The WH-LAIR Case Studies are two-page documents that illustrate how civil legal aid supports federal efforts to serve the low-income and other vulnerable populations in various areas. They contain descriptions of common challenges faced by vulnerable populations, examples of federal responses to these challenges, and concrete examples of the ways in which civil legal aid meaningfully supports federal agencies’ efforts. The WH-LAIR continues to issue new case studies on selected topics.
Standing up for Victims of Mortgage Fraud
A home repair contractor approached Sadie, an 85-year-old African American woman who has owned her home for forty years, promising to perform home improvements under a "free government program" for seniors. Sadie did not understand the papers she signed, and did not realize that the contractor had taken $122,000 from a reverse mortgage on her home even before any work was done. He eventually remodeled two bathrooms, but the work was sloppy and defective. No other home improvements were performed. Legal Assistance Foundation of Chicago (LAF), a federally-funded Legal Services Corporation grantee, filed a lawsuit to void the loan and recover money damages from the contractor's company, ultimately settling for $110,000. LAF continues to represent other mostly elderly and minority victims of this reverse mortgage scheme.
Legal Aid gets Dad Back on Road to Work
After five years working as a delivery driver for a home improvement chain, Joe lost his job when his driver’s license was suspended because medical expenses for his prematurely-born daughter left him unable to pay outstanding traffic fines. SonomaWORKS, Sonoma County’s HHS-funded welfare-to-work program, referred Joe to what seemed like a perfect job as a delivery driver for a parts store. When the employer offered him a position contingent on securing a driver’s license, he sought help from Legal Aid of Sonoma County. With funding from California’s TANF program, Joe’s legal aid lawyer successfully arranged an affordable payment plan for a reduced bail amount so Joe could pay off his fines and get his drivers license reinstated. Thanks to the legal and employment services provided through SonomaWORKS, Joe once again became self-sufficient.
Legal Aid Delivers Justice for Elderly Domestic Violence Victim
Cynthia was 83-years old when her controlling husband threw her out of their home and cut her off from all assets after she became too ill to care for him and their home. Cynthia’s husband was wealthy, and theirs was a second marriage that occurred late in life. During their marriage, Cynthia became isolated and was subjected to controlling and threatening behavior. After her husband Kicked her out of their home, she had no means of support other than a small Social Security benefit. Funded in part by DOJ OVW’s Legal Assistance for Victims grant, a Montana Legal Services Association attorney represented Cynthia in court. The attorney successfully obtained a property settlement that allowed Cynthia to live out her remaining years in safety and in a home close to her adult children.
Doctor prescribes a lawyer to keep family healthy and housed
After Rose, a citizen of the Navajo Nation, lost her adult daughter in a car accident, she was left to raise five grandchildren. With no room for the children in her own house, Rose moved into her deceased daughter’s apartment. Still grieving, Rose received an eviction notice from the housing agency, because she was not named on the apartment lease. She was told that she and the children had to move. When a pediatrician at the Indian Health Service clinic learned of the situation, she referred Rose to DNA-People’s Legal Services Medical-Legal Partnership Program, funded by DOJ’s Tribal Civil Legal Assistance Program. With the help of her DNA-People’s Legal Services lawyer, Rose showed that tribal law and federal policies allowed her to assume the lease obligations. Rose continued to care for the children in their own home and, with DNA’s help, obtained legal guardianship over each grandchild.
“Nazia,” a 37-year-old immigrant from Guyana, fled with her two young children from the physical and emotional abuse of her husband. With the assistance of Legal Services Corporation-funded Queens Legal Services (QLS), a recipient of U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Family and Youth Services Bureau funding, she successfully obtained an Order of Protection and full custody of her children. However, shortly thereafter, Nazia’s abuser retaliated by filing for a modification of custody, citing frivolous allegations of inappropriate parenting. Her legal aid lawyer continued to represent her and also referred Nazia to a QLS social worker, who provided counseling to her and her children throughout the process. Again, thanks to her legal aid lawyer, after two years of litigation, Nazia settled the case and retained sole legal custody of her children.
Civil Legal Aid Supports Federal Efforts to Help People with Criminal Records Make a Successful Reentry
“Andy’s” 10-year old felony conviction prevented him from pursuing his hopes of securing a state license to become a New York Licensed Practical Nurse. The Fortune Society, a grantee of U.S. Department of Labor’s Reintegration of Ex-Offenders Program, referred Andy to MFY Legal Services in New York. His legal aid lawyer helped Andy obtain out-of state criminal court records, gather proof of rehabilitation, and represented him at the initial investigative interview. The result was a successful license application and a job.
When “Clyde” sought medical help from the Philadelphia U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center, a social worker learned he had fallen behind on his rent and faced eviction from his apartment. The social worker and the Supportive Services for Veteran Families (SSVF) caseworker recognized Clyde’s need for legal help, and assisted Clyde in getting an appointment with an attorney at the SSVF program’s legal aid partner, Homeless Advocacy Project. With the SSVF program providing some of Clyde’s back rent, the attorney negotiated an agreement to stop the eviction in exchange for a lump sum payment for most of the unpaid rent, plus a payment plan to cover the remainder. With his housing stabilized, Clyde was able to focus on his health needs.
