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Holiday lawlibrary

The Law Library is Closed for the Presidents’ Day Holiday

The Law Library and Family Court Help Center in the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court is closed today, February 21, 2022 for the Presidents’ Day holiday.  The Law Library will reopen tomorrow, Tuesday, February 22, 2022.  Except on Court Holidays, the Library is open Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m.

Find out more about this holiday at the website of the National Archives. I was surprised to find out that “contrary to popular belief, neither Congress nor the President has ever stipulated that the name of the holiday observed as Washington’s Birthday be changed to “President’s Day.”

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Pro Bono

Pro Bono: Giving Back is the Heartbeat of the Legal Profession

All Maryland attorneys should have or soon will receive a Call-to-Action postcard from the Maryland Judiciary, the Attorney General’s Office, the Maryland State Bar Association, and the Maryland Access to Justice Commission all who have joined forces to ask all MD attorneys to provide pro bono help.

Signing up is easy. PBRC will match you with the pro bono organizations across the state that are poised to help you get connected to remote or in-person opportunities; train in your area of interest; and receive the support you need to successfully help Marylanders with their civil legal cases at a time they need it the most.

Sign-up here.

Want to know about opportunities in Anne Arundel County? Contact Joan Bellistri (410-222-1387) in the Law Library to learn about the Lawyer in the Library program or working with Maryland Court Help Centers through MCLA.

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lawlibrary

Writing for Everyone: The Benefits of Plain Language

Girl happily reading
Closson, William Baxter. “Girl Reading.” Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the National Museum of American History, Division of Graphic Arts, Smithsonian Institution

Most non-lawyers would probably agree that legal writing is difficult and hard to understand. Latin, French, Old English and Anglo-Norman terms abound, as do double negatives and coupled synonyms (like “null and void”). This jargon is strewn across lengthy, complex sentences that may need to be read several times – with a legal dictionary – to understand, if at all.

While frustrating, there are reasons for the strangeness of legalese. It should not allow any ambiguity, which means the language needs to be as precise and accurate as possible, to the point where specialized terms and lengthy, comprehensive text are sometimes necessary. Everyday speech evolves all the time and can cause disagreements, while the constancy – hence antiqueness – of legal language is intended to prevent these disagreements.  

The danger of misinterpreting the law and legal documents is, of course, why people need lawyers. Unfortunately, lawyers are too expensive for most people to afford. They are also surprisingly few: for every 10,000 Marylanders, there are only 40 lawyers available, and there are just 1.49 lawyers who provide pro bono or low-fee services for every 10,000 low-income Marylanders. As a result, there is a huge number of people fending for themselves in the court system. That said, shouldn’t the lawyer-less, who are still subject to local and federal laws, be able to understand those laws without an interpreter?   

A great number of people and organizations say yes, hence the passage of the Plain Writing Act of 2010. This act requires all federal agencies publish their documents in plain language. While legal language is intended to minimize ambiguity, it is probably safe to say that most people skip reading lengthy and incomprehensible legal documents. When is the last time you checked “accept” for an online agreement without taking the time to scroll through the small print? These poorly understood contracts can enable unpleasant surprises down the road and cause the very disputes they are meant to prevent.  

Some of the guidance on plain writing best practices, such as white space, bullet points, headings, and active voice, could benefit legal professionals as well. While research studies on this last point are scant, a 1987 study by Robert Benson and Joan Kessler did suggest that documents written in clearer, plainer English are deemed more convincing by judges.  

That said, writing clearly, plainly, and accurately in a way most people can understand is hard. In writing this blog post, I could not make its readability go below an 11th grade level, according to Microsoft Word’s readability statistics (here’s how to find that function). There are information hubs, guidelines, tools, and samples to help with this, however.

Here are a few resources:  

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lawlibrary

Lawyer in the Library: Wrap-Up for January 2022

Steve Migdal, Jack Paltell and Leonard Englander were the Lawyers in the Library for January. They assisted twelve people with issues such as wills and estates, landlord tenant problems, neighbor issues, expungement of a protective order and an automobile accident.

Jack Paltell, Leonard Englander and Steve Migdal

Once registered, information was sent to the registrants, so they could prepare for their session with the attorney. Examples of information sent this month included the Wills and Estates FAQ, the Landlord/Tenant FAQ, Maryland Judiciary brochure “Can I Keep the Public from Seeing Information about Me in a Peace or Protective Order Case?” and these articles from the People’s Law Library of Maryland on neighbor law, “Problems with Neighbors FAQ” and “Solving Disputes with Your Neighbors.” This information was also shared with the attorney so that they were aware of resources and referrals.

“Ask a Lawyer in the Library” is held every Wednesday of the month from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. and on the third Wednesday from 4:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. You can talk with a volunteer lawyer for at least 20 minutes about your civil, non-family legal problem for free. All sessions are now conducted over Zoom or by phone.

This program is sponsored by Anne Arundel County Local Pro Bono Committee, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service, and the Anne Arundel Bar Association. It is hosted by the Anne Arundel County Public Library.

