Maryland Access to Justice Commission 2010 Annual Report

The Maryland Access to Justice Commission has issued its 2010 Annual Report.  The report outlines the work of the commission over the last year.  The mission of the Access to Justice Commission is to give “… meaningful voice to the public whose interest it serves…” and to …”develop, consolidate, coordinate and/or implement initiatives designed to, and enhance the quality of civil justice for persons who encounter barriers in gaining access to Maryland’s civil justice system.”  The activities, projects and programs described in the 2010 Annual Report are evidence of this mission.

Highlights of the report include the information gained from a series of  “Listening Events” held across the state so that stakeholder organizations, their clients and the public could voice their concerns and experiences with Maryland courts.  Through the work of various committees the commission was able to adopt a definition of “access to justice”  and investigate and advocate for the access and delivery of legal services in areas such as the funding of legal service organizations.  A report, Implementing a Civil Right to Justice, was published by the Commission. The needs of the self-represented were addressed in the assistance in the creation of the District Court Self Help Center and the promotion of limited scope representation, or unbundling, by drafting rules and forms that have been presented to the Rules Committee of the Court of Appeals. The public education committee developed a series of posters that can be ordered without charge at the Access to Justice website and viewed in the Appendix of the Annual Report.  Other issues studied were language barriers and how the needs of those who do not speak English might be met.  Most recently the Commission created a number of awards that would promote access to justice activities.

I have mentioned just some examples of the work of the Commission illustrated in the Annual Report.   I recommend that anyone with an interest in the equitable provision of legal services read the entire report and the appendices to find a wealth of information on access to justice in Maryland.

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Ask a Lawyer in the Library at the North County Area Library

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The Anne Arundel County Public Law Library and the Anne Arundel Bar Association have expanded the  “Ask a Lawyer in the Library” program by working with the Anne Arundel County Public Library.  The program will now be offered in north county and later in the day.  Hopefully, this will allow those unable to make use of the program in the law library because of location and hours.

The first “Ask a Lawyer” event at the North County Area Library last Wednesday was a great success.  Three volunteer attorneys were on hand to answer legal questions.  Cliff O’Connor, who has a law practice in Glen Burnie with his wife Cassie Holmes, was instrumental in getting this program going.  He was able to enlist the help of Bill Trevillian, Jr. and Gene Brennan  in providing legal services to north county residents.  Cliff indicated his interest in bringing the “Ask a Lawyer” program to the public library in Glen Burnie last year and coordinated a pilot program at the Anne Arundel County Public Library Brooklyn Park Branch last May.

The program began at 4:30 after a lottery to determine the time slots for the ten people who had already arrived to see one of the attorneys.  There were two more participants that arrived after the lottery bringing the total to twelve.  The attorneys were busy the whole time, sometimes taking a little more time than the allotted twenty minutes.  The wide range of issues addressed included credit, housing, replevin, unemployment, foreclosure and social security benefits.

The meeting room which is located just inside the door to the parking lot made access to the program easy.  The staff of the library was more than gracious and accommodating in helping to get the program established in the library.  The assistance and guidance of  Wanda Wagner, Jackie Langdon, Susie Herron, and Mary Ann Keicher were instrumental in our being able to reserve the room for 2011 and getting the work out about the program.  There was a great display inside the door and the program was also advertised on the library’s webpage.  Mary Ann had the room set up and ready to go for the program upon my arrival and provided me with support during the evening.

The “Ask A Lawyer” Program will resume in March and continue on the third Wednesday of the month through June.  There will be a summer break during July and August but the program will be back on schedule in September through the rest of  2011.

More information on the North County Area Program can be found here:

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AALL Annual Meeting Roundup: WEB 2.0 and Pro Bono

I was able to highlight the library’s wiki as a co-presenter at the LISP sponsored program, “A Web 2.0 Collaboration: Mapping a Path for Pro Bono Partnerships.”  I created the AACPLL wiki in order to more easily share information on Pro Bono opportunities and referrals with the Anne Arundel Pro Bono Committee.  The wiki became a great place for providing links to information resources for attorney volunteers in the “Ask a Lawyer” program.  The wiki is also used in the administration of the “Ask a Lawyer” program.  Schedules, PR materials and a chart of pro bono statistics can be found there.  It has been used by the Pro Bono Committee to collaborate on press releases and committee goal statements.

My portion of the program concentrated on explaining just what a wiki is  (a collaborative, easy to use website) and how a wiki works.  The presentation slides and program handouts are available at this Google site:

Two private law librarians from Minnesota, Jennifer Doyle and Trudi Busch, demonstrated the Volunteer Librarians Coalition wiki.  This wiki was created to “to facilitate the access to information needed by the Volunteer Lawyers Network (VLN) attorneys in representing economically disadvantaged people with legal problems.”  It is truly a collaborative project with a group of law librarians managing the content for use by pro bono attorneys.  Librarians are able to provide research services and Westlaw access is also available for certain volunteer attorneys through the wiki.


