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Free Legal Help for Veterans and Their Families During November Rural Legal Clinics 

Texas Legal Services Center Press Release

In honor of Veterans Day and Texas Veterans Legal Aid Week, Texas Legal Services Center (TLSC) is inviting veterans to participate in our November Family Law Clinics normally held monthly at local public libraries, schools, and community centers in rural areas across the state.

Low-income veterans and their families needing help with financial relief, securing benefits, challenging discrimination, creating estate plans, and making family arrangements—like divorce and custody—are encouraged to register. 

Client Story: A Veteran Gets a Renewed Sense of Pride for Her Military Service 

Mary tried many options before reaching out to TLSC for assistance with her Military Discharge Upgrade request, including a self-petition, help from others, and even working with veterans’ agencies. Nothing worked. working with TLSC, she received an Honorable Discharge and is pursuing a career in government.

In January 2015, I was forcibly discharged from the Army after an unfounded investigation despite having an otherwise spotless MPR. My discharge character was listed as General Discharge under Honorable Conditions; however, the separation code of my DD-214 prevented me from obtaining a government position, working in civil service, and receiving state unemployment and education assistance. Since I was not prepared to leave my military career, I had not properly saved funds, gone job hunting, or otherwise prepared for life outside the military.

Every month, TLSC hosts virtual family law clinics in rural hubs across the state. Pre-Covid, the clinics were held in community spaces like public libraries or schools. We're still holding the monthly clinics; however, we now meet with clients over the phone during their appointment time.  

Legal Aid Clinics Serving Rural Communities Across Texas

Almost all of Texas Legal Services Center's programs serve clients remotely, making it easier to work with rural Texans. However, this particular project set out to give rural communities their own dedicated legal clinic.  

 

We looked at the distance from other legal aid clinics, poverty levels, median age, and population to decide which counties could be most served by a regular family law clinic. There are currently 17 clinics, but we expect to resume expansion plans post pandemic. Clinics typically take place at public libraries, schools, and community centers. 

In the Fight for Justice: Meet Sara

Staff Attorney Sara works with Texans 60 or over on the Legal Hotline for Texans. She speaks about Covid-19's impact on seniors, accessibility, how serving her clients feels like serving the country that gave much to her and her family.  

Serving clients over the phone is critical for accessibility. But with Covid-19, it proved especially important. Seniors are advised to stay home, and a hotline model lets them easily access our services. The hotline model also bypasses technologies that seniors may not be comfortable using. 

 

While I think a Zoom-based model or maybe even a LiveChat could work for serving some of our clients, the phone-based model has staying power. Some of our clients don't have email addresses or internet access. Phones are easier for most of our clients and lend peace of mind in a time when peace of mind is hard to come by.  

Stop TX Eviction Launches to Keep Renters Housed: Texas legal aid providers collaborate on one-stop-shop to support Texas renters

Texas Legal Services Center, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Lone Star Legal Aid, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas, and the Texas Access to Justice Foundation Joint Press Release

Millions of Texans are struggling to pay rent and facing possible evictions. Stop TX Eviction, a new online information portal, is a step-by-step guide to help tenants understand their legal rights and the remedies available to keep them housed.

 

Stop TX Eviction, a project of Texas’ primary legal aid providers, helps tenants understand their rights and the eviction process, locate rental assistance, and apply for free legal help.

Military Discharge Characterizations define which VA benefits veterans and their families receive. Access to these promised benefits is a matter of justice. Pro bono attorneys Maddison Riddick and Marcus Martinez worked with client Mr. U to right this wrong through a Military Discharge Upgrade. 

Vinson & Elkins Pro Bono Duo Challenge the Denial of a Veteran's Benefits

In January 2020, TLSC Managing Attorney Julian Honor provided a one-hour presentation entitled “Discharge Upgrades and Correction of Military Records” for international law firm Vinson & Elkins. Maddison Riddick and Marcus Martinez attended. 

"We sat next to each other at Julian's training session. We just looked at each other like, 'Hey, do you want to do one of these?'” reminisced Marcus. "It gave us a chance to work together when we otherwise might not have that opportunity.

Kirkland & Ellis Attorney Helps Low-Income Families Protect Generational Wealth

Our homes, land, and vehicles are many Americans' most significant investments. Yet frequently, low-income families don't have the means to transfer these properties effectively. Attorney Carlos Moran worked with two Texas families, creating a plan to ensure financial security for future generations. 

