#AaronforLegalActionWI - Who We Are. What We Do.
We'd like to introduce you to Attorney Jennifer Johnson today. Attorney Johnson is a staff attorney in our Milwaukee office. She is one of the Legal Action attorneys who help our clients improve their chances at getting and keeping a job.
Recently, Attorney Johnson helped a Milwaukee resident. We'll call him Marc to protect his privacy. Authorities made several mistakes on Marc's background records, but one was striking: State authorities incorrectly made Marc register himself as a sex offender when he was *not*. As you can imagine, this tagging was extremely harmful to Marc. People who are registered as sex offenders are banned from many jobs and from living in many places. Attorney Johnson dug into old court records to prove that Marc was not a sex offender and convinced authorities that they should not require him to register and to remove him from the list. She did all of this without litigation! Congratulations, Jennifer! And to our client Marc: Thank you for having the courage to question whether this was right.
We'd like to introduce you to Attorney Natalie Kitzrow. Natalie works in our Disabled Offenders Economic Security Project. (We call it DOES for short.) Our DOES project works to help people when they are getting out of prison, if they are not going to be able to work because of a disability. Put simply, DOES gets health insurance and income for these folks because health insurance and income are key factors to prevent him or her from going back to prison.
Natalie recently helped a DOES client who had a long history of incredibly severe and life-altering trauma. Warning - we are going to describe some details of his trauma, and the details can be difficult for some to hear.
We'll call him Joseph. Before going to prison, Joseph had been shot in the head, beaten into unconsciousness, and lost one leg because a babysitter scalded it with hot water when he was an infant. He has severe cognition issues and he does not comprehend much information. Joseph and his Mother have been fighting with the Social Security Administration for his entire life to get him receiving disability income. He had been denied disability income four different times, but this time, Natalie demonstrated Joseph's disability and the way that it prevented him from working, in a way that Joseph could not demonstrate on his own. Joseph now has the modest income and the medical insurance which will help him be stable living outside of prison.
But the work doesn't stop there. Like quite a few of our DOES clients with similar situations, Joseph's cognitive disability has made it difficult for him to understand the details of his monthly income and health insurance. Natalie is continuing to work with Joseph and the person who is helping him manage his income and expenses.
Great work, Natalie! And, congratulations to Joseph for persevering!
Today, we'd like to introduce you to Elizabeth Pierson. Attorney Pierson works in our Milwaukee office, helping people who are struggling to get their landlords to repair serious problems such as mold, rodent or insect infestations, or heat. She has a fellowship to work at Legal Action from the Arthur Liman Center for Public Interest at Yale Law School.
We'll call our client Alicia.
Alicia was being evicted when she came to us, but the tensions with the landlord started last winter when she complained about the lack of heat and other problems in her apartment where she was living with her newborn baby. The landlord ignored Alicia's pleas to fix the furnace and the other problems. She went to the City of Milwaukee, and to Community Advocates, and learned that she could "abate" her rent. She was allowed to withhold *part* of her rent until the landlord made repairs. He did finally repair the furnace, near the end of winter, but he did not fix the other health and safety problems. In May, the landlord convinced Alicia to not abate her rent, and to pay it in full even though he had not made all the repairs. Alicia went along with this because she thought he would make the repairs. Unfortunately, he didn't. Instead, he was trying to evict Alicia. Fortunately, she then asked Attorney Pierson for help.
At Attorney Pierson's request, the court has ordered the landlord (a default judgement because the landlord did not come to court) to pay Alicia back for the rent he had illegally collected and for not making the repairs or providing heat in the winter when Alicia was paying her rent and to return her security deposit.
Attorney Pierson is still working to finalize the order, collect the money from the landlord, and get it to Alicia, but for now, Alicia is in a much better position to find new housing.
Thanks to Attorney Pierson for helping Milwaukeeans who are struggling with poor quality housing and to Yale Law for funding her work. And, as always, thank you to our client Alicia for reaching-out and asking for help.
Learn about Legal Action Attorney Jenelle Dame and Volunteer Attorney Jody Usow our client Mr. Vaughn -- Click Here
12/11/18 Staff Attorney Jenelle Dame, Volunteer Attorney Jody Usow and our client Mr. Vaughn
Jenelle Dame is one of our attorneys working in our Volunteer Lawyers Project. Attorney Dame spends a lot of her time finding volunteer attorneys to help clients in our Elder Rights Project. All clients in our Elder Rights Project are age 60 and over and have been abused in some way - financial, physical, emotional, or sexual. Sometimes the abuse comes from a family member. Sometimes it comes from a person who has befriended the elder. Occasionally, the elder is abused by a stranger.
For one recent elder abuse case - we'll use "Mr. Vaughn" to describe the victim and assure his privacy - Attorney Dame worked with volunteer attorney Jody Uso.
