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Tech Solutions for Marylanders’ Legal Needs

Posted by Yelitza Conover on November 2, 2016

The trend of creating tech solutions for everyday problems has finally come to the legal world. These recent innovations signal a new model for providing legal services. One where saying, “There’s an app for that,” can truly change a person’s life.

One example is an expungement program developed by an attorney at Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, Matt Stubenberg., as reported in the New York Times. Even though, “as many as one in three Americans have some type of criminal record,”  many are unaware that they may qualify for expungement, the deletion of their criminal records. Some may not be able to afford a lawyer to help them expunge their records.

On MDExpungement.com, users type in a case number and the program determines if a case may qualify for expungement. The program even automates and fills out a form for filing.

Beyond making expungement available and affordable, Stubenberg also developed CLUE – Client Legal Utility Engine. Used by attorneys during client intake, this program will search for expungeable records, public utility records, and documents filed by banks to help the attorney determine whether a client is also at risk of losing their home for failure to pay water bill or foreclosure. The program is unique in that it works toward solving one of the greater problems with access to justice: a person who comes to an attorney with one legal problem is likely to have another legal problem that does not get addressed.

Technology for legal assistance is new territory, but now the Maryland Judiciary has launched the Maryland Law Help app. This app helps users find a court, access forms, locate statutes, and get connected to legal assistance in the Judiciary’s law libraries and self-help centers through their mobile devices.

Civil Justice, Inc., a Maryland non-profit legal services organization, will soon release an online referral program called JusticeReferrals. Meant for attorney’s working for Maryland pro bono, reduced-fee, and legal services organizations, it helps those seeking help get effective legal representation in one place. First, a client’s answers to intake questions gets input into the system. Next, statewide attorneys and member organizations who handle the client’s type of case will be notified and determine if and how they may be able to help the potential client. This data driven, inter-agency referral process should help find the client the best fit for their legal concerns. It is also meant to solve the frustrations many people have when interacting with legal service providers: the feeling of being bounced from one referral to the next without knowing why and without getting effective assistance.

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New Maryland Laws Effective July 2016 With More to Come October 2016

Posted by Yelitza Conover on August 11, 2016

Many new Maryland laws became effective on July 1, 2016 .  Still, keep an eye-out for more laws that are scheduled to take effect October 1, 2016 .
 

In Maryland, when both chambers of the General Assembly (House and Senate) have passed a bill, it is submitted to the Governor for his signature to make the bill into law or, if the Governor rejects the bill by a veto, the bill becomes law through three-fifths vote of the membership of each chamber. The Maryland Constitution requires new laws to take effect on the first day of June after the session which they were passed, unless another date is scheduled. In the past, Maryland bills were scheduled to become effective in July, but lately, many laws also get scheduled to take effect at the start of the  federal government’s new fiscal year, in October or at the start of the new calendar year, in January.

Media outlets, like the Baltimore Sun and the Capital Gazette have highlighted a few of the new laws that rolled-out in July. The most talked about law was the minimum wage increase to $8.75 per hour. This law is an example of how changes in state law can occur on a regularly-scheduled basis. This minimum wage change is part of an incremental increase under the Maryland Minimum Wage Act of 2014. It will reach $10.10 by July 2018.

To learn more about how a bill becomes a law in Maryland see the Maryland Manual On-Line’s page on the Legislative Process. See all Legislation passed by both chambers here. To read about more laws resulting from the 2016 session, see the Department of Legislative Services’ “90 Day Report”, a comprehensive review of legislation that was considered during the session. Also, see the “2016 Chapters: Chronological by Effective Date,” a list of new laws by Chapter Number and Bill Number in order of effective date.

 

 

 

 

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New Hours for the Free Foreclosure Mediation Brief Advice Project in the Anne Arundel County Public Law Library

Posted by Yelitza Conover on July 15, 2016

The Foreclosure Mediation Brief Advice Project in the Anne Arundel County Public Law Library has NEW HOURS!

