board of Directors

BALTIMORE, Jan. 26, 2022 – Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), the largest provider of pro bono legal services, today announced the election of a new board member–attorney Saad Malik. MVLS’ Board of Directors is responsible for governance and directing the organization’s strategic plan to deliver life changing pro bono legal services to Marylanders. In addition, board members serve as MVLS volunteers and are generous supporters of its mission.

“We are excited to have Mr. Malik join the MVLS Board of Directors. He comes to the MVLS board with an existing commitment to pro bono as he already volunteers his time at legal clinics,” said Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service’s Executive Director, Susan Francis. “While serving as a law clerk in the Baltimore City Circuit Court, Mr. Malik learned about MVLS and our mission, and saw firsthand how MVLS attorneys represent individuals in guardianship proceedings, giving a voice to some of the most vulnerable clients. He recognizes the barriers that are all too common for too many Marylanders with limited means. We welcome his energy, vision and commitment to pro bono and MVLS.”

Saad Malik is an associate in Shapiro Sher’s Business Law department. Mr. Malik represents the firm’s corporate clients in a variety of general business matters, including but not limited to mergers and acquisitions, joint ventures and corporate governance. Previously, he served on the leadership council for the Islamic Society of Baltimore (ISB) where he helped raise over four million dollars during his three-year tenure. Currently, he serves as chair of the Risk Management Committee (ISB). Mr. Malik earned his J.D. at the University of Baltimore School of Law where he was awarded the Platinum Pro Bono Challenge for his work in the school’s Mental Health Clinic.

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.

Susan Francis, Esq.                                                                               Andrea Martin
Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS)                                       Andrea D. Martin Consulting LLC
phone: 443-451-4084                                                                          phone: 443-927-6183
email: sfrancis@mvlslaw.org                                                               email: andrea@consultmartin.com

UB School of Law and MVLS Receive Department of Justice Grant

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

UB School of Law and MVLS Receive Department of Justice Grant to Significantly Expand the Human Trafficking Prevention Project (HTPP) in Maryland

The HTPP Supports Survivors of Human Trafficking and At-Risk Populations with Critical Legal Services to Create a Path toward Self-Sufficiency

BALTIMORE, December 21, 2021 – The University of Baltimore School of Law and Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS), the largest provider of pro bono civil legal services in Maryland, today announced new funding from the Department of Justice (DOJ) to significantly expand their Human Trafficking Prevention Project (HTPP). The HTPP supports survivors of human trafficking and populations put at high risk of exploitation due to experiences with interpersonal violence, sexual assault, housing instability, and other types of trauma or systemic inequities with critical legal services that create a path to stability. The grant will provide nearly $600,000 over the course of three years to extend the reach of the program in Baltimore City and into more rural areas of Maryland, as well as increase the number of staff who will deliver free legal services and full representation to survivors.

“We are thrilled that the Human Trafficking Prevention Project, a partnership between the University of Baltimore School of Law and the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, has been recognized by the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crimes as deserving of this generous grant,” said Jessica Emerson, director of the Human Trafficking Prevention Project. “The HTPP was founded to provide survivors of human trafficking with access to criminal record relief, which can dramatically shift a survivor’s outlook on life. The training, outreach and direct legal services the HTPP provides aids clients in improving their self-sufficiency and stability, which in turn assists in recovery from trauma and reduces the likelihood of continued exploitation. We look forward to growing this program throughout the state of Maryland, so that many more survivors can move beyond the trauma of their trafficking experience to build positive, empowering futures for themselves and their families.”

Created in 2015, the Human Trafficking Prevention Project provides criminal record relief to survivors of human trafficking and other at-risk populations to remove barriers to employment, housing, public benefits, and student loans caused by having a criminal record so they can move forward with their lives. In addition to criminal record relief, the HTPP, through its partnership with MVLS, provides access to a wide range of civil legal services, including legal representation for cases involving family law, tax and bankruptcy, landlord/tenant, name and gender marker changes, and consumer matters. The HTPP collaborates with victim service providers and Human Trafficking Task Forces around Maryland to lead free trainings on human trafficking prevention and criminal record relief.

“We are so proud of Jessica Emerson, a University of Baltimore law school graduate and a leader in the movement to protect victims of human trafficking,” said Ronald Weich, dean of the University of Baltimore School of Law. “Her clinic offered students a chance to engage in this important social justice effort. And now this federal grant will enable her to take her vision to a new level, working with our longtime partners at MVLS.”

