Volunteer of the Month | Thomas Mulinazzi

Thomas Mulinazzi

We’re proud to recognize Thomas Mulinazzi, as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Thomas and his experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
To help. Period. We are all very lucky to have the ability/education/training to help others. I feel I am wasting my talents if I am not helping people who need it most and there is no better agency to partner with to do that than MVLS. The staff does a great job with the clients prepping them. They are friendly, helpful, very appreciative (which is ironic because we should be (and I am) so appreciate of them, and they always support us.

Are there any recent cases that you’re proud of? Tell us more about what happened, or about what you learned.  
A recent case that I am proud involves a young wife and mother who was already involved in an active case.  She was being pushed around by her spouse who was represented.  She didn’t speak English well, she had nothing, she wasn’t working, and yet husband’s attorney was pressing her for discovery filing Motions and even served her with Admissions – all in an effort to divest of ownership of the family home (in his name) and her share of his 401k, etc. The client was also a domestic violence victim, and I couldn’t let her be victimized more by a system that she did not understand. So, we got into the case right after the PL, worked hard to clean up the discovery mess, fought to enforce the PL support order (the husband was ignoring it), fought to get her a final custody order, then worked on getting her the marital share of the property. Once our client started to get child support and alimony, she was able to get a part-time job and an apartment. She began to find her identity again. 

Then our Office won a few Motions which resulted in an attorney fee award and the other side was forced to deal with our client and our office on equal terms. We compelled them to produce information and compelled them to settle giving our client ½ of the 401k and ½ of the house equity – both were items that the husband insisted were his sole property; and before she met us, she believed that too.  Now she bought a reliable car and has a small savings account and a real path forward to get a certification program where she can earn a good living doing what she wants to do. At the end of the case, she wrote me a note that I display prominently in my Office, “Gracias, Estoy muy feliz con usted por su trabajo. 😊” it’s short and simple but that’s the beauty of it.

How does volunteering with MVLS impact you (personally, professionally, or both)?  
Volunteering with MVLS gives me a sense of pride that I am a lawyer because I am using my skill for something important.

What would you say to others who are considering volunteering with or supporting MVLS?   
There is no greater satisfaction than helping someone who truly needs you.  Besides, if you are not helping people who could not otherwise afford your services you are wasting your talent and you are wasting your gift.

How would you explain the impact of your pro bono work to someone who isn’t familiar with MVLS? 
See above.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 
I really appreciate that MVLS helps me to be part of the change they are making in our community. Thank you to MVLS.

Volunteer of the Month | Robert McGarrah, Jr.

We’re proud to recognize Robert McGarrah, Jr., as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Robert and his experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
MVLS is one of the best pro bono opportunities for Maryland lawyers. Not only does it offer free legal services to needy Marylanders, but it offers excellent support with experienced staff who know the law and procedure as well as the key administrative agency people in state government.

Are there any recent cases that you’re proud of? Tell us more about what happened, or about what you learned.  
I took an MVLS consumer debt collection case for an elderly woman who lived alone in Prince George’s County. The client was ashamed that she’d incurred a large credit card debt. As I interviewed her, I learned she’d been the victim of elder financial abuse, both with the MVLS collections case in District Court for credit card purchases and with student loan debt–a Plus Loan at one of Corinthian Colleges for-profit, training programs for one of her children. She felt so badly about what she’d done, she’d actually made payments from her small Social Security checks.

As I came to understand her plight and learned more about the growing problem of elder financial abuse in America, I explained to her how many elderly people are victimized each year. The client then began to describe other problems and citing Maryland statutory requirements on elder financial abuse for financial institutions, I convinced the debt collector’s attorney to dismiss the case. The US Department of Education also forgave the balance due on her Plus Loan.

How does volunteering with MVLS impact you (personally, professionally, or both)?  
I get great satisfaction applying the law for people in need. While they don’t know the law and have frequently been victimized, their gratitude and prayers is excellent compensation.

What would you say to others who are considering volunteering with or supporting MVLS?   
I highly recommend MVLS to all Maryland lawyers. It has excellent resources and support and it more than meets the professional obligation we all have to serve our fellow citizens.

