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Little Known Fact - every dollar spent by the AIDS Legal Services Project generates over 10 times that amount in donated legal services. In 2010 alone, ALSP coordinated $1,350,000 in pro bono legal representation on everything from public benefit appeals to employment discrimination, debt relief and simple estate planning to asylum and healthcare privacy litigation. A $25 donation today will become $250 worth of legal services tomorrow.
Discrimination & Privacy News
Long-time volunteer attorney Jon Neustadter, partner at Hooper Lundy & Bookman, assisted by Associate Salvatore Zimmitti, reached a five figure settlement on behalf of an HIV+ woman whose privacy was breached by a County clinic. The client was suffering with carpal tunnel syndrome and needed her medical provider to fax information related to this condition to her employer. A County nurse carelessly wrote HIV+ on the healthcare records she then faxed to the patient's employer.
Unfortunately, all manner of providers including drug rehabilitation centers, in-home support services and medical clinics continue to carelessly and sometimes maliciously disclose confidential medical information, particularly patients' HIV status, to third parties with neither the consent nor knowledge of the patient.
Jon also settled a healthcare discrimination matter against a South Bay gynecologist who refused to treat a patient when he found out she was HIV+. The client had excessive vaginal bleeding and asked her medical provider for a referral to a gynecologist in her area who accepted Medi-Cal. She went to the referral doctor's office, completed the medical questionnaire and was put in an examining room. But when the doctor came in and looked at her file he told her he couldn't help her, had never had an HIV+ patient before, and she should go to a County clinic. She later found out she had ovarian cysts.
First-time volunteer attorney Ryan Lindsey, an Associate at the former Howrey law firm, reached a confidential settlement on an employment discrimination matter. The client worked for a large real estate company who harassed and then terminated him for excessive bathroom breaks - he was dealing with chronic diarrhea brought on by changes in his HIV medication.
We continue to get a number of interesting and compelling discrimination and privacy matters, particularly in employment and healthcare settings. Click here if you think you might be interested in hearing more about these cases.
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Virtual Discrimination Clinic
ALSP's legal services partner, HALSA suffered a huge financial blow over a year ago when they lost their state funding - nearly a third of their total budget. Consequently, several staff were laid off, including the Discrimination/Privacy attorney. For the first time in HALSA's history, there is no attorney on staff to assist the 50,000 HIV+ residents of Los Angeles County with discrimination and privacy concerns.
To try and bridge this enormous gap with volunteer resources, Seth Levy, HALSA Board member and Intellectual property partner at Davis Wright Tremaine, and John LeCrone the Chair of DWT's Employment Law Department agreed to have the firm's Employment group provide counsel and advice and write up case synopses for those cases that appeared to merit follow up representation. Manatt later joined the effort and we're still looking for other firms to partner with as well.
DWT attorneys who have assisted thus far are Betsy Carrroll, Aaron Colby, Ryan Derry, Emilio Gonzalez, Janet Grumer, Helen Ovsepyan, and Nicole Sandoz.
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As usual, a number of immigration matters were successfully resolved in 2010 thanks to the unflagging dedication of the immigration panel. Leading the pack with one of the longest running cases (seven years) is long-time pro bono attorney David Kussin's adjustment of status for an asylee from Nicaragua. The client had lived in the US since 1984. He was college educated and worked for Lockheed but became quite sick and disabled by AIDS. Unfortunately, he also had some fairly minor criminal convictions. These did not prevent him from being granted asylum, however it did delay, and almost derailed, his adjustment to Legal Permanent Residency. In the end, David had to call on his entire law office for help including attorneys, Yeu Hong, Berenice de la Parra, and Joel Yanovich, plus paralegals Jackie Hilton and Rosalba Barraza, to see the matter through when the Immigration Service was on the verge of denying the application.
The adjustment was finally approved and they were rewarded with an extremely heartfelt thank you from the client:
"As I am writing this email, I find myself as one of the happiest person on this earth at this moment. It has been a long time since I have experienced this overwhelming sense of joy, security and most importantly gratitude.
