NEWS AND STORIES
The Battle of the Bands is coming to Cobb County! See your favorite lawyers and legal professionals wage an all-out war to be crowned winner of Justice Jam '14!
The famous Earl Smith Strand Theater will play host to the hopefuls battling it out on September 25th for the coveted title of Justice Jam Band of the Year.
All proceeds will benefit Legal Aid of Cobb County/Cobb Justice Foundation, dedicated to helping low-income residents with civil legal issues ranging from domestic violence to wills and advance directives.
Tickets are available for $25 each and include a drink ticket and heavy hors d'oeuvres. Special host packages are on sale for $150. The Strand will also provide a full cash bar and concessions to keep you rocking.
Run For Justice 2014
The Atlanta Legal Aid Society will hold its 22nd Run for Justice in Oakhurst on November 8th, 2014. The event will benefit the general operating fund of the Atlanta Legal Aid Society. Participants in the Run for Justice will enjoy a beautiful a 5-k course beginning and ending at One Step at A Time, 650 East Lake Drive, Decatur, GA 30030. Others can enjoy the crisp autumn day with the 5k walk, great for families and children. Jogging strollers, kids and pets are welcome! Awards will be presented to the top 5-k finishers and teams in a variety of categories, including pets, children and strollers. Families, corporate, church, school and community teams are welcome. We always need volunteers, too!
Seventy-year-old Julia called the Georgia Seniors Legal Hotline because she had been served with a debt lawsuit. The stress of facing a lawsuit was exacerbating her panic disorder. She nervously asked the Hotline attorney if she could go to jail if she could not pay the debt. The Hotline attorney reassured Julia that no one could put her in jail for failing to pay the debt and advised Julia how to file an answer to the lawsuit with her son’s assistance. The Hotline attorney also advised Julia that her Social Security income could not be garnished even if a judgment was entered against her.
This scenario is not an uncommon one for attorneys of the Georgia Senior Legal Hotline. In fact, one of the most common concerns of Hotline clients is consumer debt. Most Hotline clients grew up in a time in which it was not as easy to get credit as it is today, especially female and minority clients. Many of them were swept up in the wave of “easy credit” that flooded the market over the past twenty years. Most clients borrowed money or used credit cards with every intention of paying back the debts, only to become ill or disabled thereafter thereby limiting their ability to repay the debts. For others, a serious illness led to expensive co-pays and deductibles that they could not afford leading to overwhelming medical debt.
Seniors who call the Hotline for assistance have usually either been sued by a collection agency or are receiving harassing phone calls from collection agencies. Overwhelmed by their financial situation, senior clients often report that their physical and mental health problems are getting worse. Many stop answering their phones due to the collections calls.
When clients call with debt issues, Hotline attorneys empower them with legal advice and/or legal documents with which clients can confront their situation. For many Hotline clients, their only source of income is Social Security. Hotline attorneys provide much needed peace of mind to clients when they explain that Social Security is protected from garnishment under federal law. Like Julia, many Hotline clients also mistakenly believe they can be sent to jail for failure to pay debts. Hotline attorneys are able to relieve their fears that the police will be knocking on their doors at any moment to haul them off to jail.
If a client has not been served with a lawsuit but is receiving frequent collections calls from debt collectors, the Hotline attorney sends the client a Fair Debt Collections Practices Act cease and desist letter along with instructions on how to complete and mail the letter. This simple letter alleviates the incredible stress many seniors are under due to the constant calls from collection agencies.
If the client has already been served with a lawsuit on the debt, the Hotline attorney sends out an answer form to the lawsuit a long with other required documents and instructions on how to complete and file the forms. Several Hotline clients have had lawsuits dismissed using the forms sent to them by Hotline attorneys. Weeks after Julia filed an answer to the debt lawsuit, she reported the lawsuit had been dismissed. She said that she felt so “extremely relieved” after the court dismissed the lawsuit against her that she wanted to go out and celebrate.
Having fun and doing good: that's what the 2nd Annual Beer Tasting and BBQ Battle was all about. We were amazed at the swift response (the event was sold out soon after it was announced!) and we're grateful for the support.
Steve Gottlieb, our Executive Director, said he had so much fun pouring beer that he plans to make it a big part of his eventual retirement.
Thanks to the sponsors who made it all possible:
A Tenant-In-Foreclosure Case
by Don Coleman, Managing Attorney
My client, Ms. EL, was a tenant in foreclosure. AG Company (not its real name) bought the property at the foreclosure sale and initiated an eviction action in DeKalb Magistrate Court. Ms. EL filed an answer that included the tenant in foreclosure defense. She won at trial.
Subsequently, AG Co. appealed the magistrate court decision to state court, but did not send notice of the appeal to Ms. EL. After filing the appeal, AG Co.'s attorney filed a motion to pay rent into court. Again, no notice was sent by AG CO.'s attorney to Ms. EL. At the hearing on the motion, AG Co.'s attorney did not inform the court of Ms. EL's involvement in the case. Moreover, the court clerk did not send notice, presumably because he did not realize that she was the “others” who filed the answer. Therefore, Ms. EL did not know about the appeal or the motion until the marshal evicted her, on her daughter's birthday, under a writ of possession granted to the AG Co. based on her failure of pay rent into court.
