Amidst the ashes, legal aid providers and pro bono volunteers are mobilizing
The devastation caused by the Northern California wildfires has been simply unprecedented. So far, over 8,000 buildings have been destroyed across over 200,000 acres. While firefighters work to contain the infernos and we can only now begin to assess the scale of the damage, survivors looking to rebuild face a series of daunting obstacles and questions. After the most pressing issues are confronted – where to find food, shelter, and medical care – an even more enormous list of tasks begins to form: replacing identification, filing insurance claims, applying for unemployment benefits, and, of course, rebuilding.
The outpouring of support for the North Bay and Northern California residents affected has been heartening, and many organizations have stepped in to play their part in the response and recovery – including, notably, the legal services community. Alongside pro bono volunteers from across Northern California, legal services organizations are springing into action to provide free legal assistance to survivors of the fire and help navigate the maze of legal issues that have resulted. The role of legal services in the aftermath of disasters has been well-documented, including most recently in response to Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Maria. Vann Newkirk II writes in The Atlantic:
“People who flee can lose track of their mortgage payments and face foreclosure when they return. Evacuees from rental properties and apartments can face evictions, rising rents, and other challenges from unscrupulous landlords. In addition, people often lose vital documents…and without them might not be able to enroll their children in school or receive medical care. Those with few resources can face personal bankruptcies or even unlawful job terminations if they can’t make it back into work.”
Legal services organizations play an even more important role for the economically disadvantaged, many of whom already struggle with a variety of legal issues. In the wake of the fires, these needs have only increased.
We also encourage you to donate to Undocufund, which has been set up to provide relief for undocumented immigrants in Sonoma County affected by the fires. This fund is vital, because most undocumented immigrants are ineligible for FEMA disaster benefits and otherwise disadvantaged in accessing other disaster relief.
The California State Bar has also set up a legal hotline (415-575-3120) for affected residents. They also have provided information about finding an attorney, avoiding legal fraud, applying for federal aid, and more on their website.
Finally, OneJustice is maintaining a resource page for anyone interested in donating to the legal aid providers on the ground and for attorneys interested in providing pro bono assistance. This page will be updated as more information becomes available, so we encourage you to check this page for more information and updates as they become available!
Yep, in addition to their expertise in fundraising, impact evaluation, pro bono design, and nonprofit management, our staff have some pretty quirky skill sets! We recently added new folks to the team, and we’re excited to introduce them to you.
We sat down with them and asked them to share a little something about themselves, including:
What drew you to OneJustice’s vision, mission, and strategies?
Tell us a bit about your position at OneJustice and what you hope to achieve?
What was your path in coming to OneJustice?
And please tell us something about yourself that not everyone might know.
We think you’ll enjoy hearing their responses below. And we know that you’ll enjoy working with them as they get up and running in their work! Join us in welcoming Aaron Chandler, Omar Corona, Pete James, Lea Volk, and Alexis Payne.
(The drum roll please………)
Aaron Chandler, Senior Manager of Donor Relations (San Francisco)
My mother is a public interest attorney, and I’ve been involved with volunteering, organizing, fundraising and leadership for racial, economic, environmental and social justice for 15 years. In this time, I’ve seen the profoundly positive impact that access to justice can have in the lives of people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to receive legal assistance.
Here at OneJustice, I’m engaging our committed supporters–without which we couldn’t have gotten to where we are now–as well as prospective supporters, by working with our staff, Board, Advisory Board and Strategy Council members to tell the story of OneJustice’s impact on individuals and the legal aid sector as a whole, and to build a culture of philanthropy at OneJustice. In addition, I plan our annual gala, Opening Doors to Justice, and assist with refining the communications strategies that allow us to reach our stakeholders in the most meaningful ways.
My background has primarily been in fundraising — I really enjoy making connections between potential supporters, and impactful organizations doing meaningful grassroots and systems-change work. Prior to OneJustice, I was managing the fundraising at a human services organization in the East Bay, as well as at a national economic justice organization. I’m from Seattle originally, and went to college in Massachusetts. Eventually I moved to San Francisco three-and-a-half years ago, when I took on the role of Executive Director at a community-based HIV/AIDS organization, turned it around and guided its merger with another local HIV/AIDS agency.
I enjoy traveling, (good) coffee, baking sweet desserts, (sometimes) running, and enjoying the fact that the East Bay — where I live — is consistently warmer and sunnier than San Francisco.
Omar Corona, Pro Bono Justice Program Associate (Los Angeles)
I value OneJustice’s commitment to transforming the civic legal aid system in California by leveraging the resources of the private and non-profit sectors in order to better serve the most vulnerable. I also appreciate that working at OneJustice allows me to apply my skills in a way that positively impacts those most disenfranchised by our legal system.
I am especially interested in the exposure to the legal aid landscape in California that working at OneJustice affords me since I hope to pursue a career in public interest law.
