Clarabelle lived all alone – and they knew it

My great-aunt Clarabelle was a firecracker of a person. 

Until Alzheimers made her dependent on our family – and vulnerable to a group of slick salesmen.

Clarabelle Henson (1905 - 1996) was a force of nature.  Here she is shown sitting with family on the steps of her family home in Tuscola, IL.

Clarabelle Henson (1905 – 1996) was a force of nature. Here she is shown sitting with family on the steps of her family home in Tuscola, IL.

My great-aunt Clarabelle was truly a force of nature in my life.  She was independent, opinionated, and had a firm and unwavering sense of self.  During my childhood, she split her time between an apartment in a suburb of Chicago and the very small town of Tuscola, Illinois (population of around 4,000) in the house where she lived since she was a child.  She was an incredible role model.  A professional woman in a time when such things were not as common, she worked as a much-loved teacher and then principal of a Chicago school for over 24 years while also managing the rental and eventually the sale of our family’s farm in Hindsboro, IL. Having never married, she was fiercely self-sufficient – until she starting suffering the dramatic effects of Alzheimers.

I was reminded of Clarabelle last weekend, during a long but beautiful drive from my home in the Bay Area to a soccer tournament in Redding.  At one point, about two hours into the drive, my husband chuckled and pointed out that the GPS map in the car’s dashboard showed just one long straight line of highway.  No intersecting roads.  No airports.  No towns.  There was hardly anyone else on the road – just miles and miles of open country, farmland, and an expansive horizon overhead.   There was literally nothing around us – it felt restful, almost serene.

It was completely reminiscent of the landscape of my childhood, growing up in Champaign-Urbana, IL almost smack dab in the middle of the state.  Although Urbana is home to the University of Illinois, we lived on the outskirts of Champaign, and it felt very connected to the farms around it.  Although my kids roll their eyes when I talk about it, my elementary school was bordered on three sides by corn fields, and the school shut down on days when the snow prevented the school buses from picking up the children living on farms just outside of town.  When I’m out in rural areas of California, I feel – in some way deeply imprinted from my childhood – like it’s home.

There are so  many wonderful things about small rural towns – whether in Illinois or California.  When we visited Clarabelle in Tuscola and took her out to dinner (at the truck stop no less!), almost everyone knew each other.  She was close to her neighbors on her small street.  We ate homemade apple pie from fruit we picked in her backyard.  Many older Californians leave urban areas and move out to smaller towns in their retirement for exactly these kinds of benefits.  They seek a slower pace, more tightly-knit community, and a more affordable cost of living when they start having to manage on a fixed income.

The GPS map in the car dashboard shows one straight line of Highway 505 heading north - and nothing else around.

The GPS map in the car dashboard shows one straight line of Highway 505 heading north – and nothing else around.

But seniors living in small, rural towns can also be uniquely vulnerable.  In the last decade or so of her life, Clarabelle struggled with the impact of Alzheimers and dementia.  At the beginning, she still lived alone in her family home, and our family – my dad in particular – helped her manage the impact of short-term memory loss and moments of confusion.  But then she got on the list of a team of salesmen from a near-by town.  They figured out that she lived all alone – and that she was completely unconcerned about inviting them into her house.  She called them “the nice young men who come to visit.”  They tried to sell her all kinds of insurance that she clearly didn’t need – and they would stop by her house in cycles, each of them trying to make the sale.   Sometimes they succeeded, and she paid them thousands of dollars. Luckily, the neighbors would call my dad to let him know that it was happening.  He would call Clarabelle, demand that she put these “nice young men” on the phone with him, and berate them until they left.  Eventually it got so bad that my dad went to their office, told them that he knew exactly what they were doing, and that our family wouldn’t stand for it any longer.  Finally, the visits stopped.

Clarabelle was lucky.  She had family relatively close-by, neighbors who were part of the solution, and family members fully capable of handling the problem.  But many seniors do not.  They move to rural areas and no longer have familiar support systems.  Their families members live too far away to monitor what is happening.  Neighbors don’t make those phone calls.  And seniors fall victim to all kinds of abuse – both financial, emotional, and even physical.

