Tidbits and Thoughts . . .  Legal Aid's Online  News
August 31, 2017

In memory of Legal Aid's founding mother, Judge Betty M. Vitousek.

Photo credit: Hawaii State Judiciary

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Executive Director's Corner

This past week, we lost our founding mother, Judge Betty Vitousek. She had lived a long life and gave much to this community. I met her briefly a few times over the years as she helped to give her namesake award at our anniversary dinners. She was in her twilight years during those times, but still had a presence about her.
Her story I tell during our poverty law training twice a year. How she went with her husband when he went to Stanford Law School and ended up getting her own admission. How she traveled across the United States to look at other legal aid organizations before writing the memo that served as the basis for our creation in 1950. How it wasn't until 1950 that Harvard Law School admitted women. She was remarkable given the time.
She went on to serve as the first Director of the Hawaii State Bar Association, helped to create the family courts, and served as a family court judge. Her legacy is immense and she will be greatly missed. Mahalo, Judge Vitousek, rest in peace, knowing that all of us here at the Legal Aid Society of Hawai'i will continue to live your vision.
Judge Betty Vitousek leaves lasting legacy
Posted on Aug 29, 2017 at http://www.courts.state.hi.us/
Retired Senior Family Court Judge Betty Vitousek, who was instrumental in creating a model for family courts across the country, passed away Monday morning. She was 98.
"Judge Vitousek was a person of great integrity, compassion and wisdom who shaped our Family Court into the strong institution it is today," said Hawaii Chief Justice Mark E. Recktenwald. "From encouraging mediation to developing programs to help families cope with the impacts of divorce, she was an innovator who cared deeply about Hawaii's children and families. Her many other contributions to our community included laying the groundwork for what became the Legal Aid Society of HawaiĘ»i. She also served as a mentor to countless lawyers and judges. We are deeply grateful for her legacy, and send our heartfelt sympathy and aloha to her family."  Read the full article
Hawaii's first female judge of Family Court 'personified grace and wisdom'
By Leila Fujimori, August 30, 2017

Judge R. Mark Browning, chief judge of the 1st Circuit, and former senior Family Circuit Court judge, called Vitousek "one of the greatest jurists in the history of the State of Hawaii's Judiciary."

"As a jurist and as a person, she personified grace and wisdom," he said. "The values that she passed to us continue to be taught to a new generation of judges and lawyers. Her commitment to the children and the families of our state and to the community as a whole is a legacy that continues today. ... She touched my life in a profound way, for which I am eternally grateful."  Read the full article
Public Benefits Overview Training
Legal Aid completed another successful year of Public Benefits Overview Training with 125 registered attendees completing the training. Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa and Hawaii Director of the Department of Human Services Pankaj Bhanot were this year's featured guest speakers. 
Staff provided training for the following sessions:

Compact of Free Association Immigrants and Public Benefits  - Joanne Loeak, Outreach Specialist, Tatjana Johnson, Managing Attorney, HIJC
General Assistance and Social Security Benefits Overview  - Melissa Wong, Staff Attorney
Homelessness and Public Benefits  -Janet Kelly, Senior Staff Attorney, 
Government-Sponsored Medical Insurance Overview  - Connie Liu, Managing Attorney
Housing Issues  - Sheila Lippolt, Staff Attorney
Immigrant Crime Victims and Public Benefits  - Ashlee Drake Berry, Staff Attorney


AmeriCorps Advocate Helps Client Start a New Chapter in Life

Michelle Horton, Windward AmeriCorps Advocate, was able to help her client get what  should have been a very simple divorce. However, the client's abusive husband, who is incarcerated in California, kept intentionally refusing her mail. However, with Michelle's advocacy, the client could finally start a new chapter in her life.

"Before I came to Legal Aid I actually believed I had been divorced for 5 years by then. Long story . . . for John and I to get married, I requested a copy of my decree from California. When I discovered that I wasn't, I almost fainted. I was on the phone with Legal Aid the next day. It was my only option and I was so grateful that they were more than willing to help me. I met with a lovely, bright [AmeriCorps member] Michelle Horton who explained, assisted me with all my paperwork, kept me informed, and walked me through the entire process.

Michelle went out of her way to try and have Bill (ex-husband) served. She also helped me by requesting for Legal Aid to pay for a process server in California so that Bill wouldn't be able to refuse mail as he did several times prior. I was so grateful because financially I was unable to pay at this time. 