Since joining OneJustice, I have been able to work on a variety of projects. First, I am part of the team behind the Pro Bono Training Institute which allows me to develop the training modules that we use to train volunteers for IMPACT LA and JusticeBus clinics. I’m also involved with IMPACT LA and the Southern California Immigration Capacity-Building project, which is in its early stages of development. Some of my overarching goals in working at OneJustice are to gain a better understanding of what can be done to narrow the legal aid gap in our state both through pro bono work as well as policy changes. Some more project-specific goals of mine are to: increase the number of volunteers that access the resources available through the Pro Bono Training Institute as well as contribute to the growth and expansion of IMPACT LA clinics.
Prior to joining the OneJustice team, I served as a Fellow with the City and County of San Francisco where I was able to exercise my passion for public service and gain tremendous insight into the mechanisms of local government. My interest in legal aid stems from my experience with assisting self-represented litigants in the Superior Court of Los Angeles as an undergrad, primarily with eviction defense and family law.
In addition to legal aid work, I have also been involved in policy advocacy and research around environmental protection and sustainability. I have found many parallels between my work in legal aid and environmental protection. These parallels have made me realize the importance of promoting equity and ensuring fair access to resources. I earned my B.A. in Political Science and Environmental Studies from UCLA.
As a SoCal native, I really enjoy swimming in the outdoors and after a recent trip to the island of Barbados, I’ve come to enjoy cliff diving (although my parents aren’t too fond of it yet)! I also really love to eat spicy food and as a Vegan, I especially enjoy cooking my own and learning new recipes. However, I also very much enjoy visiting and trying different vegan-friendly restaurants!
Peter James, Senior Manager of Impact Evaluation (San Francisco)
When I first moved to California, I was talking to someone at a legal aid organization and they said, “You should check out OneJustice”. Since then, OneJustice has always been on my radar as a well-respected and innovative organization. So when the opportunity came to start a new strand of work at an organization with such deep roots in the legal services community, I jumped at the chance.
My core responsibility at One Justice is to build impact evaluation capacity at OneJustice. This means helping my colleagues to understand impact evaluation as a discipline and implement evaluations across the wide range of programs that they manage. We will then use what we have learned from our own work to support legal services organizations to evaluate their own services. Over time, we want to support the legal aid community to develop a high-quality evidence-base for planning and designing services as well as demonstrating the impact and value of programs.
I’m originally from the U.K. and started my career as a research consultant. I then joined the Impact Evaluation team at Citizens Advice, a nationwide network of community advice services. This experience first sparked my passion for legal services and my interest in using research methods to study how services can best be planned, designed and delivered. After moving to the U.S., I worked in the research office at the Judicial Council of California, which provided an insight into the operation of the legal system at the state level. Working at OneJustice means I can bring together these different threads to focus on the legal aid community in California.
I like to make up games, and now that we have a 15-month-old son, my repertoire of peek-a-boo-inspired routines has become wider than I would have ever imagined.
Lea Volk, Healthy Nonprofits Program Associate (San Francisco)
I was drawn to OneJustice because of its cohesive and comprehensive approach to transforming the legal aid system and aiding social change in California. The multifaceted work of OneJustice resonates with my multitude of passions I often struggle to juggle, including social justice advocacy, community empowerment, civil rights law, and the ongoing fight for justice and equality. Through this innovative organization, I feel capable of being a part of both the micro and macro components required to efficiently and successfully create progressive change and bring healing to disenfranchised communities.
As the Healthy Nonprofit Program Associate, I handle the logistics for our Executive Fellowship Program and for our annual Public Interest/ Public Service Day while assisting with consulting and technical assistance for legal services organizations. I aim to provide smooth and detailed production to these two programs as well as look for ways to improve outreach and program evaluations. As someone who loves video production and editing, I would like to also create and/or increase our video media for documentation of our wonderful work, overall outreach purposes, and to spruce up our webinar trainings.
Before joining OneJustice, I worked as a Student Activist Coordinator for Amnesty International USA where I had the opportunity of educating, training, and organizing high school and college Amnesty student groups. While working with Amnesty International, I graduated from San Francisco State University in 2015 where I received a Bachelor of Arts in both Sociology and Latina/Latino Studies with a minor in Race and Resistance Studies. While a student of SFSU, I spent my time out of the classroom fully involved in student and community activism. I co-founded a successful student organization that worked to create a statewide network of students and educators fighting the privatization and commodification of public higher education, called the Student Union of San Francisco, which operated as a local under the California Student Union (CASU). It was through these years of grassroots organizing that I found my love for direct action planning, coalition building, and creating a network of politicized activists and advocates. While in transit to and from work I may appear rather composed and calm yet, I have angsty punk and 90’s Riot Grrrl music blaring in my head phones. I also have an inability to refuse rhythm which often leads to me dancing to terrible music, dancing while I eat, and awkwardly trying to air drum as I walk.
