Congratulations to our 2021 Executive Fellows Graduates!

 

OneJustice is pleased to announce the graduating class of 2021 Executive Fellows! A record 29 legal aid leaders joined us for our first completely virtual program, delving into topics including IT Best Practices, Inclusive Leadership, Revenue Models, and Innovation & Change Management. All of us at OneJustice wish you all the best in the year ahead! We hope your new skills and connections serve you and your organizations well.

 

Graduating Fellows:

Alfred A. Gallegos, Legal Director, Central California Legal Services, Inc.
Allison Marseille, Director of Operations, Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County
Candi Mayes, Lead Attorney, Dependency Legal Services (Northern California)
Caroline Roberts, Executive Director, Oasis Legal Services
Claire Ramsey, Senior Staff Attorney, Justice in Aging
Cori Racela, Deputy Director, Western Center on Law & Poverty
Debra McKenzie, Director of Administration, Central California Legal Services
Dennis Smeal, Executive Director, Los Angeles Dependency Lawyers, Inc.
Elizabeth Logsdon, Managing Attorney, Disability Rights California
Estella Cisneros, Agricultural Worker Program Legal Director, California Rural Legal Assistance Inc.
Jackie Dai, Supervising Attorney, Neighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County
Janay Eustace, Executive Director, California Youth Connection
Jason Schwarz, Executive Director, Contra Costa Senior Legal Services
Jessica Jewell, Rural Justice Unit Director, California Rural Legal Assistance, Inc.
Kenan Arun, Director of Operations, The LGBT Asylum Project
Leigh Ferrin, Director of Litigation and Pro Bono, Public Law Center
Lorena SloManson, Development Director, Legal Aid Society of San Diego
Maisha Cole, Senior Staff Attorney, Child Care Law Center
Mariam Kelly, Managing Attorney, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
Phong Wong, Pro Bono Director, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
Rose Mukhar, Executive Director, Justice At Last, Inc.
Shakti Belway, Deputy Director, National Center for Youth Law
Stephen Knight, Executive Director, Worksafe
Suge Lee, Managing Attorney, Disability Rights California
Tessie Cross, Deputy Director of Operations, Inland Counties Legal Services
Tony Silvestri, Executive Director, Immigrants Rights Counsel
Tzung-lin Fu, Vice President of Legal Programs, Bet Tzedek Legal Services
Vivian Alatorre, Operations Manager, Legal Aid of Marin
Zabrina Aleguire, Co-Executive Director, East Bay Family Defenders

Feedback from the cohort included:
“I truly feel like I never want it to end. It was such a wonderful opportunity to grow and learn – both about nonprofit management and about myself as a leader. It truly is invaluable. I’ve already recommended others to apply for the next cohort. It also helped me navigate the process of building community among other nonprofit leaders through collaboration and shared experiences. I am forever grateful I was accepted into the fellowship.”

“It is very well balanced and covers many topics that a true leader needs to understand in a non profit world. It was a great opportunity to have conversations about these topics that we otherwise would not be able to have with folks in a public interest world occupying different leadership positions.”

Huge thank you to OneJustice Program Associate Miguel Martinez for all of his support and leadership throughout the Fellowship.

Thank you to the Bigglesworth Family Foundation and the Judicial Council for sponsoring this year’s Executive Fellowship Program!

Announcing Our 2021 Opening Doors to Justice Panel Speakers

We are thrilled to announce our two panelist speakers for our upcoming Opening Doors to Justice 2021 event, Associate Justice Goodwin H. Liu of the California Supreme Court, and Tirien Steinbach.

Moderated by Anand Upadhye, Host of The Modern Lawyer Podcast, our speakers will touch on topics relating to equity and inclusion, racial biases, retention and activism within the legal community.

Continue reading to learn more about our exceptional panelists:

Associate Justice Goodwin H. Liu

Justice Goodwin Liu is an Associate Justice of the California Supreme Court. Nominated by Governor Jerry Brown, Justice Liu was unanimously confirmed by the Commission on Judicial Appointments and sworn into office on September 1, 2011. He was retained by the electorate in 2014. Before joining the state’s highest court, Justice Liu was Professor of Law and Associate Dean at the UC Berkeley School of Law. His primary areas of expertise are constitutional law, education law and policy, and diversity in the legal profession.

