New VISTA Spotlight- Sarah Lunde

OneJustice welcomes our new Communications Americorps VISTA, Sarah Lunde, to her 2022-2023 Americorps VISTA year with OneJustice. 

Sarah joins the OneJustice team as a former Teen Services Librarian, where she planned and held community events, helped young folks find information and engage them in learning, reading, and exploring the library multiverse. Sarah uses these interdisciplinary models to inform her work communicating OneJustice’s work to our stakeholders, partners, and funders. 

When she isn’t bringing her communications and development skills to the OneJustice team, she loves spending time with her family in nature, and occasionally her ill-mannered Saint Bernard.

OneJustice Welcomes Two New Directors

Leigh Ferrin and Habiba Simjee bring decades of experience in consumer, immigration, and youth law, as well as advocacy, and pro bono to OneJustice

Welcome new Program Directors Leigh Ferrin and Habiba Simjee to the OneJustice team. Having joined in late 2022, Leigh and Habiba are off to an incredible start, with exciting new projects on the way for 2023 in the immigration and consumer law sectors. This work will enhance OneJustice’s ability to provide comprehensive technical assistance and capacity-building support for legal services organizations.

Leigh Ferrin (she/her), graduate of Loyola Law School, started her legal career as an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow working on foreclosure and bankruptcy matters at Public Law Center, in Santa Ana, California. Leigh comes to us from Public Law Center most recently as Director of Legal Services, with a primary focus on consumer law and advocacy. Leigh is dedicated to using her expertise and experiences to ensure that legal services staff have what they need to serve more people efficiently and effectively.

Habiba Simjee (she/her), graduate of Berkeley Law, comes to us from the University of California (UC) Immigrant Legal Services Center at UCLA, and prior to that at UC Santa Barbara. Habiba’s experience will help legal service staff and pro bono networks provide nuanced and dedicated legal services to clients facing immigration challenges, especially in building the vital services that support refugees, asylum-seekers, unaccompanied children, and youth in the juvenile justice system.

OneJustice is a California-based legal support center that provides legal aid governance and capacity-building consulting, trainings, technical support, and federal policy advocacy to legal services organizations.We also convene and provide resources and trainings to the pro bono sector, building community among legal services nonprofit organizations, law schools, law firms, corporate in-house counsel departments, bar associations, and the courts.

OneJustice is striving to move society to be just and equitable, and getting there requires a strong legal services sector. OneJustice’s strength is as a support center working alongside the legal services sector to effect systemic change.

Celebrating the Life of Beatrice Moulton

On behalf of the OneJustice community, we offer condolences to the family and friends of OneJustice Board Emeritus Beatrice Moulton, recently deceased. Considered a giant in contemporary clinical legal education, Ms. Moulton was a celebrated professor at UC Hastings Law, and also worked with the civil rights movement, and anti-poverty programs throughout her career.

Former OneJustice Board Member Mark Aaronson remembers Ms. Moulton as “a modest and self-contained person. Not only was she a terrific teacher, scholar, and colleague, but she also was a talented painter and folk singer.” He adds “She had a very full life and made a real difference in the world.”

We celebrate Ms. Moulton for her exceptional accomplishments and invaluable contributions to legal education and the advancement of justice. We encourage all to learn more about Ms. Moulton’s work and legacy here.

OneJustice Adopts New Strategic Plan

OneJustice is proud to release our 2022 Strategic Plan to the community. OneJustice is committed to advancing a more just and equitable California by supporting a thriving and more effective legal service sector and we are confident that this plan is a foundational piece to advancing that theory of change. A big thank you to our dedicated staff, board, and Onside Partners for facilitating the planning process, and our community partners for sharing their insights.

This process has helped us develop programs and pathways for our partners, both public and private. Our work will bring our expertise and reputation as collaborators to work hand in hand with our partners to create an even bigger impact and close the justice gap in California.

We learned that the pandemic has had significant effects on how service providers work, and what their current needs are. This new strategic plan will pivot our work to meet this need. We also learned that technology has changed how we can provide that expertise, reaching service organizations and partners statewide in more accessible ways. We also learned what programs are making the biggest impact, and which programs need to be created to meet the needs of our partners.

Mission Statement: Strengthen the legal service sector’s expertise and capacity to advance justice and equity.

