Cathy Haukedahl, executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, was recently interviewed for a feature story in Attorney at Law magazine. Haukedahl shares experiences that have shaped her access to justice philosophy, the core values that influence her work with legal aid, and how the community can continue to progress in our pursuit of access to justice for the most vulnerable Minnesotans. Read the interview.
Legal Services State Support is pleased to announce that new, and improved, Order for Protection (OFP) and Harassment Restraining Order (HRO) interactive interviews are now available on LawHelpMN.org. These do-it-yourself guided interviews were created by Jenny Singleton, legal/technology projects manager at State Support, in collaboration with the MN Judicial Branch, and with support from LSC's Technology Initiative Grant Program.
The free interactive interviews take users step-by-step through all the information they will need to submit to the court in order to request an OFP or HRO. The interview then compiles the user’s submitted information and creates the forms the user will need to file with the court. Access the OFP interview, the HRO interview, and other interactive interviews and forms here.
Anishinabe Legal Services (ALS) is excited to announce new interactive family law court forms for White Earth and Leech Lake Tribal Courts. The forms are available online through LawHelpMN.org and were created with funding from LSC's Technology Initiative Grant Program. These free, interactive tribal court forms, available through LawHelp Interactive, include custody and parenting time petitions and answers, in forma pauperis, dissolution petition and answer, summons, petition for visitation, orders for protection, motion to modify child support, and more.
The new interactive forms use guided "interviews" which take users step-by-step through all the information they will need to submit to the tribal court, and include video instructions and checklists for individual use. The interview then compiles the user’s information to create the forms they will need to file with the tribal court.
Cody Nelson, ALS project designer, said, "Providing these automated forms and document assembly services for community members with so few pro bono legal assistance options is a tremendous opportunity to increase access to justice throughout the Leech Lake and White Earth Reservation communities.”
by Lindsay Davis, Access to Justice Director - MSBA
Last week the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), with support from the Public Welfare Foundation, announced the recipients of their Justice for All project grants. Minnesota was one of only seven states to win the grant, out of 25 that had applied, and it was the only Midwest state to earn the honor. Other states include Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and New York. Each grant award is for up to $100,000 for strategic action planning grants and eligibility to apply for implementation funding next year.
This initiative stems from a fairly recent Resolution on Meaningful Access to Justice for All from the Conference of State Court Administrators and the Conference of Chief Justices. At the heart of the Resolution is an aspirational goal of 100% access to effective legal assistance for essential civil legal needs through a continuum of meaningful and appropriate services. This means that ideally everyone who needs help with an essential civil legal issue (preventing homelessness, income stability, etc.) receives some kind of meaningful help. The continuum concept means that different individuals and situations would warrant different kinds of legal help, which could vary from full service representation through a civil legal aid program, to online advice or help from a self-help center in a courthouse, to a limited scope representation from a private attorney. It does not mean “Civil Gideon” or a blanket right to counsel for all cases.
The strategic planning grants will allow each state to engage in planning and coordination with relevant stakeholders to develop state assessments and action plans, in hopes of promoting collaboration and innovation to meet the essential civil legal needs across the state. After working through the planning grant, the next step will be applying for an implementation grant to bring a piece of the plan in to action. In Minnesota, the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, the Minnesota State Bar Association, and the Minnesota Judicial Branch submitted a joint application.
Speaking on behalf of the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition, Cathy Haukedahl, executive director of Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid said, “This is an excellent opportunity for Minnesota to increase access to justice across the state and showcase nationally the many innovations we already have in place.”
The Public Welfare Foundation’s press release is available here.
Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota (LSNM) celebrated its 40th anniversary in Detroit Lakes last month, and Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Natalie Hudson was on hand with remarks about LSNM's contributions to the community over the last four decades.
Highlights included the presentation of LSNM's highest honors: its Champion of Justice and Partners in Justice awards. The awards ceremony was presided over by LSNM’s executive director, Anne Hoefgen, and board president, Lawrence McDowell.
