MVLS pro bono attorneys are working hard to help Baltimore City residents avoid tax sale because of delinquent water bills. MVLS Deputy Director Susan Francis spoke with WBAL-TV 11 Baltimore
about this issue and how it impacted one of our clients James McCallister. Watch and learn more below.
MVLS’s Managing Attorney for Housing and Consumer Law Amy Hennen represented Project PLASE, a nonprofit that administers subsidized rent for people transitioning from shelters. A landlord took PLASE to court over two water bill disputes involving subsidized tenants. He initially filed the cases in rent court, but because of a recent Maryland ruling that addressed which court tenant water bills issues are heard in, they were moved to civil court for contract disputes.
PLASE was initially unaware that they needed an attorney for civil court. At rent court, they were able to go to court without a lawyer, but now they needed to have one. Without the room in their budget to pay for a private attorney, PLASE contacted MVLS’s Community Development Project, which connects non-profits with pro bono attorneys. With just a few days’ notice before the hearing, Ms Hennen successfully advocated on behalf of PLASE.
Ultimately, the case was dismissed because of a technicality – the landlord had formed an LLC for his rental business, but had taken the clients to court under his own name. But while she was representing Project PLASE, Ms. Hennen threw in some helpful legal advice. The landlord had been under the impression that PLASE was entirely responsible for unpaid water bills, even if they were due to a leak. Ms. Hennen advised PLASE to clarify their lease language regarding water bills and leaks so landlords would not look to courts to explain it.
Mary Slicher, Project PLASE’s Executive Director, appreciated the last-minute help. She wrote the following note to Ms. Hennen:
“You are a gem! Thank you so very, very much for your excellent help on these two cases! We could not have done it without you… [we] are impressed and grateful. So glad you were on our side.”
To volunteer with the Community Development Project to provide legal help to nonprofits that serve low-income Marylanders, please contact Michelle Swift, Pro Bono Program Manager, at email@example.com
or (443) 451-4068.
MVLS volunteer attorneys help children fleeing danger in their home countries through our partnership with Kids In Need of Defense (KIND)
, the Esperanza Center
and the University of Maryland Immigration Clinic
. These children, known as “Unaccompanied Youth”, are already in the United States living with adult sponsors, usually family members. They seek Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) in order to remain here.
A state court order is a prerequisite to filing for SIJS with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). MVLS volunteers are paired with the adult sponsors of children for their initial state court cases. For lawyers familiar with Maryland custody law, taking on this type of case is a natural fit. There is only one additional step beyond a normal custody case – obtaining a predicate order for SIJS. After the predicate order is established, another attorney represents the child before USCIS.
MVLS volunteers are paired with adult sponsors living in Baltimore City and County, Anne Arundel County, Frederick County, and all other counties that MVLS serves. The MVLS community has been crucial in enabling programs like KIND to stay afloat. “We work well together,” said Jennifer Jaimes, KIND’s Supervising Attorney for Pro Bono Programs. “I would say that KIND’s partnership with MVLS has been key in a moment where our services to children have been increasing. We get a lot of referrals.”
In the past few months, MVLS volunteers have accepted dozens of SIJS cases. Laurie Hansen, an MVLS volunteer attorney, took a SIJS case both to learn something new and to help vulnerable children. MVLS volunteer José Canto also had altruistic intent: “Helping these children obtain green cards puts them on the path towards success in this country,” he said. But he also anticipated a long-term business benefit. “As these children grow older and inevitably need legal help, who do you think they are going to call?” he asked. “The pro bono attorney who helped them get a green card,” he said. “You have a client for life.”
KIND and Esperanza have offered an increasingly strong network of support to pro bono attorneys. Lawyers who aren’t fluent in Spanish get in-person interpreters. Every MVLS volunteer is connected to a staff attorney for big-picture advice and mentorship, and for the smaller questions there’s a “Random Questions” listserv. Ms. Hansen accepted a joint Esperanza Center-MVLS case. “I relied on the Esperanza Center attorney for help. She provided sample pleadings,” Ms. Hansen said. “I also got a volunteer interpreter from the Esperanza Center.”
In the past three years, KIND has already helped over 300 children in Maryland. MVLS volunteers have stepped up to provide quality legal representation in their state court proceedings. The KIND-MVLS relationship has been mutually beneficial. Mr. Canto enjoyed working with KIND mentors. “The personalities you'll encounter in this line of work make the work worth doing,” he said. And KIND has appreciated MVLS volunteer help. “It has been a blessing,” Ms. Jaimes said. “Really.”
If you're interested in participating in the Unaccompanied Youth Project, or have additional questions, please contact MVLS Deputy Director Susan Francis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 443-451-4084.