Some seniors can turn to their local nonprofit legal organization that provides free legal help to older Californians for help.  But some live hundreds of miles from the nearest legal services nonprofit – and cannot travel to get there.  And that is why the Justice Bus Project is focused on bringing free legal assistance to exactly those seniors living in rural and isolated areas of the state.  One of OneJustice’s key initiatives in 2013 is to expand the services available for older Californians – both through increased Justice Bus Trips to bring free legal help right to rural senior centers and senior housing facilities, and by expanding the capacity of nonprofit legal organizations serving seniors through training, coaching and support on nonprofit management.

I was reminded on the drive to Redding of exactly why the Justice Bus Project is so important to those seniors – and the rurally based nonprofit legal organizations trying to reach and serve them.  Because while that long stretch of highway with nothing around felt serene and beautiful as we were driving through, it also means that the seniors living in those areas can feel inescapably alone – and vulnerable to those who are looking for victims. Just like my great-aunt Clarabelle.

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Julia Wilson is honored to serve as the executive director of OneJusticeJulia R. Wilson is the executive director of OneJustice, where she is responsible for leading statewide advocacy efforts on behalf of the legal services delivery system, undertaking multiple statewide strategic planning initiatives, and serving as the legal services community’s liaison to key access to justice partners. At heart she is still a small town mid-western girl, who loves the urban energy of downtown San Francisco but craves the wide open horizon of big sky country.  Read more about Julia on our website.

You did it!

You made the world more just and more fair.

Words simply cannot adequately express how grateful we are for your support.  But pictures are worth 1,000 words – so we made this short (2-minute) video to express our thanks. 

It is a labor of love, with images sent in by folks in our network from all around the state – and it comes from our hearts to yours.  Enjoy!

Your generous support of OneJustice brings life-changing legal help to Californians in need – all around the state, particularly in rural and isolated areas. Low-income veterans. Vulnerable seniors. Children with disabilities and immigrant youth. People suffering needlessly from solvable legal problems – problems that prevent them from accessing life necessities.

You can still donate online now!

It’s not too late to be part of the solution – you can still donate now at one-justice.org/donate!

Thank you! Thank you for your support, your generosity, your charitable investment in our work – and most of all, for being part of the OneJustice network.

Your 2013 “must watch” movie list

And we have a winner!  

My Cousin Vinny was posted three times in our contest to name your favorite justice-related movie!

And the winner is . . . My Cousin Vinny!Yes, we were totally surprised – My Cousin Vinny had not been our radar – but clearly it is on yours!  So it’s a three-way tie – everyone who posted My Cousin Vinny as their favorite will receive a nifty OneJustice water bottle.

We received so many fantastic suggestions – you all really went all out.  So we just had to share the results!  We’ve compiled the full list of all postings – and it makes a terrific “must watch” movie list for all us justice-hungry people (although it might take more than one year to watch them all).  The list is posted below with a short summary and links to more info about each movie.

What do you think?  How many of these movies have you seen?  What movies are missing?  We thought Twelve Angry Men and The Accused might show up – what else would YOU add?

Thank you to everyone who posted, and happy watching!

P.S. Keep an eye out for our February contest, which will be posted February 1.  A hint……it might involve singing.  Get ready!

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The most frequently posted favorite justice move - My Cousin Vinny (1992)

The most frequently posted favorite justice move – My Cousin Vinny (1992)

The Winner: My Cousin Vinny

Posted by: Cyndi Tyler (on facebook), Lillian Moy (facebook), and Toby Rothschild (on the blog).  Congrats to Cyndi, Lilian and Toby!

Two New Yorkers are accused of murder in rural Alabama while on their way back to college, and one of their cousins–an inexperienced, loudmouth lawyer not accustomed to Southern rules and manners–comes in to defend them.

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Your 2013 “Must Watch” Justice Movies List (in alphabetical order)

A Few Good Men (1992): Neo military lawyer Kaffee defends Marines accused of murder; they contend they were acting under orders.

