Click here to make a donation to the AIDS Legal Services Project
The AIDS Legal Services Project (ALSP) has directed its resources to assisting low-income people living with HIV disease almost from the very beginning of the HIV epidemic. Since it was founded in 1986 by the LACBA Barristers, the Project has provided direct one-on-one pro bono legal representation to thousands of people living with HIV and AIDS who have an HIV related legal problem.
With the help of highly motivated pro bono attorneys who have been with the project since its inception, ALSP has established a reputation for handling some of the most sophisticated legal issues including asylum based on HIV status, employment discrimination, COBRA and ERISA and housing foreclosures.
The ALSP focuses on core HIV related legal services:
- Estate planning (wills, powers of attorney and healthcare directives);
- Debt relief (including creditor harassment and student loan defaults but generally NOT response to summons if the person is being sued in court);
- Insurance (health, life and disability terminations and overpayments)
- Employment (HIV discrimination, FMLA leave, ADA accommodations)
- HIV Discrimination in healthcare and public access; and
- Breaches of HIV confidentiality.
If you have questions, please call Laurie Aronoff, ALSP Project Director at (213) 833-6776.
For people in need of assistance, please call our new collaborative partner, the Los Angeles HIV Law & Policy Project (LA HLPP) at (855) 259-4364 where bilingual, trained advocates will provide a confidential intake. Matters that are appropriate for the ALSP will be referred to the Project Director for follow up assistance.
To volunteer, please complete this online form.
Thank you for your interest in volunteering for the AIDS Legal Services Project! But in order to volunteer, you also need to be a LACBA member. Our programs rely completely on your support—both financially and in pro bono hours—to provide vital legal services. Your LACBA membership enables us to continue to provide these critical, and in some cases, lifesaving services. So if you aren't already a member, apply online at www.lacba.org/join or contact LACBA's Member Services Department at firstname.lastname@example.org or (213) 896-6560.
Law students, please send a resume and cover letter to email@example.com.
Or for more information, please contact Laurie Aronoff, AIDS Legal Services Project Director, at (213) 833-6776 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pro Bono Attorney Tracy Jessner's work with the ALSP
"Lucas" was a 56-year-old gay African-American man who was single and had no children. He was estranged from his family and had a few close friends. He worked as a word processing supervisor for over 10 years for a large law firm until he became ill with AIDS several years ago. Lucas reached out to the ALSP when his long-term disability carrier terminated his benefits with the erroneous belief that he was no longer disabled. He had been HIV+ since 2001. When he fell ill, he had just 44 t-cells and Kaposi Sarcoma lesions on his legs (one of the reasons he became a self-imposed shut-in along with other physical signs of his illness). He was also severely depressed, anxious, and fatigued.
The insurance carrier not only terminated Lucas's disability benefits, but they cancelled his life insurance policy as well.
With nowhere else to turn for help, it took four months and over 30 hours for pro bono attorney Tracy Jessner, an Associate with Hooper, Lundy & Bookman, to successfully appeal the matter and get the insurance company to reverse their decision. The company reinstated Lucas's disability and life insurance and paid the client nearly $7,500 in retroactive benefits. However, when Tracy received news of the reinstatement, it was bittersweet, because Lucas had been hospitalized for over a week with pancreatic cancer and a very short life expectancy.
When he was released from the hospital,, Lucas conveyed his gratitude: "The appeal that Tracy wrote for me perfectly, comprehensively, and compellingly presented my case... I never would have been able to do it without her. The services are so helpful and beneficial. And they satisfy such a desperate need in the HIV/AIDS community. Please continue the services. And, if possible, please expand the services."
The client once again turned to the ALSP for legal help, this time, to do his testamentary documents. This was particularly important to Lucas since he had not been on speaking terms to his closest living relatives, namely his mother and siblings, for decades, a not uncommon scenario for ALSP clients, who are often estranged from their families because of homo/HIV phobia. Lucas had two very close friends and was relying on them for support as he was dying.