Since its creation, the HTPP has helped more than 900 survivors create opportunities for self-sufficiency through education and free civil legal services. With the generous funding, the HTPP will hire a paralegal and two staff attorneys to assist more survivors of trauma and exploitation and to grow the regional scope of the project.

“We are extremely grateful for the DOJ funding to build awareness of the HTPP among local human trafficking survivors – many of whom don’t realize there are free specialized legal services to help them reclaim and stabilize their lives,” commented Heather Heiman, Human Trafficking Prevention Project manager at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service. “We lean on a network of pro bono attorneys and tax professionals as well as community partners to remove barriers to employment and housing, making it easier for survivors to have greater agency and opportunities as they move forward with their lives. We look forward to continuing this important work in concert with the University of Baltimore School of Law.”

This project is authorized by the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015 (18 U.S.C. § 3014(h)(2)) and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA) of 2000 (22 U.S.C. § 7105(b)(2)).

To learn more about the Human Trafficking Prevention Project, please visit www.mvlslaw.org/HT

About the University of Baltimore School of Law

Founded in 1925, the University of Baltimore School of Law provides a rigorous and practical legal education, combining doctrinal coursework and community-based learning to ensure that its graduates are exceptionally well prepared to practice law. The University of Baltimore is a member of the University System of Maryland and comprises the College of Public Affairs, the Merrick School of Business, the UB School of Law and the Yale Gordon College of Arts and Sciences.

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 Contacts

University of Baltimore School of Law
Christine Stutz
Phone: 410.961.6467
Email: cstutz@ubalt.edu

 

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service
Andrea Martin
Phone: 443.927.6183
Email: andrea@consultmartin.com

 

Celebrate Pro Bono 2020

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Next week, October 25-31, 2020 we will be kicking off our Celebrate Pro Bono 2020 celebration. The week-long, virtual celebration will feature recognition of our award winners, volunteers, community partners, and supporters.

Are you or someone you know in need of assistance passing your home to the next generation? Help is available! On October 27 at 3 pm join us for our My Home, My Deed Home Owner Clinic. The virtual clinic will be hosted by telephone.

Our Virtual Awards Ceremony will take place on October 28, 2020 at 5 pm. During the ceremony we will be announcing our award recipients with special remarks from Chief Judge Barbera. Register today and help us recognize those that have done amazing work in support of pro bono.

Attorneys, would you like to learn more about reverse mortgages? MVLS and Maryland Legal Aid will be hosting a virtual training on October 29th at 11 am Register today to learn what you need to know about reverse mortgages.

Have you taken a pledge for pro bono? Your pledge will help us provide individual representation or assistance at a clinic to help clients in need of free legal service. Take a Pledge for Pro Bono today!

MVLS Tax Hotline Now Open

Now that the July 15th Tax Day has come and gone, it would be easy to think that tax issues are done. However, that is not the case and there are new updates to be aware of. To help address many of these tax issues, MVLS created a free Tax Hotline (443-451-4091) to help individuals who need assistance. 

For individuals who filed an extension, the new Tax Day is October 15. An extension is only an extension to file, NOT an extension to pay. If you will owe taxes for 2019, it is best to file as early as possible to avoid additional failure-to-file penalties. If you owe taxes, but are unable to pay them MVLS can assist with determining what options may be available to resolve outstanding debt.

MVLS’ Tax Hotline can also help answer any questions you may have about the Economic Impact Payments, also known as the “Tax Stimulus Check.” Although most checks have already been issued and there is discussion of a second payment coming, there are some individuals who haven’t received the first one. MVLS can assist with tracking down unreceived payments and provide information about additional resources. If you still need to file your 2019 tax return in order to receive your Economic Impact Payment, MVLS may be able to assist you with that as well.

MVLS is available to answer any questions you may have about taxes. Dealing with the IRS and the Maryland Comptroller can often be confusing and frightening. MVLS can help. The Tax Hotline (443-451-4091) is available for brief advice, but support can be provided for other tax issues. MVLS’ Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) can help with back tax issues as well as any other tax questions that arise.

If you need assistance with any of your tax issues, please reach out to MVLS’ Tax Hotline at 443-451-4091 on Monday-Friday from 10 am-4 pm. If your call is not answered, please leave a message and all calls will be returned.

How Maryland Punishes Driver’s License Violations

How Maryland Punishes Driver’s License Violations

MVLS provides civil legal services to Marylanders with limited income. While our core pro bono program connects people in need of representation for a specific, pressing issue such as a lawsuit from a landlord or creditor, a divorce, or bankruptcy, we know that our clients often face a patchwork of multiple legal, financial, and personal issues. Such is the nature of living in poverty. Among our clients, issues arising from driving without a license or driving on a suspended license are extremely common.