Growing up in a community influenced by gangs, “Carl” was expelled from middle school. Later incarcerated for a juvenile offense, Carl began working with a TeamChild® attorney – partially funded by U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevent – to plan his release and return to school. His attorney successfully advocated for his readmission. When other students threatened Carl he sought help from school administrators who responded by expelling him. His attorney successfully represented him at the hearing and Carl finished the semester. Fearful of the gangs, he left Washington state to live with relatives, and pursue a GED and Job Corps training program. Denied admission because of his juvenile record, his lawyer stepped in yet again, to appeal and document Carl’s determination to get back on track. Job Corps reversed their decision. Carl got his GED and is working hard towards his auto mechanic certificate.
“Frank,” a disabled man living in U.S. Department of Agriculture-subsidized housing in rural Iowa, received an eviction notice from his landlord after neighbors complained that he yelled too much, especially late at night. Attempts by the property manager to talk to Frank about the problem only made it worse. Fearing that he would become homeless, Frank sought help from Legal Services Corporation-funded Iowa Legal Aid. With support from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Emergency Solutions Grant, Iowa Legal Aid could assist him. Frank’s lawyer realized that his disruptive behavior flowed from untreated mental illness. She met with his property manager and reached out to other professionals to help Frank manage his mental illness. They collaborated on a plan to address the problems and involve his case manager as an intermediary if an issue arose. The property manager agreed to dismiss the eviction, and Frank remained in his home.
“Alex” sought help from Legal Services Corporation-funded Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County because of medical debt that threatened his family with bankruptcy. Unable to purchase affordable insurance in the private market because of his pre-existing condition, Alex’s debt had accrued after several emergency room visits for a severe heart condition that required surgery he could not afford. In addition to helping negotiate his medical bills with the hospital and avoid bankruptcy, his legal aid attorney – thanks in part to support from the Affordable Care Act Consumer Assistance Program funds – helped identify affordable insurance options through California’s Covered CA and new adult Medicaid expansion programs that will help Alex get the surgery he desperately needs.
Police partnership with legal aid help decrease incidence of domestic violence
The High Point Police Department partnered with Legal Aid of North Carolina, Family Service of the Piedmont, and other community groups to open the High Point Center for Children and Families and Victims’ Justice as part of the COPS-funded Offender Focused Domestic Violence Initiative (OFDVI). The initiative focuses on early intervention to break the cycle of domestic violence, and helps victims with their civil legal needs, such as obtaining protective orders. Within the first two years of the OFVDI, recidivism rates – which typically range from 20-34% -- decreased to 9% across more than 1,000 offenders.
P&A Lawyer Listens to Teacher’s Tale of Denial of Services for Hearing Loss
When “Jack” realized his already limited hearing had deteriorated, he knew he needed new hearing aids to keep his teaching job. But when Jack requested a replacement device, Indiana Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VR), the state government office that helps people with disabilities get and retain employment, denied the request because VR’s policy required a hearing change of at least 10 decibels to provide replacement devices and Jack didn’t meet that requirement. Indiana Protection and Advocacy Services (IPAS), with funding from the Department of Education’s Client Assistant Program, appealed the denial. At the appeal, the administrative law judge determined that VR’s 10-decibel requirement was inconsistent with federal law, as it did not account for the individual needs of each VR client. Thanks to IPAS’s help, Jack received new hearing aids and kept his job. IPAS also used the decision to help other Hoosiers needing replacement hearing aids to retain their employment.
Legal aid helps restaurant workers in federal prosecution of traffickers and public benefits
“Narawit” was enticed to Colorado from Southeast Asia with a work visa and good wages as a chef. However, the restaurant owner forced him to work twelve-hour shifts without breaks, and the pay was far less than promised with numerous illegal deductions and fees. When the owner didn’t renew his visa, Narawit feared he had no options. Fortunately, DOJ prosecuted the owner, and Colorado Legal Services (CLS) helped Narawit and 8 other workers in the federal prosecution. CLS helped them meet with federal prosecutors and investigators, calculate unpaid wages, and prepare victim impact statements. CLS also helped recover restitution for nearly 60 workers. Later, when Narawit became seriously ill, CLS, with funding from OVC’s Specialized Services for Victims of Human Trafficking grant, helped him successfully appeal the denial of Medicaid and food stamps by establishing his eligibility as a human trafficking victim.
Father and son get parenting support from legal aid
“Christopher” was a dedicated father to a young son, for whom he regularly paid child support. When his work schedule was reduced and his earnings dropped, he sought help from the Alameda County Superior Court Family Law Facilitator’s office, which is funded in part by ACF’s Child Support Enforcement Program at HHS. A staff attorney there helped him request a modified child support order that would reflect his pay cut. The lawyer then explained how Christopher could use this opportunity to request increased visitation time with his son and take on more parenting responsibility. Staff from the court’s Family Law Facilitator’s Office was present at the hearing to provide legal information and procedural guidance to Christopher. The court made the proposed changes and Christopher’s payments were reduced to an amount that he could afford. He began picking his son up from school twice a week and eating dinner together, before returning him to his mother.