After the ALSP provided a referral to long-time volunteer attorney Michael Flattery to do Lucas's estate documents, he emailed a few weeks before his death: "Having these documents is a huge relief to me, since they ensure that my final wishes will be carried out. And prior to your coming to my rescue, I was worried that I might not have enough time left to get the documents that I need. Thank you for relieving me of that worry."
LACBA Honors ALSP Volunteers with its
at the 2014 Installation Dinner
Award recipients include Nicole T. Harnett and Bianca A. Poindexter, AIDS Legal Services Project, Outstanding Public Service Award; Leticia Starr, Immigration Legal Assistance Project, Outstanding Public Service Award; Edward J. Horowitz, Outstanding Section Leader Award; and Melanie D. Phillips, Domestic Violence Project, Outstanding Public Service Award (from left).
This year's ALSP Aranda award went to a team of attorneys at O'Melveny & Myers, Bianca Poindexter and Nicole Harnett, who worked together on an immigration case that was resolved in 2014.
Nicole Harnett, ALSP Director Laurie Aronoff, and Bianca Poindexter at the LACBA Installation Dinner Event
Bianca and Nicole provided nearly 200 volunteer hours working tirelessly over nearly three years to assist an HIV+ immigrant woman gain legal status in the United States.
The client is 42 years old and has lived in the US since her grandparents brought here her in 1982. She went to middle and high school in Los Angeles and has three children born in the US. After several unsuccessful attempts to legalize her immigration status, in 2011 it was determined that because her ex-boyfriend had made repeated attempts on her life, as well as sexually assaulted her daughter, she could qualify for a U-visa.
Unfortunately, though, since the crimes were over ten years old and the perpetrator pled guilty before he could be arraigned, both the City Attorney and LAPD refused to certify the U visa application which is a requirement. For nearly a year, Nicole and Bianca tried every avenue and argument they could think of to secure the certification. It was incredibly frustrating since the client had been a victim of a violent crime, overcame her fears and fulfilled her obligation to come forward, file a police report and was willing to engage in the prosecution of the crimes. Yet, she was being denied access to immigration relief that was designed for this very purpose.
Fortunately, Bianca and Nicole didn't give up. Finally, with the advice of a long-time pro bono immigration attorney, the ALSP found out that the Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS) could certify a U application. Since the client's daughter, a minor, had been assaulted, the family had entered the DCFS system and so the client's situation applied here. This was a very delicate stage to navigate. Nonetheless, Nicole and Bianca immediately started working on this potential avenue and spent over a month to write the new application to submit for certification. Fortunately, this time It worked!
Finally, in the first quarter of 2014, the attorneys received news that Immigration Service approved the client for a U visa!
ALSP Volunteer Obtains Precedent—People with HIV Protected as Disabled under State Law
Brian Condon, a long-time ALSP supporter and 2013 Aranda pro bono awardee, is a partner at Arnold & Porter with 20 years of experience in federal and state courts. He is very active in community service and has served on the firm's pro bono committee for over 15 years, as well as held every office for the Los Angeles County Bar Association Foundation Board. He was the 2006 recipient of the California Lawyer "Angel Award" in recognition of his outstanding pro bono contributions. Below is his most recent victory for ALSP's clients.
In 2009, "Mary" was scheduled to have surgery to repair a painful umbilical hernia. However, minutes before her surgery, the anesthesiologist learned from her medical chart that she was HIV positive and refused to do the operation, citing his safety and that of the medical staff.
This occurred despite Mary having previously undergone two successful knee replacement surgeries, without incident, since she first tested HIV+ in 2006. She had also been in the regular care of a primary care physician and an infectious disease specialist, and was asymptomatic at the time of the surgery.
She left the hospital still in pain and extremely embarrassed.
Mary came to the Los Angeles County Bar Association's AIDS Legal Services Project (ALSP) seeking a pro bono attorney to resolve her complaint and was referred to Brian Condon, a partner at Arnold & Porter, who has volunteered with ALSP for over a decade on numerous complex litigation matters.
The main issue at trial was whether or not Mary suffered discrimination because she was HIV positive, and therefore protected under California's Unruh Civil Rights Act as a person with a disability.
