April 25, 2024 - by MSBA Staff

A2J Dispatch – April 2024 Issue

In this month’s issue of the A2JC Dispatch, we celebrate our successful advocacy efforts for HB693, resulting in $15M in additional civil legal aid funding and highlight several priority bills supported by the Public Interest Law Committee that passed, addressing issues such as tenant safety, rental assistance, and discrimination laws. Additionally, we invite you to join A2J Commission and its Public Interest Law Committee for upcoming events, including a Legislative Wrap-up and a networking reception. We also share MLSC’s  FY23 Annual Report highlighting $31.7 million in grants to nonprofits, Maryland Legal Aid’s partnership with Reid Temple A.M.E. Church for a free expungement clinic, Maryland celebrating 61 years of the right to counsel with Gideon's Day event. You can find all of these stories and more in this month’s Dispatch.

A2J Commission News

  • Upcoming A2JC and Public Interest Law Committee Events

A2JC and its Public Interest Law Committee will be hosting a series of events in the next couple of months, please plan on joining!

May 13, 4pm to 6pm - A2JC and PILC will host a Legislative Wrap-up, featuring civil legal aid organizations. All members of PIL Committee are welcome to join!

May 22, 3:30pm to 4:30pm - Public Interest Law Committee will host a JUST ICE CREAM Spring Social and Networking Reception immediately following the Partners for Justice Conference at the Baltimore Convention Center conference location. 

June 5, 6pm to 8pm - A2JC will again host a casual and feel-good Welcome Dinner and Fundraiser at the MSBA Legal Summit. Start your Legal Summit experience out right by joining us to meet, mingle and break bread in good company, while supporting justice and eating delicious specialty pizza!

  • A2JC Succeeds in Advocating for Top Legislative Priority, Resulting in $15M in Additional Civil Legal Aid Funding

    The Maryland Access to Justice Commission, which is powered by the MSBA, along with its Public Interest Law Committee, tracked over 100 bills during the 2024 legislative session and successfully advocated for the passage of key priority bills. 

    A2JC’s top priority during this legislative session was passing HB693, the Governor’s Renters’ Rights and Stabilization Act of 2024, as it was the only mechanism to substantially fund civil legal aid in Maryland. There was an urgent need for continued funding for the Access to Counsel in Evictions Program as well as for all the other life-saving legal services offered by civil legal aid organizations. A2JC succeeded in advocating for the passage of the bill, playing a critical convening and strategic role in the coordinated effort to pass the bill. A2JC convened a large coalition of civil legal aid organizations and the Maryland Legal Services Corporation (MLSC) and worked in concert with the Office of the Governor, the Maryland State Bar Association, the Department of Housing and Community Development, the Office of the Attorney General and more in order to strategize and coordinate testimony, communications and grassroots advocacy. Indeed, A2JC employed MSBA’s grassroots advocacy tool to make over 5000 contacts to legislators during the session, advocating for the passage of this bill. The passage of the bill is estimated to generate approximately $15M in the first year for MLSC to implement the ACE Program and fund critical civil legal aid. The successful passage of the bill was tempered by a last minute amendment that passed a filing fee surcharge to tenants through their security deposits, which A2JC fought hard against, but ultimately was unable to defeat. 

    A few other bills that increased access to attorneys and civil legal aid funding also passed, including SB1142, to provide funding for Low-Income Tax Clinics; and SB797, which will provide access to attorneys, advocates and consultants for Special Education. 

  • A2JC's Public Interest Law Committee Priorities Pass

    Several bills that were priorities of A2JC's Public Interest Law Committee passed during this legislative session, including 

    HB1117 "The Tenant Safety Act" that codifies that a dwelling offered for rent must be fit for human habitation; authorizing multiple tenants to join in the same civil action and allows for fee-shifting to encourage private attorneys to take these critical cases. 

    HB428, which establishes the Rental Assistance for Community School Families Program and Fund to provide rental assistance to eligible student households.

    HB1397, which alters existing discrimination laws to include discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religious beliefs, marital status, and disability.

Tips from Maryland Judiciary’s Access to Justice Department

We are pleased to offer recurring content from the Maryland Judiciary’s Access to Justice Department as part of the A2J Dispatch. 

  • New Videos from the Maryland Judiciary Support Victims of Crime The Maryland Judiciary has produced a two-part video series on The Rights and Roles of Victims of Crime. Both videos are available in the Judiciary’s Court Help Video Library at mdcourts.gov/videos. The first video in the series, The Roles of Victims of Crime, provides information on how to bring criminal charges, the victim’s role in a criminal case, and subpoenas issued for victims to attend trial. The second video in the series, The Rights of Victims of Crime, addresses victims’ rights to have representation and to receive information about the criminal case, and discusses avenues for financial compensation for loss due to the crime.