How would you explain the impact of your pro bono work to someone who isn’t familiar with MVLS? 
MVLS pro bono work pays dividends to Maryland attorneys. It has a wealth of challenging cases from some of Maryland’s neediest citizens, who are often in dire straits. Helping people in our community builds trust in the legal profession and makes a big difference in the lives of people who rarely have the opportunities we have as attorneys.

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 
Just keep up the good work at MVLS!

Volunteer of the Month | Sara Lucas

We’re proud to recognize Sara Lucas, as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Sara and her experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
There are many reasons why I choose to volunteer with MVLS. First, MVLS offers plenty of support and resources to help volunteers navigate their cases, and the MVLS staff are responsive and always willing to help. There are numerous trainings posted online that volunteer attorneys can watch, and if you need to, you can reach out and speak with an experienced attorney about the case on which you are working. MVLS also has a Community Advocacy Network (“CAN”) that provides additional support to the volunteers. Furthermore, MVLS offers a diverse array of cases to work on, from divorces and other family law issues, to bankruptcy, personal injury, expungements, estate planning, and much, much more. The diverse array of cases MVLS offers poses many opportunities for volunteer attorneys to become exposed to areas of law other than their practice areas, and even to build a “secondary” or “pro bono” practice, allowing the attorney to become more well-rounded and well versed. Finally, the clients are always incredibly thankful, gracious, and a joy.

Are there any recent cases that you’re proud of? Tell us more about what happened, or about what you learned.  
There are a few MVLS cases that I am particularly proud. The first is a guardianship case, whereby I helped a senior citizen who was on a fixed income obtain guardianship over her older sister who had severe dementia and was in a nursing home. The client and her sister had several assets together, which made it impossible for the client to dispose of those assets accordingly. This was the first guardianship case I have ever handled, and I successfully helped the client obtain guardianship over the person and the property of her sister, which included filing a petition, facilitating service on many interested parties, communicating with the appointed attorney for the sister, and ultimately appearing on my client’s behalf at a hearing. Some other cases I am particularly proud of are two name change cases. In the first name change case, I helped a minor correct her name, and because it was corrected, she is now able to get her learner’s permit, learn how to drive, and ultimately get her driver’s license. In another name change case, I helped a mother correct the name of her toddler so that the child could get baptized under the correct name, which was of the utmost importance to the client. 

From these cases, I learned that simple matters such as name changes actually have an extraordinary impact, and that it is possible to navigate a completely new (and somewhat complex) area of law such as guardianships.

How does volunteering with MVLS impact you (personally, professionally, or both)?  
Volunteering with MVLS impacts me both personally and professionally. I feel very fulfilled when I help others solve problems, especially those that may not have as many resources as others. I also enjoy interacting with people outside of my practice area and feel refreshed when I do so. On a professional level, I get to expand my practice, learn a new area of law, and develop skills that will help me in my practice overall. 

What would you say to others who are considering volunteering with or supporting MVLS?   
Do it. You will have no regrets. 

How would you explain the impact of your pro bono work to someone who isn’t familiar with MVLS? 
I help clients with limited resources and less access navigate their legal issue and resolve it, free of charge. It is fulfilling for me and impactful for them!

Is there anything else you’d like to share? 
It may be overwhelming to take a case in an area of law an attorney is completely unfamiliar with, but I would recommend doing just that. In the practice of law, lawyers are constantly in positions of discomfort, whether it is during the course of contentious litigation, a negotiation, or dealing with a difficult client. I recommend exercising the skill of overcoming your fears or discomfort by taking a case in a completely unfamiliar area of law (when the attorney has a bit of extra time) and learn something new. The support and resources MVLS’ provide make the task much less onerous than one might think, and attorneys will gain confidence in mastering a new area of law. That confidence is especially important for new attorneys. 

Volunteer of the Month | Rebecca Sheppard

Rebecca Sheppard

We’re proud to recognize Rebecca Sheppard, as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Rebecca and her experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
I choose to volunteer at MVLS because I am passionate about its mission statement. As a private practice tax attorney, it is difficult to help clients who cannot afford representation. To be able to help on such a large scale with MVLS through direct representation, trainings and mentorship is amazing! 