Alexis Payne, Law Clerk (San Francisco)
I met attorneys from OneJustice while responding to the travel ban at SFO Airport in late January. I was impressed with their innovative techniques as well as their dedication to the organization’s mission of making legal aid accessible to all. As someone who has a passion for social justice and hopes to work in corporate law, I appreciate that they mobilize corporate attorneys to bring life-changing legal help to low-income Californians.
My time at OneJustice is spent tracking important cases, helping to build networks of pro bono and legal aid attorneys, and developing a cultural humility training for pro bono volunteers. During my externship, I hope to further explore the role that BigLaw plays in bringing legal help to those in need. I am also excited to learn more about how using innovative techniques rooted in cultural humility can improve client outcomes.
I am currently a 2L at Berkeley Law. I worked at OneJustice this summer as a Law Clerk. Prior to starting law school, I worked to help meet the basic needs of houseless individuals in my community. I have also mentored young adults, started programs at local libraries, and raised awareness about racial and economic justice.
I love doing improv – I helped start the Boalt Improv Group at Berkeley Law last year. I also enjoy throwing dinner parties, spontaneous dancing, and camping.
During national Welcoming Week each year, communities bring together immigrants, refugees, and native-born residents to raise awareness of the benefits of welcoming everyone. OneJustice is proud to be one of many nonprofits participating in Welcoming Week around the country. This national network of nonprofits is working in a variety of ways to support locally-driven efforts to create more welcoming, immigrant-friendly environments. The goal is to create more welcoming communities that improve the quality of life and economic potential for immigrants and non-immigrants alike. During Welcoming Week 2017 (September 15 to September 23), the Justice Bus project is working with local communities from San Joaquin to San Diego counties to bring groups of urban volunteers to staff “pop-up” immigration clinics, including DACA renewals in light of the Trump administration’s recent termination of that program.**
One of the beautiful things about our Rural Justice work is the deep relationships we have forged with rural communities – including the on-the-ground networks of social services nonprofits, grassroots organizing groups, and local leaders in these communities. These leaders and organizations are already building justice and empowerment in their own communities. In fact, their daily work is exactly what activates the goals and concepts that Welcoming Week exists to promote.
And it just so happens, that sometimes these local movements need lawyers to help out with components of their work and to help local residents address the individual legal problems they are facing. It has been an incredible honor that OneJustice gets to partner with these local networks to bring in groups of urban attorney and law student volunteers to help meet that need, in partnership with the community. What an amazing invitation – and truly a privilege – to be able to be play a supporting role to their leadership, their fight for justice on their own terms, and the power they are building in their communities.
So yes, Welcoming Week’s vision of inclusive communities – for all of us, regardless of citizenship status – is a vision that OneJustice supports. And yet, we believe it is also vitally important to recognize that these rural communities are also welcoming OneJustice into their lives, their fight for justice, and their work. They invite groups of urban volunteers – who are often learning about the rural experience and rural California for the first time – into their movement. They welcome our volunteers into their community centers, houses of worship, schools, senior housing complexes, and even community gardens – to jointly create these “pop-up” mobile legal clinics. That mutual expression of welcome is at the very heart of the Rural Justice Initiative – in fact, it is what makes the work possible in the first place – and that is what OneJustice is celebrating this week.
This peculiar blend of rage and sorrow has become familiar.
OneJustice is celebrating national Welcoming Week, Sept. 15 to 24
And yet even the past 8 months didn’t prepare me for the emotional reality of the Trump Administration’s decision, just 11 days ago, to terminate the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program.
OneJustice has been fiercely committed to working side-by-side with the young adults eligible for the DACA program since its inception, just over 5 years ago. OneJustice volunteers have traveled all over the state, doing “pop-up” mobile legal DACA clinics in rural and isolated communities. Our organization has had a great honor of hosting four outstanding young leaders through the DreamSF Fellowship program of the City and County of San Francisco.
The administration’s decision to end the DACA program doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t make economic sense, because we know that these young Americans add to the economy. It doesn’t make business sense, because we know that these young adults add talent and skill to our country’s human capital. That’s why hundreds of business leaders support the DACA program. It doesn’t make legal sense, as some of our country’s top legal scholars assert that the program is well within the bounds of executive function. And it doesn’t make moral sense. So I can only draw – for myself – the personal conclusion that there must be a deeply foul – and in my personal opinion profoundly unAmerican – underpinning to this decision. You can hear that underpinning in the Attorney General’s announcement ending the DACA program – when he insinuates that these young Americans are some how stealing jobs, when he references the need to keep communities safe, and when he implicitly ties DACA to “violent gangs.”
Rage. And sorrow.
And so what can we do?
We can welcome. We can be a loud, fierce, won’t-back-down community of welcomers. We can bring into reality our vision of a beloved, welcoming community.
What does that mean?