While a jury sided against Mary at trial, California's Second Appellate District Court found differently. The Appellate Court ruled that Mary had been discriminated against because of her HIV status, and established for the first time that HIV is a disability as a matter of law under the Unruh Act.
According to Laurie Aronoff, ALSP Project Director, "This case is one of a number of other discrimination and privacy matters that pro bono attorneys have been litigating for ALSP client referrals. We're very grateful for volunteer attorneys like Brian and his firm Arnold & Porter, who are willing to expend substantial resources, over 2,000 hours worth, to uphold the rights of people living with HIV who continue to face stigma and discrimination 30 years into the epidemic."
To learn more about the Project, and how you can help people like Mary, please contact Laurie Aronoff, director of the AIDS Legal Services Project, at email@example.com.
In an immigration matter, a team of attorneys at Paul Hastings have transformed the lives of a small family. The parents are Fijians of Indian descent who left Fiji in 1989 because they faced discrimination. The mother was an experienced nurse and they unsuccessfully tried to legalize their status and they faced many hardships.
Their 13 year old daughter was born in the US with an unusual medical condition and developmental disabilities. In 2011, the father was diagnosed with AIDS (and found out that he was HIV+ for the first time) when he was severely ill with several very serious opportunistic infections. Unfortunately, his regular doctor missed early signs of HIV infection, and the client wasn't tested until he was admitted to a hospital for a hernia operation but was far too ill to undergo surgery.
The mother hadn't been able to work in the US without a work permit. When her husband became deathly ill, in desperation she turned to the ALSP for immigration relief. It was determined that because of her daughter's severe physical and developmental disabilities, the mother may be able to qualify for "Cancellation of Removal." This is very risky however. The immigrant is put into removal proceedings and in order to gain relief, has to prove an "exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" to a US citizen.
For over two years, a team of PH attorneys and support staff including Lillian Chu, Lisa Paez, Jennifer Baldocchi and Courtney Turco spent nearly 600 hours advocating for the family in court. Finally, in 2014, the court approved the Cancellation. Sadly, the father didn't make it—he died last year at the age of 48. But at least the mother can work legally and take care of her daughter free of other worries.
Thanks to our law firm supporters:
• Arnold & Porter • Caldwell Leslie • Davis Wright Tremaine • Dykema • Goodwin Procter • Holland & Knight • Latham • Manatt • Nixon Peabody • O'Melveny & Myers • Orrick • Paul Hastings • Proskauer Rose • Reed Smith • Sedgwick • Seyfarth Shaw • Squire Patton Boggs • Tucker Ellis
DONOR THANKS—we are grateful for the support of our generous donors.
The LA HLPP collaboration was launched through a two year, $250,000 grant from the Ford Foundation.
We also gratefully acknowledge David Bohnett and Michael Fleming of the Bohnett Foundation for a $40,000 grant in support of the AIDS Legal Services Project in collaboration with LA HLPP.
Many thanks to Orrick and Pro Bono Counsel Rene Kathawala for a $30,000 donation to the LACBA Projects. Stay tuned for a future article on an interesting privacy matter that the firm recently settled.
Thanks also to Squire Patton & Boggs and Brian Schield, partner, long-time ALSP volunteer and 2012 Aranda Award winner for underwriting the costs of a new monthly immigration clinic.
The Project is grateful to Barristers President Devon Myers, Vice President Spencer Kallick, and the Barristers Section for coordinating an AIDS Walk team in support of the ALSP that raised nearly $5,000 that went directly to the Project.
Director Laurie Aronoff and the ALSP were honored with the Community Service Award at the annual gala of the Lesbian & Gay Lawyer's Association which also carried a nearly $10,000 donation from the silent auction.
LA HLPP Summer Interns
LA HLPP's inaugural summer internship program was launched this year with seven outstanding students. Many, many thanks go to Deisy Castro (USC), Britney Daigle-Leonard (Loyola), Shyrissa Dobbins (UCLA), Aliza Grossman (Loyola), Jeremy Kauffman (UCLA), Michele Nielsen (Loyola), & Hussain Turk (UCLA) for spending their summer with us and providing such compassionate skill in assisting LA HLPP clients. They were also a lot of fun!!