Transfer on Death Deeds (TODDs) are not well known outside poverty law — Carlos Moran, an Associate with Kirkland & Ellis, was unfamiliar with them too until recently. Through our organization's pro bono relationship with Kirkland & Ellis, Carlos is nearing completion of two Transfer on Death Deeds.  

Winston & Strawn Attorneys Join Our Fight Against Predatory Lending 

A multifaceted collaboration led to the successful settlement of a Federal Case against landlord/mortgage lender HMK. The settlement enables vulnerable people to escape the predatory loan conditions that jeopardized the security of their homes. 

In 2018, Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas and Texas Legal Services Center filed a federal lawsuit alleging the landlord/mortgage lender HMK violated a number of consumer protection laws, including the Truth in Lending Act. The lawsuit also claimed that HMK induced the plaintiffs, who are West Dallas residents, into signing illegal contracts containing predatory terms without their knowledge or the required disclosures from HMK.  

KERA — Public Radio of North Texas

An Ellis County Man's Lawsuit Brings Mental Health And Disability Training

After an incident where a disabled man was hospitalized following his arrest, the Ellis County Sheriff’s Department is expanding disability and mental health training for officers.

[...] "He said he had Huntington's disease and yet the deputies had no idea what that was or how to treat it,” Yang said. “In the end, that led directly to the fact that instead of trying to accommodate him or learn more about it, they ended up using force against him and arresting him."

CNBC

Can you be evicted during the pandemic? It depends on your ZIP code

Some landlords take advantage of the uncertainty to push tenants out of their homes, said Daphne McGee, a staff attorney at Texas Legal Services Center. One survey of 100 legal aid and civil rights attorneys across the country at the end of June found that more than 90% of respondents had reported illegal evictions in their area. 

“Tenants often don’t know that they have rights when it comes to evictions, even outside of a pandemic,” McGee said.

Making matters worse is the fact that less than 10% of renters facing eviction have a lawyer, compared to 90% of landlords. 

Evictions are expected to skyrocket as pandemic protections come to an end

CNBC

Baird’s case demonstrates why Congress needs to come up with a national solution to the impending eviction crisis in the U.S., said Keegan Warren-Clem, managing attorney at the Texas Legal Services Center. 


“Right now, eviction protections exist piecemeal, and stressed landlords may try to use state laws that are inconsistent with public health best practices to get around local laws that prioritize the public health,” Warren-Clem said. 

How One Man’s Disturbing Arrest Is Improving The Ellis County Sheriff’s Department

Texas Standard 

Ellis County Sheriff’s Officers threw Ruben Solis to the ground and arrested him in 2018 after interpreting his behavior as drunk and disorderly. Solis is an elderly Waxahachie man with Huntington’s Disease — a brain disorder which affects his movement, intellectual abilities, and emotions. Solis sued the department — alleging police brutality and discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But he recently dropped his lawsuit and reached an agreement with the county which is intended to improve safety for people with disabilities. 

Ellis County Resident with Huntington's Disease Dismisses Federal Police Brutality Case After Sheriff Agrees to Sweeping Change in Settlement

Texas Legal Services Center Press Release

Attorneys with Texas Legal Services Center (TLSC) filed a motion to dismiss a client's federal lawsuit against the Ellis County Sheriff after the Sheriff agreed to new training requirements, policies, and certifications so that deputies can better identify, interact with, and accommodate people who have disabilities. The lawsuit was filed in 2019 on behalf of Ruben Solis, an elderly man with Huntington's disease, in the United States District Court for the Northern District, Dallas Division, alleging police brutality and discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Sheriff’s deputies beat Mr. Solis and falsely charged him with public intoxication after he called for assistance. 

A gap in federal unemployment benefits is now unavoidable. Here’s why.

Politico

In Texas, it can still be difficult to just file a claim, said Karen Miller, executive director of the Texas Legal Services Center. Just this week, one of her clients called from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m., every thirty minutes. That person was never able to get through, she said. Miller also said many of the low-income workers she advises don’t have access to a computer, and have trouble applying through their phones. Before, she’d send the workers to public libraries, but they are now closed due to the coronavirus. The timing of the lapse in the $600 federal payment couldn’t be worse, she said, as it coincides with the moratoriums on eviction expiring.