How: 

  • Build the skills of legal aid organizations with cutting edge skill building and best practice tools.
  • Fight to expand resources for all of California’s legal aid organizations.
  • Convene the sector and community to collaboratively harness the direct experience, wisdom, and power of those on the ground providing direct services.
  • Collect and share real data and critical analysis about systemic trends and solutions.

Our Impact Will Be….

  • Statewide leadership that is visionary, strategic, and diverse.
  • Innovative and improved legal services
  • Reforming unjust & inequitable systems
  • Legal aid that is well resourced and accessible.
  • A legal sector that manages and deploys resources strategically.
  • Mobilization around collective problems - action around opportunities.

Follow us to learn more about our programs and how you can continue to contribute to this meaningful work.

Honoring the Life of Carmen Ramirez

Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Carmen Ramirez, recently deceased, who was a longtime advocate and attorney in the legal aid sector, and a OneJustice Board Emeritus, serving with us for over a decade. Ms. Ramirez embodied an uninterrupted dedication to justice and started her practice career providing legal aid with the Channel Counties Legal Services. She leaves us as chair of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, the first Latina to serve in this role. The annual SCAG Scholarship awarded in Ventura County will now be named the “Carmen Ramirez Memorial Scholarship” and the council proclamation declares that Carmen “spent her life in dedicated service to her community, championing sustainability, mobility and equity, and tirelessly supporting numerous local civic organizations.” We encourage everyone to donate to her scholarship fund, and we will always hold Ms. Ramirez in our hearts and model her dedication to expanding justice in the work that we do.

Introducing our 2022 Champions of Justice

We are so excited to honor our 2022 Champions of Justice at Opening Doors to Justice on May 24th! Each of these partners has demonstrated amazing leadership in expanding access to justice throughout California. Their work has made it possible for families to be safe in their homes, get medical care, and access financial support during the pandemic. Read below to learn more about these amazing honorees!

Latham & Watkins LLP

by Ted Bantle, Associate

Please tell us a bit about Latham & Watkins’ commitment to public service. How does the firm approach public service and pro bono?

Giving back in the communities in which we live and work is a fundamental component of the culture of Latham and Watkins. This takes many forms including volunteering in the community, fundraising and providing legal services to those without the means to pay.  In 2021 our professional staff and lawyers contributed more than 175,000 hours of pro bono legal services to the communities we are a part of.

Can you tell us about your personal thoughts on social justice – including the firm’s work?  What moves you or makes you proud?

It is my personal belief that social justice and the promotion of equal rights, opportunity, and treatment should be reflected in our lives day in and day out. While there are many forms this can take, it always excites me to see the willingness of my Latham & Watkins’ colleagues to take on matters beyond their specific commercial practice areas. In doing so, we can use our individual skillsets, leverage resources and collaborate with others to gain the expertise we need to provide the best possible legal services to our pro bono clients.

What is the best part of your job?

The best parts of my job include the diversity of commercial and pro bono work that I am able to engage in as well as the people, within our firm and externally, both at clients and with pro bono partner organizations that I liaise with on a regular basis.  Furthermore, as Latham’s OneJustice liaison it has been wonderful to witness to past volunteers becoming coaches and mentors to current and prospective volunteers, transferring institutional knowledge and also building excitement with respect to OneJustice’s programs.

The Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles

by Kelsey Atkinson, Renters Small Claims Project Attorney

Can you describe LAFLA’s partnership with One Justice? Why is the partnership important?

LAFLA and One Justice partner on the Small Claims Back Rent Tool Kit and the Back Rent Small Claims Working Group. This partnership arose in 2021 to respond to procedures created by state law that allow landlords to sue tenants in small claims court for rent tenants could not pay during the COVID-19 pandemic. LAFLA and One Justice’s partnership in this area is important because it brings together advocates from across California to discuss and adapt to these new laws. Additionally, the Back Rent Tool Kit provided trainings and clinic materials to help LSPs quickly train volunteers and plan clinics to assist tenants sued for COVID-19 rental debt.

Can you share some personal thoughts on social justice – including the organization’s work?  What moves you or makes you proud?