Mr. Vaughn came to us through Sojourner Family Peace Center's restraining order clinic at the Milwaukee County courthouse. The staff members from Sojourner's clinic asked us to help Mr. Vaughn because he did not know where to turn and it went beyond how the clinic could help him.
Mr. Vaughn went to the clinic asking for two "Individual At Risk" restraining orders. He thought he needed a restraining order against his son and one against the son's girlfriend. Mr. Vaughn had allowed the son and girlfriend to live in an upstairs apartment of Mr. Vaughn's house because they needed a temporary place to stay. The son and girlfriend stayed for two years, and their relationship with Mr. Vaughn had become abusive. They threatened him, had their dog attack his dog, and frequently borrowed money without repaying him. Mr. Vaughn was trying to evict the son and the son's girlfriend, and had been for some time, but he also feared for his safety.
Volunteer Attorney Uso - one of our most experienced attorneys in this area of law - represented Mr. Vaughn and obtained restraining orders against both the son and the girlfriend. Mr. Vaughn tells us that the son and his girlfriend have moved out without him pursing the eviction any further.
Mr. Vaughn is very happy to be free from this abuse. As he told Attorney Dame, he "thought his life was over, but now he feels like [he is] living again."
Thanks to Legal Action Attorney Dame and volunteer attorney Uso for helping Mr. Vaughn! You helped him achieve the goal he set for himself to resolve this difficult problem when no one else could help him, and you did it with a team approach including with help from Sojourner Family Peace Center.
We continue our #AaronforLegalActionWI and #PackersGiveBack campaign with a profile of our paralegal Yvonne Scott
Yvonne is a paralegal, working in our Milwaukee office. She has worked at Legal Action for nearly 15 years. While she has worked within several different areas of law, with different groups of our clients, she has spent most of her time at Legal Action helping domestic abuse victims.
Sometimes, victims of domestic abuse can get a domestic abuse injunction (often known as a "restraining order") without an attorney, but sometimes they need one. In Yvonne's typical day, she is working to connect those victims who do need an attorney to us.
One of our partner organizations, Sojourner Family Peace Center, contacts Yvonne to say that a domestic abuse victim needs our help to get a restraining order. The staff from Sojourner informs Yvonne that the victim of abuse (we'll call her Shenice) needs help. They have told Shenice that Yvonne will be calling. These calls can be difficult for the victim. Yvonne is asking our clients, like Shenice, to recall and reenact the details of the abuse, the danger, and the fear, with as much detail as possible. Yvonne calls Shenice, setting aside as much time as Shenice needs to tell her story. She listens carefully and sensitively, and she takes notes. Yvonne is very careful because she knows she will be relaying Shenice's information to our attorneys, and she doesn't want miss anything. After she gathers the information, Yvonne meets with our attorneys and describes Shenice's situation and need for help.
Yvonne is a steady bridge for Shenice and other victims of domestic abuse. Thank you, Yvonne, for being that bridge. And thanks to Shenice for trusting us to help.
Today's featured staff person in our #AaronforLegalActionWI and #packersgiveback is Don Tolbert. Don is a paralegal and has worked in our Milwaukee office for the past 28 years. (Yes, 28!) He has spent his long tenure at Legal Action working with our volunteer attorneys and the clients in our volunteer attorney projects.
Since late 2016, Don has worked in our volunteer-based Milwaukee Eviction Defense Project (EDP). Don works alongside other Legal Action staff, and our volunteer attorneys, to help Milwaukeeans who are struggling with their housing and their landlords. One recent EDP client is a good illustration of Don's work. We'll call her Ms. Young.
In September, Ms. Young came to the Milwaukee County courthouse where Legal Action's Eviction Defense Project is housed. She came to us because she and her teenage son were living with Ms. Young's Grandmother and she couldn't get a landlord to rent to her. Ms. Young explained to Don that she had two eviction cases over the past 7 months. Now, every time she thought she found a new place to rent, the eviction cases would come up in her records and she could not rent it.
Her troubles began in the summer of 2017. Ms. Young works, but her income is not steady: It goes up and down every month. She received housing assistance, so when her income went down, the housing assistance program paid a bit more and she paid a bit less toward her rent. When her income went up, she paid more toward her rent.
The landlord made clerical errors in processing Ms. Young's share of the rent and these errors resulted in two different eviction actions even though Ms. Young was trying to paying her share.
Once here, Don connected Ms. Young to a volunteer attorney who spent many hours on the case. The volunteer got both eviction cases reopened and heard again. The court sealed both eviction case records so that they would not appear on Ms. Young's background again. Because of Don and the volunteer attorney, Ms. Young no longer looked like a tenant who did not pay her rent.
Thanks for your work helping our community members get a fair shot, Don. And thanks to Ms. Young for trusting us to clear your good name!
