COVID-19 Legal Aid Success Stories:
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE – PROTECTING FAMILIES
Kelly* endured years of abuse at the hands of her boyfriend. He berated her, beat her and choked her. In the fall of 2019, when she was several months pregnant with their child, he threatened her life, and she ended the relationship. In April, the child’s father asked to deliver a gift. As soon as he arrived, he snatched the child and fled. He refused to answer Kelly’s phone calls or respond to any of her attempts to contact him. She called the police and was told they could not do anything without a restraining order from the court. With the help of a civil legal aid attorney, Kelly was able to obtain a temporary restraining order, and her baby was safely returned.
*Client name changed to protect privacy.
Alan* is a disabled veteran who was fighting to help his grandson, Kyle. Alan’s goal was to adopt Kyle to provide him with a safe, stable, and loving home. Unfortunately, Kyle’s parents were not fit to care for him. His mother was an addict, and his father was in prison. At first, Kyle’s mother agreed to let Kyle live with Alan, but Kyle’s father did not. A legal service provider quickly assigned a volunteer attorney from their pro bono panel to help Alan in court. The attorney was able to prove that Alan met all the requirements for adoption. Alan was able to adopt his grandson with consent by both parents. Kyle is now in a loving, stable, forever home with his grandfather.
*Client name changed to protect privacy.
CONSUMER HEALTH AND PROTECTION
Leonard* left the army after serving our country for many years. Upon returning home, he struggled with PTSD, depression, and other medical issues that stemmed from his time abroad. Despite his problems, Leonard built a great life with a full-time job. His health began to fail causing him to lose his job and become homeless, sleeping in shelters and under overpasses. Leonard was referred to a legal service provider where he was finally able to get the help he needed for his disabilities. Due to the efforts of a civil legal aid attorney, Leonard is now in a house for homeless veterans and has the economic support to permanently end his homelessness.
*Client name changed to protect privacy.
UNFAIR EVICTION – PROTECTING RESIDENTS
When Civil District Court judges halted all residential evictions due to the pandemic, sanitation worker John* found himself locked out of his apartment for paying his rent four days late because his landlady refused to comply. She received a flood of phone calls, including from staff at the Mayor’s Office who heard about it on social media. After working with a civil legal aid attorney who filed a petition on John’s behalf, the judge ruled the eviction unlawful and ordered the landlady to allow him entry. Soon after, John had a shiny brass key in his hand. This time, thanks to his civil legal aid lawyer, the door opened.
*Client name changed to protect privacy.
Unfair Eviction – Protecting Homes
Although Orleans Civil District Court judges halted all residential evictions due to the pandemic, sanitation worker John Parker* found himself locked out of his apartment for paying his rent four days late. His landlady refused to comply. She received a flood of phone calls, including staff from the Mayor’s Office who heard about it on social media. After working with a Southeast Louisiana Legal Services attorney who filed a petition on Parker’s behalf, the judge ruled the eviction unlawful and ordered the landlady to allow him entry. Soon after, Parker had a shiny, brass key in his hand. This time, thanks to his legal aid lawyer, the door opened.
Domestic Violence – Protecting Families
Kelly Smith* endured years of abuse at the hands of her boyfriend. He berated her, beat her, and choked her. In the fall of 2019, when she was several months pregnant with their child, he threatened to kill her. In fear for her life, she finally broke of the relationship. She believed it was important for her child to have a relationship with his father, so she allowed him to have limited visitation.
In April, with the stay at home order still in place, the child’s father asked to deliver a gift to the child. As soon as he arrived, he snatched the child and fled. He refused to answer her phone calls or respond to any of her attempts to contact him. She called the police and was told they could not do anything without a restraining order from the court. With the help of a SLLS legal aid attorney, Kelly was able to obtain a temporary restraining order and her baby was safely returned to her.
Unemployment – Protecting Benefits
After spending months balancing several part-time jobs, Sharon Wise* was excited to start a new full-time job in January 2020. She was relieved that she would finally be earning enough money to meet her family’s monthly expenses. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit our state. In April 2020, Sharon was laid off.
She immediately applied for unemployment benefits hoping they would provide enough income to stabilize her family until she could get back to work. Weeks passed without any word on the status of her application. When she checked her application status online, she was shocked to find she had been disqualified. She was unable to resolve the problem and sought the help of a SLLS legal aid attorney. Within two days, the Unemployment Office removed Sharon’s disqualification and approved her for unemployment benefits.