Mary Deutsch Schneider was honored with the Champion of Justice Award for her significant and enduring services to the poor and elderly of Northwest Minnesota. Schneider was the executive director of LSNM for 24 years before being elected to the North Dakota Legislature in 2014. Before her time at LSNM, she was an attorney at Legal Services of North Dakota.
“Mary has taught and inspired many of us, regionally and nationally, to fight for justice for those that cannot fight for themselves. She has a legacy in civil legal aid that will last for decades,” said Hoefgen.
Recognized with Partner in Justice Awards for their skillful and dedicated service to disadvantaged and elderly Minnesotans were:
- Ron Elwood, Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP)
- Robert Enger, Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota (LSNM)
- Mary Shequen Smith, Anishinabe Legal Services (ALS)
- Rebecca Swenson, Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota (LSNM)
“Each of our Partners in Justice provide advocacy to the most vulnerable in our communities. They serve these populations with dignity and respect. The impact of their collective work is immeasurable,” Hoefgen said.
LSNM is a non-profit organization that provides legal services without charge to low-income or elderly in 22 northwestern Minnesota counties. The organization was founded by local attorneys that recognized the need for civil legal aid for the poor. In 2016, LSNM will serve over 3,000 low-income clients.
Among the legal professionals to be honored at the Minnesota Justice Foundation’s (MJF) Annual Awards Celebration are Ann Conroy, office manager/training coordinator with Legal Services State Support, and Robert Enger, supervising attorney with Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota.
Both Conroy and Enger bring countless hours of exemplary service to low-income clients in their work with legal aid. Along with fellow award recipients, they will receive commendation from MJF on Wednesday, November 16, at International Market Square in Minneapolis beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Ann Conroy will receive the Advocate Award for her demonstrated commitment to expanding services to low-income and disadvantaged clients through her unique and multi-faceted role at State Support over the past 18 years. As office manager and training coordinator, Ann supports both the statewide legal aid community, and the public who turn to State Support for civil legal referrals and information.
Robert Enger will receive the Direct Legal Service Award for his demonstrated leadership, and zealous and skilled provision of legal representation to low-income and disadvantaged clients. In his 21 years of work at Legal Services of Northwest Minnesota, Bob has broken down barriers for those struggling to attain economic equality, justice in law and life, and to meet basic daily needs. To accomplish this beyond the scope of his legal services work, he has worked with his neighbors in community organizations, with local, state, and national bar associations, and in international efforts – to help individuals and groups fighting the constraints and effects of poverty.
The event’s keynote speaker will be Marianne Short, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of UnitedHealth Group. Ms. Short’s address, “Building Pro Bono as a Core Competency,” will be introduced by Vice President Walter Mondale.
Reservations for MJF's Annual Awards Celebration may be made by calling 612.625.1584 or by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The American Bar Association's Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service chose to launch Pro Bono Week because of the increasing need for pro bono services during these harsh economic times and the unprecedented response of attorneys to meet this demand. The National Pro Bono Celebration can be an effective strategic tool for enhancing and expanding local efforts to increase access to justice for all.
Here in Minnesota, Pro Bono Week provides an opportunity for the legal profession and the larger community to focus on the important service provided by pro bono lawyers. Throughout the week, legal aid providers schedule opportunities to serve clients, train attorneys, and recognize service. On Wednesday, October 26 (12 p.m.) at the Minnesota CLE Center in Minneapolis, the Minnesota State Bar Association will host its annual Pro Bono CLE, the signature statewide event for the week. This year’s topic is “The Criminalization of Poverty,” featuring a keynote by Nusrat Choudhury from the ACLU Racial Justice Project in New York, as well as a panel of local legal and community experts. Registration information for this event, as well as a full schedule of events around Minnesota for the week, are available at www.projusticemn.org/calendar.
"We are bound by a responsibility to use our unique skills and training - not just to advance cases, but to serve a cause; and to help our nation fulfill its founding promise of equal justice under law...The obligation of pro bono service must become a part of the DNA of both the legal profession and of every lawyer."