For me personally, social justice includes addressing systemic injustice on an individual level for clients as well as working in partnership with impacted communities and community organizations in a movement for progressive social change. I am proud to be a part of LAFLA because it’s commitment to social justice is apparent in the way it responds to the needs of its clients by providing holistic legal services and how LAFLA collaborates with community partners and coalitions to raise up the voices of its clients and their communities.

What is the best part of your job?

Helping clients feel empowered, knowledgeable, and confident in their ability to defend themselves in small claims court.

 

LinkedIn Corporation

by Jon Adams, Director, Legal – Product & Privacy

Please tell us a bit about LinkedIn’s commitment to public service. How does the company approach public service and pro bono?
LinkedIn has a long-standing dedication to public service, with many parts of our company focused on doing good work in the world. Within the LinkedIn legal and public policy team, we encourage everyone to engage in pro bono volunteer efforts–we view it as being a critical part of who we are as a legal and public policy team–and we have departmental goals each year to help challenge us to give back more to the community each year. The Legal and Public Policy team’s Pro Bono Committee consists of employees across seniority levels, teams, and offices, and works hard to source opportunities to help in various ways, ranging from volunteer legal services to volunteering with food banks and other service organizations.
Can you tell us about your personal thoughts on public service – including the company’s work? What moves you or makes you proud?
Public service, especially pro bono legal services, is incredibly important. Particularly for those of us who are fortunate enough to work in the tech space in the Bay Area, we have an obligation to help out others, particularly those who are structurally disadvantaged. I’m proud of the pro bono and volunteer work that LinkedIn has poured in over the years, because I know that we have had a direct impact on countless lives, from Dreamers to asylum seekers, from those in need of food security to people looking to get back on their feet after personal tragedies.

What is the best part of your job?

I get to work with wonderful people to solve challenging problems (and have an impact) every day. It doesn’t get much better than that!

OneJustice’s Efforts to Proactively Combat Homelessness Across California

In the midst of the immense pain caused by the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of Californians are now at an increased risk of homelessness and/or financial ruin.  Six of the ten cities in the country with the highest unhoused population are located in California, with 740,000 renters owing their landlords approximately $3.5 billion in back rent as of February 2022.  Low-income tenants across the state who live paycheck to paycheck are at significant risk of losing their housing and many face potentially crippling debt from unpaid rental payments. 

For the countless families facing back rent claims, their primary defense lies in their ability to represent themselves in court.  Without attorneys present or adequate legal assistance, this challenge may seem insurmountable for many, particularly given that a potential judgment against them could result in debt that could harm their financial security and future housing.  New laws allowed landlords to sue in Small Claims Court for amounts far greater than $10,000–amounts that could destroy a family’s financial future and opportunity to be housed. OneJustice’s Homelessness Prevention Project team focused on those tenants struggling to pay rent during COVID and who would be susceptible to Small Claims lawsuits. 

OneJustice’s Small Claims/Back Rent Project equips Legal Services Organizations (LSOs) with the tools and resources to aid our community members in building the best possible defense to remain financially stable. The toolkit was downloaded 139 times by legal aid organizations, Small Claims Bench Officers, Self Help Centers, law schools, and community-based organizations, and was downloaded from 53 different cities across California. OneJustice expanded its work in this area to include a Court Watch program.

“Our newly launched Court Watch project trains volunteers to observe hearings in Small Claims Court and gather data on how local courts are administering new procedures and applying the law in Small Claims Court.  Court Watch aims to increase our understanding of critical issues, including judicial behavior, the implementation of new civil procedures in court proceedings, and the divide between cases on record and laws in action”, said Andrea Rice, Homelessness Prevention AmeriCorps VISTA, OneJustice. 

OneJustice plans to identify patterns in court hearings and share the results with LSOs in order for the LSOs to best prepare their clients for the new challenges they face in their Small Claims hearings. Starting this summer, the Court Watch team will work with pro bono volunteers and law school students to collect their observations from courthouses throughout the state and share their information. Additionally, this pro bono project will compile critical data for OneJustice to create necessary materials for LSOs based on the needs identified.  

Legal aid programs and other community-based organizations serve as first responders to many low-income tenants who are at risk of homelessness as well as clients who already had to leave their homes. OneJustice’s toolkit and Court Watch program is allowing legal aid programs and other organizations to better serve their clients who are facing these issues.

Introducing OneJustice’s Newest Board Members!