OneJustice is a proud participant in national Welcoming Week, which starts today and runs through September 24th. Welcoming Week is an annual celebration that brings together thousands of people and hundreds of local events that celebrate the contributions of immigrants and refugees and the role communities play to foster greater welcome for everyone. There has never been a more important time for communities to show that they are welcoming to everyone, including immigrants and refugees.
Welcoming Week Activities in the OneJustice Network
During Welcoming Week, groups of dedicated OneJustice volunteers will show up at mobile legal clinics around the state – providing free legal help to immigrants, including DACA participants who are eligible to renew before the October 5th deadline. Starting at today’s IMPACT LA clinic in South Los Angeles in collaboration with the Jenesse Center and then in San Diego, Monterey and San Joaquin counties, volunteer attorneys and law students will show up to work side-by-side with immigrants in need of legal advice.
And everywhere they go, these volunteers will spread a radical counter-message of welcome. “I am a welcomer.” “Eres bienvenido.” “OneJustice welcomes you.” Because now, more than ever and even despite this now all-too-familiar mix of sorrow and rage, we can choose. We can choose to be in community. We can choose to show up. We can choose to welcome, with open hearts and open minds, all of our neighbors and fellow Californians, regardless of immigration status – in this moment, more than ever.
One way to welcome – volunteer to help with DACA renewals
If you are attorney looking for volunteer opportunities to help with DACA renewals, check out the listing of clinics in need of volunteers on OneJustice website at: www.OneJustice.org/DACA. And it’s easy to get trained to help out with on-demand access to online trainings specifically designed for pro bono volunteers at the California Pro Bono Training Institute here: pbtraining.org/all-courses/deferred-action-for-childhood-arrivals/ Watch the first 3 trainings to prepare to volunteer.
Legal aid after a disaster – essential services, in need of funding
Lone Star Legal Aid’s Houston office was destroyed by an explosion and fire.
Like so many of you, the OneJustice team has been watching the painful news from Houston and other areas impacted by Hurricane Harvey. The devastation is heart-stopping, and we are holding everyone in the region in our hearts and thoughts.
We are also taking action to support our colleagues in the legal aid and access to justice community there – and to fund their work, which will be needed now more than ever.
As you know, legal aid nonprofits provide vital services aimed at removing barriers to basic necessities – including access to safe and stable housing, medical care, food, and even clean water. After a natural disaster, these services become even more essential. In addition, these nonprofits often provide assistance with the FEMA benefits process for victims. And they do this work during periods when their own staff, buildings, and volunteers are also in crisis.
The legal aid and access to justice networks in Texas and now Louisiana is rallying to meet the needs of their neighbors and communities. And they need our support. That’s why we wanted to provide the OneJustice network with the updates and donation options. You already bring justice where it is needed more throughout California – and now we can all do the same for Texas and Louisiana. Thank you.
There are also additional resources in the online National Disaster Legal Aid Resource Center (a collaboration of Lone Star Legal Aid, National Legal Aid and Defenders Association, Pro Bono Net, Legal Services Corporation and American Bar Association)
Well, all of these (somewhat quirky) folks recently joined the OneJustice team!
We sat down with them and asked them to share a little something about themselves, including:
What drew you to OneJustice’s vision, mission, and strategies?
Tell us a bit about your position at OneJustice and what you hope to achieve?
What was your path in coming to OneJustice?
And please tell us something about yourself that not everyone might know.
We think you’ll enjoy hearing their responses below. And we know that you’ll enjoy working with them as they get up and running in their work! Join us in welcoming Ellie Dehghan, Maria Gavaldon, Dania Herrera, Stuart Johnson, Michael Palzes, and Fabiola Quiroz!
Ellie Dehghan, Staff Attorney, Pro Bono Justice
OneJustice’s mission is urgent, pivotal, and deeply personal. In 1975 rural West Texas, a legal aid attorney helped a teenage Mexican immigrant gain access to the education to which she was entitled. That teenager was my mother, and she went on to become the first in her family to graduate from college. Access to legal services produces generational impact, to which my story is a testament.
How attorneys engage in pro bono work is as critical as the number of hours they spend engaged in that work. Through the Pro Bono Justice Consulting program at OneJustice, my hope is to address and enrich the “how” portion of the equation. I will be facilitating the launch of pro bono networks, supporting stronger partnerships across the sector, and creating a space for innovation and creativity as we work to increase access to justice for Californians.
I am adamant about utilizing an equity and inclusion lens no matter what our role may be and no matter the section of the legal space in which we operate. Prior to spending three years building and implementing projects in legal aid, I spent two years as a litigator in BigLaw with a strong commitment to pro bono. Most recently, I expanded Bay Area Legal Aid’s Youth Justice project to San Mateo County, serving youth at risk of homelessness as their holistic civil legal aid attorney. I am particularly fortunate to have helped launch BayLegal’s inaugural Racial Justice Committee, spearheading racial justice and inclusion efforts not only in client advocacy, but within the organization as well.