As you probably know by now, The Department of Homeland Security has found it appropriate to approve my application for permanent residence. Since my arrival at this country, I have constantly agonized about their decision, more so in light of my unfortunate medical predicament in the past 8 years. Yet God has been merciful with me and has granted me this opportunity which I have always desired. It is not by accident that our paths have crossed. this is a design of Providence to my benefit.
I have all of you to thank for this huge achievement in my life. I could have not have done this on my own. I know because i tried! The impact that this has in my life will be with me forever and your names, insignificant as this may sound, will be engraved in my every future achievement and accomplishment. I feel I have more reasons to live. I have no words to express my gratitude. You have always been professional. But most importantly, all of you have always been cordial, patient, compassionate, caring and sympathetic with my needs. May no one ever take from you the knowledge that you extended your hands to a man being in the dark; you helped me walk with aplomb when my peregrination was weak and with hope, when its light was fainting. Please send my regards and share my gratitude with all your colleagues and every person in your office who participated in one way or another to make this possible."
Long-time volunteer attorney Merrilee Snell, San Pedro sole practitioner quickly and efficiently, in just four months, assisted a long-time legal permanent resident to become a new US citizen – thanks to Merrilee the client passed the naturalization exam "with flying colors."
Lucy Avedissian, Pasadena sole practitioner assisted a client to become a legal permanent resident. Originally from Mexico, he lived in the US for 25 years and although his US citizen sisters wanted to petition him he couldn't overcome the inadmissibility bar because of his HIV status. When the HIV bar was finally lifted, he wound up adjusting his immigration status through his son who is now 21.
Ramsin Sheeno of Mansouri & Sheeno, took on two rather involving matters. The first was a NACARA (Nicaraguan & Central American Relief Act) case. The client was originally from Nicaragua and lived in the US since 1986. He qualified for relief. The problem was he didn't want to disclose his HIV status. So he didn't follow up with his immigration application and it was later denied. When Ramsin first accepted the matter it was months after the statutory deadline to file a Motion to Reopen. Nonetheless, he proceeded and after the Motion was pending for several years, it was finally approved along with the new application.
While this matter was ongoing, Ramsim took on another pro bono case on behalf of a 58 year old man with AIDS who was in removal proceedings. He had lived in the US since 1981 and had adult children who were US citizens. Years ago, he had an attorney helping him but the attorney was no longer in practice. When the client came to us he was being deported. Ramsin had to file the adjustment of status in court in addition to an HIV waiver since the matter started prior to the government lifting the HIV ban. Less than a year later, thanks to Ramsin, the client finally had his green card!
Long-time volunteer attorney Patricia McCabe, sole practitioner has done it again – this time receiving a $42,000 retroactive Social Security disability award on behalf of a 48 year old man who had multiple health issues. He had been a waiter for 25 years and living with HIV for 20 of those years, but he was now suffering with a host of medical conditions including severe fatigue, advanced kidney disease, Hepatitis B and chronic diarrhea.
Patty was also the recipient of the 2010 LACBA Benjamin Aranda Pro Bono Award for her work with the AIDS Legal Services Project. She was honored in recognition of her most recent service where she took on several last minute Social Security appeals when the HALSA Benefits Attorney resigned. But Patty's work with the ALSP spans nearly 20 years and includes not only her leadership on the former Barristers AIDS Legal Services Project Steering Committee, but also her willingness to assist some of our most colorful clients with pretty much any legal issue that comes up. In fact, on her ALSP volunteer application form from 1992 she wrote "I'll give anything a try once."
First time ALSP pro bono attorney, Tracy Jessner, Associate with Hooper Lundy & Bookman, successfully appealed a truly tragic Social Security disability denial on behalf a very sick client. The client is only 39 but looks decades older because of his multiple health conditions. In addition to having AIDS, he's been diagnosed with opportunistic infections including toxoplasmosis and meningitis. For years he worked as a painter but became so ill that he didn't provide the Social Security Administration with his medical and hospital records that were needed to determine his qualifications for benefits. Tracy was able to successfully appeal the denial without a hearing. In fact the SSA found he was disabled according to their guidelines all the way back to September 2002!