Sirena Castillo, Partner and Pro Bono Director, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP

What made you interested in becoming a member of the OneJustice Board of Directors?

I was drawn to OneJustice because of their mission to support legal aid across the entire state of California.  I appreciate OneJustice’s mission of supporting the work of organizations providing a wide range of legal services and believe that it is so important to have a functioning back bone to support the good work of so many wonderful organizations across the state.

What is your professional role and how do you hope to use your perspective in your work with OneJustice?

I am a partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP and I also serve as the firm’s Director of Pro Bono.  As Manatt’s director of pro bono, I manage firm pro bono matters and develops the firm’s pro bono and community partnerships nationwide. I also maintains my own active docket of pro bono cases focused on immigration matters.  I’ll bring the perspective of an active attorney engaged in pro bono work as well as someone who manages others engaged in pro bono work, and also bring a perspective of what we do on a national basis.

What would you like to accomplish as a Board member?

I am excited to help shape this new phase for OneJustice.  The pandemic has really forced organizations to pivot and reevaluate the way that they provide services and OneJustice is no exception.

Tell us about yourself – interesting facts or what do you like to do for fun? 

I have two young children and I love traveling with my family (really looking forward to be able to do that more!) and cooking.  I’m a pop culture junkie and I’m almost always listening to a podcast.

 

Andrea Fitanides, Pro Bono Counsel, Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP

What made you interested in becoming a member of the OneJustice Board of Directors?

I’ve have the good fortune of working with OneJustice for years.  First, as a support center when I was an attorney at a legal services organization, and then in my experiences on the law firm side through partnering on pro bono projects, the quarterly statewide pro bono forum, and the annual conference that OneJustice runs, among other projects. The statewide footprint of the organization was compelling to me both because my job involves work across California, and because OneJustice offers a way to provide support to the network of legal services organizations serving those in need through the state, including in rural areas. My experiences with OneJustice have always impressed me, particularly because of the professionalism of the staff and their genuine passion for access to justice issues.

What is your professional role and how do you hope to use your perspective in your work with OneJustice?

I am Pro Bono Counsel at Morgan Lewis, so I have the good fortune of working on access to justice issues on a daily basis in my role.  I hope to bring my experiences working on closing the justice gap, both at a large firm and previously at a legal services organization, to help inform the best way to support OneJustice’s mission moving forward.

What would you like to accomplish as a Board member?

In my work I have seen both the incredible dedication of legal services across the state to try to meet the needs of the most vulnerable, as well as the challenges of serving millions of low-income Californians with inadequate legal services resources.  In my Board role, I hope to help move the needle on transforming the legal aid system, and to think creatively about how to best leverage existing resources (as well as expand existing resources) to address the significant justice gap in our system.

Tell us about yourself – interesting facts or what do you like to do for fun?

An unusual fact about me is that I grew up in a one-room cabin, without electricity, in the Sierra Nevada Foothills and I was homeschooled until my sophomore year of high school.

 

 

Spotlight on Andrea Rice and OneJustice’s Court Watch Project

 

My name is Andrea Rice and I have been a Homelessness Prevention AmeriCorps VISTA since October. I am pleased to be part of OneJustice’s Homelessness Prevention Team working to strengthen the capacity of the legal sector’s efforts to alleviate poverty and prevent homelessness. 

In 2020, families scrambled to pay their rent and avoid eviction. Single mothers had to balance caring for their children while maintaining a stable income, and tenants were at risk with limited legal resources and information about their rights. As we enter 2022, Californians continue to face an unprecedented housing crisis and are prone to lawsuits for rent owed during the pandemic. I want to make a difference by helping vulnerable populations, and OneJustice is giving me the opportunity to respond comprehensively in alleviating homelessness. 

Our Court Watch Project is one strategy for assisting legal services organizations (LSOs) with addressing the challenges faced by low-income tenants defending small claims actions. The Court Watch Project’s goal is to observe small claims back rent hearings and gather data that will inform LSOs. Recent laws enacted in response to the pandemic, and in recognition of the income lost by working Californians, are complex and force tenants facing back rent claims to defend themselves in small claims courts without legal representation. As part of our first phase of Court Watch, our team has observed several hearings. Our observations will be compiled and shared with LSOs to inform and prepare their small claims legal clinics and know your rights materials. 

