The Advocate
January, 2018
Our Donors are Heroes to low income individuals, vulnerable Veterans and elderly clients, statewide!
    Your Support to LSA's helps:

  • Keep families safe from domestic violence
  • Prevent foreclosures & illegal evictions
  • Advocate for Veterans and the Elderly 
  • Protect the wages of working poor families
  • Empower citizens through community outreach & education
  • Restore Dignity to low income individuals and families 

Be a Hero! 
Change a life!
Become a Guardian of Justice today!  

Your donation means so much to the almost one million people living in poverty throughout Alabama. Over 90% of LSA's budget is spent directly on services to our clients!
Attorney Spotlight: Michael Forton, Director of Advocacy
Why have you chosen to advocate on behalf of poor people? 
Truth be told, I’ve never really felt like I chose this career. Like a lot of other attorneys here at LSA, I’ve always felt that the work we do is a calling sent by a higher power. I can say that for most of my young adult years I felt angry because of all the unfairness and inequality I saw in the world and the fact that very few people seemed concerned with fixing things. When I finally realized that becoming a lawyer could be my way to make a difference, it just made so much sense in terms of where I believed I could do the most good. To be honest, I don’t know what else I would be doing if I weren’t working for LSA.

What is your most memorable experience (at LSA)? 
I once attended a meeting where LSA clients told their stories to community partners and we got to hear the client’s side of the lawyer and client relationship. One of the clients was mine and I was really bowled over by how much he remembered and how much he believed I had changed his life. I think all of the attorneys who attended were overwhelmed by the reality of how important we can be in people’s lives (even when we lose sometimes). It’s a pretty heavy burden sometimes, but I’ve always thought it was completely worth it.

What advice can you give attorneys thinking about joining LSA?
To people who just have a curiosity about public interest law, I always suggest that people do some serious soul-searching before making a decision. I think a lot of people apply to LSA because they like the idea of helping the poor but are immediately confronted by a system set up to take advantage of the poor and is full of barriers to seeking justice for our clients. Very often, new attorneys hit these realities like a brick wall they never saw coming. In the past, I’ve gone so far as to tell people that if they can imagine themselves happy in some other field of law then they may want to consider the possibility that working for Legal Services isn’t for them. On the other hand, if you feel a compelling need to do good work and make the world a better place, then there is no better place to work. 

What do you like to do in your spare time?  
As a father of three, I spend most of my spare time doing homework, grocery shopping, and other sorts of chores. The two hobbies I’ve managed to maintain into adulthood are exercise and video games. The biggest trick to making time for those two is that I usually have a child (or two or three) at my side and we play or exercise together. I think adding kids to any situation makes it more enjoyable. Also, I’m a big fan of the twofers whenever you can find them.

* Michael Forton has been with Legal Services Alabama since 2007. Named Advocate of the year in 2008, Forton was appointed Director of Advocacy in 2016. Forton has also served as Managing Attorney for the Huntsville office. Prior to joining LSA, Forton served as Staff Attorney with Florida Rural Legal Services and clerked with the Alabama Disabilities Advocacy Program (ADAP). Forton earned a bachelor's degree with honors from Michigan State University in East Lansing, and a JD from The University of Alabama School of Law. Forton also serves on the Board of Directors for the Public Interest Advisory Board at The University of Alabama.
 Client Success Stories:
Huntsville Office

Congratulations to Farah Majid, Staff Attorney in the Huntsville office, who helped a client get a debt not collectible!

Our client, who was homeless, came to us at a hard time in her life. She had recently lost a high-paying job and gone through a divorce. Crestwood Medical Center had filed a lawsuit against our client for $35,000 in medical bills from when our client was uninsured. Our Advocate filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy to discharge the client's obligations. Our advocate was also able to discharge our client's obligations on a mortgage owed to Wells Fargo for approximately $366,000 (our client was a co-borrower on a half-million dollar home with her ex-husband, and this was the only way to get her name off of the loan).

Congratulations to our Huntsville office Advocates who were able to help a client get back on her feet, with a fresh start after facing financial difficulty!
Tuscaloosa Office

Congratulations to Joseph Abrams, Staff Attorney in the Tuscaloosa office, who helped a client have decent housing!