National Pro Bono Week Celebration in the AACPLL

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On Tuesday, October 26, the law library celebrated National Pro Bono Week by hosting an appreciation lunch for the attorneys who volunteer for the “Ask a Lawyer” programs.  The AABA provided the food and we provided the appreciation certificates.  I hope that these volunteer attorneys  know how much their donation of time is appreciated.

Through the “Ask a Lawyer” programs, 36 attorneys have provided 181 hours to 378 clients.  Services have been offered at the Annual Anne Arundel County Homeless Resource Day,  in the Law Library and at the Brooklyn Park Branch and the Russett Branch at Maryland City of the Anne Arundel County Public Library.

John Gardner, AABA President, presented the attendees with certificates of thanks for their volunteer time with the Ask a Lawyer programs.  John also mentioned that Andy Vernick of Wharton, Levin, Ehrmantraut and Klein is Anne Arundel County’s Pro Bono Resource Center Pro Bono Star.  He will be recognized as the Anne Arundel County Honoree at the PBRC 20th Anniversary Benefit Gala on November 13.  Andy was chosen because of his work with the Asbury United Methodist Church located across the street from his office.  He offered his pro bono service to members of the church on a whim and has been busy providing his legal services on an average of 5 hours per week since.

It is hoped that beginning with these programs and the recognition of one of Anne Arundel County’s Pro Bono stars that interest in pro bono service will increase for Anne Arundel County attorneys.

Cliff  O’Connor has already shown interest in expanding the program by agreeing to coordinate the  “Ask a Lawyer in the Public Library”  program.  Through his commitment the program will be offered on a regular basis in 2011 at the North County Area library of the Anne Arundel County Public Library.  The first is scheduled for January 19, 2011.  Then, beginning on March 16, the service will be offered on every 3rd Wednesday through June.  There may be a summer break but the program will definitely resume in September and continue through December.

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“Ask a Lawyer” Article in the MSBA Bar Bulletin

The library finally received the June 15, 2010 issue containing the article, “Ask a Lawyer” Gains Momentum by Adrienne Hagepanos in the PRO BONO Profile of the MSBA Bar Bulletin.  It is now available at the MSBA website, too.

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Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service

I am proud to say that I just attended my first in person Court of Appeals Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Service meeting last Wednesday on June 16 as the newly appointed public member.

This was a joint meeting with the local and regional pro bono committee chairs of  Maryland.  All of the chairs described the pro bono activity sponsored by their committees.  Dan Andrews, the AABA Pro Bono Committee Co-chair, was there to report on Anne Arundel County’s pro bono projects.  He concentrated on the “Ask a Lawyer in the Library” program that has gotten underway this year.   This meeting was a great source of inspiration for new ideas for the pro bono committee in Anne Arundel.

Another source of  ideas for local committees can be found in the new Best Practices Manual for Local Pro Bono Committees written by Claire A. Smearman  and edited by Sharon E. Goldsmith of the PBRC  who staff the Standing Committee.   Each meeting attendee received a copy of the new manual.

The standing committee is established by Maryland Rule 16-901 Maryland Rule 16-902 calls for the creation of local pro bono committees.   The rule outlines the composition of the local committee and requires the creation of a local plan.  I am not aware of the existence of any local committee in Anne Arundel County other than the bar committee chaired by Dan Andrews and Elizabeth Leight.  I hope to obtain more information about the local committee and the local plan through my participation on the statewide committee.

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Award Winning Pro Bono Program in the Law Library

Last night at the AABA Annual Meeting outgoing President, Hon. Danielle Mosley,  mentioned the that the joint AACPLL\AABA “Ask a Lawyer in the Library Program” had received an award.  It was nice to have this program recognized before the Anne Arundel County Bar.

On June 12, 2010 I received the PBRC 2010 Maryland Pro Bono Service Herbert S. Garten Special Project Award for the library’s “Ask a Lawyer in the Library” program.

(I have heard that the program was described in the June 2010 MSBA Bar Bulletin.  I have not yet read the article as our issue has not yet been received and it is not yet available on the MSBA website.)

The program brings volunteer attorneys into the law library each Wednesday to provide brief, limited legal advice to the public.  This program has expanded into public library branches in west and north county.  The law library has also coordinated the AABA’s participation in Anne Arundel County’s Homeless Resource Day with an “Ask a Lawyer” service there.

Program participants can speak to an attorney for up to twenty minutes for legal advice and information.   There is no time limit at the Homeless Day event. The law library offers back up research and reference service for the volunteer attorneys and the participants.

