When Camille came to Maryland Legal Aid (MLA) through a referral from the Prince George’s County Family Justice Center, she was upset and traumatized by the domestic violence she experienced at the hands of her son’s father, a Navy Serviceman. By the time Camille came to MLA, she had already received a Final Protective Order (FPO) from the Prince George’s County Court. Because the father routinely violated the FPO, she was forced to seek a Military Protective Order (MPO). Camille attempted multiple times to make the Navy aware of his violations but was consistently ignored, even by the father’s commanding officer.
Staff Attorney Morgan McManus from MLA’s Prince George’s County Office encouraged Camille to file for contempt, but it was difficult to serve the father as he was stationed on an aircraft carrier in Washington State. With the help of law enforcement officers from Prince George’s County Family Justice Center, the father was served with the Show Cause Order upon his return to Maryland. A week later, he was found in contempt.
On the advice of Supervising Attorney Terri Cooke, Attorney McManus contacted members of Congress to pressure the Navy to respond to the MPO request. She connected with then-Congressman Anthony Brown on the Armed Services Committee, and they began calling the Pentagon until they were finally connected with a Judge Advocate General on the father’s ship.
Camille was finally granted her MPO, explicitly stating that it was granted by request of the petitioner’s counsel. At trial, Camille was awarded sole physical and joint legal custody with tie-breaking authority for their son.
Camille’s referral to MLA has helped Camille change her life and is an example of the importance of our partnership with community organizations such as the Prince George’s County Family Justice Center.
Mrs. A: Long-Term Partner in Justice
Tina sought out Maryland Legal Aid (MLA) twice in the span of 11 years for help with two different cases. After being served divorce papers on Valentine’s Day in 2012, Tina was struggling to make ends meet for herself and her daughter. She worked as a hairstylist and could not afford to pay for a private attorney in a contested divorce case.
During the divorce, Tina’s husband fell into a coma after a life-threatening accident that further complicated the custody battle between them. She found herself under the incredible financial stress of solely providing for her young daughter, as well as being embroiled in conflicts with her husband’s family over who would be responsible for his care while he was in an unresponsive state. Chief Attorney Arlene Callender, from MLA’s Cecil/ Harford Office, represented Tina during the first divorce, and after years of advocating tirelessly, Tina received full custody of her daughter.
Almost a decade later, Tina faced another difficult life-changing event when her second husband abandoned her, and suddenly and she had to file for divorce a second time. However this time, Tina was in a different position financially. She had achieved professional success owning and operating a hair salon, but then lost her business due to the pandemic. Additionally, her husband stole her daughter’s service dog causing great emotional turmoil for her and her daughter.
Remembering how MLA had advocated for her during the first divorce, Tina reached out to MLA again. Chief Attorney Callender represented Tina for a second time in a highly contested divorce that now involved a marital home. After some litigation, a favorable settlement was reached. Tina was able to recover compensation for the loss of her daughter’s much-needed service dog, as well as a monetary award for her contributions to the marriage. MLA’s representation and advocacy allowed Tina to achieve peace of mind. She is now back on her feet again and moving toward emotional and financial stability.
Baby R. Goes Home
Just days old and helpless, Baby R. experienced withdrawal symptoms after birth. Baby R.’s birth mother tested positive for prescribed methadone at the time she was born and such babies can experience significant withdrawal symptoms in the first days of life which can be very harmful to them. In 2020, Baby R. was referred to the Baltimore County Department of Social Services and Staff Attorney Kristin Lewis Noon began representing the child in his Child in Need of Assistance (CINA) case in 2021.
At a Family Team Decision-Making Meeting (FTDM), Attorney Lewis Noon represented Baby R. to discuss a long-term living arrangement for him. The family friends (also known as fictive kin), the client’s paternal grandmother, and the biological parents all participated in the meeting.
During the FTDM, it was reported that Mom and Dad were homeless and residing in a tent in Essex, MD, with no plans to improve their living situation. Mom had three additional children, two of which were Dad’s biological children, but they were in the physical custody of other relatives. Mom and Dad reported during the meeting that they did not have the ability to care for Baby R. and wanted him placed with family and friends.