Marilyn*, age 65, lives in West Baltimore with her daughter. Her neighborhood is near to some of Baltimore’s most cherished landmarks, like the Poe house and Hollins Market. It’s also full of vacants. At one point, somebody gave Marilyn some bad advice. They told her it would be advantageous to create an LLC with herself, her daughter, and her daughter’s friend, in order to make that LLC the record owner of the house.
In 2014, her house was put up for tax sale by the City of Baltimore. Even though Marilyn only made $10,000 a year, she didn’t qualify for the Homeowners Property Tax Credit, a program designed to keep people like her out of tax sale. She didn’t qualify because the house was owned by the LLC. MVLS placed her case with volunteer attorney Sabrina Kane who worked with Marilyn to redeem the home. Once the home was saved, Sabrina agreed to accept a second case – this time a deed change. She helped Marilyn unravel the LLC and get the home into her own name again so she could qualify for tax credits.
Marilyn lives right in between two vacant houses. Just by living there, she’s contributing to the normalcy and stability of the area. Cases like these are crucial to keeping Baltimore’s neighborhoods intact, and the MVLS community has the legal know-how to help.
To learn to help clients like Marilyn, join us for a tax sale training
! And join us for our upcoming clinics in Baltimore
and Prince George's County
David* took it hard when his significant other of 34 years died from lung cancer. He lost 50 pounds, and his finances grew precarious. David suffers from dementia, and since his partner was gone, he needed more care.
David ended up in the hospital where his treating physicians concluded he no longer had the ability to care for himself. The hospital filed a petition for the appointment of a guardian for David, and the court appointed an advocate for him – MVLS attorney Janet Fedder. Janet is an attorney with the Adult Protective Services Guardianship and Adult Public Guardianship Review Board (APGRB) project
, a program that represents more than 400 indigent adults in the Baltimore area in guardianship cases.
David was estranged from most of his family, but his niece Heather* was always there for him. Heather was very sympathetic to her uncle’s needs, and spoke to several attorneys about the case. But after speaking with them, she was left confused and with incorrect information about the guardianship process. Heather inaccurately believed that she would need to contribute to the cost of the guardianship proceedings as well David’s physical and medical care if she became his guardian.
As David’s advocate, Janet thoroughly and patiently explained the guardianship process to Heather and also informed her about what her legal rights and responsibilities would be if she were appointed David’s guardian. After discussing the matter with Heather, and knowing that David wanted Heather to be his legal guardian, Janet argued for that at the circuit court guardianship hearing. After Heather was appointed guardian, Janet then went above and beyond to help Heather navigate the nursing home system to find the best possible care for David. Because of the hard work of Janet and Heather, David is now in a comfortable, accepting aging care facility.
As the case drew to a close, Heather wrote Janet this note:
“I just wanted to thank you for all your time and effort you gave my uncle, [David]. I was very much ignorant of the system and through your guidance I feel my uncle has the best care. I now am in control of his care without the burden of his finances. Your concern for my affairs makes me so grateful for lawyers like you.”
To help people like David, attorneys can accept representation of an indigent petitioner. Contact Michelle Swift at email@example.com
or (443) 451-4068 to volunteer.
*Names have been changed
Check out the latest issue of the Maryland Bar Journal
! MVLS Advisory Board member & volunteer attorney Larry Coppel of Gordon Feinblatt
sought an ethics opinion on bankruptcy from the Maryland State Bar Association’s Ethics Committee to help MVLS argue the case for pro bono.
In most cases, if a volunteer attorney represents a bank or lender (or works for a firm that represents a bank or lender), that attorney has a conflict of interests if they take a pro bono case where the client has a case against that bank or lender.
This ethics opinion says that it isn’t a conflict if the pro bono case is a Chapter 7 no asset bankruptcy (the kind of case we place with volunteers). This is because the creditor would not receive any disbursement; it is highly unlikely that the creditor would file anything in the bankruptcy, let alone seek to stop the pro bono client from getting a discharge of the debt in bankruptcy. It wouldn’t matter who the attorney is, so why limit how many pro bono attorneys are out there?
Aside from family law, bankruptcy is the most in-demand service that MVLS provides. We always need more attorneys to take bankruptcy cases. In the past, conflicts of interest have prevented us from placing cases with attorneys at large law firms, who otherwise would be a great fit for doing bankruptcy work pro bono.
Thanks to Larry and the MSBA Ethics Committee for their thoughtful work. Attorneys who are interested in taking on a bankruptcy case pro bono, join our panel today
! If you're already on our panel, contact Michelle Swift at firstname.lastname@example.org
or (443) 451-4068 to take on a bankruptcy case.