Our client, who is hearing impaired, came to our office seeking assistance because she was locked into a contract that required her to pay more than 75 percent of her social security toward rent. The client, who had been homeless for several months, needed a place to live for she and her children. The house our client chose did not have running water or heat. As a result, our Advocate immediately drafted a letter to AP, demanding that he restore water and heating services to the rental property or terminate the client's lease. Our Advocate negotiated with the Housing Authority to secure another home for the client if the Landlord did not make repairs (the client has previously been barred for public housing because of past due rent, and was relatively low on the waiting list). Ultimately, the Landlord failed to make repairs. LSA terminated our client's lease, and she moved into a new apartment with the Housing Authority!

Thank you to our Tuscaloosa office Advocates for helping to provide affordable, clean and decent housing to a person in need!

Mobile Office

Congratulations to Ann Brown, Managing Attorney in the Mobile office who helped to preserve housing for a Senior citizen!

Our client, who suffered mental impairment, had been denied housing at a Senior Complex due to her condition. Our Advocate represented the client before the Mobile Housing Board and provided a statement from a local mental health office that the client was able to live independently, and was compliant with taking her medications. The Hearing Officer reversed the decision and the client was able to get housing!

Thank you to our Mobile Office Advocates who were able to prevent homelessness for a client!
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Legal Services Alabama files Amicus Brief in support of Tenants' Rights
by Joseph Abrams, Tuscaloosa Staff Attorney, LSA High Impact Litigation Unit

Legal Services Alabama along with Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, filed an amicus brief in support of tenants' rights with the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals on December 18, 2017. The tenant in this case was represented by attorneys and students from the Civil Legal Clinic at The University of Alabama School of Law. Tuscaloosa Staff Attorney Joseph Abrams, a member of LSA’s High Impact Litigation team, and Director of Advocacy Michael Forton, authored the brief for LSA.  

   In this case,  Morrow v. Pake , a low-income tenant chose to leave her home because it was unlivable and had been cited by the city for numerous code violations. Her landlord had refused to make repairs over an extended period. Her landlord filed an eviction while she was moving, which he later dismissed once she finally finished moving. The underlying issue on appeal was whether Alabama’s  Uniform Residential Landlord and Tenant Act required tenants to assert their rights during an eviction or lose those claims for any subsequent litigation. With an estimated 90 percent of tenants across the country unable to afford legal representation in evictions, LSA’s brief discussed the real-world, practical implications that “mandatory counterclaims” would have on pro se,
low-income tenants. In Alabama, eviction actions are some of the most expedited proceedings allowed by law. In as few as 28 days, Alabama courts can remove tenants (and their families) from their homes. Evictions in Alabama are so short, due largely to the reduction of all major procedural time requirements for tenants to take action.

Under the Act, tenants have shorter periods to file answers, to file post-judgment motions, to file appeals, etc., than they would normally have during most other civil proceedings. LSA argued that it was legally inappropriate to require routinely unrepresented tenants that lack the legal know-how, time, and money to assert claims under these circumstances. Moreover, when factoring in the uncertainty, worry, and fear that always accompany the loss of housing, tenants are uniquely ill-positioned to assert claims within the original eviction action. And as a result, the Court’s complete barring of those claims from future litigation would be extremely harmful and prejudicial to tenants statewide.   

In support for their contentions, LSA cited the plain language of the Landlord and Tenant Act itself. Under the Act, the Legislature carefully used the term “may” when discussing a tenant’s decision to file a counterclaim. LSA argued that by using “may” instead of terms like “must” or “shall,” it was clear the Legislature intended tenants to have the choice to file counterclaims during eviction actions, or the option to file those claims at a later time.

Phillip Ensler, who authored the brief for Alabama Appleseed, said: “The case will establish important rights for tenants in the State of Alabama. Appleseed is dedicated to ensuring all Alabamians receive equal access to justice. We were honored to work with LSA and UA on this important issue.” 