My sense of humor is most akin to that of my eight-year-old nephew. I enjoy writing creative nonfiction but do not do it nearly enough. I used to be able to finish an entire Black and Tan Sundae at Fenton’s in Oakland – it is huge and delicious.
Maria Gavaldon, DreamSF Fellow, Pro Bono Justice
I was assigned to be at One Justice through my DreamSF Fellowship with OCEIA. I was interested in this fellowship because as a DACA student, I wanted to do more hands on work with the immigrant community. Something I often notice is that we don’t have many minority groups or people with stories like ours giving us legal representation. I hope to be the person with whom our clients feel comfortable when talking about their experiences and to be able to let them know that we are here for each other.
At One Justice, I am mostly in charge of doing outreach and scheduling appointments for Justice Bus Clinics. I also do research on future locations we are going to visit so we can know what organizations to partner up with. During the Justice Bus clinics, I interpret for attorneys and translate our paperwork for clients. What I want to gain from One Justice is knowledge about criminal and immigration law, as well as getting better at translating English legal terminology into Spanish. I hope to one day be one of the few undocumented lawyers the Latino community can relate to and confide their personal stories with.
I am currently enrolled at San Francisco State University starting my third year as a Political Science major. Previously, I was an ASI Project Connect intern at SF State where I did outreach to current and future students from underrepresented communities. I was also involved on campus with our new Food Pantry where we gave groceries exclusively to SFSU students. During the Spring 2017 semester, I received recognition for my community service hours and I hope to eventually have a position in the student board to bring more awareness to the undocumented students on campus.
I am a hardcore fan girl and my friends always make fun of me. When I graduated high school, they would tell me it was time to grow up and get rid of my posters and stop tweeting about bands all the time. I haven’t stopped because there’s so many college girls who are just as obsessed as me so I don’t mind. I’m still waiting for One Direction to come back from hiatus.
Dania Herrera, Program Associate, Pro Bono Justice
OneJustice works to make legal representation accessible to all Californians. In college, I studied Sociology with a special focus on the problems within the legal system that could affect access to legal representation. After learning about OneJustice’s mission and their body of work, I knew OneJustice would be a good fit for me because they do legal accessibility work every day.
I am in charge of legal clinic planning and logistics along with other members of the Pro Bono Legal Clinics Team; my main responsibilities are to make sure our legal clinics run smoothly from beginning to end by helping to recruit volunteer attorneys, interpreter volunteers, and conduct outreach to clients. I hope to identify and fill legal accessibility gaps in California by working with the rest of the OneJustice team.
I previously worked as a legal assistant at different immigration law firms in the city. I also interned for the Kamala Harris for Senate campaign because her campaign platform focused on repairing different accessibility issues in California. I was also able to bridge my love of the law and books by working as a law library clerk at the UC Davis Law School.
I can’t find people like Liam Neeson can, but I sure know how to guess the endings of movies and TV shows. I am also accidentally good at playing soccer. When I exercise, I workout by doing a weird hybrid of running and jumping rope. Rocky can eat his heart out! I am also weirdly good at staying upright on a runaway crowded Muni bus in heels.
Stuart Johnson, Executive & Operations Coordinator
I am passionate about public service and serving the common good. OneJustice’s mission to expand access to the civil legal aid system for all Californians is inspirational to me and motivates me to do my very best every day.
At OneJustice I provide executive support to the CEO and Board of Directors. I am also a member of the Development and Communications team and provide office management support. Most recently I have started building our media relations plan for the year. While at OneJustice, I hope to learn more about nonprofit management and pro bono law.
Most recently, I worked in former California Senator Barbara Boxer’s communications office. I have also worked as a grassroots organizer on a few political campaigns and as an immigration services coordinator at Berry Appleman & Leiden LLP. I hold a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Communication with a minor in Economics from The George Washington University.
I really love (unfortunately) consuming an excessive amount of political news, playing adult league baseball, and visiting the Lost Coast!
Michael Palzes, Staff Attorney, Pro Bono Justice
I am concerned that civil legal aid is currently facing unprecedented challenges, and want to do more to help protect access to justice. I think OneJustice’s commitment to building capacity and expanding access to indigent legal services is both exciting and critically necessary. By joining OneJustice I hope I can make the kind of broader systemic impact that is not always possible in direct services legal aid work.
I am taking over primary responsibility for the IMPACT LA project, and spearheading a new immigration pro bono capacity building project with my Pro Bono Justice Team colleagues. In both projects a substantial portion of my focus will be on delivering legal services to low-income survivors of domestic abuse and other forms of severe trauma. I hope to continue the good work of IMPACT LA and build on the successes I have inherited with that project. I further hope to build a long-term sustainable network for providing legal services to immigrant communities that can help people overcome the fear and uncertainty of our current immigration climate.
Before joining OneJustice, I was a staff attorney at Nevada Legal Services in Reno. I coordinated the state’s legal aid program for low-income HIV positive individuals, and before that served as an Equal Justice Works Fellow in criminal justice re-entry and record sealing. In both positions with Nevada Legal Services I focused substantially on providing services to survivors of human trafficking and domestic abuse. Prior to that, I worked at the Montana Department of Justice where my duties included service on that state’s Access to Justice Commission and its Domestic Violence Fatality Review Team.
I am a huge trivia buff, and generally love odd facts and useless information. For the last two years in Reno I co-hosted and wrote the questions for a local pub trivia night. Growing up I played on competitive school-sponsored trivia teams in the National Academic Quiz Tournaments league, and did multiple screen tests for Jeopardy! (though have yet make it on the show). I also love National Parks and historic sites, where I usually spend way too much time reading plaques and collecting new bits of trivia. I’m looking forward to finding a new trivia night as I get more settled into Los Angeles.
Fabiola Quiroz, Program Associate, Pro Bono Justice
As a mentor for the Latino Peer Program at Humboldt State University, I advocated for DACA legal assistance for students and people in our community. Our organizing efforts painted a picture of how limited resources are in rural communities, and the partnership that developed with OneJustice truly made our vision of a DACA legal clinic a reality in Humboldt County. This community organizing effort has led me to be a part of a team that seeks to innovate our current legal aid system.
As one of the Pro Bono Justice Program Associates, I am responsible for managing the Justice Bus Project and Rural Justice Collaborative legal clinics. As an “outsider” organization hoping to help rural communities, I strive to forge strong relationships with organizations in the communities we hope to serve to ensure a better understanding and accessibility to the legal help we provide.
I volunteered at the student-initiated and student-led Youth Educational Services (Y.E.S.) whose mission is to serve local community needs. Within Y.E.S. House, I volunteered with the Homelessness Network which offers assistance to homeless families. Our focus is on educational exposure for the children to nurture their creativity and love of learning. I also volunteered my time to help facilitate the 3rd Annual Resource Fair at the San Francisco County Jail #5. Our hope was to engage participation of organizations that cater to the needs of re-integration and provide the incarcerated men resources upon release. One of the most impacting moments was during a group session inside the jail and hearing incarcerated men give advice to an incarcerated man who was being released in just two days.
I enjoy foraging for food, especially nutritious chicken of the woods mushrooms in Humboldt County!
Ah, September. Just saying the word brings to mind crisp fall weather, shorter days, and students heading back to school. In California’s legal aid community, September also means the start of OneJustice’s Executive Fellowship program! And we are so excited to introduce to you the 29 new Fellows who have been selected for the 2017-2018 cohort.
Now that they made it through the competitive application process, the Fellows will gather monthly from September 2017 through June 2018 – dipping their toes into a different nonprofit management topics each time. Fellows will explore personal leadership styles, communications, working effectively with a board of directors, innovation and change management, human resources, budgeting, revenue models, and more. Faculty for the Executive Fellowship Program is drawn from the business, broader nonprofit, and philanthropic communities with a focus on bringing new learning and best practices from other sectors into the legal aid sector.
As you can tell from the short video above, the Executive Fellowship program works to achieve transformative change on many levels – for the individual leaders participating, for their organizations, and for the whole of California’s civil legal aid system. Armed with the training they receive through the program, Fellows return to their organizations ready to take on challenges related to supervising staff, designing effective programs, and raising money. Alumni of the program – now numbering over 140 – tell us they gain confidence and a peer network of support they continue to rely on for years to come.
We are thrilled to introduce the 2017-2018 Executive Fellows! (Drum roll please……….) They are:
Vanessa Barrington, Justice in Aging
Denny Chan, Justice in Aging
Laura Chiera, Legal Assistance to the Elderly
Martina Cucullu Lim, Centro Legal de la Raza
Shuray Ghorishi, Family Violence Appellate Project
Lauren Giardina, Disability Rights California
Shirley Gibson, Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County
Jennifer Haffner, Legal Services of Northern California
Sara Hedgpeth-Harris, Central California Legal Services
Angelica Jongco, Public Advocates
Aarti Kohli, Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus
Gladys La Torre, Los Angeles Center for Law & Justice
Elissa Lasserre, New Beginnings Law Center
Victor Leung, ACLU of Southern California
Katrina Logan, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
Michael Magnaye, Legal Services for Children
Neha Marathe, Law Foundation of Silicon Valley
Kate Marr, Legal Aid Society of Orange County
Araceli Martínez-Olguín, Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
Chris McConkey, OneJustice
Patience Milrod, Central California Legal Services
Stephanie Penrod, Family Violence Law Center
Ann Rubinstein, Homeless Action Center
Renée Schomp, OneJustice
Naomi Schuldheisz, Legal Aid Society of San Bernardino
Barbara Schultz, Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles
Caron Smith, Neighborhood Legal Services – Los Angeles County
Alysson Snow, Legal Aid Society of San Diego
Michael White, Riverside Legal Aid
Questions about the Executive Fellowship program? Kim Irish, the Healthy Nonprofits Program Director would be delighted to chat! Please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our most fundamental values of the rule of law and justice for all are under attack – from the highest office in the land. OneJustice stands on the side of love and justice in condemning the President’s comments that excused and defended the racism, antisemitism, white terror, and horrific violence in Charlottesville this week.
As many have noted, the President’s words, actions, and tweets this week have revealed his heart and soul. His remarks have also revealed a stark context within which we must place the administration’s work to dismantle yet another core tenet of our justice system – the idea that our justice system must be equally accessible to all, regardless of ability to pay.
Funding made possible by the Legal Services Corporation – or “LSC” – is the only way many Americans can access our country’s justice system. Congress created LSC over forty years ago because it specifically found that “providing legal assistance to those who face an economic barrier to adequate legal counsel will serve best the ends of justice…” LSC administers funding throughout the country so those families, veterans, seniors, and individuals living at or below 125% of the poverty line can meaningfully access our justice system in civil cases relating to basic life necessities.
Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that the Trump administration seeks to completely eliminate the Legal Services Corporation. Certainly after the President’s remarks this week, the administration’s efforts to eliminate this critical mechanism for providing free legal help to those in need must be understood within in this broader context of white supremacy, racism, and bigotry.
Sadly, Our Legal System Leaves Most Americans at the Door
America’s democracy rests on the ideal of a legal system that treats everyone equally. We value this impartiality because it advances our sense of justice. It would feel unfair, for example, if judges always spoke Latin legalese to those who are poor but plain English to those who are wealthy.
Yet, our country’s legal system does indeed disadvantage people who cannot afford to hire an attorney. Laws and court rules are difficult to research and understand. Legal procedures are complicated, with long forms and a variety of ways to accidentally lose your case. Our legal system is organized to work best for those who can afford an attorney to navigate the confusing maze.
The Legal Services Corporation Ensures Justice for Millions of American Families
LSC estimates that in 2017, Americans in every state will turn to LSC-funded legal aid for help with 1.7 million legal problems. With the largest population in the country of people who are eligible for these services, California receives more funding from LSC than any other state: almost $44 million per year. This makes LSC the largest funder of legal aid services in California – resulting in legal help for over 200,000 Californians throughout the state each year.
LSC is the only reason many rural Californians have access to legal aid at all. Most non-LSC legal aid exists in coastal urban and suburban areas where is there is some local and philanthropic funding to help those communities. If LSC were to disappear, poor rural Californians (and other rural Americans) are at the greatest risk.
In addition, to place these vital services squarely in the context of this week’s events – almost 70% of Californians who receive legal help through LSC-funded programs are people of color. The Administration’s budget proposal to end the Legal Services Corporation must be viewed through a lens of race and equity. Eliminating access to legal advice and attorneys at the same time that communities of color are literally under attack must be understood as concurrent strategies – and we, as a diverse network of justice seekers, must resist both.
The Fight for Justice – We Need You
Although the Trump Administration’s budget calls for the complete elimination of LSC funding for legal aid services, Congress has resisted – drawing upon decades of bipartisan support for legal aid services. While the House of Representatives appropriations committee disappointingly voted to cut federal legal aid funding by $85 million (or 24%), the comparable Senate committee voted to keep LSC’s funding at its current level of $385 million. Now California’s legal aid nonprofits are braced – waiting to see what happens next.
When legislators return to D.C. in September, they will have only four weeks and even fewer legislative days to decide the 2018 budget. The House and Senate could negotiate LSC’s regular spending bill in a conference committee. Alternatively, they might pass a combined (i.e. “omnibus”) spending bill to avoid a government shutdown on October 1st. Your powerful and passionate voice will be needed to urge Congress to stand up to this administration’s efforts to end LSC and ensure full funding for legal aid services.
Please sign up here for short alerts and threats to federal funding for legal aid and ways you can speak out when it matters most. Your voice will be needed – to remind Congress why it created the Legal Services Corporation in the first place and why standing up for LSC is more important than ever. Thank you.
Congratulations to Heather Varanini, whose favorite justice book of “Dead Man Walking” was selected by random drawing as the winner of this #OneJusticeContest! As the special prize, Heather will receive a copy of “Anatomy of Injustice: a Murder Case Gone Wrong” written by Pulitzer-prize winner and OneJustice co-founder Raymond Bonner. Congrats, Heather – and enjoy!
Go forth and celebrate all you justice book lovers – today is YOUR day!
The Contest Prize, written by OneJustice co-founder Raymond Bonner
Ray Bonner, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his foreign correspondence for the New York Times, turns his considerable reportorial gifts to the issue of wrongful conviction as seen through the lens of a particular, outrageously mishandled case. The case, from 1982, centered on the conviction of a young black man for the murder of a white widow in South Carolina. Although the trial dates back decades, Bonner reanimates the wrongs of racism, inept defense, and prosecutorial misconduct seen in this case and also in cases across the U.S. Far-ranging in its implications, thoughtful, and utterly absorbing, this book is a fine example of involving narrative nonfiction
Most Posted: Just Mercy: a Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
What is the one commonality of people on death row? If the victim is white, the perpetrator is 11 times more likely to be condemned to die than if the victim is black. When Stevenson was a 23-year-old Harvard law student, he started an internship in Georgia where his first assignment was to deliver a message to a man living on death row. This assignment became his calling: representing the innocent, the inadequately defended, the children, the domestic abuse survivors, the mentally ill—the imprisoned.
Runner-Up for Most Posted:Evicted: Povery & Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
It’s the rare writer who can capture a social ill with a clear-eyed, nonjudgmental tone and still allow the messiness of real people its due. Matthew Desmond does just that with Evicted as he explores the stories of tenants and landlords in the poorest areas of Milwaukee during 2008 and 2009. Desmond gets very close to the “characters,” relating their words and thoughts and layering on enough vibrant details to make every rented property or trailer come alive. Through both personal stories and data, Desmond proves that eviction undermines self, family, and community, bearing down disproportionately hard on women with children.
White House Budget Would Defund Legal Help for Veterans, Seniors, and Children
Julia R. Wilson
(415) 834-0100 x 306
San Francisco, CA (May 23, 2017) – The budget proposed today by the Trump Administration would end our country’s investment in civil legal aid for the poor, leaving veterans, seniors, and families suffering from solvable legal problems. The White House’s full budget for fiscal year 2018 would provide funding only to support the shutdown of the Legal Services Corporation, which funds civil legal aid for the poor in all 50 states. The Trump Administration’s budget also proposes to eliminate to a federal loan forgiveness program that allows attorneys to choose lives of public service.
“If adopted, this budget would effectively nullify a cornerstone of equal justice in America,” said Julia Wilson, CEO of OneJustice and staff to Californians for Legal Aid. “Our entire legal system would become unaffordable for low-income veterans, seniors, families, and children. Fortunately, Congress has consistently shown strong, bipartisan support for funding the Legal Services Corporation, understanding that civil legal aid is critically important to ensuring our nation’s core values of fairness, justice, and the rule of law.”
The White House released its budget proposal today. The call to end funding for legal aid is on page 98, and the public service loan forgiveness program is on page 129. Both programs ensure that nearly 20% of the U.S. population (over 60 million people) has a level playing field in our court system, even though they cannot afford a lawyer.
“As we continue to make the case for increased funding for legal aid in fiscal year 2018, we are heartened by demonstrated bipartisan Congressional support, as well as the support of leaders in the business and legal communities who have joined the fight. Over 150 heads of U.S. law firms and general counsel from almost 200 companies signed letters stating their support for federal legal aid funding. State Supreme Court Justices, Attorneys General, law school deans, and other civil society leaders have also reinforced the call to continue federal funding for civil legal services.”
Access to our civil justice system is not a luxury. Rather, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia said about the Legal Services Corporation just three years ago, “this organization pursues the most fundamental of American ideals, and it pursues equal justice in those areas of life most important to the lives of our citizens.”
Background on federal funding for civil legal aid for low-income Californians
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) is an independent nonprofit established by Congress in 1974 in recognition that the ability to seek justice through the law—regardless of income level—is fundamental to the fairness of our society. LSC promotes equal access to justice by providing funding to 133 independent nonprofit legal aid organizations throughout the country – including 11 nonprofits in California.
The federal government is the largest funder for legal aid in California; the Legal Services Corporation provides over $44 million per year to fund services for low-income Californians. Over 200,000 Californians access this legal assistance each year. Cutting funding would especially harm California’s rural communities. If rural programs have to close offices, then those Californians will have nowhere else to go.
Legal aid services prevent homelessness, hunger, domestic violence, elder abuse, and death due to inadequate access to health care. Legal aid programs help the most economically disadvantaged members of our community. They protect the lowest-income veterans, children, seniors, people with disabilities, and victims of natural disasters.
Background on loan forgiveness for the attorneys who choose lives of public service
Cutting funding for legal aid will eliminate positions at legal aid programs. Ending the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program will make the few remaining positions unaffordable. Public service loan forgiveness provides attorneys a critical incentive to accept a job in legal aid by forgiving the remaining balance on Direct Loans after 120 qualifying monthly payments under a qualifying repayment plan while working full-time for a qualifying employer. This program is the only reason many attorneys who have high student debt from college and law school can afford to take positions at civil legal aid nonprofits.
Californians for Legal Aid is a diverse coalition of Californians who believe deeply in justice for all. OneJustice is a statewide nonprofit that brings life-changing legal help to those in need by transforming the civil legal aid delivery system.