I had the opportunity to visit small claims hearings and saw the challenges facing tenants. In the hearings, it was typical to see defendants show up without any guidance or necessary evidence to represent themselves. It was rare to see translated know your rights materials or interpreter services. It was common for plaintiffs and defendants to misunderstand their service notice or the roll call process, and as result of their confusion, have their cases dismissed and rescheduled. These are only a few scenarios that reveal the challenges the legal aid community needs to be aware of so that they can best deploy their resources accordingly. 

The existing hardships from the pandemic are glaring, and low-income communities are at a further disadvantage with limited financial and legal resources. As a response to these challenges and to support the legal aid sector, one of the projects I worked on was developing the Tenant’s Next Steps Form, which provides a list of specific evidence a tenant can provide in their hearing and is available in 12 different languages. The form was added to our Small Claims Back Rent Toolkit, which was created to assist LSOs in preparing tenants for their small claims court hearings. This is one of several tools we developed that will enhance the work of LSOs and empower tenants to defend themselves

Though the effects of the pandemic are placing hardships on low-income tenants, we are optimistic the Court Watch Project alongside the Small Claims Back Rent Toolkit will provide LSOs with resources to deploy and use to prepare tenants for their day in court, ultimately preventing homelessness and mitigating the risk of financial ruin. We look forward to collaborating with volunteers and the legal aid community to bridge the gap and lessen the hardships facing low-income tenants. If you would like to know more about our Court Watch Project you may reach Bruno Huizar, Program Manager at bhuizar@one-justice.org. For inquiries regarding the Toolkit you may contact Miguel Martinez, Program Manager, at mmartinez@one-justice.org

Andrea Rice

Homelessness Prevention Americorp VISTA

4 Ways Recent Legislative Wins Impact Legal Aid

The Californians for Legal Aid program at OneJustice focuses on public policy education and advocacy to help transform the legal aid system. Throughout the year, the team works on an assortment of policy initiatives that impacts legal aid and the low-income Californians it serves in a variety of ways. Read below for four recent legislative wins that will strengthen the legal aid system and provide critical support to low-income communities in California.

Eligibility Expansion for Free Legal Services

Starting January 2022, more low-income Californians will have access to receiving free legal assistance from nonprofit legal aid organizations funded by the State Bar of California through the Interest on Lawyer Trust Account (IOLTA) system. The passage of SB 498 increases the qualifying poverty level to 200% from 125% AND exempts veterans disability benefits from household income. These long overdue changes mean that more Californians who should qualify for legal aid will be eligible for free legal services. 

Remote Court Appearances

The passage of SB 241 centers the needs of low-income litigants by allowing for remote court appearances after expiration of the COVID-19 Emergency Order. In addition to reducing the courts’ tremendous case backlog, remote proceedings increase access to justice by making it more accessible for both advocates and working families to attend their hearings. A true collective win for the legal aid community!

$600M Considered for Legal Services Corporation Funding

The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is the largest funder of civil legal aid in the country — its grantees served more than 1.8 million people in 2019, helping them with family law, domestic violence, housing, fraud, and other legal problems. Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 funding allocated $465 million to LSC. 

In April 2021, OneJustice staff members attended virtual meetings with Members of Congress to advocate on behalf of robust LSC funding for FY 2022 . In recent years we have seen steady increases on this funding, proving how impactful this advocacy is. Here’s the latest: 

  • The House of Representatives agreed to legislation in July that includes $600 million for LSC in FY 2022. 
  • The Senate Appropriations Committee has proposed legislation that provides $515 million for LSC. 
  • The Biden Administration has requested $600 million for LSC. 

OneJustice will continue to monitor FY 2022 fundings progress.

$50M increase in Equal Access Fund

Each year, the Equal Access Fund (EAF) provides funding to about 100 nonprofit organizations that provide legal services to low-income Californians — including the unhoused community, people with disabilities, and victims of elder abuse and domestic violence. Legal aid saw another victory in California’s state budget for Fiscal Year 2022: the EAF benefitted from a $50 million increase, for a total of $70 million, as well as a promise for future base year funding of $40 million.

To learn more about other California state victories sign up for updates from the Legal Aid Association of California here.

Sign up for Californians for Legal Aid to stay up to date on policy initiatives and to receive advocacy alerts.