A sampling of recent success stories by Legal Aid attorneys:
- Metropolitan Maryland office (Riverdale) staff attorneys Hong Park (center) and Justin Zelikovitz (left) represented a couple who were sued for more than $10,000 by their former landlord for abandoning an apartment mid-lease and for damage to the unit. In the course of their investigation, the lawyers uncovered an extensive fraud involving forged invoices from contractors. Since 2003, the landlord has filed nearly 500 cases and obtained judgments of nearly $2 million in damages and attorneys’ fees. Hong and Justin filed a Motion for Sanctions because of the forged invoices and false statements in discovery under the penalty of perjury. At the same time, the state's attorney and attorney general launched an investigation and are in the process of issuing subpoenas. The landlord's attorney withdrew from the case before the hearing on the Motion for Sanctions, and a favorable settlement was negotiated with the new attorney which included damages for our clients and an attorney fee award. Paralegal Lucinda Kimmons (right in photo) assisted by researching court case files.
- Lower Shore office (Salisbury) staff attorney Melissa Kilmer helped an elderly client out of a jam caused by her daughter, who had taken over the client's financial affairs. Without the client's knowledge the daughter had refinanced the mortgage several times, receiving thousands of dollars in the process. "Each time she refinanced, the daughter forged her mother's signature," Melissa said. Eventually the daughter defaulted and foreclosure proceedings were filed. "The forgeries were well done, and given that notaries had acknowledged all of the signatures, the case for forgery would have been problematic absent expert testimony," Melissa noted. An expert from Forensic Document Examiners determined that the signatures on the refinancing mortgages were forged and Melissa filed to enjoin the sale. (By this time the client had moved to an apartment complex for senior citizens.) The dispute was settled with the mortgage company agreeing to pay the client $19,000 (her estimated equity at the time of the first refinancing) and to release her from further liability. The expert did not charge anything for her expertise, time and testimony.
- Anne Arundel County office (Annapolis) staff attorney Amy Siegel assisted a 56-year-old disabled man regain his public housing after the housing authority locked him out. The story: The client had been residing in a public housing unit with his wife, both of whom had executed a lease with the housing authority.
When the couple began experiencing marital difficulties in June, the wife unilaterally requested that the housing authority remove the client from the lease. When she subsequently moved out last month, the housing authority locked the client out of the unit, without notice or an opportunity to be heard or to remove his things.
The housing authority felt this was appropriate because the wife had been the "head of household." Amy requested an immediate grievance hearing and zealously advocated on the client's behalf. When she arrived back at the office--barely an hour after the grievance hearing--she was greeted with the news that the housing authority had sent a fax reinstating the client's housing!
- Within a few months of being admitted to the Maryland bar, Southern Maryland office (Hughesville) staff attorney Jake Ouslander (above) helped a frail, elderly man living in an assisted-living facility obtain access to his retirement benefits.
- A 10-year-old girl suffering from severe mental retardation will continue getting her childhood SSI disability benefits--and more than $17,000 in retroactive benefits--thanks to Baltimore Administrative Law Unit senior paralegal Odella Oliver. "This is a significant win because client's medical condition never improved from the date of the initial onset of her disability," Odella said. "However, SSA wrongfully terminated her monthly benefits without proper evidence to establish medical improvement as required within the regulations. As a result, our client has been awarded retroactive benefits exceeding $17,000."
- By threatening to file a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order against the Housing Opportunities Commission (the housing authority for Montgomery County), Metropolitan Maryland office staff attorney Kim Glassman achieved a major victory for a client threatened with eviction from her Section 8 housing without a hearing—a clear violation of due process.
- A disabled elderly woman living on disability insurance will be able to keep her home, thanks to Baltimore Housing/Consumer Law Unit senior attorney Louise Carwell. Louise negotiated with a creditor to use part of the client's retirement to pay an old judgment for a repossessed car (a debt the client thought her private bankruptcy attorney had discharged after she had filed for a Chapter 7 bankruptcy, but the right motion was never filed).
Anne Arundel County staff attorney Danielle Chapell helped a woman gain custody of her two children, who were three and two years old. "The father hired an attorney and filed for custody of the children even though he had physically abused the the three-year-old child by breaking the child's cheekbone," Danielle said. "There was a CINA case and, in that case, the court had given custody to the mother." In the custody case, the father was very aggressive and the case almost went to trial. "In the end, the parties reached an agreement and the mother got custody of her children," Danielle said. "If my client had not had a lawyer, though, I think that the father in this case would have made the situation even more difficult for my client."
A woman obtained custody of her two children with the help of Metro (Riverdale) staff attorney Pauline Onyemaechi. "I felt particularly good about this case," Pauline said. "The client was obviously intimidated by her husband because he was better educated and had a good job. Before the final order came down, she always had the fear that she might not get to keep her children. Thanks to Legal Aid, she got custody and the child support she needed."