Due to Legal Aid's help I didn't get discouraged . . . this took awhile and there were times that I felt Robert was emotionally taunting me. This was very hard for me because Bill caused me so much pain and anguish. For me to be optimistic about my future, it was important to obtain this divorce. 

I want people to know that Legal Aid employs attorneys and AmeriCorps members that are as wonderful as Michelle. That they really make all the difference in the world when you cannot afford to retain a private attorney."

Health Connector Outreach

Micronesia Basketball Tournament

LASH Health Connector Kokua team had the opportunity to attend the All Micronesia Basketball Tournament held on August 17 - 20, 2017. It was a showcase that brought the Micronesian Community together and allowed amazing athletes to share friendly competitive competition.

Our very own Jojo Peter was part of the organizing committee for the event and a member of our Legal Aid outreach team which consist of Sereny Cholymay, Sepe Mongkeya, and Julie Johannes. Together our team was able to hand out over 400 flyers to all attendee's and participants regarding our 2018 Affordable Care Act Open Enrollment, Special Enrollment and the importance of completing a tax return in order to continue receiving assistance to lower medical monthly premium payments.

Mahalo to the Micronesia Basketball Committee for allowing Legal Aid to share and enjoy the competition and congratulations to everyone who participated as you are all winners.

Joanne Loeak (HIJC) and Aloma Nelson help clients from the Marshall Islands 
with health insurance issues. 

Tansak Celebration

On August 5, 2017, Legal Aid's Health Connector Outreach Specialists Julie, Sereny, Sepe, and Jojo attended the Tansak Celebration at Kapiolani Park.  This event commemorates the day when WWII Japanese troops forced villagers of Tansak to relocate.  Approximately 200 people attended the event, arriving as early as 6:00 A.M. for prayer and leaving as late as 6:00 P.M.  The Navigators conducted a question and answer session about open enrollment, special enrollment, and verification documents.  They also provided flyer and pens to attendees.  Due to the success of the outreach, the organizers requested the Navigators' presence at another event in September.

Tonoas Island Churches Celebration
Health Connector Outreach Specialist Cinder Sonis attended the Tonoas Island Churches Celebration to educate members about health insurance.  Approximately 270 people from five churches attended this event.  This event began at Kalihi Kai Elementary School cafeteria and ended at Kamehameha Field in Kalihi.  A pastor started the event with a  blessing and induction of new church officers.  Members sang songs, read scriptures, and remarked about the new president.
While everyone ate their meals at Kamehameha Field, Cinder presented about the shortened open enrollment period, special enrollment, and penalty for lack of insurance.  She also recommended that everyone have their documents ready to verify information when applying for health insurance.  
Cinder Sonis, Outreach Specialist-Health Connector Kokua at the Tonoas Island Churches Celebration

"Know Your Rights Day" 

AmeriCorps Advocates Destiny Brown and Cynthia Cuestas joined the "Know Your Rights Day" at First United Methodist Church together with Health Connector Kokua Outreach Specialist Ronnette Ome and staff from Legal Aid's Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center. Destiny and Cynthia shared more about the services available at the Honolulu District Court Access to Justice Room and other District Court issues. Ronnette answered questions related to the Affordable Care Act. 

Maui, Molokai, Lanai  
The Lanai Community Health Fair provided free health services, a vision van, health and wellness education resources. Laverne "Pua" Kanno from the Lanai Legal Aid office was joined by Legal Aid's Health Connector outreach specialists Sepe Mongkeya and Julie Johannes.

Thank you to Laura Cushman for her work this year as an AmeriCorps Advocate in the Kona Court Self-Help Desk.

Hot Topics

Disaster Relief
The Texas Bar is seeking assistance from all states to help with the storm's aftermath in Texas and are working to get an order from the Texas Supreme Court to have out-of-state attorneys eligible for assistance with disaster relief. Texas is asking that Texas licensed attorneys and attorneys licensed in other jurisdictions take the following survey if they are willing to help with the disaster relief in Texas. Survey
Thank you!

"A big mahalo to Legal Aid's 2016-2017 AmeriCorps class-
one of the best to serve our community!"  


Thank you to Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center summer law clerks 
Alex Mendoza and Kenory Khuy

Thank you to A2J Tech Fellow Chad Au for his work in improving Legal Aid's technology based legal resources. The Access to Justice Tech Fellows program provides law students a unique experiential opportunity to take part in a 10-week paid summer fellowship program, where they spend their summer at a legal service organization working on a range of innovative projects and initiatives aimed to improve our civil justice system. 


Offices will be closed Monday, September 4 for Labor Day.
On September 14, the Fair Housing unit will provide training on Lanai.