  • Registration: None. First come, first served basis.
  • When: 3rd Wednesday of the month,  11:00 am—1:00 pm
  • Where: Anne Arundel County Public Law Library, Circuit Court for Anne Arundel County – RM 303, 8 Church Circle
    Annapolis, Maryland 21401

July 20, 2016 is the date of the next Foreclosure clinic in the Law Library at the new time.

The Foreclosure Mediation Brief Advice Project, a service of the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, provides FREE brief legal consultations for homeowners facing foreclosure who do not have legal representation.  Foreclosure Mediation Brief Advice Attorneys will:

  • Answer questions about foreclosure mediation;
  • Give legal advice regarding your foreclosure;
  • Help you understand court papers and documents you received regarding your foreclosure.

Foreclosure is the legal process that the lender starts with the courts when you have not made your mortgage payments, and the lender wants to force the sale of the house to recover the balance of the mortgage. Foreclosure mediation allows the homeowner to discuss their situation with the lender under the facilitation of a mediator. Foreclosure Mediation Brief Advice Attorneys will NOT attend mediation with you, but may help direct you to other options for obtaining legal representation for your mediation.

More detailed information about the foreclosure process and foreclosure mediation  is available on the Anne Arundel County Public Law Library Self Help and Pro Bono Wiki  and the Maryland People’s Law Library.

Can’t make it to the clinic?  Call the helpline: 443-808-0076
      Mondays from 1:30 pm—6:00 pm
Wednesdays from 8:00 am—12:00 pm

MVLS offers the program in other locations.  Check the website for more information.

 

 

 

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Best Practices and Technology to Better Serve Self-Represented Litigants with Low Literacy or Visual Impairments

Posted by Yelitza Conover on July 14, 2016

When self-represented litigants (SRLs) seek help from Maryland Court Self-Help Centers, Maryland Law Libraries, and other access to justice programs, they may need special assistance to use the resources available at these centers.

Imagine this everyday scenario: a staff member identifies the SRL’s legal issue and proceeds to help the SRL by looking up the relevant section in a law publication, by pulling-up a Plain English article on a legal topic, by downloading a template for a court form, or by handing them a pamphlet with referral information.

In this scenario, the services provider has exchanged words with the SRL without being aware of their difficulties with reading and writing. Almost 21 million Americans report vision problems, and 3.4 million over 40 are legally blind. Many Americans face barriers accessing basic corrective vision care. According to the U.S. Department of Education, National Institute of Literacy, 1 in 7 adults lack basic literacy skills, severely hindering their ability to participate in the judicial process.

Many adults will hide their difficulties rather than ask for help. They may become embarrassed or antagonistic if their literacy difficulties start to show. This can lead to unresolved legal issues.

WHAT CAN LEGAL SERVICE PROVIDERS DO TO HELP?

IDENTIFY LITERACY ISSUES

If you come across the following situations, you may have come across someone who has trouble reading and writing: Read the rest of this entry »

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Upcoming Expungement Clinic

Posted by Yelitza Conover on July 8, 2016

The Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service (MVLS) is hosting a FREE Expungement Clinic next week at Maryland City at Russett Community Library. Volunteer attorneys will provide FREE legal assistance and information concerning the expungement of criminal records. No registration or appointments necessary; legal services are provided on a first come, first serve basis.

When? Tuesday, July 12, 2016 | 5:00 PM – 8:30 PM

Where? Maryland City at Russett Community Library, Anne Arundel County Public Library, 3501 Russett Common, Laurel, MD 20724

For more information about the FREE clinic, please contact the Law Library at (410) 222-1387. You can also reach us via email at lawlibrary@aacounty.org or via fax at (410) 268-9762.

To learn more about expungement, check out these articles on the Maryland People’s Law Library, our wiki page and our past blog posts! The MDexpungement app is a great tool to help expunge your records. In addition, the Maryland Courts website includes information on how to expunge your records.