A Time to Kill (1996): A young lawyer defends a black man accused of murdering two men who raped his 10-year-old daughter, sparking a rebirth of the KKK.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959): In a murder trial, the defendant says he suffered temporary insanity after the victim raped his wife. What is the truth, and will he win his case?

The Andersonville Trial (1970): A dramatization of the 1865 war-crimes trial of Henry Wirz, commandant of the notorious Confederate POW camp at AA Time to Kill - Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey, and Samuel Jacksonndersonville, Georgia.

Bananas (1971): When a bumbling New Yorker is dumped by his activist girlfriend, he travels to a tiny Latin American nation and becomes involved in its latest rebellion.

Breaker Morant (1980): Three Australian lieutenants are court martialed for executing prisoners as a way of deflecting attention from war crimes committed by their superior officers.

The Central Park Five (2012): A documentary that examines the 1989 case of five black and Latino teenagers who were convicted of raping a white woman in Central Park. After having spent between 6 and 13 years each in prison, a serial rapist confessed to the crime.

Dead Man Walking (1995): A nun, while comforting a convicted killer on death row, empathizes with both the killer and his victim’s families.

Disturbing the Universe (2009): William Kunstler was one of the most famous lawyers of the 20th century. The New York Times called him “the most hated and most loved lawyer in America.” His clients included Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Phillip and Daniel Berrigan, Abbie Hoffman, H. Rap Brown, Stokely Carmichael, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and Leonard Peltier. In Disturbing the Universe: Radical Lawyer William Kunstler, filmmakers Emily Kunstler and Sarah Kunstler explore their father’s life, from middle-class family man, to movement lawyer, to “the most hated lawyer in America.”

Still a hot topic - teaching evolution - Inherit the WindGran Torino (2008): Disgruntled Korean War vet Walt Kowalski sets out to reform his neighbor, a young Hmong teenager, who tried to steal Kowalski’s prized possession: his 1972 Gran Torino.

Heavy Metal (1981): A glowing orb terrorizes a young girl with a collection of stories of dark fantasy, eroticism and horror.

The Help (2011): An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maids’ point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.

Inherit the Wind (was posted twice!) (1960): Based on a real-life case in 1925, two great lawyers argue the case for and against a science teacher accused of the crime of teaching evolution.

It’s a Wonderful Life (1946): An angel helps a compassionate but despairingly frustrated businessman by showing what life would have been like if he never existed.

Judgment at Nuremberg (1961): In 1948, an American court in occupied Germany tries four Nazi judges for war crimes.

Lawless America (2013): The Movie is all about exposing the fact that we now live in Lawless America.

Legally Blonde (2001): When a blonde sorority queen is dumped by her boyfriend, she decides to follow him to law school to get him back and, once there, learns she has more legal savvy than she ever imagined.

Les Miserables (2012): In 19th-century France, Jean Valjean, who for decades has been hunted by the ruthless policeman Javert after he breaks parole, agrees to care fTom Hanks and Denzel Washington in Philadelphiaor factory worker Fantine’s daughter, Cosette. The fateful decision changes their lives forever.

Motorcycle Diaries (2004): The dramatization of a motorcycle road trip Che Guevara went on in his youth that showed him his life’s calling.

Norma Rae (1979): A young single mother and textile worker agrees to help unionize her mill despite the problems and dangers involved.

Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills (1996): A horrific triple child murder leads to an indictment and trial of three nonconformist boys based on questionable evidence.

Paths of Glory (1957): When soldiers in WW1 refuse to continue with an impossible attack, their superiors decide to make an example of them.

Philadelphia (posted twice!) (1993): When a man with AIDS is fired by a conservative law firm because of his condition, he hires a homophobic small time lawyer as the only willing advocate for a wrongful dismissal suit.

Pink Floyd The Wall (1982): A troubled rock star descends into madness in the midst of his physical and social isolation from everyone.

To Kill a MAgatha Christie at her best - Witness for the Prosecutionockingbird (1962): Atticus Finch, a lawyer in the Depression-era South, defends a black man against an undeserved rape charge, and his kids against prejudice.

True Believer (1989): A cynical former civil liberties attorney now reduced to “specializing” in defending drug dealers becomes transformed by an eight-year-old murder case.

