The Advocate
Guarding Justice f0r Alabama's Poor
        July,2017      
It is through your generous support that Legal Services Alabama  provides help and hope to low-income families throughout the State! 

   Your Support to LSA's helps us: 
  • 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 90of LSA's budget is spent directly on services to our clients!

Attorney Spotlight: Rachelle Greczyn, Dothan Office

Why do you do what you do? 

It is a lot of fun.  I enjoy working with my clients to identify ways to try and best solve their legal issues.  I find it rewarding to give a voice to people who could not financially afford an attorney, but deserve and need representation.  

What is your most memorable experience? 

While waiting with a client for her Protection from Abuse hearing, another case before ours was called.  Both the defendant and plaintiff in the other case were hearing impaired, and the Judge was having trouble communicating.  Unbeknownst to me, my client was fluent in ASL.  When the Judge asked the courtroom if anyone could assist, my client got up and offered to interpret for the parties and Judge.  I was very proud of my client’s composure and ability to assist in a situation where she was already nervous about her own hearing (and she later won her PFA!).  

What advice can you give attorneys thinking about working with LSA and its offices? 

Reach out to a current employee if you would like to pick their brain and get more information about what it is like to work with LSA.  Since starting with Legal Services Alabama about a year ago, I’ve asked the other attorneys here a lot of questions and found everyone very supportive.   Go for it!

What do you like to do in your spare time? 

I enjoy spending time with my family and friends -- especially my toddler who surprises me each day with new skills and games.  I like to garden and spend time outdoors -- lately I’ve been trying to introduce my toddler to gardening, which has basically turned into play in the dirt and pull out all the growing things!

*Rachelle Greczyn, Staff Attorney for our Dothan Office, is a 2005 graduate of Troy University (B.S. Social Work) and The University of Alabama's School of Law (2009), Rachelle has worked in Family Law, Landlord-Tenant and Social Security Disability cases. Rachelle has been with LSA since 2016, working in such areas as domestic violence, landlord-tenant, public benefits, debt collections and mortgages.

"What Happens when the Court just gets it wrong?"

By Stephen Last, Staff Attorney, Montgomery office

 “It’s a job, and I enjoy being around the kids.” This is how my client described his job of 12 years working at the public school systems where he is a classroom aide helping teach children about nutrition.

My client has spent virtually his whole life in Montgomery. He was a child when Dr. King led his legendary 54 mile March from Selma to Montgomery. His mother worked various jobs in hotels, and his father worked on the railroad. He has raised a family in the Capital City, and manages to get by on limited earnings.

About a year ago, my client found himself with a legal problem he never saw coming. When his landlord died, an individual he described as a “kind but sickly older man,” the landlord’s daughter suddenly sued my client, claiming that he was behind on his rent. This was a jolt to my client, who had been allowed to pay his monthly rent in cash. He was never given receipts, and there was no evidence that the deceased landlord ever kept a ledger.

We started out in the state District Court in Montgomery County, and as happens so often in the first round of a debt dispute, the lack of proof that a debtor paid is enough to lose, even if the creditor actually can't show any record proving that the debtor has not paid bills on time. 

When The District Judge ruled against our client, we appealed to Circuit Court, and filed an Affidavit of Substantial Hardship, asserting that my client was indigent and couldn’t afford the several hundred dollars of fees for bringing an appeal.

While motions based on an Affidavit of Substantial Hardship are often routinely granted, this time the District Judge didn’t see it that way. So I filed a motion asking the Circuit Court Judge to grant the hardship waiver from filing fees.

The attorney for the landlord’s daughter argued in turn that the time had run out: that you have 14 days to file an appeal from District Court and that since the fees had not been paid in that time, the case was officially over with my client owing the money. 

We lost a third time: The Circuit Court Judge agreed that since the appeal fee did not end up getting paid in 14 days, the time for filing ended and the Judge didn't even have to hear our motion challenging the denial of the hardship waiver. The district court promptly garnished my client’s wages.  

This frustrating turn of events marked a genuine unfairness with the way this case was proceeding. My client was ultimately being kept out of court because he didn’t have the money to pay a fee. He was made to pay a debt when there was no proof he owed it, and the courts were finding every way to avoid hearing our arguments.  