The son of Taiwanese immigrants, Justice Liu grew up in Sacramento, where he attended public schools. He went to Stanford University and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1991. He attended Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship and earned a masters degree in philosophy and physiology. Upon returning to the United States, he went to Washington D.C. to help launch the AmeriCorps national service program and worked for two years as a senior program officer at the Corporation for National Service.

Justice Liu graduated from Yale Law School in 1998, becoming the first in his family to earn a law degree. He clerked for Judge David Tatel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and then worked as Special Assistant to the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. He went on to clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg during the October 2000 Term. From 2001 to 2003, he worked in the litigation practice of O’Melveny & Myers in Washington, D.C.
Justice Liu continues to teach constitutional law as a visiting professor at Harvard Law School. He is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Law Institute. He serves on the Council of the American Law Institute, on the Board of Directors of the James Irvine Foundation, and on the Yale University Council. He has previously served on the California Commission on Access to Justice, the National Academy of Sciences Committee on Science, Technology, and Law, the Board of Trustees of Stanford University, and the governing boards of the American Constitution Society, the National Women’s Law Center, and the Public Welfare Foundation.

Tirien Steinbach

 Tirien began her legal career as an Equal Justice Works fellow in capital appeals, and then received a Berkeley Law Foundation fellowship to develop the Clean Slate Clinic at the East Bay Community Law Center, which is the community-based clinical program for Berkeley Law School and one of the largest provider of free legal services and policy advocacy in Alameda County.

Tirien went on to serve as EBCLC’s director for 11 years, and expanded the clinic to include reentry, immigration, economic, consumer, and juvenile justice clinics.  In 2017. Tirien launched the Coalition for Equity and Inclusion in Law, a Bay Area cohort of law and policy organizations dedicated to advancing greater cultural equity, inclusion, and diversity in the sector.

For the last two years, Tirien served as the Chief Program Officer at the ACLU of Northern California, and in January 2021, she began a “self-care sabbatical” to rest, write, and consult. Tirien received her bachelor’s degree from UC Santa Cruz and her law degree from U.C. Berkeley Law School.

 

 Our Opening Doors to Justice panel discussion will be moderated by long-time OneJustice Strategy Council member Anand Upadhye, Host of The Modern Lawyer Podcast. Anand regularly chats with giants in the American legal industry about the changes we are seeing in the practice of law, legal technology, and knowledge management.

May 2021 Clinic Highlights

In May 2021, OneJustice partnered with our legal aid and pro bono partners to plan three virtual immigration clinics where community members can access free immigration consultations and legal assistance with Adjustment of Status and Naturalization applications. We appreciate working with our legal aid, community, and pro bono partners to ensure immigrant communities have access to free legal assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • On May 7th, OneJustice, Jenesse Center, and the Association of Pro Bono Counsel (APBCo) partnered for a virtual IMPACT LA Immigration Clinic. We were able to provide legal assistance to seven people who are survivors of domestic violence. All 7 community members left the virtual legal clinic with referrals for additional legal assistance, mental health services, and social services. We appreciate our stellar pro bono partners at O’Melveny & Myers and Kaiser Permanente.
  • On May 14th, OneJustice and Social Justice Collaborative (SJC) partnered for the Justice Bus Network to provide legal assistance for asylees with fill out the Adjustment of Status application. We were able to provide legal assistance to 13 community members thanks to the incredible pro bono partnership of Morrison & Forester LLP.
  • On May 20th, OneJustice and the Immigration Institute of the Bay Area (IIBA) of Sonoma County collaborated for a virtual Naturalization legal clinic. We were able to assist eight community members in Sonoma County complete their applications for naturalization. We are grateful for our pro bono partners at Morrison Foerster, Baker & McKenzie, Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, and Southwestern School of Law.

Champion of Justice – Lawyaw

OneJustice is pleased to announce Lawyaw as one of it’s amazing Champions of Justice at our 2021 Opening Doors to Justice event on June 24, 2021.

Lawyaw is receiving the honor due to their dedication to increasing access to pro bono represtentation, as well as for their commitment to making their innovative products and projects accessible to all legal aid nonprofits during COVID-19 and after. Learn more about our honoree below:

About:

Lawyaw delivers easy-to-use document automation, eSign, remote intake, and knowledge management solutions for solo, small and mid-size legal practices in a web-based platform accessible from anywhere.