What is your favorite part about volunteering with MVLS?
I love working with passionate individuals who work tirelessly in their communities.  

Why should other attorneys and tax professionals do pro bono?
Attorneys should volunteer to help others, learn a new area of the law under provided mentorship, and help facilitate real solutions to problems that may be overwhelming for some, but are solvable with proper guidance.  

Where do you see the Impact of civil legal services in the next ten years?
I hope the civil services legal community continues to thrive. 

Volunteer of the Month | Snehal Massey

Snehal Massey

We’re proud to recognize Snehal Massey, as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Snehal and their experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
I choose to volunteer with MVLS because service has always been an integral part of my life and what better way to offer my resources than providing pro bono legal services to those who really need it. I truly believe that pro bono is vital to my growth as an attorney and my pro bono cases have been my most memorable and gratifying cases thus far.

Do you have any stand out stories?
My first solo case was a pro bono family law case through MVLS. The sheer gratitude and appreciation that my client had for me at the end of that trial was all I needed to fully understand how much my time and resources could impact someone’s life.

What is your favorite part about volunteering with MVLS?
My favorite part of volunteering with MVLS is that the intake and screening process is so effective. The prospective clients are so reliant, responsible, and grateful, often even more than my retained clients. I really appreciate the preparation that MVLS invests before placing the clients with professionals.

Why should other attorneys do pro bono?
If you are thinking about volunteering, please give MVLS a try – I promise that it will ignite a pro bono spark in you. If you feel you haven’t been fully supported in your past volunteer experiences, or you are new to pro bono work, MVLS will provide you with the support you need. MVLS provides training, has staff available to help you talk through issues/concerns, and will even match you with a mentor if requested. They truly want the attorneys/professionals volunteering to be just as successful as the clients they place with us. 

Where do you see the Impact of civil legal services in the next ten years?
In ten years, I truly hope that all attorneys naturally incorporate pro bono services/representation into their practice. As attorneys, we are very fortunate to be in this profession and to be of service to those who really need it but are not able to afford it. I believe it is not only gratifying but also our duty to use our skills in a way that improves or uplifts another person’s situation.

Homeowners working with MVLS may be eligible for up to $2,500 to resolve tangled titles

For many people, their home is the single largest and most important asset in their family. The family home is not just a major economic resource that can help build wealth, it is often the emotional cornerstone of the family. If a homeowner raises a family in the home, there are going to be a lifetime of memories and it becomes extremely important that the home – and the memories – stay in the family for future generations. The best way to ensure this is through proper estate planning. 

Unfortunately, this estate planning doesn’t always happen. There are many instances where the homeowner has passed away without taking the needed steps to ensure that the home can be retitled in the current occupant’s name. This scenario is commonly known as a “tangled title.” A person has a tangled title issue when they are the occupant of a home and they have a legal interest in the home, but their name is not on the property’s deed. Without their name on the deed, housing assistance programs, tax credits, and repair grants are often inaccessible and the property becomes significantly more at risk to being lost through tax sale or mortgage foreclosure. It is imperative that this deed transfer happens as soon as possible.

However, in Maryland, it is currently required that there be a clean lien sheet to transfer title and record a new deed. A lien sheet lists all municipal bills due, including water bills, property taxes, and environmental/housing fines. The current homeowner must pay all existing municipal before the property can be transferred. The lien sheet requirement is particularly restrictive for MVLS clients who find themselves in tangled title situations due to the need to pay all existing liens on top of the probate costs. This barrier is often insurmountable. MVLS now has a Tangled Title Fund that clients can use to satisfy these liens in order to transfer title into their names. Clients can receive up to $2,500 in funding with the goal being that the client become the record owner of the property at issue at the end of the case.

For a full list of guidelines, please refer here.

To request funding, or for more information about the fund, please contact Tim Chance at tchance@mvlslaw.org.

Volunteer of the Month | Samuel Baldwin, Jr.