LSA is fighting to protect the wages of Alabama's working Poor
by Farah Majid, Consumer Law Lead Attorney for LSA's Consumer and Housing Area Practice (CHAP) group.

The wages of Alabama’s working poor are still under attack by creditors. When a creditor sues someone and wins in court, they get a judgment. They can then automatically garnish a portion of a person’s paycheck to collect that judgment. The Alabama Constitution lets people protect up to $1,000 per paycheck from garnishment.
            
In 2015, the Alabama Legislature passed a statute saying that wages could no longer be protected under the Constitution. Changing a constitutionally-protected right would normally require a constitutional amendment, not just the passing of a statute. Creditors in Alabama now want to be able to seize a quarter of every paycheck a person earns until their judgment has been satisfied.

A creditor of one of LSA’s clients has claimed our client doesn’t have the right to protect his wages under the Constitution because of the new law that was passed. The case is currently on appeal at the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals. The outcome of the appeal will affect the right of every low-income Alabama worker to keep the wages that they’ve earned. If the creditor is successful, the working poor in Alabama will see up to 1/4 of every paycheck seized to satisfy old debts.

LSA has partnered with The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) to represent their client in the LSA appeal. Farah Majid, the Consumer Lead Attorney for LSA, and Sara Zampierin, Senior Staff Attorney at SPLC, are authoring the appellate brief. If successful, the appeal will preserve the right of the working poor to protect their wages from garnishment. It will only affect those who make less than $1,000 per paycheck, but will allow those that need it the most to keep a roof over their head, food on the table, and support their children.

An amicus brief will also be filed in the case on behalf of Alabama civil rights’ groups, Alabama Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, Alabama Arise, as well as The National Consumer Advocacy groups, the National Consumer Law Center and the National Association of Consumer Advocates. The amicus brief will be filed by Judson Crump, consumer lawyer in Mobile, AL, and will address the greater policy implications of the appellate court’s decision in this case. The amicus looks at the effect the court’s decision will have on low-income Alabamians as well as on consumers.

Protecting the wages of low-income persons and making sure they don’t become destitute, has been a core value in Alabama law for more than a hundred years. One statute cannot overturn a right of the people of Alabama once that right has been enshrined in the Constitution. All of the groups involved in this appeal on behalf of the debtors are hopeful that the Court of Civil Appeals will continue to uphold the rights of the working poor of Alabama.

LSA continues our wage garnishment fight as part of our mission to find solutions to poverty in Alabama!

From Our Clients:
"I wanted to say how much I appreciate you and your patience for working [with] and helping me with meeting my needs for the assistance I was in desperate need of. Thank you so much!"
- Client, Tuscaloosa office

"They [advocates] were so nice; I felt like they cared. They made me feel good talking to them. They were excellent -thanks!
- Client , Dothan office

What does your donation to LSA do?
Your donation helps poor, elderly and disabled victims of abuse, consumer fraud, housing discrimination and other illegal actions that our clients face everyday. Over 90% of your contribution goes directly to client services.  

Who are our Donors?

Our donors are Heroes for the low income people we serve statewide. They are students, lawyers, law firms, faith based groups, businesses and corporations, who support our mission of improving lives across Alabama. They become  Guardians of Justice because they believe  poor and vulnerable people should have access to quality, free civil legal aid statewide!

For more information on becoming a Guardian of Justice please visit our website contact:

  LSA provides free, civil legal services to Veterans in Central Alabama! 
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Support LSA's Veteran Services partnership with the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System
LSA continues providing legal services to Veterans by providing on site services through a partnership with the Central Alabama Veterans Health Care System. LSA is dedicated to providing holistic solutions to the root issues plaguing low-income and homeless Veterans. Perry Myer, Montgomery office Staff Attorney and former, and a Call Center intake specialist, will be available on Wednesdays at two VA locations to provide legal assistance to Veterans: 

* Montgomery VA Medical Center on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month from
9 a.m. - 3 p.m.

* Tuskegee VA on the first, third, and fifth Wednesday of each month from 9 a.m. - 3 a.m.

The Advocate is published monthly by Communications & Community Development Coordinator, Desiree Taylor