Fun Facts:

  • Origin of the name: The company name is something that generates a lot of discussion and varied reactions. In the northeast, people think we’re making a reference to saying “lawyer” with a Boston accent. In the southeast, people ask if we’re riffing on Law Y’all. The actual origin is Law + Yaw, as in “pitch and yaw” for those of you who are familiar with helicopters and airplanes. Pitch is the degree of vertical direction and yaw is the horizontal axis. The idea of combining them is that the company is reorienting the practice of law.
  • Milestones: In October 2020, a Lawyaw user produced the 1 millionth legal document drafted inside the platform. It took more than 4 years of work to reach 1 million documents. In about 6 months, we’ve already reached 1.4 million documents, so if the rate of growth continues, we’ll get to 2 million in about 12-13 months total.
  • Users: Lawyaw has users in more than 37 states at this point. The largest concentration of our users is in California.

 

ABA Day 2021 – Staff Perspectives

This month OneJustice participated in the 2021 virtual ABA Day, where we had the opportunity to lead lobbying and advocacy efforts to increase support for civil legal aid.

Six OneJustice staff members participated virtually and spoke with elected leaders in Washington, led by our amazing colleague Dana Marquez-Richardson! Follow this link to read about some of their experiences!

Bruno Huizar, Program Manager

I am grateful to have the opportunity to (virtually) join hundreds of legal professionals across the country to educate elected officials in Washington D.C. about the importance of legal aid for the American Bar Association (ABA) Digital Conference: Advocacy for Justice. Every year, OneJustice joins hundreds of lawyers, law students, and legal professionals to educate Members of Congress and advocate for increasing funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), which funds civil legal aid organizations across the country. OneJustice will continue to advocate for increasing LSC funding so our legal aid partners can continue to provide critical legal services to people navigating legal crisises throughout California.

Miguel Martinez, Program Associate

ABA was an incredible experience. This was my first time participating and I was pleased to meet several congressmen and share with them the importance of securing funding for LSC’s. A highlight from ABA day was meeting Congressman Ted Lieu from the 33rd district. He was very friendly and gave us his support to secure funding for LSC’s. Securing funding for LSC is very important, especially in these times when low income Americans are discouraged from seeking legal aid due to not having the ability to afford one. I look forward to participating again in the future.

Ariella Morrison, Senior Staff Attorney

Policy advocacy is essential to transforming our civil legal aid system. I loved participating in this year’s ABA Day for the first time. I learned so much and left the virtual lobby visits feeling really energized about the work we do. I feel hopeful that Congress will address the dramatic increase in the need for civil legal aid caused by the overwhelmingly devastating pandemic through the supplemental funding requests we made on behalf of the Legal Services Corporation.

Gracia Berrios, Program Coordinator

This was my first time being part of ABA day and I absolutely loved it! Being part of a group that is advocating to congress for critical funding on behalf of low income communities was really important to me. Hoping we are able to see good change this year for legal aid funding.

 

Employee Spotlight – Ariella Morrison

This month’s Employee Spotlight features Ariella Morrison, Senior Staff Attorney. 

Can you tell us about your role at OneJustice?

My work spans all three of our major program areas: Healthy Nonprofits, Pro Bono Justice, and most recently, Californians for Legal Aid. I am particularly excited about our new “Conflict Resolution within Legal Aid Teams” workshops, as well as our Access to Asylum Project in collaboration with Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project, Central American Resource Center – LA, and brilliant student and immigration attorney volunteers.

Can you tell us about the impact COVID has had on managing virtual training programs? What is the most challenging aspect of virtual OCA?

A silver lining of going 100% virtual is being able to convene folks from all over the state and [for the first time] outside of CA without anyone having to fly or deal with traffic. The most challenging aspect is figuring out ways to creatively keep participants engaged despite Zoom fatigue.

Can you describe how the content of OCA has changed to pivot to address the pandemic? What have the members of the cohort described as the most challenging aspect of providing legal services during this time? 

Each organization faces both unique and overlapping challenges as a result of the pandemic. I try to provide as much space as possible for the participants to learn from each other since they all have so much to share. Curriculum-wise the main change has been teaching content and facilitating discussions through a lens of remote/virtual services provision. 

Can you provide an overview of the intention/ reasoning behind starting the Immigration Services Providers convenings? What will the convenings cover, what was most needed in the survey we put out?