Today's Legal Action's featured staff member is Esperanza Arias. "Espe" started working at Legal Action in January, 1974 - nearly 45 years ago! Legal Action has only been around for 50 years, so she has really stuck with us through thick & thin. We're grateful for her long-time service to our organization and to our clients. Espe is a crucial point person for our callers because she is often the staff member who first answers their calls. She is bi-lingual in English and Spanish, and this has strengthened Espe's place as a point person when people who are struggling do make a call and ask us for help.
Potential clients call us because they're struggling with a very tough, and very personal, civil legal problem, and Espe must ask tough questions: What's happening? What are the details? She hears the details of the unfairness and the injustice that the person is calling about, and she hears them with empathy and understanding.
Espe has helped with all of the areas of law in which we practice during her career at Legal Action, but she has spent the most time working with our groups of Public Benefits, SeniorLAW, and Housing attorney and paralegal staff. They are especially appreciative of her long-time service.
Our Milwaukee office has a long-standing tradition of having pot lucks to celebrate important events -- retirements, babies, weddings, and holidays. We had Espe's retirement pot luck yesterday, and we are sharing some of the photos from it. We will miss you, Espe!
Legal Action has several attorneys who are specially trained to help victims of sexual assault - to solve the civil legal problems that affect their safety, privacy, and recovery. Our attorneys pay special attention to the trauma of sexual assault. Becca Donaldson is one of these attorneys.
Becca recently helped a sexual assault victim - we'll call her Stephanie. Stephanie came to us because she wanted to help in dealing with law enforcement as they investigated the assault. She wanted to be sure that officers were using a trauma-informed approach when they conducted follow-up interviews with her about her case. While Becca was working with Stephanie on the privacy problem, it also became clear that the assault had threatened the stable housing she wanted for her and her kids, so Becca went to work on that.
The assault had occurred at Stephanie's apartment, so she wanted to move as quickly as possible. She moved herself and her kids into the best apartment they could find with what she could afford, using her housing assistance voucher. The new apartment had some problems, including a leaky roof, but instead of making the repairs, as he was required to do, he threatened to evict Stephanie.
Becca negotiated with the landlord and prevented this immediate, but wrongful eviction. Even so, Stephanie wanted to move out and get a fresh start. She found an apartment in a new building, but the landlord there was hesitant to rent to her because he found an older eviction court filing. It was still appearing on court records, even though it had been dismissed. Becca explained the meaning (or, more accurately, meaninglessness!) of the old court record to the new landlord and Stephanie moved into a brand new, affordable apartment. Then, they worked together to get the old eviction filing removed from the court records altogether. Stephanie and her kids have a roof over their heads - one that is clean and and healthy and gives the family a space to breathe, heal, and move forward.
Thanks to Becca for your persistence and thanks to Stephanie for your trust.
Please meet Eric Beaumont. Eric is a paralegal in our Milwaukee office.
Eric helps our clients enroll in BadgerCare Plus, one of Wisconsin's health insurance programs that helps our low-income community members gain access to health care. Eric meets with clients to ensure their eligibility and preparedness, and he calls the enrollment folks at BadgerCare right alongside his clients. All of Eric's clients are leaving incarceration, so he also works hard to give them up-to-date information about other resources they may need - about food, education, and help with jobs.
Eric's work is guided by research proving that people who are leaving incarceration have a much greater chance of succeeding if they have health insurance and other support and resources. This research also tells us that people leaving that system are intimidated by bureaucratic tasks like enrolling in health insurance programs. By connecting with our clients before they leave the system, and being *with* our clients to help them enroll, Eric is doing the work that helps keep people from going back in.
Thanks, Eric. And, thanks to the thousands of people working hard to keep from reentering the criminal justice system.
We're very happy to feature Attorney Nicole Zimmer today.
Nicole started at our firm in early 2005 and has worked in our Oshkosh, Madison, and Milwaukee offices. She has worked to help get income and health insurance for people who are leaving incarceration and who also have disabilities, to make change in certain counties where domestic abuse victims have a difficult time getting courts and law enforcement to be responsive, and to solve the legal problems of elder abuse victims. Nicole has been the Director of our Elder Rights Project since 2016.
Legal Action of Wisconsin's Elder Rights Project (ERP) has 10 attorneys and 2 paralegals helping elder abuse victims, and one attorney who works with our elder abuse victim volunteer attorneys. Nicole oversees all their work, in all six of our offices.
Legal Action works hard to be sensitive to *all* our clients' circumstances, but we know that elder abuse victims are quite vulnerable and have complex service needs. We also know that our elderly neighbors and family members are in greater danger when abuse occurs, and that untangling the effects of the abuse is tricky and complex. Nicole's job is to make sure that we are balancing all of this, every day, in serving elder abuse victims. She makes sure we are using our own "power of attorney" to help them be safe and overcome the effects of abuse.
Thank you, Nicole, for making us work well for elder abuse victims. And thank you to the elder abuse victims, and their loved ones, who trust us to help.