Imagine getting a traffic ticket and being unable to afford your fine. If the fine is left unpaid, your license can be suspended. Those who cannot afford to pay a traffic fine certainly cannot afford to miss work for a court date or stop driving to work after their license is suspended. Many people continue to drive on a suspended license rather than risk losing their job. Let a few suspended license violations stack up, and your license could be revoked entirely. This is a common pattern for our clients whose financial situation causes them to decide between breaking traffic laws and losing their job. Or, imagine being a teenager living in poverty with a single parent. Your parent can’t get off work to pick up your younger sibling from daycare, so you drive the car without a license. If you get pulled over and eventually found guilty of driving unlicensed, you end up with a permanent criminal record. While we should expect people to comply with our society’s laws, the punishments for these types of actions often extend far beyond a simple fine or jail time. Convictions for driving unlicensed or on a suspended license can have a lasting effect on a person’s life, especially someone living with limited income.

Traffic citations can have unexpected consequences for our clients. Fines and fees from license violations can stack up and place a person in a cycle of delinquent payments. Unpaid traffic citations can result in license suspension, which then results in more fines for driving while suspended. Fines for driving uninsured can be forwarded to the Central Collections Unit, where a 17% fee is added. The CCU then has the power to garnish a debtor’s wages. Though jail time is less common, Maryland law allows for incarceration as a punishment for driving without a license or on a suspended license. Because of the possibility of incarceration, these license violations are treated like criminal cases when assisting a client for criminal record expungement. Something minor like a conviction for driving with a suspended license, even if there was no jail time served, can prevent the expungement of more serious charges which would otherwise be eligible for expungement.

Photo credit: dmv.org

MVLS has collected data on unlicensed driver punishments using our CLUE data-scraping tool. The Client Legal Utility Engine, or CLUE, is a web tool developed by our former staff attorney, Matthew Stubenberg. The program ‘scrapes’ the internet for publicly available information and collects that information in a central place. In this instance, the tool scraped Maryland Judiciary Case Search to find data on the types of punishments given out to people who were convicted of driving without a license in Maryland. This is what we found:

  • From 2007 to 2010, there were 62,560 convictions for driving without a license.
  • This resulted in at least $7,082,024.86 being assessed in fines Out of this total, more than $1,872,713.04 was suspended, essentially meaning that amount is not actually imposed on defendant (fines suspended are likely higher, but data on suspended fines is reported inconsistently and is difficult to assess).
  • Courts imposed administrative costs of $1,840,938.70, of which at least $155,302 was suspended.
  • Additionally, courts assessed a total of $831,157.50, with $245,917.50 of that suspended, for the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund, a fund established to reimburse victims of crime.

Accounting for suspended fines, roughly $7,480,188.52 in fines, fees, and costs were assessed against unlicensed drivers from 2007-2010. We know that the unfortunate reality is that our clients are often unable to pay these fines and costs. Furthermore, the above penalties force people with low income to make the choice between paying these debts and paying for food and housing. These debts take money from our most impoverished communities, money that could have been spent on basic human necessities.

MVLS does not have this type of data for suspended license cases, but, anecdotally, we have seen countless clients trapped in the cycle of license suspension, inability to pay, points assessed, and possible revocation. One client, Dennis, faced losing his license after acquiring twelve points for driving while suspended. Dennis had been out of work for a little over a year and had his license suspended for unpaid tickets. He occasionally had no choice but to drive in order to pick up his children from school or daycare, or to make other appointments. Eventually, he was close to 12 points on his license, the threshold for revocation. He enrolled in job training to improve his career prospects. He took classes in weatherization and storm water management, and eventually earned an apprenticeship with an employer. All this time, his license was still suspended, and he didn’t have the money to pay his fines. The apprenticeship offered him wages, but he had to drive to get to job sites. Stuck in this bind, he chose to drive to some jobs, and got pulled over again. This time, he reached the 12 point mark against his license, and was sent a revocation notice. Luckily, he had been able to save up some money by this time, and paid back what he owed to the courts and the MVA. But that didn’t take care of the points. He requested an administrative hearing to argue his case. By the time the hearing rolled around, he had received an offer for full-time employment. He would need to travel throughout central Maryland for this new job, so taking the bus wasn’t an option. An MVLS attorney was able to represent him at his hearing, arguing that he had made right with all of his debts and couldn’t stand to lose his license altogether with this job offer on the table. The administrative judge found in favor of Dennis, he got to keep his license, and he got to embark on a new career. While Dennis was lucky, most of our clients do not have the funds to pay their debts, and many individuals face these types of hearings without representation.

