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Anne Arundel Local Pro Bono Committee – Update

Posted by Joan Bellistri on April 23, 2013

The following was submitted to the AABA newsletter, the Barrister.

A report on the Local Pro Bono Committee should begin with an overview of the Committee’s purpose.  The Local Pro Bono Committee is a separate entity from the AABA Pro Bono Committee and exists per Maryland Rule 16-902.  The rule provides that the committee  consist of a combination of judges, attorneys and the general public. The Committee is charged with working with legal services providers and pro bono referral organizations to develop a Local Pro Bono Action Plan to “promote pro bono legal service to meet the needs of persons of limited means in the county.”  Kevin Shaeffer chaired the committee that wrote the plan in 2004.  The Committee stopped meeting after a time.  In 2010 interest in pro bono service sparked by AABA president Jonathan Kagan lead to the formal reconstitution of the Committee in July 2011.  Through the work of the Committee and volunteer attorneys Anne Arundel County has established some good limited legal advice programs.  The Committee  must now concentrate on what can be done to increase pro bono representation in our county.  (Anne Arundel is again last in the state in reporting pro bono hours.)  The Committee has partnered with the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service which acts as the Anne Arundel Pro Bono referral service.  There are still more clients from Anne Arundel County in need of representation than there are Anne Arundel volunteers.

The 2013 year began with the Annual Pro Bono Recognition Lunch in January.  Attorneys who volunteer in the “Ask a Lawyer” programs by providing services in the Anne Arundel County Public Law Library, at the North County Area Library of the Anne Arundel County Public Library system and at the Annual Anne Arundel County Homeless Resource Day were invited to lunch where they were thanked for their service and received certificates that detailed their pro bono hours for the year of 2012.  Circuit court judges Hon. Nancy Davis-Loomis, Hon. Phillip Caroom, Hon. Ronald Silkworth, Hon. Alison Asti and Master Timothy Thurtle as well as Court Administrator, Doug Hofstedt, and Nancy Faulkner, Director of Court Operations attended to show their appreciation.  The 38 volunteer “Ask a Lawyer” attorneys provided 206 hours of free legal advice to 445 clients in 2012.

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The Annual Anne Arundel Homeless Resource Day was held on March 16 at Glen Burnie High School.  Even though it was not held on the traditional last weekend of March, attendance was not affected.  This was the 6th Annual Homeless Resource Day and the 5th in which Anne Arundel Attorneys have provided legal services.  There were 14 volunteers this year who took on either a morning or afternoon shift.  The volunteers consisted of a large contingent of Legal Aid Attorneys who have the experience needed to handle the issues facing many of the homeless.  This year Anita Bailey, Margaret Leonard, Amy Siegel, and Kathy Hughes represented Legal Aid.  Judson Arnold and Denis O’Connell who are with the Office of the Public Defender were able to help with criminal issues.  They performed 2 intakes for representation. The varied experience of private practice attorneys is always needed and appreciated.  This year Make Valadez, Tasnima Apol, Jim Sauer, Kari Fawcett, Gene Brennan, Scott MacMullan and Ginina Stevenson volunteered. Past experience had shown that there are usually more clients in the morning but this year the afternoon seemed just as busy.  There were 88 participants in all who used the legal services this year to find answers to 95 legal questions. While this was a small increase over last year, in 2009, the first year, there were only 4 attorneys who helped 50 clients.  The majority of those are seeking assistance with expungement or family law.  Representatives from the Homeless Persons Representation Project (HPRP), Atonia Fasanelli and Katie Scott provided support with expungement issues at the event and provided training for volunteers beforehand.  Of the 31 asking for assistance with expungement, there were 4 referrals to HPRP and only 3 that actually met the qualifications for filing.  This year we had additional assistance from the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service.  Executive Director, Bonnie Sullivan and Sally Snowberger, the Foreclosure Prevention Housing Counselor,  were able to provide assistance and perform intakes for the 7 who qualified.  The Anne Arundel County Homeless Resource Day was the first Homeless Day in Maryland and is being used as a model across the state at the request of Governor O’Malley.

In order to share ideas for the promotion of pro bono service the Court of Appeals Standing Committee on Pro Bono Service held a regional meeting on March 18 for the Local Pro Bono Committees of Anne Arundel, Carroll, Frederick and HowardCounties. Although it was held in March just two days before the start of spring,  the winter-like weather made travel to HowardCounty difficult.  Still, most all who responded made it to the meeting. Attending from Anne Arundel County were Joanie Bellistri, Law Librarian and Chair; Anita Bailey, Lisa Sarro, and Sarah Frush of the Legal Aid Bureau; Judge North and Judge Silkworth from the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court;  Chris Poulsen,  Anne Arundel County Department of Social Services Program Manager; Scott MacMullan representing the Anne Arundel County MSBA Young Lawyers Section and Elizabeth Morris of the Office of the Attorney General.  The program involved a number of guided, small group discussions on topics such as the pro bono referral process, volunteer recruitment and retention, collaborating with the bench, and client needs v. volunteer interest and expertise.  Each group was created by assigned dinner seating so that there was a good mix based on location and background at each table for the discussion.  Group findings were reported to the larger group and all seemed to touch on the same basic points no matter the topic.  In brief, it was found that there is a need for full representation, especially in family law cases, that is not being met.  Pro bono service needs to become a part of the local bar’s culture.  Methods for encouraging increased pro bono participation included recognition of volunteers through awards programs, special treatment in the court room or free photocopies, and thank you letters from the bench; support of volunteers with training, mentoring and case costs; and awareness of legal service programs that will place volunteer attorneys  and programs that provide referrals for those in need of the services.  The evening ended with a meeting of each county’s representatives to discuss their county’s needs and to plan for that county’s pro bono activities. As a result you should see renewed efforts to increase pro bono participation in Anne Arundel County.  Right now, please consider giving pro bono service a try.  If every attorney in Anne Arundel would agree to take just one pro bono case, we could see a big improvement in the lives of those facing legal problems without assistance and an increase in Anne Arundel’s reported pro bono hours.

Please contact the Local Pro Bono Committee with any questions, ideas, suggestions or to join: 410-222-1387 or library@circuitcourt.org.

One Response to “Anne Arundel Local Pro Bono Committee – Update”

  1. […] Our very own Joan Bellistri, Director of the Law Library, is the chair of the local pro bono committee.  If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Joan Bellistri at (410) 222-1387 or joan.bellistri@aacounty.org. For more in-depth coverage about the Anne Arundel County Local Pro Bono Committee, check out our 2013 blog post. […]

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