- Attorney General Eric Holder
Mary Cocchiarella saw an advertisement for a rental home, and after looking at the apartment, agreed to rent it. She paid the landlord $2,400 to cover first month’s rent and a security deposit. When she went to move into her home, the landlord denied her access and made excuses that it wasn’t ready. He continued to deny her access for a period of days. With nowhere to live, she sought relief in court for the landlord’s unlawful exclusion of her from her new home. With Legal Aid’s help, she brought separate claims for possession and statutory penalties. The trial court denied her request for relief and dismissed both of Ms. Cocchiarella’s claims, finding that – because she had not yet moved in – she was not “occupying” the rental home and thus was not a “residential tenant” as defined in landlord-tenant statutes.
Legal Aid helped Ms. Cocchiarella appeal the decision. The Court of Appeals reversed part of the trial court’s judgment, finding that Ms. Cocchiarella was entitled to pursue her claims for statutory penalties regardless of whether she physically occupied the rental home. But the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s judgment that Ms. Cocchiarella could not seek possession of her home for this reason.
Legal Aid helped Ms. Cocchiarella seek relief on this important issue in the Supreme Court of Minnesota. The Supreme Court took the case. After reviewing arguments presented by Legal Aid and landlord/tenant interest groups in briefs, the Supreme Court of Minnesota ruled in Ms. Cocchiarella’s favor. The Supreme Court held that “occupying” a rental home within the meaning of landlord-tenant law includes the legal right of possession, even in the absence of physical occupancy. Because Ms. Cocchiarella presented evidence of a lease, with payment of rent and a security deposit, she had pleaded a case for possession under that lease. Following this landmark decision on the concept of legal occupancy, the case is headed back to the trial court for Ms. Cocchiarella to put forth her evidence in support of her claims for possession and statutory penalties. Read the decision. Contact: Gary Van Winkle, email@example.com.
Every year Minnesota Lawyer magazine recognizes a group of attorneys within their first 10 years of practice who have already distinguished themselves by their achievements. Among them is Rebecca Scholtz, staff attorney with Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid (MMLA).
“I was interested in immigration issues even before law school,” recalled Scholtz, who also worked with migrant children in the Peace Corps. “This was my dream job. I’m lucky in that I get to do both direct representation and broader work.”
Scholtz and her fellow awardees were honored at a Sept. 8th luncheon at the Hyatt Regency in Minneapolis. Read more about her at Minnesota Lawyer.
Newspapers, service providers, and readers in northeastern Minnesota are familiar with a longstanding tradition: question and answer "tips" written by the three-person staff of the Senior Citizens’ Law Project at Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM). These popular Q & A informational articles are also available to seniors across the state via LawHelpMN.org. Dubbed the Senior Legal Line, the impetus for the articles was to get legal information to as many people as possible in hopes of preventing common legal problems faced by seniors.
Managing attorney Kristin L. Parendo notes that, "it's a great way to distill tips about common legal problems/questions that we see to the general public. The hope is that readers can get an idea about what they can do to help themselves prevent problems, or at least know the high points of a topic so they can tell if this is something they should find out more about."
"Sometimes we write the Q & A to bring attention to a new law, or about topics that aren’t talked about much, such as our article about sex in the nursing home. We get people that write to us with questions and become clients." Visit LawHelpMN.org for a full listing of Senior Legal Line articles.
A client contacted the Minnesota Disability Law Center (MDLC) in November 2013 to complain about his treatment on a Metro Transit bus earlier that month. Staff attorney Justin Page requested Metro Transit provide a copy of the bus video, so he could view the incident. Metro Transit refused to provide a copy of the video claiming the video was “private personnel data” under the Minnesota Governmental Data Practices Act (MGDPA).
MDLC filed suit arguing that the video is both public data, and that their client is the subject of the data. The district court agreed with this argument, and ruled that the video is public, and that the client is entitled to the video because he is the subject of it. The Met Council appealed to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court decision that the video is public data.
The Met Council again appealed to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The Minnesota Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the district court decision on the basis that the client is the subject of the data under the MGDPA. This ruling will have a wide impact. Whenever a governmental agency has information that pertains to your client, your client is entitled to the information as a subject of the data under the MGDPA.