Local A2J News

  • MLSC’s FY23 Annual Report The Maryland Legal Services Corporation, the largest funder of civil legal aid in Maryland, released its annual report for fiscal year 2023. In FY 2023, MLSC made $31.7 million in operating, Judicare and special project grants to 40 nonprofits serving low-income Marylanders. 

  • MD Legal Aid Teams with Reid Temple A.M.E. to Offer Free Expungement Clinic Maryland Legal Aid (MLA), in partnership with Reid Temple A.M.E. Church of Glenn Dale, Md., is hosting a free expungement clinic at the church on April 27. Individuals with a criminal history will have an opportunity to be advised by legal professionals and have petitions prepared on site. 

  • Attorney General Brown Leads Supreme Court Brief Opposing Criminalization of Involuntary Homelessness Maryland Attorney General Anthony G. Brown led a coalition of six attorneys general in filing a Supreme Court amicus brief supporting the respondents in City of Grants Pass v. Johnson. The brief argues that the Constitution’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment prohibits punishing people for sleeping on public property when they have no other place to lawfully sleep. 

  • Loyola Remembers Its First Student of Color, Charles H. Dorsey, Jr., ’57, Who Made History Charles H. Dorsey, Jr., who led the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau from 1974 until he passed in 1995 and has ABA and NLADA awards named after him, faced two seemingly insurmountable obstacles when he first applied to what was then Loyola College in 1948. He’d taken the courses required to qualify for admission, but the schools he attended were unaccredited in the region. And he was black. 

  • Maryland Celebrates 61 Years of Right to Counsel for All With Gideon’s Day Event The Maryland Office of the Public Defender hosted its inaugural Gideon’s Day event Monday evening to mark the 61st anniversary of the landmark Supreme Court decision, Gideon v. Wainwright, establishing the right to counsel for all accused people in the U.S. regardless of their ability to pay.

National A2J News

  • Office for Access to Justice Launches New Public Defense Resource Hub To commemorate National Public Defense Day, the Justice Department’s Office for Access to Justice (ATJ) announced the launch of the Public Defense Resource Hub (PD Hub), a one-stop shop with comprehensive resources and materials to support individuals and organizations involved in public defense. 

  • Access to Justice Means Listening to People on the Ground The People Series is a set of interviews with a diverse set of leaders around the world committed to achieving Sustainable Development Goal 16+, documenting their own justice journeys and priorities in the fight to make justice for all a reality.

  • Missouri AI Rules Could Impede Access to Justice There’s great potential for artificial intelligence to increase the access to information for both lawyers and nonlawyers. Yet Missouri seems determined to stymie access to AI tools for nonlawyer, self-represented litigants, as a court rule and a recent decision evidence.
  • Legal Kiosk Projects A2J Tech is thrilled to announce our collaboration to expand Legal Kiosks across Georgia, Arizona, California, and Michigan. We are proud to help legal aid programs with their efforts to empower their clients. 

  • $1M Grant Will Help Expand Access to Justice in Virginia, Regardless of Income A $1 million grant will help the Virginia Poverty Law Center expand its legal resources and online materials to assist thousands of Virginians with self-help materials if they cannot afford a lawyer. 

  • Gift Laws Can Impede State Employees' Access to Justice Although services and support that can benefit survivors exist –– pro-bono legal counsel and mental health counseling, for example –– state employees are essentially barred from accepting any in-kind offers of legal or material support, thanks to otherwise well-intentioned gift laws.

  • Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School Welcomed The Department Of Justice’s Office For Access To Justice On Their National Law School Tour Attendees were invited to table talks with over 20 participating organizations, ranging from defender offices to non-profits, local to national. An inspiring keynote address was delivered by Director Rossi, who spoke passionately about joining the mission of public defense work while inspiring students to forge a new vision for justice.

  • Judges and Attorneys Host Webinar to Demystify Small Claims Court for New Yorkers Judge Lola Waterman, chair of the Brooklyn Bar Association’s Access to Justice Committee, organized the event and explained the importance of understanding the Small Claims Court, known as “The People’s Court.”

  • Mayor's Fund's Eviction-prevention Program Receives $2.8 Million Investment from Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation and Health Net Recognizing the importance of preventing evictions in overcoming Los Angeles's homelessness crisis, The Bob & Dolores Hope Foundation has donated $1.5 million and Health Net $1.3 million to support the Mayor's Fund for Los Angeles' We Are LA program. We Are LA connects people at risk of eviction to every resource available to them to help them maintain stable housing.

  • Behind The Unique Hurdles Of Rural Access To Justice The premise is simple: A declining number of rural practitioners has resulted in a rural access to justice crisis. But is the relationship between these two factors — the number of attorneys and access to justice — so straightforward?

  • Enabling Access to Justice Winner, Provider: Relativity While the foundation of any legal system is rooted in equality and equal protection, what is not equal for overlooked communities across the globe is their access to legal representation," said Johnathan Hill, Community Engagement Lead at Relativity.