Client Story: A Mother with Limited Income Receives Pro Se Assistance

While searching for divorce help online, Ruth met a TLSC attorney who supported her throughout the legal process. 

As an unemployed mother with no savings due to my status as a homemaker for over fourteen years, I had no funds to hire an attorney after I separated from my then-husband. He had agreed to work amicably with me when I served him with a petition for divorce and even said we would not need attorney involvement. After weeks of giving me the runaround, I received a letter from an attorney stating that she had been retained as his counsel. I was obviously hurt and frustrated. Thankfully, I found TLSC during an online search and hoped that I could get some help through a chat session on their site TexasLawHelp.org. I was surprised when one of the attorneys engaged in a long chat with me and expressed support after I gave him all the details.

Maria talks about the courage of her clients, how COVID-19 is impacting victims, and the importance of trauma-informed care.

In the Fight for Justice: Meet Maria

Meet Maria, an Intake Specialist in our Crime Victims Litigation Program. When a victim calls seeking help, Maria's is the first voice they hear. Her patience, calm demeanor, and compassion are reassuring and a momentary refuge for those in crisis. ​

On the courage of victims seeking help

Even though callers are in crisis, there is something to celebrate — they are getting help. It takes a lot of courage on their part to make that first call. Knowing that I'm a part of their journey forward fills me with great satisfaction and gratitude. 

TexasLawHelp.org: Responding to Legal Needs Caused by COVID-19

At the onset of the pandemic, legal aid leaders convened to organize and coordinate a statewide effort to help low-income Texans with COVID-19 related legal issues. They needed a centralized location to house the information, and they chose TexasLawHelp.org. 

TexasLawHelp.org is a website that offers legal forms, FAQ’s, a legal help directory, and myriad resources needed to represent oneself within the court system — all for free. Texas Legal Services Center manages the site, and many of our legal aid partners regularly contribute new information and content.

Texas Legal Aid Providers Ready to Assist Low-Income Renters and Borrowers During Coronavirus Pandemic

Texas Legal Services Center, Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, Lone Star Legal Aid, and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas Joint Press Release

Last week the Texas Supreme Court extended the statewide eviction moratorium to promote safety and prevent homelessness. This order extends the moratorium on eviction hearings until May 18 and prohibits orders authorizing actual eviction until May 25, with exceptions for imminent threats of physical harm and criminal activity. Several Texas counties have extended these deadlines even later than the statewide order.

Case Alleging Lending Violations Moves Closer to Being Heard by Jury

Texas Legal Services Center and Legal Aid of NorthWest Texas Joint Press Release

A federal judge issued a ruling today ensuring that West Dallas homeowners will have a trial on whether a lender violated numerous consumer protection laws. In denying HMK Mortgage, LLC’s motion for summary judgment, Judge Brantley Starr removed the last barrier to a jury hearing the plaintiffs’ claims in a lawsuit filed nearly two years ago. The trial is set for late June.

Texas Tribune and ProPublica

Texas regulators vote to ban residential utility shut-offs during pandemic while buoying companies

The Texas Public Utility Commission voted Thursday to ban utilities from cutting off power and water services to Texans who have lost jobs and income during the COVID-19 crisis for at least the next six months.

But while it provides immediate relief to Texans worried about keeping their lights on and taps running as they face layoffs and blunted incomes, the order that the three-member commission approved unanimously does not provide direct assistance to utility customers, who will still be on the hook for their bills.

Coronavirus: Public Utilities Commission Of Texas Approves Order To Temporarily Suspend Utility Shutoffs

CBS DFW

Thousands of residential customers unable to pay their utility bills can expect some short-term relief.

The Public Utilities Commission of Texas approved an order Thursday suspending disconnections for water, electric and sewer services for at least the next six months, according to spokesman Andrew Barlow.

Victory for Low-income Texans: No Utility Cutoffs per Public Utility Commission Order 

Texas Legal Services Center Press Release

The Public Utility Commission (PUC) of Texas orders that no electric, water, and sewer service be shut off because of nonpayment during the COVID-19 threat. It requires retail electric providers to offer deferred payments to customers who request it. Customers will need to contact the company to be referred to the COVID-19 Electricity Relief Program. 