We didn’t give up: while it is sometimes ignored in state court, there is case law in Alabama that as long as all proper court documents for an appeal are filed on time, the filing costs for the appeal can be paid later: this is a very important protection for people with a lower income, who often lose in district court. We took our claim to the next highest court, the Court of Civil Appeals. Finally, the right ruling and the right application of the law: the Circuit Court was ordered to hear the appeal of the judgment that my client owed money, and I managed to get the district court to not only stop a garnishment that should not have happened until the appeal was heard, but to return the garnished money to my client, every dime of it.

My client will get his day in Circuit Court and a full jury trial, where he can make his case that he paid his rent and that there is no actual evidence that he owes anything. Since the landlord’s daughter is the one bringing the lawsuit, she is the one who will have the burden to prove her claims: a burden that too many times is ignored in the first go around in district court.  And along the way, we won a victory that clarifies that the filing fee for an appeal is actually not meant to close the courtroom door to poor people. 

Client Success Stories

Call Center

Congratulations to LSA's statewide Central office's Call Center, who helped a client gain information regarding her lease!

Client contacted the Call Center for direction in how to terminate her lease, which her landlord stated she could not terminate the lease. The Call Center attorney reviewed our client's lease, and advised her regarding her security deposit rights and the appropriate way to terminate her lease. 

Our client later stated the following in her client survey:

"Your services is a life saver - very helpful! I was truly lost and worried (but) talking with the hotline and attorney saved my life, and I am able to sleep more without worrying!"

Mobile Office

Congratulations to Charlotte Tipton, Staff Attorney in the Mobile office, who recently helped a disabled client retain personal property! The Mobile Office recently concluded a case which involved a creditor's release of its security interest in a vehicle shortly before filing a collections lawsuit in Mobile County Circuit Court. The creditor sued our client, who is also a homeowner, for $15,573.81 plus court costs! Attorneys with the Mobile office filed an Answer and asserted an affirmative defense of payment and release of lien. Our Attorneys also defended and prevailed in the subsequent summary judgment proceeding initiated by the creditor. Seven days prior to trial, the parties stipulated to dismissal of the case. The Mobile County Circuit Court entered an Order of Dismissal with prejudice.

Thank you to our Mobile office advocates for helping a client retain possession of his vehicle, and avoid the risk of execution against his real personal property!

Selma Office

Congratulations to Elizabeth Hollie, Staff Attorney in the Selma Office, who helped two sisters retain their public housing assistance!

The clients came to Legal Services Alabama, after they were being evicted by the Selma Housing Authority, which claimed the sisters' mother was staying with both of them. This was in violation of their lease.

The District Court ruled in favor of the local Housing Authority in both cases and Legal Services appealed both cases to Circuit Court.  After seeing Legal Services involvement, the Housing Authority decided to dismiss both evictions.  Both sisters were able to keep their public housing assistance.

Thank you to our Selma Office advocates for defending low-income public housing residents and helping them to keep their public housing benefits!


Tuscaloosa Office

Congratulations to Ricky Chambless, Staff Attorney in the Tuscaloosa Office, who helped our client save $4,000 in a collections action!

Paragon Contracting, a company contracted with DCH Regional Medical Center to bill and collect its accounts, sued our client in Small Claims Court for more than $4,000. At trial, Paragon sent a local attorney to represent them. The company sent no witnesses. The company had given no prior notice of intent to offer records, and had no sworn affidavits. The attorney attempted to offer business records as evidence under SM Rule J. Our advocate successfully argued that while Rule J allowed the admission of witness statements and affidavits, the Rule was superseded by the recently adopted ARE 902(11), requiring a sworn affidavit authenticating the records and reasonable advance notice of intent to offer the records.

The Court accepted our Advocate's argument and excluded the records. No further evidence was offered by the Plaintiff, and the Court entered a judgment in favor of our client!

Thank you to our Tuscaloosa Office advocates for protecting clients facing illegal collections actions!

Voter Rights Restoration Clinics - July 2017
    (Birmingham, Mobile, and the Black Belt)
  Thank you for providing Help & Hope
to poor people throughout Alabama!  
   Upcoming Events

James J. Sandman, President of Legal Services Corporation, will visit
Legal Services Alabama  August 22-24, 2017

 
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 for Justice please contac t Jaffe Pickett Director of Development & Strategic Partnerships

Support our Veterans Services 
  LSA provides free, civil legal services to Veterans!  
L SA continues our service 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.  An LSA attorney and 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 and the Tuskegee VA on the first, third, and fifth Wednesday of each month from 9 a.m. until 3 p.m.

The LSA Advocate is published monthly by Development and Communications Associate, Desiree Taylor