Helping Clients Avoid Eviction
Ms. J. lived in an apartment, and was late on her rent payments. She was living with bed bug issues on a daily basis, and sharing one bathroom with 11 other tenants on the floor on which she lived. With eviction looming, she sought out Maryland Legal Aid after receiving a Failure to Pay Rent notice from her landlord. Although there were serious maintenance issues with her apartment and the rest of the building, Ms. J’s landlord was relentless, and threatened to evict her. MLA’s Staff Attorney Douglas Nivens and Paralegal Phillip Middleton worked together to research the landlord’s rental license. They found that while the client's landlord received his rental license on March 11, 2021, he requested that the Court recognize the license as being effective October 22, 2020, the date he applied for the license.
The landlord argued that he could not obtain a license due to closures created by the COVID-19 pandemic. With help from the Baltimore City Department of Housing & Community Development, Douglas and Phillip successfully argued that the landlord had no legitimate excuse for waiting five months to complete his license application. The Court dismissed the landlord's complaint with prejudice, freeing Ms. J. from any rent liability for the months that the property was unlicensed, and awarded judgment in favor of Ms. J. She was allowed to stay in the house and avoid $3,457.50 in rent liability for the months that the property was unlicensed.
Advocates and Staff Stand Up for Disabled Seniors
Mr. J. is hearing impaired and experienced homelessness for eight months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. His name reached the top of the waiting list for subsidized housing for elderly and disabled individuals, but his application was denied. Staff Attorney Amy Siegel represented Mr. J. at his administrative appeal hearing before a hearing officer. After struggling with the housing authority the week before to have them provide a way to adequately accommodate the client’s disabilities for his virtual hearing, Attorney Siegel called upon MLA’s IT Specialist Jayne Hansen for help.
I truly do not have words sufficient to thank you. You knew exactly what you were doing, and you did it beautifully. You really did. You've also restored some of my faith that there are actually good people out there. I absolutely love people that do spectacular work.
Mr. J., MLA Client
Jayne immediately arranged to be present at MLA’s Anne Arundel/Howard office the morning of the hearing. She also configured a way to set up a safely-distanced, private computer station for the client to hear, see and be seen, and fully participate in his Zoom-based administrative hearing. This involved connecting video through an MLA laptop, connecting to audio and the microphone through the client’s cell phone, and ensuring the hearing was closed captioned. Jayne went out of her way to find a creative solution which ultimately helped Mr. J. Attorney Siegel won Mr. J.’s case, and he was provided subsidized housing and is no longer experiencing homelessness.
Securing Patient's Right to Counsel
In July 2019, Mr. M., a patient at a psychiatric hospital, refused to take prescribed psychotropic medication. A hospital panel met and approved administration of the forced medication, which led to Mr. M. filing an appeal. On the appeal request form, he declined legal representation; however, at the administrative hearing nine days later, Mr. M. requested legal representation. The Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) interpreted Mr. M’s request for counsel as a request for a postponement and denied it. The administrative hearing took place and resulted in the ALJ’s approval of the decision to forcibly medicate Mr. M.
In September 2019, Mr. M. was represented by Miriam Sincell, Chief Attorney of MLA’s Allegany/Garrett office, in an appeal to the Circuit Court of Allegany County. The Court affirmed the ALJ’s decision. MLA appealed Mr. M.’s case to the Court of Special Appeals in January 2021. The Court of Special Appeals also affirmed the ALJ’s ruling.
Undeterred, MLA filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the Court of Appeals. It was MLA’s contention that Mr. M. had a statutory right to counsel at the administrative hearing and that the ALJ, in denying Mr. M’s request for counsel, deprived him of his procedural due process rights.
The Court of Appeals issued its opinion in December 2021, and specifically interpreted the plain language of the statute to grant a patient in forced medication cases the right to counsel upon request. The Court “[concluded] that in this case the ALJ erred in declining Mercer’s request to be represented by counsel at the administrative hearing." The Court further clarified that in these cases, "due process requires, at a minimum, verification that an individual was properly advised and knowingly and voluntarily waived the right to request counsel and elected to proceed unrepresented."
“Maryland Legal Aid has consistently maintained that a patient’s right to request and to have the use of counsel in these cases is a clear due process safeguard within the statutory scheme intended to protect the fundamental liberty interest against forced psychotropic medication.”Chief Attorney Miriam Sincell