Dallas Morning News

Consumer advocates pressure Texas to halt use shutoffs during COVID-19 outbreak

Advocacy groups are pressuring the state’s utility regulator to suspend water, phone and electricity shutoffs during the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak as workers face furloughs and layoffs.

After the Texas Supreme Court halted eviction proceedings last week, the Texas Legal Services Center and six other groups petitioned the Texas Public Utility Commission to stop providers from shutting off water, phone and electricity services.

Texas Nonprofits Call On Public Utilities Commission to Halt Utility Shutoffs During COVID-19 Crisis

Texas Legal Services Center Press Release

Texas Legal Services Center (TLSC), Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, Lone Star Legal Aid, People's Community Clinic, Texas Health Action, Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid (TRLA) and Disability Rights Texas (DRTx) submitted a joint petition to the Public Utility Commission of Texas requesting that there be no utility shutoffs for nonpayment during the COVID-19 crisis. 

No Disruption in Client Services Due to COVID-19

Karen Miller, Executive Director of Texas Legal Services Center

In response to the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) situation, all our team members are working remotely. However, our clients will experience minimal disruption in service.

 

We're able to do this because we deliver legal assistance through helplines, LiveChat, phone, and email correspondence. Our organization has always used remote delivery methods so we can reach some of Texas' most vulnerable populations—including those who are homebound or living in rural areas. Therefore, we don't expect clients to experience any significant changes with our level of service.

In the Fight for Justice: Meet Wesley

Wesley talks about establishing a new Medical-Legal Partnership, a case that really stuck with them, and finding inspiration in their clients.

Meet Wesley, an amazingly warmhearted staff attorney with our Medical-Legal Partnerships. Our Medical-Legal Partnerships embed Texas Legal Services Center attorneys within healthcare teams to detect, address, and prevent health-harming legal needs of individuals and communities. Wesley works with patients at the Kind Clinic—an Austin healthcare center that provides sexual health services including PrEP and PEP access, STI testing and treatment, HIV testing, and gender-affirming care to Central Texans in need. 

Ann talks about projects that have stuck with her, her career path, and how she prevents burnout.

In the Fight for Justice: Meet Ann

Meet Ann, a powerhouse staff attorney on our Impact Litigation Team. Impact Litigation uses direct representation to strategically address a legal or social issue and effect systemic change for the better. Our current cases run the gamut—from consumer law and discrimination to police brutality and Title IX issues.

Client Story: A Second Chance for a Young Mother

A Letter from Texas Legal Services Center Client: Taylor

My name is Taylor; I am 27 with two handsome boys. I was in my last semester in college when I reached out to Texas Legal Services Center. Getting my background expunged was something I always wanted to do, I just didn’t have the money to hire a lawyer and pay for the cost to get it removed. One night I was up just thinking about my future and career, and I didn’t want my record to hinder me from getting the job that I dreamed of. I googled the courthouse down here in Beaumont, Texas, and somehow it led me to TLSC website. I scrolled through the website, and I saw that I could be eligible to get my record expunged or an order of nondisclosure.

Coming Together to Serve Survivors of Sexual Assault

A Texas Legal Services Center Program: LASSA

We assist with a wide range of issues such as safety, privacy, protective orders, housing, employment, immigration, education, divorce, custody, crime victims' compensation, and navigating the criminal justice system as a survivor. After we conduct the intake, we discuss legal options and rights. We provide legal advice, and, at the client's request, conduct services such as contacting law enforcement to determine the status of the criminal investigation or writing a letter to a landlord to help a client terminate a lease. If the client is in need of more extensive services or it makes sense for us to refer outside of Texas Legal Services Center, we make a referral to the appropriate network partner through a warm handoff. We also conduct safety planning with clients and can connect them with supportive services such as crisis centers, shelters, mental health support, and food assistance.

A Letter from Karen: Holiday Wishes

Karen Miller, Executive Director of Texas Legal Services Center

Seven out of every ten low-income households have experienced at least one civil legal problem in the past year. And 70% of low-income Americans describe their civil legal problems as affecting their lives 'very much' or 'severely.' 

We're working to change that.

With over a dozen programs offering free legal services across the state, our work touches almost every area of civil law that impacts low-income Texans. We help victims of violent crimes obtain protective orders, host gender-affirming legal clinics, work with veterans and their families to obtain benefits, educate our clients on their rights as parents, and so much more.