Since the program’s inception 303 clients have been served by 34 attorneys for a total of 144 hours.  For a listing of all of the volunteers and links to program descriptions and pictures, visit the AACPLL wiki Pro Bono Stats page.

The attorneys who volunteer have been more than generous with their time.  Those who have made use of the program have been appreciative of the guidance the attorneys have provided.

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Ask a Lawyer in the Library Travels North

Bill, Cliff and Ed

The Ask  a Lawyer in the Library program moved to North County last night.   AABA attorneys, Cliff O’Connor and Bill Trevillian, Jr., provided free legal advice at the Brooklyn Park Branch of the Anne Arundel County Public Library.  Attorney Ed Groh was there to help, too.  I came along as usual to provide back-up research assistance.   The afternoon began at 4:00 with clients ready at the start.  There was not a large turnout as expected but Cliff O’Connor who organized the event will try again.  Another north county location and different times will be considered.  Other avenues for advertising the event beyond the newspaper and public library bulletin boards may be needed to reach those for whom the program is designed.

Those that took advantage of the program were grateful to get help with their legal problems which included bankruptcy and employment issues.  The extra attention that the attorneys were able to give to each participant was appreciated, too.

The attorneys all agreed that they are willing to try it again.

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Ask a Lawyer in the Public Library Program Continues

Elizabeth, Patricia and Brian

Law Week was off to an early start with the Ask a Lawyer in the Library program returning to the Maryland City at Russett Branch of the Anne Arundel County Public Library on Saturday.  Elizabeth Leight, co-chair of the AABA Pro Bono Committee, enlisted  AABA attorney Brian Markovitz and  Maryland Hispanic Bar Association attorney Patricia Chiriboga-Roby to provide free legal advice in the library.  By 12:30 p.m. the attorneys had already assisted 11 clients with a total of 18  clients being seen by the end of the day.  I was on hand to provide back-up reference assistance. 

Issues for which consultations were sought included consumer contracts, immigration, child support and custody, legal malpractice, home construction disputes and employment. 

The program will be held in the Brooklyn Park branch on May 4 and continue in the Circuit Court on Wednesdays.


Anne Arundel County Attorneys and the AACPLL Partner to Provide Pro Bono Legal Services at the 3rd Annual Anne Arundel County Homeless Resource Day


Attorneys from the Anne Arundel Bar Association and the Anne Arundel County Chapter of the Maryland Women’s Bar Association  volunteered to provide free legal services to the county’s homeless (or those in danger of being homeless) on Saturday, March 27, 2010 at Glen Burnie High School for the 3rd Annual Anne Arundel County Homeless Resource Day.  A variety of services ranging from doctor visits to hair cuts were offered.  Clothing and food was distributed and lunch provided to all.  This was the second year that legal services were offered thanks to the Anne Arundel County volunteer attorneys.

There were twelve attorneys representing a wide range of legal backgrounds.  Bill Davis and Ginina Stevenson from the Public Defender’s Office with Anne Leitess of the Office of the State’s Attorney provided help with criminal issues.  Anita Bailey director of the Anne Arundel County Legal Aid Office with Sarah Frush who heads Legal Aid’s new District Court Self Help Center and Lisa Sarro of Legal Aid’s Elder Law Program had the perfect background to deal with the variety of civil issues presented as they see clients with many of the same issues as those attending Homeless Day on a daily basis.  Susan Wyckoff and Jessica Quincosa are family law attorneys.   Jessica also has experience with immigration issues and speaks Spanish.  Gloria Shelton, Kelly Kenney, and Jana Wiener of the WBA were able to cover a wide range of civil issues from consumer to employment.  Dan Andrews, AABA Pro Bono Committee Co-Chair, was able to draw from his experience as an Anne Arundel County Prosecutor and with Maryland administrative law.  I coordinated the event and provided back-up reference assistance to the attorneys.

Homeless Resource Day began at 8:30 a.m. and ended at 2:00 p.m.  Participants were provided transportation from various points around the county.  The morning proved to be the busiest with the number of visitors dropping after lunch.  30 of the 45 clients were seen before 12:15.  We will be able to plan accordingly for next year so that we have more attorneys for the morning shift rather than the afternoon shift like we did this year.

Almost 1/3 of the questions concerned criminal matters and the bulk of those questions involved expungement of criminal records.  The Maryland court form and brochure on expungement online were accessed and printed numerous times.   Family issues of divorce, custody, and visitation comprised the second largest number of questions.  Other issues for which assistance were sought included housing, motor vehicle insurance, employment, unemployment, estate taxes, disability, bankruptcy, debt relief, consumer, mortgages and veteran’s benefits.

All of the volunteer attorneys enjoyed the day and expressed a desire to participate next year.  It was clear that those who took advantage of their services were truly appreciative.

More photos on Flickr