The Verdict (1982): A lawyer sees the chance to salvage his career and self-respect by taking a medical malpractice case to trial rather than settling.

Witness for the Prosecution (1957): Agatha Christie tale of a man on trial for murder: a trial featuring surprise after surprise.

First Justice Contest of 2013!

What is your favorite justice-related movie?

Starting today, please post your favorite justice-related MOVIE to any of our social media sites – and you’ll be entered in a drawing for a super cool OneJustice water bottle! 

And let’s just get it out of our systems right now and say you can’t post To Kill a Mockingbird.  We know, we know, believe us – but you just can’t – because everyone will.  Let’s think outside the box people!

Contest ends January 8th – post today!   All posts on facebook, LinkedIn, comments here on the blog, and twitter will be considered valid entries.   (And given that the OneJustice network is full of lawyers, you can just imagine a bunch of fine print explaining all the contest rules ….. right here.)  Happy posting!

Nope, you can't post To Kill a Mockingbird.  We're taking it off the table, because everyone will post it!

Nope, you can’t post To Kill a Mockingbird. We’re taking it off the table, because everyone will post it!

The OneJustice Blog: 2012 in review

What were YOUR favorite blog posts from 2012?

Check out the highlights and stats from 2012!  Click here to see the complete report.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 3,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 5 years to get that many views.

What are your hopes and dreams for justice in 2013?

Are you making a list of New Year’s resolutions?  What do you hope for in 2013?

What are your dreams for a better – and more just – world next year?  How would you like to partner with OneJustice to turn those dreams into reality?

We asked the OneJustice staff members to share their hopes and dreams for 2013, and you can see their ideas below. We also want to know what YOU think!  Where should we be focusing our time and energy?  What most excites you about being a part of the OneJustice network?  Let us know – comment on this post or on our facebook or LinkedIn pages!

You can donate online now!It’s also not too late to be part of making these dreams come true!  Donate now to any of our program areas to kick off increased access to legal help for Californians in need.

We wish you all the very best in the coming new year.

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Pro Bono Team (R to L): Michael Winn, Senior Staff Attorney; Phoebe Kasdin, Program Associate; and Lauren Roberts, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow

Pro Bono Team (R to L): Michael Winn, Senior Staff Attorney; Phoebe Kasdin, Program Associate; and Lauren Roberts, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow

More Services for Veterans!

Our Pro Bono Support Team based in the San Francisco office hopes that the early January 2013 Justice Bus Trip to far northern California will serve up to 400 veterans who are members of the Yurok Tribe.  They also hope to bring legal help to 600 additional veterans living in isolated areas of the state throughout the year!

Make their wish come true by donating to the Veterans Legal Aid Fund!

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SoCal Pro Bono Team (R to L): Monica Mar, Senior Staff Attorney and Cynthia Luna, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Attorney

SoCal Pro Bono Team (R to L): Monica Mar, Senior Staff Attorney and Cynthia Luna, Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow

More Justice Bus Trips Serving Children and Youth!

Our Pro Bono Support team working out of the LA office is dreaming of bringing more legal help on special education issues to 50 children with disabilities in the Lancaster and Antelope Valley areas – and to spread that assistance into other isolated areas of Southern California.

Donations to the Children’s Legal Aid Fund will turn their dreams into reality!

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Strengthen the Network team (R to L): Linda Kim, Deputy Director; Stephen Downey, Program Associate, and Thieu Do, Program Coordinator

Strengthen the Network team (R to L): Linda Kim, Deputy Director; Stephen Downey, Program Associate, and Thieu Do, Program Coordinator

New Skills for Seniors Programs!

One of our teams working to Strengthen the OneJustice Network has visions of bringing vital assistance in nonprofit management and operations to 10 nonprofit legal organizations serving seniors.  This support will expand their leadership, management, governance and outreach capacity to enable them to serve many more low-income seniors during 2013.

You can share in that vision with a kind gift to the Seniors Legal Aid Fund today!