However, although the client legally worked and paid his Social Security taxes, he cannot collect benefits because he is now out of status. He's lived in the US for over 20 years and the only time he returned to his native Mexico was in 1996 to bury his wife after she passed away. His wife was a Legal Permanent Resident and petitioned her husband in 1992, unfortunately she died while his family petition was still pending and he was never able to successfully adjust his status. He's been working with an ALSP pro bono attorney to try and adjust now, but it looks like his only opportunity to legally immigrate is to wait for his teenage son, a US citizen, to become an adult and petition him. In the meantime, he can't collect his disability benefits unless he returns to Mexico.
AIDS Walk Fundraising Great 1st Time Success
An exuberant band of over a dozen walkers joined ALSP Project Director Laurie Aronoff and her family at the annual AIDS Walk Los Angeles last October. The ALSP team raised $11,000 which went a long way to make up for a chronic shortfall in funding.
The annual AIDS Walk has a 20+ history raising millions of dollars for AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA). APLA allows a number of smaller AIDS Service Organizations, including HALSA, to field their own teams and raise money for their individual organizations. The ALSP has worked collaboratively with HALSA for the past fourteen years. In 2010, ALSP fielded a joint team to specifically support the pro bono program, with all money raised going directly to the LACBA Project.
Notable walkers include pro bono attorney, Marc Bauer, Managing Associate at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, LLP who, along with Legal Secretary Anita Chou fielded a rousing Orrick team; Albert Giang partner at Caldwell, Leslie & Proctor, PC; Jamie Chanin, Associate at Jackson Lewis, LLP; Nancy Aspaturian Training Director at the Children's Law Center of LA, and Dee Hayashi, Senior Attorney at the California Appellate Project. - Nancy and Dee each raised over $1,000. The LACBA Barristers were also involved with President-Elect Sarah Luppen joining the walk herself and Vice-President Andy Dhadwal working behind the scenes to coordinate donations.
This year, the walk will be held on Sunday October 16th and the AIDS Walk infrastructure makes it incredibly easy to field a law firm or corporate team and raise money online amongst friends, colleagues and family. You can even use your Facebook page. Plus, it's FUN. ALSP's goal this year is to raise $20,000 – please join our effort. Click here to get more information.
We had a great group of advocates volunteering in-house to support HALSA's staff attorneys working on Benefits, Housing and Immigration issues. In Summer 2010, Zoe Ahearn, Amira Hasenbush, UCLA 1L, where she's also getting her MPH; Freyaan Karanja, UCLA 1L; Elizabeth Levy, MD, UC Irvine 1L all worked full-time and accomplished some amazing projects including drafting an entire program for HALSA's new Medical/Legal Partnership Pilot Project.
New Admittees Jenny Sinson and Steven Mannix provided invaluable support to the Immigration and Housing attorneys. We also had recent college grads Lauren Gleason and Marta Martinez as well as, Matt Powell, 3L at Loyola who wrote an amazing pro bono training manual on U-visas, Margaret Shikibu, 1L evening student at Southwestern, and Frederick Engell, also a 3L at Loyola who authored a pro per manual on asylum relief for immigrant detainees who are self-represented.
Special Thank You to LACBA Sections
Many thanks for the ongoing support of both the Health Law Section and Corporate Law Section for their generous end of the year donations to the AIDS Legal Services Project. Their respective $3,000 donations are essential in helping the ALSP provide direct legal services to hundreds of low-income HIV+ clients.
Putting the Fun in Fundraising
Look for info this fall on the first annual Monte Carlo/Poker Tournament fundraiser sponsored by the Los Angeles County Bar Foundation to support the Association's Public Interest programs, namely AIDS Legal Services Project, Barrister Domestic Violence Project and the Immigration Legal Assistance Project.
Save the Date for the National Pro Bono Week Celebration with Keynote Speaker UC Irvine Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky
October 26, 2011 12:00-2:00 at LACBA
Sponsored by the Southern California Pro Bono Managers Group. Look for registration information on the CLE calendar for the LACBA web page.