Client Story: Safeguarding the Financial Future of a Vietnam Veteran's Widow

A Letter from Texas Legal Services Center Client: Miguel

My mother's joint bank account was wrongfully garnished by a private creditor in an amount of just under twenty-two thousand dollars, just two weeks after my father passed away. The bank account contained my father's VA and SSI benefits (he was a Veteran of the Vietnam War). It was already a very stressful period for my family with my father recently passing and it was made even more stressful with the garnishment.

After weeks of many letters and phone calls to the bank, the creditor, the creditor's attorney, the bank’s attorney, the courts and other potential attorneys, we felt helpless and at a point where it seemed nothing was getting resolved for us. The attorneys we contacted for assistance were either non-responsive or wanted a large retainer fee and percentage of the returned dollars in order to help us. It truly felt as if the cards were totally stacked against us.

New State Law Will Soon Stop Debt Collectors from Harassing You Over Old Debts

CBS | Austin

Tim Gasaway mostly helps veterans get their benefits in his work at Texas Legal Services Center, where he is the managing attorney of the Veterans Legal Assistance unit. But he heard a lot of complaints about "zombie debts" from his clients. "It's very, very important, very stressful for these people," he said. "Oftentimes you will talk to a consumer who had a credit card debt 10 years ago."

The statute of limitations on a debt in Texas is four years. That means you can't be sued for it after that. But there's a loophole. "The out is they will contact a consumer who has one of these debts and cajole them into making a payment or affirming the debt," Gasaway said. That re-starts the clock -- and those debt collectors, who often have bought those old debts for pennies on the dollar -- are just trying to trick you so they can sue you.

New State Law Will Soon Stop Debt Collectors from Harassing You Over Old Debts

CBS | Austin

Tim Gasaway mostly helps veterans get their benefits in his work at Texas Legal Services Center, where he is the managing attorney of the Veterans Legal Assistance unit. But he heard a lot of complaints about "zombie debts" from his clients. "It's very, very important, very stressful for these people," he said. "Oftentimes you will talk to a consumer who had a credit card debt 10 years ago."

The statute of limitations on a debt in Texas is four years. That means you can't be sued for it after that. But there's a loophole. "The out is they will contact a consumer who has one of these debts and cajole them into making a payment or affirming the debt," Gasaway said. That re-starts the clock -- and those debt collectors, who often have bought those old debts for pennies on the dollar -- are just trying to trick you so they can sue you.

Waxahachie resident brings civil action lawsuit against Ellis County Sheriff’s Office

Waxahachie Daily Light

On Thursday, Nov. 29, Solis filed a civil action lawsuit with the United States District Court, Northern District of Texas – Dallas Division against the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office for violating his rights under the Rehabilitation Act and the American Disabilities Act.

According to court documents obtained by the Daily Light, the ECSO failed to properly prepare its deputies for reasonable accommodation, interaction and transportation of people with disabilities in their custody, which caused injury and trauma to Solis.

Solis seeks compensatory damages under the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA, equitable relief and attorneys’ fees, and costs and litigation expenses from the ECSO. He is represented by attorney Wayne Krause Yang and local counsel, Eliot Shavin of Dallas.

A man with Huntington’s called police for a safe ride home. He ended up in a hospital

Fort Worth Star-Telegram

“As Mr. Solis struggled to retrieve his identification from his pocket with hands that spasm, he told the (deputies) that he suffers from Huntington’s disease. It was obvious to them that (Solis) did not have good control over his hands as he attempted to reach into his pocket,” the suit states.

Solis’s lawyer, Wayne Krause Yang, said the deputies reacted with anger to Solis’s symptoms and his disability.

Solis says in the suit the officers started to question him antagonistically, argued with him and ignored his explanation of his disease. Solis started to walk away and “attempted to get a little space from the (deputies).”

Wall Street Journal

AT&T Overpaid Some Pensioners. Now It Wants the Money Back.

PHOTO: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg News

Managing Attorney Roger Curme with the South Central Pension Rights Project commented in a Wall Street Journal article by Theo Francis detailing the tactics used by AT&T to reclaim awarded pension funds to former employees. Mr. Curme represented a client battling credit collection agencies after AT&T and Fidelity Investments attempted to rescind payments.

 

For press inquiries, contact: 

Meghan Lee, Communications

512-477-6000 x214 | mlee@tlsc.org

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