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Second-Chance Reform in Maryland: Expansion of State Expungement Laws Take Effect This October

Posted by Yelitza Conover on June 17, 2016

An arrest or a court case is a public record, even if an individual was never convicted. The public’s ability to view these records may negatively affect an individual’s ability to apply for work, housing, child custody, loans, or college. Recently, Maryland has taken progressive steps in expanding shielding and expungement of charges that resulted in non-convictions or convictions for certain types of misdemeanors.

Last year, under the 2015 Maryland Second Chance Act, the state allowed certain nonviolent misdemeanor convictions to be shielded from the public record after a 3 to 7 year waiting period. Shielding, however, only removes the record entry from Maryland’s Judiciary Case Search. Law enforcement and employers requiring criminal background checks can still access these records.

In Maryland, people with non-convictions and some misdemeanors can get go a step further by getting their records expunged after a waiting period. Expungement is a request for a court to remove these records from public view by destroying or sealing an individual’s records. Expungement also means that the event can be treated as if it never occurred. An individual may be able to answer no to whether or not they have been convicted of a crime on applications for things like employment, licensing, and housing.

This year Maryland passed the Justice Reinvestment Act, which expands expungement to misdemeanor theft and assault convictions. The Act also provides drug treatment as an alternative to jail for addicts. By removing these records from public view individuals reentering society can get a fair second chance. Employers will not be deterred from hiring these individuals and securing employment will reduce the likelihood of repeat offenses.

For more information:

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A Look at the 2016 Justice Index

Posted by Yelitza Conover on June 10, 2016

The long-awaited results of the 2016 Justice Index were released at the end of May. The National Center for Access to Justice (NCAJ) at Cardozo Law School paints a picture of overall accessibility to the U.S. population in its Justice Index by analyzing data on four major barriers to American justice systems: attorneys available to the poor, assistance available to self-represented litigants, language assistance, and disability assistance. NCAJ collected and analyzed data from every U.S. state and, starting this year, from Puerto Rico. NCAJ hopes that clear, comprehensive and transparent data on the state of access to justice in America will serve as a tool for awareness and accountability and will be used to strengthen best practices for ensuing access to justice systems. Visitors to the Justice Index website can see resource availability and gaps of the most vulnerable populations by viewing interactive maps and graphs.

How is the country performing when it comes to access to justice and where does Maryland stand in comparison to other states? On a 100-point scale, Maryland rose from 20th place in 2014, with a composite score of 56.4, to 4th place this year, with a composite score of 60.38.

With regard to the four individual categories that average into the composite score, Maryland ranks 3rd in providing attorneys available to the poor. Yet, a closer look at the numbers illustrates that there are not enough lawyers for the poor. Nationally there are approximately 40 attorneys for every 10,000 people compared to only 14 attorneys for every 10,000 people living in poverty. In Maryland, there are approximately 40 attorneys for every 10,000 people compared to a mere 1.49 attorneys for every 10,000 people living in poverty. The Anne Arundel County Public Law Library (AACPLL) helps self-represented individuals by hosting a daily Family Law Self-Help Center staffed by Maryland Legal Aid attorneys and a Wednesday Lawyer in the Library program for other civil law concerns.

Maryland ranks 8th in best practices for self-represented litigants with a score of 67.50. It appears that Maryland misses the mark on providing plain English resources, foreclosure assistance, and electronic filing. However, e-filing has recently been introduced to Maryland courts. AACPLL provides many self-help resources and forms for self-represented litigants.

There are over 25 million people with limited proficiency in English in the U.S.. Maryland ranks 7th in helping this population, scoring 73.03 for providing free and certified translators for various family law and housing law hearings. A disparity continues to exist in providing interpreters at Maryland self-help centers and translations on Maryland judiciary websites. At AACPLL, self-help centers access telephone interpreters through Language Line.

Maryland, tied with Minnesota and Missouri, places 2nd, with a score of 86.11, in providing reasonable accommodation and counsel to assure people with disabilities a fair opportunity to be heard. Still, there are no dedicated court employees with mental health training and no certification requirements for sign language interpreters.

All-in-all, there appear to be both accomplishments and deficiencies nationally and statewide. To find out more see the Justice Index 2016 at: http://justiceindex.org/

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