We’re proud to recognize Samuel Baldwin, Jr., as the Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Samuel and their experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
Volunteering in the Southern Maryland community has been very important to me for almost forty years. I know that the legal profession has provided me with many advantages. I am grateful for what my community has given to me and volunteering my service is one way I can give back to the community.

Do you have any stand out stories?
I cannot say if there is any single case that stands out as being more significant or more rewarding than any other. However, the clients that I assist through MVLS are by and large extremely grateful for the services that I provide.

What is your favorite part about volunteering with MVLS?
As Lawyers, we know through training and experience the statutes, case law, and court room procedures like the back of our hands. First time Litigants trying to navigate the paperwork and procedures associated with litigation are lost, confused, and frustrated. In short, our legal system works better, and the results are more equitable when pro-se Litigants are offered the Services of an MVLS Volunteer Attorney.

Why should other attorneys do pro bono?
I would encourage other attorneys to offer their services through the MVLS. Cases referred by MVLS are, from my point of view as the lawyer, generally are not as demanding as the typical cases I take. The issues from my point of view may not be as complicated and the resolution of the case is almost always easily foreseeable from the outset. From the point of view of the client, you are a miracle worker. And, while this might be an overused expression, I think that volunteering legal services through the MVLS to our fellow Brothers and Sisters in the community is just simply ”the right thing to do.”

Where do you see the Impact of civil legal services in the next ten years?
Lawyers will always play an important role in maintaining order in society. There will always be members of the community who can afford to buy our services; but there will also always be members in the community who cannot. If there is going to be equal justice for all, MVLS is going to need volunteer attorneys who are willing to step up, assist and represent clients, and expect nothing in return from their client beyond gratitude.

July 2022 Volunteer of the Month

We’re proud to recognize Kerri Cohen as the July 2022 Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Kerri and their experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
I think it is very important to give back to the community and help people who cannot afford to hire a civil attorney. Everyone deserves someone to stand up and advocate for them, regardless of finances.

Do you have any stand out stories?
All of the clients I have assisted at MVLS have appreciated my assistance, however, what stands out to me when a clients become tearful with happy tears of joy and relief when we have accomplished their goals and their voices have been heard, whether the client was awarded custody of their children or an amount of alimony needed to be able to afford to put food on the table. 

What is your favorite part about volunteering with MVLS?
My favorite part about volunteering is the feeling I get when I have empowered someone to stand up for his/her rights.

Why should other attorneys do pro bono?
It is rewarding and everyone deserves a voice in the legal system. 

Where do you see the Impact of civil legal services in the next ten years?
I believe that civil legal services are going to be in greater demand and there will be more and more people who will not be able to afford these services, which is why MVLS is so vital to the community, and I fully support this organization.

June 2022 Volunteer of the Month

We’re proud to recognize Aaron Uslan as the June 2022 Volunteer of the Month. Read on to learn more about Aaron and his experience as an MVLS volunteer. 

Aaron Uslan

Why do you choose to volunteer with MVLS? 
I decided to volunteer with MVLS in 2020 when my business was substantially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The silver lining was I could devote more time to volunteering and pro bono efforts. A colleague had recommended MVLS as a way to assist immigrant families with their legal issues. My background is in immigration law so I thought I would be a natural fit.

Do you have any stand out stories?
I don’t have any specific stand out stories. Although all my clients have been extremely grateful for the assistance and have repeatedly expressed their thanks.

What is your favorite part about volunteering with MVLS?
My favorite part is helping the children involved in these cases. Many of them had to leave their friends and family and flee their home countries for fear of violence and persecution. Knowing I can give them a fresh start here in Maryland provides me with a sense of fulfillment and accomplishment at the end of the day.

Why should other attorneys do pro bono?
Attorneys should do it because there is a substantial need for pro bono legal services right now in Maryland. Many Maryland families are currently struggling to make ends meet because of inflation and sky high housing costs. There also has been an influx of unaccompanied children from Central America who have relocated to the state in recent years. These children are in desperate need of legal assistance. A little time goes a long way to help these deserving kids.