Alisha and AJ from LaCombe
Southeast Louisiana Legal Services, Child Custody
Robert L. Bunting from Thibodaux
Tony Holcomb from Minden
Wilma Reed from Sunshine
Elizabeth Mahoney from Violet
In a perfect world, children live in safe, nurturing environments. But our world is not perfect. It is a harsh reality that child abuse occurs all too frequently. According to national statistics, one out of four girls and one out of six boys will be sexually abused as a child. Too often these young victims are further traumatized by the very system designed to help them. The Louisiana Bar Foundation (LBF) supports programs that work to help child victims and their families begin to heal, while preventing further victimization. The LBF grantee, the Baton Rouge Children’s Advocacy Center’s (BRCAC) mission is to lessen the trauma experienced by child victims when abuse allegations are investigated, and to provide support during any subsequent proceedings within the criminal justice system.
Sara, a BRCAC client, was just five when she was sexually abused by a male family member. She felt guilt and shame and she believed that what had happened to her was her fault. At 15 her mother said she was exhibiting behavior that was taking her down a destructive path and she feared for Sara’s safety. Sara was regularly running away from home, was sexually active, and had a terrible relationship with her mother. “When Sara and her mother came through the doors at the BRCAC for the first time, I thought, this was not going to be easy. I could just see the anger on both of their faces,” said LaTonia Dunbar, BRCAC Family Advocate.
After several counseling sessions with LaTonia, Sara began to realize that her life was headed down a dangerous road and that her destructive actions were directly related to the sexual abuse she endured as a child. The healing process began and although Sara had a long road ahead of her, she was willing to work through her issues and realized that it wasn’t her fault. She had some obstacles along the way including older members of her family who discouraged her. They called her a drama queen and diminished her abuse. After meeting with BRCAC, these same family members realized the seriousness of the situation and then gave Sara the support she needed to move forward.
Today Sara is a much happier 16-year-old with plans for a bright future possibly in the medical field. “The last time Sara and her mother were in my office they were laughing and talking together like a family should,” said LaTonia.
“Now that Sara has the confidence and family support she was lacking, we will be taking her abuser to court to get the justice she deserves. We will be by her side throughout the entire process to lessen the trauma Sara may experience when the abuse allegations are investigated. We will provide support during any subsequent proceedings within the criminal justice system,” said LaTonia.
In 2009, more than 37,000 child abuse cases were reported and 40 Louisiana children died as a result of abuse or neglect in Louisiana. This year the LBF granted more than $1.8 million to children’s legal services programs to help provide legal assistance to needy children in areas of law which affect their safety, well-being, and future development. For a complete list of programs go to www.raisingthebar.org.
Statistics in this story were found in the following report. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2010). Child Maltreatment 2009. Available from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/index.htm#can.
Every Child Counts
Children are the most vulnerable members of our society. In Louisiana, far too many children live in poverty or encounter some sort of abuse or neglect. The Louisiana Bar Foundation recognizes this and is committed to helping these children. The LBF works hard to help as many as possible receive the most help possible, through our grants program. Here are just a few examples.
Eric, an Orleans Parish deaf student, was expelled from school because of behavior problems directly related to a disability. The Advocacy Center, an LBF grantee, requested an Individualized Education Planning meeting on Eric’s behalf. Through that process, his parents were able to secure an appropriate educational plan for him. With his communication and behavioral needs being properly addressed, Eric is flourishing in his new school and receiving the education he deserves.
During a school presentation on abuse and neglect prevention, Sally became visibly upset and was immediately taken to the counselor’s office, where she revealed sexual abuse by a family friend. After reporting the situation to the Department of Children and Family Services, she was brought to the Baton Rouge Children’s Advocacy Center. During a forensic interview, she disclosed the extent of the abuse. The police department was alerted and the abuser was arrested. The Baton Rouge Children’s Advocacy Center and the Children’s Advocacy Centers of Louisiana, both LBF grantees, help kids like Sally every day. These organizations work with child protective services, law enforcement, prosecutors, and medical examiners to coordinate interviews in one location to minimize the child’s trauma. They provide comprehensive services in a manner that is child focused, supportive, and responsive.
Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, an LBF grantee, works to transform the juvenile justice system into one that builds on the strengths of young people, families, and communities to ensure children are given the greatest opportunities to grow and thrive.
Another LBF grantee, Juvenile Regional Services, works to help youth and their families, and to stop recidivism by meeting the underlying needs that can drive youth into the juvenile justice system.
The Wellspring’s Supervised Visitation Program provides safe and appropriate visitation between parents and their children in cases referred by the court system due to domestic violence, allegations of child abuse or neglect, parents with mental health problems, parents with alcohol or drug problems, and highly confidential divorce cases.