Our clients are often trapped in these ‘cycles of poverty’ and face increasing debt as they try to break themselves out. These fines and fees are part of the accumulation of issues that can prevent a person with low income from moving forward. We appreciate that people are expected to follow laws, and that breaking laws should have consequences. But these fines and fees force low-income individuals to make impossible choices – pay my debts to the court or buy food, turn down that job offer or drive to work without a license. In the case of driver’s license laws, Maryland’s system keeps those in poverty in these types of cycles where choosing basic needs such as food or transportation lands them with more court debt.

MVLS Initiatives and Volunteers Featured in Carroll County Times

The Carroll County Times interviewed MVLS Deputy Director Susan Francis to discuss our new Pro Bono Portal and the enormous value pro bono legal services has for MVLS clients. Two of our wonderful volunteer attorneys, Zoa Barnes and Samantha Smith, were also featured, as they discussed the varied cases they’ve taken on for MVLS clients and how the Pro Bono Portal is already changing their pro bono experience for the better.

New Pro Bono Portal

MVLS has unveiled a brand new Pro Bono Portal in an effort to connect volunteer attorneys with vulnerable Maryland residents who need pro bono legal help fast. Through a mobile-friendly and optimized user interface, attorneys can quickly identify individuals and families who need their expertise. The Pro Bono Portal displays cases in real time using a color-coded system that organizes cases by type and geographic region.

“We are always looking for ways to increase the speed at which we can match Marylanders in need with the generous support of volunteer attorneys. Our refreshed Pro Bono Portal is a wonderful example of how we are evolving our technology to help more people,” said Bonnie Sullivan, executive director, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS). “Now, attorneys can easily check available cases from any mobile device and no matter where they are in their daily activities. We look forward to continuing to leverage technology to expand the reach of our services and the commitment of our volunteers.”

You can read more about the MVLS Portal on CityBizList, the Daily Record, or Technical.ly, where our new tool has been featured. Or just click here to see for yourself and try the Pro Bono Portal today.

Updates from the MVLS Board of Directors

MVLS is happy to announce our new and returning officers and members to the Board of Directors. These officers and new members were elected during the annual meeting on June 20, 2018. MVLS’ Board of Directors are responsible for directing the organization’s strategic plan to deliver life changing pro bono legal services to Marylanders with limited income. 

2019 MVLS Board Officers

  • E. Hutchinson Robbins, Jr., president
  • Anthony P. Ashton, vice president
  • Michael S. Clevenger, treasurer
  • Martha Lessman Katz, secretary

E. Hutchinson (“Hutch”) Robbins, Jr., was elected board president. Mr. Robbins is a principal at Miles & Stockbridge and heads the firm’s Commercial and Business Litigation practice group. He represents a broad array of businesses and individuals in business litigation, and he has extensive experience in all facets of state and federal trial and appellate practice.

 

Anthony P. Ashton, civil litigator at Baxter, Baker, Sidle, Conn & Jones P.A. was elected to board vice president. Mr. Ashton’s practice involves contract and real estate disputes, torts, class actions, consumer protection statues, shareholders’ rights and fiduciary duties of officers and directors.

 

 

 

Michael S. Clevenger, vice president of BB&T Bank’s wealth management division, was elected board treasurer. Mr. Clevenger is a personal trust specialist at BB&T in Westminster where he handles trust real estate and manages investment accounts.

 

Martha Lessman Katz, founder of Lessman|Katz Law was elected board secretary. Ms. Lessman Katz is a technology, licensing, internet and privacy attorney and helps businesses with a variety of matters regarding privacy and data security, e-commerce, emerging issues with social media, and intellectual property transactions.

 

 

Two current board members were elected to additional three-year terms: Robert Grossbart (Grossbart, Portney & Rosenberg) and Savonne L. Ferguson (T. Rowe Price Associates) and two new board members were elected to serve initial three-year terms.

2019 New Board Members

Gregory K. Kirby, member of Pessin Katz Law (PK Law) was voted to MVLS’ board of directors. Mr. Kirby is a part of the firm’s Medical Malpractice Defense Group, and his concentration is in all aspects of civil litigation with a focus on medical malpractice, personal injury, insurance defense and product and pharmaceutical liability.

 

 

 

Martin H. Schreiber II (Marty), principal at the Law Office of Martin H. Schreiber II, LLC was elected to MVLS’ board of directors. Mr. Schreiber’s areas of specialty include civil law, commercial litigation and appeals.