Thanks to Hennepin County’s new Eviction Representation Project, a pilot program of Legal Aid and Volunteer Lawyers Network, more tenants will have an experienced attorney to represent them when their landlord pursues illegal eviction.
Doug Clark, a Legal Aid staff attorney with over 30 years of experience in housing law, has taken the lead on the new project. Sometimes he helps with simple negotiation over a misunderstanding. The landlord receives their rent, the client either continues the lease or leaves with a clean record and everyone wins with minimal demand on Housing Court resources. In cases that go to trial, the tenants have an attorney able to fully articulate all the facts underlying their defense. Often, Clark asks the court to determine that health or safety problems exist and orders repairs and reduced or returned rent.
In Hennepin County eviction cases, fewer than 5 percent of tenants have attorneys and many are in court for the first time. In contrast, 40-45 percent of landlords have counsel and those without attorneys often have professional property management agents who understand the eviction process and have done it many times.
“There’s a complete inequity and imbalance in sophistication when it comes to navigating that system,” says Legal Aid supervising attorney Drew Schaffer. “The advice services offered by the already existing Housing Court Project are invaluable. They arm people with information about their rights and support to defend themselves. But there are many cases where advice doesn’t fully vindicate the person’s rights.” Read the full article in the September edition of Attorney at Law magazine.
The August edition of Attorney at Law magazine features an overview of the work of Legal Services State Support to leverage technology for access to civil legal justice in Minnesota. State Support's efforts are directed and supported by the Minnesota Legal Services Coalition programs, and its technology initiatives are developed in cooperation with Minnesota's legal aid and national legal aid communities. Read the full article in the digital edition of Attorney at Law.
Last week, a group of people with disabilities filed a class action lawsuit in federal district court in Minneapolis on behalf of people with disabilities who are being denied access to homes of their choice. The lawsuit claims that the Minnesota Department of Human Services allows very few people to access individualized housing options and refuses to help hundreds of people currently forced to remain in corporately owned and operated group homes. They experience isolation, lack of control, and an overall helplessness about their lives. The plaintiffs are asking for help to find and move into homes they choose with services they control.
Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Minnesota Disability Law Center is representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit with co-counsel Anthony Ostlund Baer & Louwagie P.A. Legal Aid attorney Sean Burke stated, “The system Minnesota has relied on has not evolved since the early 1980’s. The State has promised people with disabilities the chance to be integrated into their communities, but for many it only offers housing in group homes. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires more than that.”
Lead Counsel for plaintiffs, Justin Perl, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid’s Litigation Director, added, “Our clients just want to live where they want and with whom they want, just like people without disabilities. Unfortunately, the system Minnesota has created for them has needlessly segregated them from the rest of society. It is simply unacceptable, and a violation of the ADA, to foreclose our clients from access to housing options that exist in the community.”
Dionne Swanson, a plaintiff in the suit, remarked “I’m 43 years old and I want to have the freedom to make my own choices, basic stuff - like what time I go to bed.”
Read more in the Star Tribune.
Volunteer Lawyers Network has published a new legal information guide aimed at pro se petitioners seeking to expunge a criminal record. Using a straightforward, numbered format that includes visual prompts and sample documents, "Criminal Expungement in Minnesota: A Step-by-Step Guide for Pro Se Petitioners" explains how to complete the necessary paperwork, and provides tips for increasing a favorable outcome. Using a guide developed by the Court as inspiration, Yaima Couso, VLN’s Robina Fellow, decided to memorialize in writing the information already being covered at VLN’s monthly criminal expungement seminars because she noticed that helping pro se clients with expungement often involved writing down step-by-step what needed to be done.
Of the new guide, Couso said “I think the criminal expungement process can be overwhelming and confusing, even for experienced attorneys. Having an easily accessible step-by-step guide can help alleviate a lot of the anxiety of going through expungement.”
The complete guide is available on LawHelpMN.org in both PDF and online viewing formats.