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Fundraising Support Team (R to L):  Natasha Ong, Development Associate; Julia Wilson, Executive Director; and Renae Getlin, Executive Assistant

Fundraising Support Team (R to L): Natasha Ong, Development Associate; Julia Wilson, Executive Director; and Renae Getlin, Executive Assistant

New Fundraising Strategies for Legal Services Nonprofits!

Another Strengthen the Network team plans to support the leaders of nonprofit legal organizations in increasing their fundraising and communications skills throughout 2013.  We know that better fundraising skills will allow their organizations to survive and thrive in this increasingly complex and competitive nonprofit sector.

Your kind gift will support the entire statewide network of over 100 nonprofit legal organizations – donate today!  Thank you!

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Justice: the perfect gift.  Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians in 2013.

Justice: the perfect gift. Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians in 2013.

You are part of a networked community.

Better legal services delivery through networked technology . . .  the OneJustice network.

OneJustice supports a network of 100+ nonprofit legal organizations, law firms, law schools and businesses.  Each year this network provides life-saving legal help to over 275,000 Californians facing legal barriers to basic life necessities and core civil rights.  You – like everyone in our network – are an essential part of the solution to the fact that millions of our neighbors suffer needlessly from solvable legal problems.

Liz Keith, LawHelp Program Manager at Pro Bono Net

Liz Keith, LawHelp Program Manager at Pro Bono Net

In honor of the work that our network does, each month we feature an interview with a different participant in the network. This month we interviewed Liz Keith, who is the LawHelp Program Manager with our partner organization Pro Bono Net.

Liz, tell us a little bit about Pro Bono Net, and your role at the organization?

Pro Bono Net is a national nonprofit working to increase access to justice through innovative uses of technology and collaboration. We have offices in New York and San Francisco, which is where I am based. Among other programs, we have developed and support two web platforms, LawHelp and LawHelp Interactive, to provide legal information and self-help tools directly to the public, as well as probono.net, our flagship platform, which supports pro bono engagement and collaboration among advocates. Our platforms have been adopted by justice communities around the country, including here in California through our partnership with OneJustice on LawHelpCalifornia.org, CalifornaProBono.org, SoCalProBono.org, and several other initiatives.

probono.netI work with Pro Bono Net’s partners around the country who are developing initiatives using the LawHelp and probono.net platforms.  I’ve been with Pro Bono Net for about 8 years, first as a Circuit Rider and now as the LawHelp Program Manager. I work both on the technology and human sides of the equation – facilitating the use of our tools, and helping programs understand how to integrate them with their broader service delivery to help more clients.

How does your experience in the national access to justice, pro bono, and technology communities inform your work with OneJustice

The LawHelpCA and CaliforniaProBono.org websites coordinated by OneJustice are part of a national network of similar initiatives – known as “statewide websites” for short — in all 50 states. About half of the states use Pro Bono Net’s platforms. The federal Legal Services Corporation, which provides funding for legal services, has a special innovation fund called the Technology Initiative Grant program, which provided seed funding for these initiatives and continues to support their expansion.

LawHelp.orgIn each state, the initiatives are coordinated by leading public interest organizations like OneJustice that adapt the technology to the community’s needs, spearhead the content development, and facilitate the participation by other providers. The projects are collaborative in nature. While one group “hosts” the statewide websites, many groups contribute resources and content, and the projects are intended to support the entire state justice community. OneJustice is a natural home for the projects in that way.

Like OneJustice, Pro Bono Net has a network of partners that we support. One of the really fun and rewarding parts of my job is being able to help our partners get the most out of being part of that network. Many legal aid programs don’t have the luxury of learning by experience and I try to help them leverage their limited resources by sharing what I think other states are doing well. Often that goes beyond technology topics. Many of our partners are interested in law student engagement, and I’ve encouraged them to look at the Justice Bus and OneJustice Summer programs, and how OneJustice facilitates collaboration among law schools and providers.

In your opinion, what are some of the strengths of the collaboration between Pro Bono Net and OneJustice?

I think there are a lot of parallels between Pro Bono Net’s approach to supporting  technology innovation and OneJustice’s strategies for strengthening and expanding the delivery system. Both organizations are concerned with removing barriers to justice, capability-building and facilitating collaboration.