The Nonprofit Management Convenings for Immigration Legal Services is responsive to the unique nonprofit management challenges immigration legal services organizations face, many of which of course non-immigration organizations face as well. Having a sector-specific space is impactful for peer learning and participants’ relationship-building with each other. Immigration legal services organizations face specific nonprofit management challenges coming out of the Trump era (as well as under the Biden administration) and with constantly changing policies and fluctuating funding. I’m looking forward to the May 14 Session on “Recruitment, Retention, and Burn-Out Prevention.” We have a special speaker joining us for this topic — our former CEO, Julia Wilson

What would you say is the most important project/task/role you or OneJustice has taken on to support LSO’s during the pandemic?

I think our convening work has been really important since the spaces we cultivate for CA’s civil legal aid and pro bono community are an antidote to the pandemic’s isolating repercussions, as well as a general tendency for organizations to work in silo. I think we’ve provided meaningful spaces for folks to connect. 

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I feel grateful for my supportive and thoughtful colleagues, and especially for our ongoing work together making OneJustice (and hopefully CA’s civil legal aid system) a more inclusive and equitable place to work.

Staff Perspective

by Gail Quan, OneJustice Director

As someone who could be viewed as an example of the ”model minority”—child of Asian immigrants and raised in a working-class community in East Los Angeles who attended a top-rated college and became a lawyer—the recent attention to violence against Asian Americans reminds me that the creation of an equitable society remains a distant dream. The COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare the economic and racial inequities of our society and resulted in the continued othering of Asian Americans.

Violence against Asian Americans is not new to me. The recent incidents remind me of the too numerous acts of violence committed against my family—my sister ran for her life when a man pointed a gun at her and threatened to shoot her if she didn’t get into his car; my father was knifed when he was mugged; and my grandfather died from injuries he sustained when he was assaulted and pushed down a flight of stairs.

The fascination with the “exoticism” of Asian women is also not new to me. Men introducing themselves and expressing an interest in visiting Tokyo became such a common occurrence that I learned it was easier to walk away and not mention that I was Chinese.

And the fear of being harmed during this pandemic because I am Asian is not new to me either. As stories of attacks and harassment against Asian Americans increased during shelter in place, I had a disturbing encounter that was frightening enough to make me develop a new routine that I still follow. I no longer leave my home alone without my partner knowing where I am going and without texting him that I arrived safely. I also always text him to let him know when he should expect me home or ask that he pick me up. Prior to the pandemic, I never took such steps. I used to feel safe in my neighborhood.

Despite the violence and its reminder of the long history of harm against people of color, I remain hopeful that this moment in time will bring us closer to a united society where all people regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, ableness and religion are treated equitably, and that I and everyone else impacted by the violence in our country will again feel safe outside our homes. The support the Asian community has received from other organizations such as Black Lives Matter and the NAACP demonstrate that Asian Americans are not alone in standing against the violence they face. And this gives me hope.

As Inaugural Poet Amanda Gordon wrote:
Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true:
That even as we grieved, we grew,
That even as we hurt, we hoped,
That even as we tired, we tried.
That we’ll forever be tied together.
victorious,
Not because we will never again know
defeat,
But because we will never again sow
division.

OneJustice has compiled a list of resources dedicated to supporting the communities most affected, reporting on continued racialized violence, and teaching bystander intervention strategies:

Resources:
Advancing Justice-Atlanta has a donations page for the Georgia shooting victims and their families:
https://actionnetwork.org/fundraising/support-georgias-asian-american-community/

Advancing Justice- Atlanta’s community response statement:
https://www.advancingjustice-atlanta.org/aaajcommunitystatement

Stop AAPI Hate is collecting data on hate incidents; the website has a reporting form available in 11 languages and also has reports and other resources available:
https://stopaapihate.org/

Stop AAPI Hate’s fiscal sponsor is the Bay Area nonprofit civil rights organization, Chinese for Affirmative Action (CAA):
https://caasf.org/

Advancing Justice-LA are providing assistance to people directly impacted by discrimination in housing, employment, consumer contracts, as well as other matters:
https://advancingjustice-la.org/anti-asian-discrimination

The California Asian Pacific American Bar Association has been holding a series of webinars on APAs and hate. Recordings for the first 2 events and links to register for future events are available:
https://cal-apaba.wildapricot.org/APAs-vs-Hate