Register online here or call the law library for help. Once you have registered, you will be sent a link to an intake sheet. Instructions for meeting with the attorney will be sent once the intake is competed.

Contact the library if you have questions: (phone) 410-222-1387 or (email) AALawLibrarian@mdcourts.gov

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lawlibrary

Anne Arundel County Public Libraries to Distribute KN95/N95 Masks

The Anne Arundel County Health Department announced on Wednesday that they would be partnering with the Anne Arundel County Public Library to distribute KN95/N95 masks to the public. Masks will also be distributed at Department of Health Clinics. You can find locations of public libraries here.

While this law library is a public library, it is not a part of the public library system that will be distributing the masks.

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lawlibrary

Annual Report of the Access to Counsel in Evictions Task

I found the Maryland Voices for Justice – The A2J Dispatch – in my inbox this morning. This newsletter comes from the Maryland Access to Justice Commission. This issue highlighted the Annual Report of the Access to Counsel in Evictions Task Force by reporting:

Access to Counsel in Evictions Task Force Report. Earlier this month the Maryland Access to Counsel in Evictions Task Force released its first annual report to the Governor and Maryland General Assembly regarding the statewide Access to Counsel in Evictions Program. In addition to creating the Program, House Bill 18, which was passed during the 2021 legislative session and became law, effective October 1, 2021, also created the Access to Counsel in Evictions Task Force. The Task Force was staffed by the Attorney General’s office and composed of a group of key stakeholders tasked with figuring out how best to implement the Program. It issued its final report outlining key principles and recommendations that included policy and statutory changes necessary for effective implementation.

To get the latest A2JC updates and receive A2JC’s curated monthly, the A2JC Dispatch, sign up at the A2J Commission website (at the bottom of the page).

Categories
lawlibrary Libraries

Conference of Maryland Court Law Library Directors -CMCLLD FY21 Annual Report

The Conference of Maryland Court Law Library directors has issued its Annual Report for FY2021. The report describes how the Conference provides access to legal information, offers expert
assistance with using legal materials, operates educational programs and advocates and innovates new solutions for connecting the public to legal information and self-help resources.

Categories
Holiday lawlibrary

Law Library will be closed for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday

The Law Library and the Family Law Self-Help Center in the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court are closed today, January 17, 2022, in observance of the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. You can read a little about Martin Luther King, Jr. at America’s Library – the Library of Congress here.

The Law Library will reopen tomorrow, January 18, 2022.  A list of Court Holidays is available on the Circuit Court’s website at http://www.circuitcourt.org/court-holidays. Except on Court Holidays, the Library is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m.

Categories
lawlibrary Maryland Law

2022 Maryland Legislative Session

The Maryland legislative session began yesterday, January 12, 2022. The Maryland General Assembly website is the place to find information needed to follow the 2022 session. Issues to be addressed this year include redistricting, COVID-19, family leave, legalization of cannabis, employer vaccine mandates, and evictions. For detailed discussion of issues see the 2022 Issue Papers prepared by the Department of Legislative Services Office of Policy Analysis.

See the Session dates of interest for a session calendar. It includes the last dates when House (February 4) and Senate bills (February 7) can be introduced without going before the respective Rules Committees. The last day of the session, SINE DIE, is April 11.

Senate protocols and the House Committee Guidelines provide information on how the session and committees will be conducted especially in relation to COVID. The House Guidelines are available in plain language and in an easy read format.

The Legislation tab provides access to all bills introduced and their progress through the session. There you can review bills that have been introduced by the Senate and House.

Categories
lawlibrary Maryland Law Self Represented

Landlord/Tenant and Eviction Prevention Resources for Anne Arundel County

Information is collected on the on the Self Help and Pro Bono Wiki FAQ page. FAQs on Landlord and Tenant include links to articles, videos and Maryland law.

ASSISTANCE

Eviction Protection Program Tenants in crisis can contact Arundel Community Development Services (ACDS) to access emergency grants to pay past due rent and utility payments. Certain conditions apply. You can find out more at the Arundel Community Development Services (410-222-7600)

CLS Anne Arundel County Eviction Prevention Legal Program  Community Legal Services counsels tenants on what to do if they are behind in their rent due to Covid and provide representation in Failure to Pay Rent (FTPR) cases. (brochure)

 Renter Eviction Avoidance Program (REAP) for Annapolis Housing Authority (HACA) tenants.

Ask A Lawyer in the Library –Talk in-person with a volunteer lawyer for up to 20 minutes about your civil legal problem for free!

Maryland Court Help Center

Phone (410-260-1392) and online chat. Monday through Friday:  8:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. 

District Court Help Center – in-person assistance for District Court matters, Monday through Friday:  8:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. 

District Court Self-Help Resource Center
George M. Taylor Multi-Service Center
7500 Gov. Ritchie Highway
Glen Burnie, Maryland 21061-3756

Get Free Legal Answers — American Bar Association program for email-based assistance (must income qualify)

Legal Services Directory – free and low-cost assistance includes: