The recent tragedy in Japan reminds us of how fragile life is, and at the same time, how we often come together when confronting such tragedies. Today, we pay tribute to César Chávez who once said, "We all need to help in one way or another to overcome adversity." In Japan, nonprofit organizations and non-governmental organizations are playing a critical role in responding to the adversity faced by families who’ve lost loved ones and their livelihoods. Similar organizations in the U..S. are coordinating relief efforts in Japan, reaching out to those in need. It is through these valiant efforts that the rebuilding of lives will begin and continue for many years to come. We must not forget our shared humanity and compassion during these difficult times.
"You are never strong enough that you don’t need help." —César Chávez.
State Budget Cuts
California is in the midst of its own man-made disaster, resulting from budget cuts to human services programs essential to poor and needy families. On Thursday, March 25, Governor Brown signed new laws to reduce $11.2 billion of the state’s estimated $26-billion deficit. These cuts mean that once again California’s most vulnerable populations will bear the brunt of these changes, resulting in fewer services for LAFLA’s clients. Within 90 days, state officials will begin notifying tens of thousands of Californians that their benefits will be cut or reduced within 90 days — just before the start of the state’s new budget year.
Here’s a breakdown of the cuts to health and human services programs and what they mean for our clients:
Before these cuts and reductions take effect, we will communicate with our clients through educational presentations to help them prepare. Here is the Western Center on Law and Poverty’s summary of all the cuts to health and human services.
Jennifer Ratner, a partner at Sidley Austin LLP, has joined LAFLA’s Board of Directors. Ratner has been with the firm’s Los Angeles Office since 1999, and has extensive experience in all areas of state and federal litigation and arbitration forums. Ratner received her J.D., cum laude, from New York University School of Law. She received her B.S., summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from Tufts University. Click here to view a complete list of LAFLA’s board members.
The exchange of professionals is one of the public diplomacy tools that facilitate understanding between countries and their citizens. Opening the doors to interpersonal relationships, and in an effort to promote mutual understanding and access to justice, international visitors are often interested in LAFLA’s public interest work.
On March 14, Jianmei Guo, recipient of the 2011 International Women of Courage Award, and renowned human rights attorney from China, visited LAFLA and met with attorneys from our Employment Unit and the Immigration Unit’s Torture Survivors Project to learn more about the practice of public interest law in the U.S. and how it compares with China.
Ms. Guo directs the Beijing Zhongze Women’s Legal Counseling and Service Center and is also widely recognized as China’s leading women rights activist. In 1995, she founded the Women’s Legal Research and Services Center, well known for fighting against domestic violence and workplace gender discrimination and the rights of migrant women workers in China. She also helped found the Qian Qian Law Firm, which advocates for reform of the legal and criminal justice systems in China. As Secretary Clinton described her in the award ceremony, she has provided "fearless and unwavering legal advocacy in defense of the rights of the vulnerable and marginalized, standing against injustice" and has done "groundbreaking work to improve the status of women."
(L-R) front row: LAFLA Human Rights Analyst Carolina Sheinfeld; Immigration Attorney Kim Luu-Ng; interpreter Helen Gao; Jianmei Guo; Senior Employment Attorney, Betty Hung; Employment Attorney Natalie Nardecchia. (L-R) back row: Immigration Attorney Daliah Setareh, CFO Tom Wheatley; General Counsel Toby Rothschild and Malcolm Carson, Managing Attorney of LAFLA’s South Los Angeles Office.
In a very engaging conversation with LAFLA’s Executive Director Silvia Argueta and staff, Ms. Guo described how the concept of public interest law is a new one in China that covers four areas: legal aid to vulnerable groups; public interest safeguard; legal advocacy; and litigation. In a country of almost 1.4 billion people, only about 100 lawyers work in this area, and exclusively from the Nonprofit-Government Organization (NGO) sector.
LAFLA staff learned of the challenges faced by public interest law NGOs in China, such as government opposition to public interest litigation, the negative perception of public interest lawyers, and the lack of national funding to sustain their work. Ms. Guo hopes to see positive changes in public interest law in China in the next decade and she promised to continue promoting the role of public interest lawyers while opening all channels with the government, international actors and the private industry, inspiring others to join the cause by being proud of this work and providing a much needed service.
On the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day, Ms. Guo was one of the 10 women awarded the International Women of Courage Award by First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. At the award ceremony, Secretary of State Clinton described her as "a fearless and unwavering legal advocate in defense of the rights of the vulnerable and marginalized, standing against injustice, and who has done groundbreaking work to improve the status of women." (View the video here).
Board member R. Alexander Pilmer, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis LLP and Loyola Law School’s Class of ’94, will receive the Pro Bono Award from the law school’s Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) at an awards ceremony and receptionist on Wednesday, April 13 from 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p..m. in the student lounge.
At the same event, LAFLA’s Pro Bono Director Tai E. Glenn, Class of 91, will be the recipient of the Public Interest Award.
PILF is a student-run and volunteer-based organization dedicated to fostering the careers of law students who are committed to serving the public interest. Proceeds from the event benefit public interest grants for Loyola Law students who work at nonprofit and community-based organizations. Click here to RSVP.
Amidst the threat of Congressional cuts to LSC funding and state cuts to a wide variety of programs for the poor and low-income population, LAFLA reports that its housing & eviction defense caseload has now reached 60 percent of LAFLA’s entire caseload. Three out of every five LAFLA cases now involves protecting, preserving, and assuring quality, affordable housing for its clients.
2010 Housing & Eviction Defense Case Map of Los Angeles County
LAFLA’s increase in housing work is a direct response to the continuing economic crisis affecting Los Angeles residents, who, when faced with evictions, are up against increasingly long odds. The Stanley Mosk Courthouse in downtown Los Angeles saw nearly 18,000 unlawful detainer cases in 2010. Of the 89 percent of cases already disposed at the time 2010 statistics became available in early February, nearly 46 percent proceeded to a default judgment. This means that in Stanley Mosk alone, 7,300 unrepresented litigants were evicted from their homes without access to even the barest of defenses, without a day in court, and without any appeal for justice on their behalf.
This expansion of housing and eviction defense services has coincided with LAFLA’s involvement as the lead agency in the Los Angeles City Homeless Prevention Project (LACHPP), a federally funded Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program (HPRP) that aims to stabilize low-income families facing eviction and keep them in their current housing. The LACHPP program has been lauded as a national model and highlighted in national presentations and reports by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Nationally, it is the only HPRP program in which a legal services program is the lead agency, the main conduit for client services.
Through the LACHPP program, LAFLA uses all tools at its disposal to effect change for clients in crisis. Christian Abasto, Managing Attorney for the Eviction Defense and Housing Units, stated that, "What LAFLA has done efficiently is merge three services that clients need under one roof: lawyers to provide the legal work to fight evictions; social workers to help clients address the problems that led to them being evicted; and rental assistance to deal with the financial crisis and pay the rent owed.
"Our goal is to significantly increase our representation in 2012 if the collaborative of LAFLA, Neighborhood Legal Services of LA County, Inner City Law Center, and Public Counsel is awarded a civil Gideon grant," continued Abasto. "What we’d like to do this coming year is drastically increase the work we already do for low-income tenants being evicted in the downtown courthouse. We have the social workers, the legal team, and the rental assistance all under one roof. That’s a powerful combination and great tools to help our clients remain in their homes."
Ms. Del Cid, an elderly, low-income and disabled client had lived for 25 years in her one-bedroom, rent-controlled apartment in Silver Lake. Not realizing her rent had been increased, Ms. Del Cid’s son wrote her rent check, underpaying the rent by approximately $15. Ms. Del Cid delivered the check, as tenants are directed, to the drop box at the manager’s unit. Two days later, the tenant received a 3-Day Notice to Pay or Quit, demanding the entire rent for the month, and was not credited for the first payment. Her son calculated that the balance due was exactly $14.91 and wrote a check for that amount. Ms. Del Cid again delivered the check to the drop box, but the manager claimed not to have received either check. After six days, the manager returned the smaller check, and ultimately the first check as well. He then proceeded to evict her.
Eviction Defense Attorney Cesar Bertaud represented Ms. Del Cid in Parkside Villas, LLC v. Marta Del Cid in the Los Angeles Superior Court. The landlord alleged that the tenant had not paid her rent. Dennis Block and Associates, one of the largest law firms representing landlords in Los Angeles County, was the opposing counsel.
"The main issue was whether the 3 Day Notice was defective for not crediting the first payment, and therefore, overstating the rent owing," explains Bertaud. "Related issues were whether by not returning the checks immediately the landlord had accepted the rent, and therefore no rent was owed, and whether the landlord had breached the warranty of habitability."
Since the facts played out over 16 days, Bertaud had to put on six witnesses, with each able to testify to part of the story. The witnesses included a six-year-old girl who could only testify that a woman (the manager) handed her an envelope and that she immediately gave it to her grandmother, our client. Bertaud admitted evidence of the unrepaired defective conditions in the unit constituting breach of the warranty of habitability. Testimony was heard over two days. With chambers’ conferences, instruction and argument, the trial lasted three days. As a result of the jury’s unanimous verdict, Ms. Del Cid can keep her home. Moreover, once she raised the habitability defense, the landlord finally repaired her unit. Upon learning that she could remain in her apartment, the client broke down in Bertaud’s arms and sobbed.
Bertaud was the first attorney in our Eviction Defense Unit to try a case before a jury in over 10 years. Since the beginning of EDC’s new jury trial project, other cases had been dismissed or settled before trial. In the Del Cid matter, the landlord refused to discuss any settlement that did not include Ms. Del Cid relinquishing her apartment. Bertaud acknowledges that this victory was a collaborative effort of the entire unit, including Managing Attorney Christian Abasto, Senior Attorney Pat Goldsmith, and former LAFLA Attorney Elena Popp.
"It was immensely satisfying to win this case after many delays in bringing it to trial," said Bertaud. "For the first time in my career I had a ’Perry Mason’ moment in court when the landlord’s witness kept trying to deny an important fact, and then when faced with a letter he’d written months before the case began, finally threw up his hands and blurted that "I’d gotten him."
In February, LAFLA’s Family Law Unit was well-represented at the 2011 Legal Aid Association of California’s (LAAC)Family Law Conference in San Francisco, providing training to nearly 40 family law experts on some of the most difficult domestic violence cases. Our attorneys and social workers described how LAFLA’ innovative and dynamic domestic violence practice integrates social work practitioners to address the broad spectrum of issues facing clients.
Attorney Ji-Lan Zang & Social Worker Kathryn Cronin
Attorney Ji-Lan Zang and Social Worker Kathryn Cronin’s presentation focused on working with clients with supervised visitation orders; Senior Attorney Paula Cohen explained the challenges of assisting and representing domestic violence survivors; Attorneys Lorrina Duffy and Jimena Vasquez taught participants about handling real property issues in complex times; and Managing Attorney Ana Storey (with private attorney Julie Saffren) demonstrated, via a mock hearing, how to give a closing argument using two seemingly contradictory recent civil domestic violence appellate rulings.
Explained Storey, "The domestic violence movement has been growing and changing for the last 30 years, and these types of presentations allow us to share our learning and front-line experiences with other advocates from throughout the state." Continued Storey, " As domestic violence and child custody law and practice evolves, LAFLA will continue to be at the forefront of developing practices and projects that move survivors and their children from crisis to independence."
As a result of the leadership of our Family Law Unit, LAFLA’s Domestic Violence Clinic, located at the Long Beach Courthouse, has received a $20,000 grant from the Josephine S. Gumbiner Foundation. Ms. Gumbiner was a social worker and licensed clinical therapist who worked at Family Service of Long Beach, the Los Angeles County Department of Adoptions and United Way.
Senior Housing Attorney Denise McGranahan, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Western Center on Law & Poverty (WCLP) held a day-long training on March 16 to identify and encourage future opportunities for collaboration between advocates and funded jurisdictions in the process of drafting legally compliant and meaningful analyses to impediments to fair housing choice ("AIs"). The training was attended by more than 150 people and held at the Biltmore Hotel. HUD is legally mandated to ensure that every grantee jurisdiction certify that is has conducted an analysis to identify impediments to fair housing choice; take steps to overcome those impediments; and maintain records on its progress. Since 2009 when Westchester County was found liable for making over 1,000 false certifications, HUD has stepped up efforts to require that recipients comply with their obligations to affirmatively further fair housing. Opening remarks were provided by LAFLA’s Executive Silvia Argueta; WCLP’s Executive Director Paul Tepper; and Director of HUD FHEO Region IX, Chuck Hauptman.
As part of the National Consortium of Torture Treatment Programs annual meeting and Advocacy Day, LAFLA’s Torture Survivors Project and Program for Torture Victims (PTV) staff conducted joint visits representing the Los Angeles region to educate elected representatives about the number and nature of survivors present in their constituencies, as well as the type of services available to torture survivors through our programs’ collaborative work. In these visits, they were joined by members of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims. For more information on LAFLA’s work with torture survivors, please click here.
(L-R) Jorge Aroche, IRCT Executive Committee Vice President; Carolina Sheinfeld, LAFLA’s International Human Rights Analyst; Megan Berthold, PTV’s Director of Research & Evaluation; and José Quiroga, M.D., PTV’s Co-Founder and Medical Director.