One of the exciting and unique aspects of the collaboration is that OneJustice has facilitated the expansion of what started as statewide vision, with CaliforniaProBono.org, into CAProBono.orgregionally-tailored strategies. For example, OneJustice worked with pro bono providers in Southern California to develop SoCalProBono.org on the probono.net platform. So the Southern California community now has a collaborative online resource supporting volunteer engagement in that region. OneJustice is working with Central California Legal Services and Pro Bono Net on a similar initiative, CentralValleyProBono.org, to support pro bono participation in the Central Valley. California is a huge and diverse state, and OneJustice has adopted the probono.net platform to create a robust statewide presence while also building regional capacity. That really speaks to the breadth and depth of OneJustice’s reach.

 What do you enjoy about working with OneJustice?

OneJustice has an incredibly creative and dedicated staff. They are great conveners and community-builders. They are able to identify creative solutions to problems, often by turning conventional assumptions on their head. For example, I appreciated Cynthia Luna’s recent blog post talking about “legal deserts” – looking at communities that are not traditionally rural, but are isolated in other ways and face many of the same challenges in accessing services. And lastly, since much of my work with Pro Bono Net is national, I especially enjoy the opportunity our partnership with OneJustice gives me to work for justice in my home state!

Thank you, Liz!  We look forward to many additional great collaborations between Pro Bono Net and OneJustice throughout 2013!

Their faces say it all.

Last year the Justice Bus Project brought life-changing legal  help to hundreds of Californians living in isolated areas of the state.

Justice: the perfect gift.  Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians like Maya in 2013.

Justice: the perfect gift. Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians in 2013.

You can help bring legal help to even more Californians next year – donate now!

These Californians – seniors, families, children, workers, and  veterans – are at the heart of the OneJustice network.  They are the very reason we exist. Their faces tell the story of our mission better than any words – so we’ve put together a scrapbook blog with photos of clients from all over the state that received help because of the Justice Bus Project during 2012, combined with our favorite justice-related quotes from our quote contest earlier this month.  Enjoy!

Donate to support the Justice Bus Project  before the end of the year and your gift will be doubled.  A generous pool of donors have agreed to match all donations – up to $25,000 – made before the year’s end.  Thank you for your support!

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

Justice is what love looks like in public.

It is not enough to be compassionate - you must act.

The opposite of poverty is not wealth, it is justice.

Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong.

In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same.

The gift of justice for immigrant youth

There are over 300,000 children and youth in California eligible to apply for a new immigration relief program.

And not enough attorneys to help them – particularly in rural and isolated areas of the state.

You can change this!  The Justice Bus Project is building coalitions of nonprofit legal organizations and law firms, law schools, and corporations to respond.

In the short video below, Laura Lopez, a youth in Napa County who graduated with honors from UC Santa Cruz, tells her story and explains why the recent Justice Bus trip with Legal Aid of Napa Valley  was so important.

You can make all the difference for someone like Laura – give the gift of justice to a youth this holiday seasondonate now to the Children’s Legal Aid Fund or the Justice Bus Project.  Donate before the end of the year, and your gift will be matched dollar-for-dollar by a group of generous donors.

Click on the image above to watch our short video about Laura Lopez, an immigrant youth in Napa County.

Click on the image above to watch our short video about Laura Lopez, an immigrant youth in Napa County.

Many thanks to Fenwick & West attorneys for volunteering to bring justice to the youth in Napa Valley!

Many thanks also to the California Bar Foundation and the van Loben Sels/RembeRock Foundation for their generous support for the Justice Bus Project!  We are thrilled to report that both Foundations just announced that they will provide generous grants in 2013 for even more Justice Bus Trips to bring life-changing legal help to immigrant youth living in rural and isolated areas of the state.  Thank you!

Justice: the perfect gift.  Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians like Maya in 2013.

Justice: the perfect gift. Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians like Maya in 2013.

Small Business Owner Saved from Bankruptcy After Violent Robbery

Held at gunpoint and robbed, Maya found pro bono counsel to face the creditors who demanded that she repay what was stolen from her.

In this season of giving, you can give the gift of justice to others like Maya – donate now online or download a printable donation form.