Baby R. was placed with friends of the family with limited guardianship to the Department of Social Services in 2020. After two years and ongoing advocacy by MLA’s attorney, on November 19th, 2022, Baby R. was legally adopted and is thriving in his new home with his loving parents.
Landlord Pays $75,000
In Spring 2022, Maryland Legal Aid’s (MLA) Lower Eastern Shore Office received a phone call from Ms. Y. saying that she and all of the other tenants in their apartment complex received notices to vacate their homes. Soon after, MLA was contacted by many additional tenants from the same property for the same issue. Upon investigation, MLA learned that the property had been a privately owned apartment building, but was purchased by a new owner who was fully renovating the premises using funds from the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program (LIHTC). The investigation further revealed that, in violation of the agreement signed with the State and other program requirements, the new landlord had wrongfully required the old owner to evict all of the tenants residing in the building.
Ms. Y. moved into her apartment in 2019. In September 2020, she found out that the property was being sold to a new owner. Shortly after signing a new lease in May 2021, Ms. Y. received a letter stating that she had an unsatisfactory credit report and was given 60 days’ notice to move out. Ms. Y. was left wondering why this wasn’t brought up before she signed the lease and needed a place to stay while she recovered from an upcoming surgery.
Supervising Attorney for Housing Law from MLA’s Lower Eastern Shore Office, Jamie Miliman investigated and learned that the new owner was attempting to evict Ms. Y. from the property illegally. Ms. Miliman and Gregory Countess, the Director of Advocacy for Housing and Community Development, reached out to state officials in charge of the LIHTC program, who conducted their own investigation based on the information that Ms. Miliman and Mr. Countess brought to their attention. Ms. Y. provided all of the necessary documents to the landlord, but each time, the landlord asked for additional documents. No matter how many times Ms. Y. complied with their requests, the landlord insisted that it wasn’t enough. Ultimately, the landlord filed a breach of lease case against Ms. Y., claiming that she did not comply with the qualification process for the LIHTC program. MLA filed a counterclaim against the landlord for violations of the Maryland ConsumerA state or federal law designed to protect consumers against improperly described, damaged, faulty, and dangerous goods and services as well as from unfair trade and credit practices. Including Legal Issues like: bankruptcy, collections, garnishment and repossession. More Protection Act (CPA).
Throughout, Ms. Y. went through many surgeries and treatments for breast cancer. She had to use a wound vac machine at all times, making the numerous trips to the leasing office, which was far away, and very challenging for her.
In September 2022, MLA lawyers represented Ms. Y. in a jury trial. The court granted judgment in favor of Ms. Y. on the breach of lease claim as a matter of law without even reaching the jury. The counterclaim that Ms. Y. filed did go to the jury. The jury found that the landlord violated the Maryland CPA, and that Ms. Y. suffered damages as a result of the landlord’s conduct and, as a result, the jury awarded Ms. Y. $75,000 in damages.
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
Pro Bono Keeps Families Together
Mr. G. came to Maryland Legal Aid (MLA) for help with a custody modification for his two daughters (ages 10 and 7). A prior custody order was put into place in May 2019, and gave residential custody to the daughters’ mother. The client received visitation in the summer and every weekend during the school year.
Mr. G.’s daughters were living with him over the summer following the custody order. In August 2020, however, there was a visitation exchange where the mother’s brother and several other men physically assaulted Mr. G., resulting in significant injuries. The mother’s brother was arrested and convicted of assault, but appealed and was released on bail.
Stressed and fearful of another attack, Mr. G. asked his daughters’ mother to change the pick-up location to a public place where the client would feel safer, such as the children’s school or a police precinct, but the mother refused. Mr. G. was unable to see his daughters because their mother was demanding he pick them up from her house, a potentially unsafe location. Mr. G. believed that he would be attacked again if he went to her home. He moved to be closer to his daughters. When he came to MLA he had been denied access to his children for more than six months.
With assistance from Pro Bono Attorney Richard Lebovitz, after two hearings, Mr. G. was awarded sole legal and primary physical custody of his daughters. He and his two young daughters are under one roof, reunited, and safe.