The Youth Service Bureau of St. Tammany provides advocacy, counseling, education, and intervention to help at-risk youth and their families reach their full potential. It operates six programs that help families learn to function in a healthy, safe, loving manner, free of the abuse and neglect that leads to serious adolescent behavioral challenges and juvenile delinquency.
Every year the LBF Grants Committee goes through a review process. Many grant applicants are organizations that help kids like Eric and Sally. This year, the LBF granted more than 1.9 million dollars to Louisiana programs that provide free legal assistance to needy children in areas of law that affect their safety, well-being, and future development. I am proud to say that the LBF is dedicated to making sure that every child counts.
Breaking the Cycle of Violence
Do you know a woman who has been abused? The answer likely is “yes,” even if you are not aware of it. That is because one out of every four women will experience some sort of physical abuse in her lifetime. 1 This could be your mother, your sister, your daughter, your friend. Domestic violence cuts across all socioeconomic lines, races, and ages. In a single day in 2011, 948 victims were served by a Louisiana domestic violence program. 2 Natalie, a domestic violence survivor, tells a story that is typical of victims. “I got into a relationship with someone despite a lot of red flags. The relationship started off well. Over time, he started to yell at me, and eventually he hit me,” said Natalie. When Natalie tried to leave her boyfriend, he pulled out a knife and cut her. He told her he would kill her.
Natalie sought help at The Wellspring Family Justice Center, a Louisiana Bar Foundation (LBF) funded organization. “When Natalie came to us she was being emotionally and physically assaulted by her boyfriend. He isolated her from her friends and family members,” said Valerie Bowman, Director of The Wellspring Domestic Violence Program.
The Wellspring’s case managers helped Natalie obtain a temporary restraining order against her abuser. They were with her throughout the entire process and accompanied her to court for moral support and to help her understand the legal process. She stayed in the shelter temporarily and she still receives counseling with them today. Her abuser was arrested and pled guilty for the attack.
Natalie graduated in December with her degree in social work. She regularly volunteers at The Wellspring and speaks to the public in support of the organization. “I am now sharing my story so I can help others,” said Natalie.
The Wellspring, located in Monroe, has been a source of help and hope for individuals, families, and communities throughout Northeast Louisiana since 1931. Its mission is to strengthen and value the family through direct service, education, advocacy, and women’s leadership.
The LBF is dedicated to helping protect families, empower victims and break the cycle of violence in Louisiana. According to 2010 statistics provided by our grantees, LBF funding was able to help over 10,000 women and 5,000 children in Louisiana obtain safety from their abusers. I am proud to report that this year the LBF awarded more than $320,000 in grants to domestic violence agencies across the state. LBF funded domestic violence centers provide legal services for women and children to help them feel, and be, safe again.
1 Tjaden, Patricia & Thoennes, Nancy. National Institute of Justice and the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, “Extent, Nature and Consequences of Intimate Partner Violence: Findings from the National Violence Against Women Survey,” (2000).
2 http://nnedv.org/docs/Census/DVCounts2011/DVCounts11_StateSummary_LA.pdf (last visited 5/1/12)
The morning of February 21, 1997, started out like any other day for Jacob but ended in a broken family. Jacob was just 13 when his father suffered a life changing injury on the job. While moving heavy machinery he suffered a severe back injury. After multiple surgeries, he was left in chronic pain and was unable to return to his job. The family suddenly faced financial hardship.
Jacob’s parents were forced to cash in their savings and the kids’ college funds to pay bills. Jacob’s mom had to go back to work. “I remember having to rely on church to help provide school supplies for me and my sisters,” said Jacob. Eventually, things became so difficult that his parents divorced.
From a very young age, Jacob knew that he wanted a career in public service. He was also aware of the importance of a good education. “When I was in high school, I became hyper-sensitive and worried about how I was going to pay for college,” said Jacob “I knew that I would have to handle those costs on my own.”
Louisiana Bar Foundation (LBF) launched a local chapter of the National Kids’ Chance Program when Jacob was a junior at LSU. LBF’s Kids’ Chance Program provides scholarships to children of Louisiana workers who have been killed or permanently and totally disabled in an accident compensable under a state or federal Workers’ Compensation Act or law. In 2004, Jacob applied and was awarded one of the first scholarships. “I was grateful to the LBF for the huge role they played in helping me get through school,” said Jacob.
In 2006 Jacob graduated from LSU with dual degrees in Mass Communications and Animal Science. Initially, Jacob worked for Teach for America in New York, Hawaii, and Seattle. He moved back to Louisiana with his wife and son and currently serves as Special Advisor to the Superintendent at Jefferson Parish Public Schools.