Hollaback! has bystander intervention trainings (they have specific ones addressing anti-Asian harassment but also many other types, including addressing gender harassment and police sponsored violence and anti-Black harassment), and also guides and other helpful resources:
https://www.ihollaback.org/harassmenttraining/

Oakland Chinatown Coalition brings together cultural organizations to advocate for neighborhood improvement projects and community engagement. (NBC News):
https://www.facebook.com/chinatowncoalition/

Donate to The AAPI Community Fund, which benefits a growing list of organizations, including Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Atlanta; CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities; Center for Pan Asian Community Services and Oakland Chinatown Ambassadors Program:
https://www.gofundme.com/c/act/stop-aapi-hate

Support the National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association (NAAPIMHA), which promotes the mental health and well being of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities:
https://www.naapimha.org/

Partner Spotlight – Janay Eustace

This month’s Spotlight is on Janay Eustace, newly-appointed Executive Director of California Youth Connection and current Executive Fellows class member.

OneJustice Program Associate Miguel Martinez connected with Janay via Zoom to hear her amazing story which began as a teenage client of the nonprofit she now leads. Below is an abbreviation of their discussion.

Miguel: Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Janay: I am a mom and I have 3 sons, 14, 11 and 6. I’m also a wife and a daughter, an auntie, a cousin, a sister, and I have a huge chosen family as well. Interestingly, the organization I work for, a lot of the youth that are in the organization as our members, they consider a lot of our community-building as really family building, so a lot of the youth that are a part the organization also feel like it’s more of a family. We really focus on making sure to build community, and really establish that, and center it so that our members can get that extra piece to being a member of CYC, which is that family and that belonging part.

I grew up in this organization, and I was a member when I was 14 years old. I did grow up in California’s foster care system for a part of my childhood and adolescence. I emancipated out of the foster care system and went on to become a social worker for a while for Sacramento County. Then I got my Master’s from Sac State, and went on to work in policy. My career choice is based not only on professional experience, but it’s based a lot on personal experience as well.

Miguel: Tell me about the work that you do and the mission of California Youth Connection.

Janay: I am very happy to say that I am the newly appointed Executive Director of the California Youth Connection. I came back to the organization as the Deputy Director and it was just amazing to come back to CYC. I’ve worked alongside CYC for many years now in doing a lot of different work. I realized that in many different roles that I carried and different jobs that I had, I always connected that work somehow back to CYC.

CYC is a youth-led organization to develop leaders who empower each other and their communities to transform the foster care system through legislative policy and practice change. The vision is that all foster youth will be equal partners in contributing to all policies and decisions made in their lives. And all youth in foster care will have their needs met and support to grow into healthy and vibrant adults.

Ultimately, I noticed that in a lot of different areas of my career path before coming back to CYC, I always helped contribute to that mission in some way. Being a member at 14 years old, I never imagined that someday I would be able to co-lead this organization. I say co-lead because it’s my role to facilitate our youth board and our executive board and our community and ensure that we are holding all our members at the center, and really elevating their vision and their mission of this organization to hold that integrity. That to me is the most important part of this role.

Miguel: What are the key challenges facing your clients and what are you doing to address them?

Janay: The key challenge faced by current and former foster youth is lack of stability in many parts of their lives. They would move in the middle of the night or at any different time. They’d come home from school and their social worker could be there and tell them they’re changing placements and going to a new home, a new city, or even out of state. A big issue facing young people in the foster care system is instability in many aspects of their life.

This year, we’re empowering the young people to work on a policy issue where they’re redefining mental health. During this pandemic, through a survey they found that a lot of young people were lonely and having a lack of mental health support. The found that access to mental health services here in California is a real challenge, especially for current and former foster youth in the 18-26 age range. A lot of them weren’t able to access the emergency supports during this time because of insurance billing or service location issues.

CYC is challenging the system to redefine what mental health looks like to allow for access to services and supports as they’re needed, and to look outside the traditional medication management or therapeutic management to include acupuncture, horse back riding, extracurricular activities, gym memberships — alternatives that are not traditional in the foster care system. Many youth feel like they’re being over-medicated, not having a voice in the process, and ultimately overmedication makes them take on dependencies on other substance abuse that’s not healthy.

We are compiling a 10-point redefining mental health plan and spreading that in the community, and looking to partner with some of the systems to see how to reform and change that.