OneJustice supports a network of 100+ nonprofit legal organizations, law firms, law schools and businesses that work together to remove legal barriers to basic life necessities for over 270,000 Californians each year.  For thousands of Californians, the attorneys who volunteer with this network make all the difference to clients facing overwhelming legal problems. A donation to OneJustice supports this entire network – spreading the gift of justice throughout the state.

In this guest blog, we are proud to highlight the pro bono work of just one of those wonderful volunteer attorneys – our very own Advisory Board member Mark Conrad.

Guest Blog by OneJustice Advisory Board member Mark Conrad

Mark Conrad provided pro bono legal representation to a small business owner and foster mom after she experienced a violent robbery.

In a violent robbery that lasted less than two minutes, Maya* lost more than $50,000.  Unfortunately for Maya, the money was not hers to lose.  She was taking the money to the bank to deposit, as she did every night after closing up her small storefront, where she offered wire-transfer services.  The money belonged to her customers, and it was supposed to get wired to their loved ones—to friends and family in places like Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras.  Now it was gone.  Maya called the police immediately and filed a report, but the gunman was never found.

Days later, three financial institutions were knocking on her door, demanding that she repay the stolen money.  The banks had wired the money to the intended recipients, and now they were turning to Maya to pay them back.  That was how the contract worked, they explained.  Maya was uninsured, on the brink of insolvency, and desperate.

Fortunately, a safety net of pro bono legal counsel came to her rescue.  The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area,  a nonprofit in OneJustice’s statewide network, referred Maya’s case to a network of lawyers at downtown San Francisco law firms, and my former firm agreed to take the case as a pro bono (or volunteer) matter.

We helped Maya quickly negotiate a repayment plan with two of the companies making claims against her.  These repayment plans took into account Maya’s modest income, so even though she did not have a lot of cash to spare, she was able to save, little by little, and make her monthly payments.  She met her obligations under these plans, all while supporting a foster child, with only the modest income she earned selling jewelry and cell phone cases at her store.

For many low-income clients like Maya, justice is only made possible by the tireless efforts of volunteer attorneys.

For many low-income clients like Maya, justice is only made possible by the tireless efforts of volunteer attorneys.

The third company, however, referred Maya’s case to a collection agency, which sent letters threatening legal action.  Maya’s livelihood was put at risk by these threats.  Only after litigation ensued did it come to light that the third claim was owned by an affiliate of one of the initial two companies that had previously settled their claims against Maya.  As a result, we learned, this third claimant had already released its claim against Maya and was seeking an additional windfall recovery.  We went to court, arguing that Maya’s debt had already been discharged.  The suit was dropped shortly after we filed our papers.

Maya’s case did not make headlines; it did not set any legal precedent.  As a matter of dollars and cents, it is among the smallest matters I ever handled in private practice.  But I can think of no other case in which I had a larger influence on the final outcome. 

Without the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, and without the commitment of my former firm to provide pro bono services, Maya would have been on her own.  She would have had difficulty negotiating a fair deal with her creditors.  It likely would have been impossible for her to get the documents she needed to discover the basis for her defenses in the debt collection action.  A motion for summary judgment would have been unthinkable for someone like her, an immigrant with no familiarity with the legal system and little English.  In short, without the pro bono safety net, Maya could have lost her business and her ability to support herself and her foster daughter.

Justice: the perfect gift.  Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians like Maya in 2013.

Justice: the perfect gift. Donate now to bring justice to over 270,000 Californians like Maya in 2013.

This is why I work with OneJustice.  More than any other organization I know, OneJustice strengthens the pro bono safety net that improves the lives and protects the livelihoods of people like Maya.  It supports the legal services providers who are on the front lines working with clients like her.  It is building bridges to the firms that have resources to seek discovery and file summary judgment motions on their behalf.  Its lofty goal is to meet the legal needs of all low-income Californians, yet it pursues this goal with its feet planted firmly on the ground, meeting with legislators, scrutinizing balance sheets, and crunching census data to ensure that more people like Maya find the help they need.

 * Names changed for the sake of confidentiality.