Ms. EL called us after the eviction. I filed a motion to set aside the writ in an attempt to preserve her wrongful eviction claim, which I feared she might lose due to collateral estoppel if the writ was not set aside. A hearing was held. I was in a quandary because subsequent to my filing of the motion, AG Co.'s attorney presented me with an affidavit from her former landlord, who had lost the property in foreclosure. In the affidavit, he accused my client of forging the landlord’s signature on the lease, an allegation that Ms. EL absolutely denied. I argued that at the least she was a tenant at sufferance and with that status she was entitled to due process. After hearing arguments, the judge agreed that due process had been denied. Also, he was so infuriated at AG Co.'s attorney's failure to inform the court of Ms. EL's involvement in the case that the judge scheduled a hearing for both AG Co. and its attorney to show cause why they should not be held in contempt. Subsequent to this hearing, the judge ruled they had engaged in abusive litigation. The judge directed me to submit an application for attorney fees if we failed to reach a settlement.
Still, I was worried about the affidavit. Based on the affidavit, I informed Ms. EL prior to the commencement of negotiation that I would not be pursuing an affirmative action for damages. However, during the course of negotiation, AG Co. and its attorney expressed a strong desire to settle any possible claims. With my client's permission, I negotiated her the damages claim.
I guess this is an example of making lemonade out of lemons.
During the 2014 legislative session, House Resolution 1549 was read on the floor honoring the Health Law Partnership for ten years of exemplary service to Georgia's children and their families. Since its inception in 2004, HeLP has assisted more than 6,000 low-income children. Read House Resolution 1549.
Sylvia Caley's "Health Legislation and Advocacy" drafted a bill to create a certification process for collaborative medical-legal partnerships, while encouraging development of more.
Rep. Trey Kelley sponsored the bill with Rep. Sharon Cooper, chair of the House Health and Human Services committee; and Rep. Rick Jasperse, committee vice chair.
“This legislation will not only save important state Medicaid dollars, but also it will provide effective health care treatment for Georgia citizens,” Kelley says.
The House passed House Bill 910 by a large margin late in the session, and it moved to the Senate where it was referred to the Health and Human Services committee. It will be reintroduced next year.
A Life-Saving Intervention
Health Law Partnership staff attorney Payal Kapoor worked on an emergency custody modification case for an eight-month-old baby on life support and in need of a heart transplant who was unable to get on the heart transplant list due to her mother's financial instability. Because of the urgency, Payal met with the transplant team to discuss how the child could get listed and determined that modifying custody to the baby’s maternal grandmother was the only option. She then drove to a jail where the father was incarcerated to obtain his signature agreeing to the modification, in a rare Atlanta snow storm. After a judge signed the Order, the child was immediately listed for a transplant and was able to get a new heart a day and a half later, on Valentine’s Day. The transplant team said that without the Order modifying custody to the baby's maternal grandmother, the baby would not be here today.
Payal says, "The work we do saves and improves lives and makes me proud to be a lawyer."
The father, Mr. H, had earlier given the mother a paper to sign in English (although she was illiterate in any language) telling her that it was permission for his sister to travel with the child to visit their families in Ecuador. Ms. IH's sister-in-law took the little girl to Ecuador in late August. Once they arrived, Mr. H's mother picked them up at the airport but would not let Ms. IH's mother see her. A couple of weeks later, Mr. H traveled to Ecuador. Once there, he told Ms. IH that neither he nor the baby were going to come back.
She learned then that her child's father and the man she thought was her husband, was married to a woman in Ecuador, and that the papers she had signed actually gave sole custody of the child to Mr. H. Mr. H threatened that if Ms. IH made any legal move to get the child back, he would take the child and move to Spain, where his wife has a work permit and could get him into the country as her spouse.
Our HeLP lawyers asked Nelson Mullins for assistance with this international problem, and their immigration section volunteered their expertise. Fortunately, Ms. IH had a great deal of evidence that the US was the child's normal home: birth certificate, US Passport, copies of immunization records, video of birthday parties, etc. The team at Nelson Mullins filed a Hague Convention petition and a number of other pleadings here and found volunteer counsel in Ecuador. A judge here signed an order compelling the child's return.
The local counsel took the order to the court in Ecuador and the judge there domesticated the order, an action our State Department says is very unusual, almost unprecedented. The father tried twice to leave the country; however, Nelson Mullins had made the Spanish authorities aware of the issue, and Mr. H was not able to leave Ecuador with the child. The authorities in Ecuador were able to take the child away from Mr. H and his family, and then the Ecuadorian vice-consul personally escorted the child back to the US.
The State Bar of Georgia’s Family Law Section awarded the 2014 Jill Radwin Award for outstanding family law service to the indigent to ALAS attorney Brianne Erwin.
Brianne worked with us as an intern, then as a staff attorney in Cobb County before moving to the downtown office. Her focus now is on representing domestic violence victims in divorce and custody proceedings.
Brianne said, "I did not have the privilege of knowing Jill Radwin but after several of her friends and colleagues spoke to me, I learned that she was an amazing attorney and woman. Just from hearing them talk about her, I could feel the impact that she made on people and I felt so honored to be the recipient of this award."
Ms. MC is a participant in the Independent Care Waiver Program (ICWP) which allows people who need the level of care usually provided in a nursing home to live at home with community supports. She is unable to physically open her home’s door so she needed a door opening system, and sought what is called an "Open Sesame" keyless door entry system.
ALAS paralegal Monica Hood presented evidence concerning Ms. MC's medical and physical needs, as well as evidence about her care plan. This included evidence from a doctor (by telephone), her case manager, her personal care aid and the client herself. The impressive evidence Monica gathered and presented led the Administrative Law Judge to rule in the client’s favor. The evidence met every objection from the Department of Community Health (DCH) and presented a clear basis for the favorable decision. Monica also overcame DCH’s argument that the client had to show medical necessity to get the particular services. Without the ability to get needed services like this, it is nearly impossible for our severely disabled clients to live in community settings. Ms. MC is now able to open her home's door from her wheelchair.