A huge part of our work is partnering with law firms like the Youth Law Center and other lawyers and advocates who help CYC bring the youth vision to fruition.

Miguel: How has the pandemic impacted your organization?

Janay: Tremendously. Youth have missed being together. We have two conferences a year. Day at the Capitol is where our members take on their legislative issue, meet with all of the legislators, share their personal stories and why the particular piece of legislation is important to them, and they ask for their support. It’s a great opportunity for all of these young people to advocate for the issues that affect their lives. This year it will be virtual for the first time in 30+ years. We also have a summer policy and leadership that was held virtually in July, which offers a lot of leadership and development opportunities for the youth that attend.

The camaraderie and community-building are missing and that’s huge because authentically engaging young folks in community-building virtually is much harder. One silver lining is that removing the barrier of travel has helped engage more youth from rural areas or even across the state.

Janay: honored to be the lone social worker among the group of lawyers

 

Miguel: In what ways have you been able to apply what you’ve learned through the Executive Fellows program?

Janay: My cohort within the cohort within the fellowship is an amazing group of women and I have learned so much from the three of them. I appreciate that fellowship and connection. What I have learned came right on time, during a leadership transition at CYC, when they were rebuilding. One of the first sessions was about value and belonging based cultures, so it came at the perfect time for me to ingest all of that great knowledge. I learned to put language to the culture I wanted to help thrive and build at CYC. We really want CYC to be an organization of belonging and value where all staff and our members feel valued, and that we all have something to contribute. It fit so perfectly with my role as facilitator to our executive board, youth board and our community .

Miguel: Thank you so much. We hope that the Fellowship continues to empower you with new tools and techniques and the connection that you’re building.

Employee Spotlight on Dana Marquez Richardson

Can you tell us about your role at OneJustice?

As Program Manager for the Healthy Nonprofits program, I help lead OneJustice’s policy work, including OneJustice’s advocacy to increase federal funding for legal aid organizations. Serving as OneJustice’s expert on federal funding issues, I lead OneJustice’s role in advocacy efforts in Washington D.C. and Sacramento, and help to ensure that all low-income Californians are being thought of when policies are put into place. As a member of the Healthy Nonprofits team, I also teach and advocate on issues that impact legal services organizations, including team and project management, supervision, and anti-racist practices.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work, and specifically the work of the policy team?

The biggest impact COVID-19 has had on our policy work is by having to transition to virtual lobbying from in person. Last year and this year, our usual trip to Washington D.C. to advocate for Legal Services Corporation funding has switched to a virtual format. This is great for the fact that we can have more staff join our visits without travel restrictions, but lobby visits do lose some personability by taking place online rather than face to face. The switch to virtual however has allowed us to participate in more virtual lobby meetings by partnering with other organizations and being able to do so from our home offices.

Can you describe your experience at the LAAC 2021 virtual Lobby week?
What was the purpose of the lobbying visits, who did you visit?

LAAC’s yearly lobbying day(s) are great because we, as OneJustice, get to go in and share the great work our legal services partners are doing, and how we, as a support center, help provide lasting support for these organizations and their staff. These visits are largely to introduce legislators and their staff to legal aid and to educate them on its importance. This year I was able to meet with Assemblymember Mark Stone, and Assemblymember Kevin Mullin and Senator Connie Leyva’s staff. Each visit was unique and provided us a great opportunity to talk about the unique challenges and opportunities for legal aid in each district.

What was the goal of the virtual lobbying?

This year, our asks revolved around legal aid funding, IOLTA eligibility, and court funding and safety. For legal aid funding, we encouraged lawmakers to support a one-time $20 million budget item to the Equal Access Fund (the line item in the budget that funds legal aid) to backfill losses to IOLTA (Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts) of over 60% from 2019. IOLTA is the main funding source for legal aid in California and as a result of a decrease in IOLTA funding, funding for legal assistance is going down at the exact wrong time, when the demand for legal assistance is going up. Decreasing funding means less recruitment and less retention of hardworking legal aid lawyers right when we need to be ramping up both to meet a growing need.
Through Senate Bill 498, introduced by Senator Umberg, we want to increase the eligibility for IOLTA-funded legal services from 125% to 200% of the federal poverty level. This is a long overdue change that means more people can access legal aid. The increase would cover people who are still low-income by California standards and would allow for more individuals in need to be eligible for legal services.
Our third ask was for continued investment in the judicial system to include stable and reliable funding for courts to address annual cost increases in baseline operations and help plan for the future. Because of COVID-19, we have seen access to the courts for our low-income clients suffer. Additional investments into the courts would include providing resources to improve physical access to the courts, expanding access by increasing the ability of court users to conduct court operations online, restoring programs and services that were reduced over the past few years, and continuing to implement innovations in programs and services, such as for self-represented litigants and other disadvantaged court users.