Today Jacob is an active member of the Kids’ Chance Committee and speaks on behalf of the program. His sister Sara is a current Kids’ Chance scholarship recipient. “The vast majority of people do not understand what a child goes through when a parent is killed or injured. In addition to the emotional trauma, too often kids have to carry the financial burden. LBF Kids’ Chance recognizes this challenge and helps kids achieve their goals,” states Jacob.
Since 2004, the LBF Kids’ Chance program has awarded 156 scholarships totaling $277,600. The program is governed by a committee representing a cross-section of the state’s legal and workers compensation communities.
A woman went to Chez Hope for help getting a restraining order because her husband had been abusing her for some time. Her husband had their girls, ages four and five, for the weekend. When the woman went to pick them up, he shot at the car she was in, missed and ran away. Chez Hope gave her shelter and kept her family safe for three weeks until her husband was captured. Chez Hope has helped her find the strength within herself to break free and start a life free from violence.
A woman came to Faith House very distraught. Her husband had encouraged her to visit her family in a foreign country and while she was away, he contacted her to let her know he had filed for divorce, filed for custody of their only child, who had stayed with him while she visited her family and had filed for a restraining order. He told her to stay in her country.
The woman had lived in the United States for six years, but her husband would not allow her to actively learn English, and he would not allow her to teach their child the language of her country. He also forced her to work in his business, but never paid her and did not allow her to access any household money, shop for her own clothes or anything for their child. He was verbally and physically abusive to her and their son.
When she came back to the United Stated, he would not let her in the house or see their child. He did arrange for her to stay with a neighbor for a few days. After that she had no place to go and was brought to Faith House.
Faith House advocated for and received a free attorney for the Restraining Order that was filed against her, addressed visitation so the child could visit his mother in the shelter and secured an attorney to represent her at a greatly reduced fee. Three months later, joint custody was ordered, child support, spousal support and a restraining order is in place. With the assistance of the Faith House Legal Advocate, the woman is learning to speak English, drive and is working on her GED. Soon, she will be living on her own.
IPNO – Innocence Project New Orleans
Dan was convicted of a murder and robbery that took place outside of a bar in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. His trial lawyer did little to investigation the case. It later emerged that the FBI had been in possession of the name of the real killer all along. Despite the Freedom of Information Act, requests that this information be released were declined by the government. Finally the identity of the real killer together with other evidence was presented and Dan’s conviction was reversed by the Supreme court of Louisiana and he was released.
SLLS- Southeast Louisiana Legal Services
Ms. G, an elderly disabled homeowner in the Hollygrove area of New Orleans, whose home was destroyed by Katrina, was ready to close on her rebuilding grant when she discovered unbeknownst to her that her home had been sold at a tax sale for unpaid taxes a few years ago. Her husband had handled the money but is now deceased. SLLS negotiated with the tax purchaser and got them to knock $20,000 from the redemption price. Ms. G. was able to get her property back and is almost finished rebuilding. SLLS was also able to help her obtain an extension for the FEMA trailer long enough to finish the heating and electrical work in her home.
Four years after Beth fled her abusive husband, she was still stalked by him. Beth’s husband located her home, forced entry, destroyed her furniture, punched holes in the wall and refused to leave. Legal aid attorneys put an end to this nightmarish terror by helping Beth obtain a permanent injunction, divorce, and sole custody of her child.
Eric, a deaf student, was expelled from school because of behavior problems directly related to a disability. Legal aid attorneys requested an Individualized Education Planning meeting on Eric’s behalf. Through that process, his parents were able to secure an appropriate educational plan for him. With his communication and behavioral needs being properly addressed, Eric is flourishing in his new school and receiving the education he deserves.
Earl, an elderly Section 8 tenant, was taken advantage of by his landlord who wrongfully overcharged his rent for 5 years. Nonetheless, the landlord refused to reimburse Earl. Legal aid attorneys helped Earl obtain $2,450 in rent refunds from his landlord.
Vanessa went to Chez Hope, an LBF grantee, for help getting a restraining order because her husband had been abusing her. He had their girls, ages four and five, for the weekend and when Vanessa picked them up, he shot at her car, missed and ran away. Chez Hope gave Vanessa and her girls shelter and kept them safe for three weeks until her husband was captured. Chez Hope has helped her find the strength within herself to break free and start a life free from violence.
During a school presentation on abuse and neglect prevention, Sally became visibly upset and was immediately taken to the counselor’s office, where she revealed sexual abuse by a family friend. After reporting the situation to the Department of Children and Family Services, she was brought to LBF grantee, Baton Rouge Children’s Advocacy Center, where she was assigned a legal aid attorney. The attorney worked with child protective services, law enforcement, prosecutors, and medical examiners to coordinate interviews in one location to minimize the child’s trauma.