What do you think is the most pressing advocacy/ policy issue for legal aid right now?

I think funding is always an issue for legal aid. However, due to the decrease in IOLTA funds this year, this need feels even more pressing than usual. The current justice gap in California is large. For example, 85% of low-income Californians receive no or inadequate legal help, which means we need to provide more access to legal aid. One issue with this is that there simply aren’t enough legal aid lawyers to meet the need. Even with recent funding increases, there is still only 1 legal aid lawyer for every 5,500 Californians eligible for their services.. Legal aid lawyers are paid far less than many of their counterparts in the legal profession, struggle with educational debt and the cost of living, and have to navigate high levels of emotional exhaustion. These things compound and make it challenging to recruit and retain legal aid lawyers, which impacts client services. Additional funding, while not the answer to all problems, would go a long way in improving client services holistically.

What is something you think is something that is important our broader audience understands about policy advocacy and legal aid?

The advocacy we do is for the benefit of all who interact with the legal aid system. By improving legal aid attorneys’ quality of life, this improves their ability to serve clients. By providing stable funding for services and programs, this improves community based relationships with organizations that provide services outside of the legal system. By providing more resources and access to the courts, this improves the efficacy and efficiency of our judicial system. All of these things are interconnected and at the end of the day, by making any of these services work better, we are improving the lives of those we care about most: the low-income Californians seeking our services.

Spotlight on Tim Ethier, OneJustice Client

For many low-income Californians, finding employment is challenging, and for those with criminal records, can be nearly impossible. People with a criminal record can face lifelong barriers to housing, employment, parental rights, public assistance, and permanent immigration status.

During the pandemic OneJustice has worked to expand access to expungement clinics both in person, and virtually to provide clients with free legal services to restore their criminal records. Expungements have the potential to provide low-income clients with a fresh start, a clean slate, and a fair opportunity to fully engage in their communities.

Today I’m honored to share with you the first-hand story of Tim (pictured above), who received free legal assistance at a OneJustice clinic, in partnership with our legal aid and pro bono partners, to expunge his criminal record.

_______________________________________________________________________

“My name is Tim Ethier, I live in Ventura, California, I have been a lifetime resident of California, and a lifetime resident of Ventura. And basically I am here today to tell my story, briefly, so that OneJustice, the organization that I am speaking about understands not only the gratitude and the importance of the organization, but also to give a personal testimony about what my struggle was throughout the years of my life.

To give you a brief overview, when I got into a bad place with addiction and alcoholism, like a lot of people a criminal record always accompanies that and sometimes it is a result of that or it manifests itself in different ways, so it is important to realize that my testimony is my personal experience, and everybody has their own story, so whatever I can do to inspire you to move on without getting too drug down with the personal details.

My story started about six years ago and I had gotten to a place with drugs and alcohol that was unmanageable at that point. As things happen and your irresponsibility happens with your addiction you create a path behind you that creates a criminal record, and a lot of us have it. It can be anything from a DUI, which I had, to petty theft and domestics and things like that. All misdemeanors but all horrible results of my irresponsibility and my inability to get to the core of my addiction and my problems.

Once I addressed those issues, I was able to do that with the assistance of the Ventura County Rescue Mission, which helped me in the Life Recovery Program and when I graduated that program I was able to start the process of restoring my criminal record. For a lot of people that is uncharted territory like it was for myself, and so I reached out and I put myself out to different organizations and even private lawyers, and I started with the Public Defender’s office in my county and they referred me to the National Legal Defense Fund, which referred me to OneJustice.

The reason why I want to give my testimony today for OneJustice is because this organization was imperative in the process of assisting me to represent myself throughout my expungement process. I say imperative because you can’t really do it by yourself. The legal community is a very tight knit and very difficult place to navigate if you don’t really know the process of lawyers and public defenders and all that, or how to get this process done.

So once I got to a clearheaded place and I started to practice my sobriety, I wanted to restore my character and my criminal record, and when I got to the place where I was able to do that I had a plethora of resources available. But what I want to emphasize is that it takes individual work, individual time and individual patience for anyone to put these things into action. So by no means are you going to be able to rely solely on an organization, whatever the entity is, to do the work for you. But OneJustice was invaluable in the process from the beginning, not only advocating for my recovery, but advocating for the process of wanting to restore my character.

I keep referring to restoring my character because when you look at somebody, and you do an interview in this day in age, especially via Zoom or you do it in an interview for a job or anything, you can create a beautiful resume and a beautiful story about yourself, but if they look at your background it can be a problem, and a lot of people say oh we just have to clear your background and you’ll be good, I can’t tell you how many times I lost prime jobs because of my background and my criminal background. I was thinking that I’m just going to be stuck in this job, and I’m not going to be able to flourish and get back on my feet and so I got tired of that, I got tired of the refusal of jobs that I knew I deserved and I knew that I could perform at because of a bad criminal record. Criminal records can haunt you for the rest of your life if you don’t do anything about them. For those people who don’t have a criminal record it’s easy, but for those that acquire them due to results of irresponsibility and phases in their life, if they don’t address those things they can haunt them for many years, and I was experiencing that. Being a middle aged guy looking to restore my income and find a career, I found the obstacles were huge for me with this criminal record.

So I went backwards and went back to square one and was able to find OneJustice, which advocated for me, and wrote letters for me and connected me with pro bono lawyers to represent me in court when I wasn’t able to do that myself. So basically my testimony today is just to tell you that if you don’t put work in and you don’t reach out, nothings going to happen and obviously nothing comes from nothing. The action that you need to take requires patience and diligence, and forethought, but you also have to be able to communicate with people and trust the process, because if you don’t trust the process and be patient with it, you can give up on it easily. And I did that for years, I gave up on myself and I gave up on a lot of things. But this was something I really wanted for myself and I felt like the team at OneJustice really embraced that passion for me to come back into the fold and address what was necessary for me to restore my character and restore my criminal record.

We all want instant gratification, we all want things to happen right away, and restoration takes a long time to reconcile, and so I had to learn patience, and it has helped me in my job, in the way that I approach people, its helped me in the way I approach my kids, they see a difference, and it is rewarding to see them flourish and not worry about the past that you had, and so I feel honored and blessed that I had the opportunity to be able to trust an organization that went all the way to the wall for me, they went all the way. And you didn’t have to do that , and that is something that I really feel blessed and honored to be a part of because of course I was really doubting that it was going to get done, and when you go on a website and you look up interior superior court, and you see all these things that are dismissed by expungement, and then you get the letter, I didn’t really believe it online, I had to have the hard copies of the letters, which I have at my disposal now, and I’m probably going to frame them and put them up somewhere, but I felt like it wasn’t really tangible until I had the paper in my hand, and it wasn’t something I could imagine.

For some people they buy their way out of this stuff and they are able to look the other way because they have a job that is fine, but it was a personal thing for me, it was personally embarrassing and personally something I didn’t want to be out there, so when you take that initiative to restore your character it is a different road, you can restore a lot of things, but restoring your character takes a lot of time with people, believe me not everyone bought into it and I hurt a lot of people along the way. That reconciliation with them was a motivator, especially with my kids because they look at me totally differently now and that’s representative of putting things into action and not just talking about it, and that’s what people need to realize. I can tell you all day how to do things, what to do, and inspire and motivate you, but you have to put the work in, and if you don’t put the work in, then you won’t get the results you want, so I just feel blessed that you gave me the chance to do that, so thank you.

On February 24, 2021 all six of my charges were dropped. And they were dropped free of charge because I was able to get a waiver. I owed over $10,000 to the courts, and they waived all of that. So there is hope and a path that you can take and doesn’t apply to everyone, but it applied to me. And I was able to take the time and energy to trust people to write letters on my behalf, and I finally got a judge to sign off on all my stuff and I can’t tell you the sense of accomplishment that you have when you are able to clear that. I work for UPS now, and I just got another promotion, so this is a process that happened because of the team and the energy that comes from trusting an organization like OneJustice, and so I am eternally grateful for their time and energy and resources that they provided for me, so I thank you from the bottom of my heart for being able to have a chance to tell this story, so thank you.”