Tidbits and Thoughts . . .  Legal Aid's Online  News
August 31, 2019

"Building a Just Society"
The Legal Aid Society of Hawai'i is a public interest, non-profit law firm dedicated to achieving fairness and justice through legal advocacy, outreach, and education for those in need. Established in 1950, Legal Aid has offices statewide and over 100 staff members dedicated to achieving its vision of "Building a Just Society" and its mission "To address critical legal needs through high quality legal advocacy, outreach, and education in the pursuit of justice and fairness."

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Windward Legal Aid office helps client with much needed guardianship

Windward/Leeward managing attorney Russ Awakuni with the family. 

"Because of Legal Aid, I am so much at ease now that I can give these girls a life that they deserve! A life that they can look forward to!"

From homelessness to proud U.S. citizen

HIJC staff attorney Susan Gim with Ms. Noriega after receiving her Certificate of Citizenship.

"They [Legal Aid] have eased my worries of everything I endured for the past 8 years trying to find someone to help me with my case." -Ms. Noriega

It took a very long time (8 years) for Ms. Noriega to get her Certificate of Citizenship. Without it, Ms. Noriega was unable to get an ID, Social Security card, and even get married. She was born in the Philippines to an American father. In 2009, Catholic Charities assisted her to obtain citizenship while she was incarcerated. Ms. Noriega went through the steps in Texas but was unable to complete the Oath of Allegiance. At the time, she was homeless and the notice for the Oath was not delivered to her. 

She then moved to Hawaii and was unable to get further assistance on her case before contacting Legal Aid. In 2019, Ms. Noriega finally completed the Oath and received her Certificate on the same day. Ms. Noriega is planning on getting married on Sept. 11, 2019 with her fiance. It will be the one-year anniversary of her father's death. They were only able to reconnect when Ms. Noriega was incarcerated in Texas. Both daughter and father thought that the other had died. They got to spend the last 8 years or so reconnecting when her father passed away due to cancer last year. 

Legal Aid's Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center (HIJC) paralegal Paul Luu and staff attorney Susan Gim assisted Ms. Noriega with obtaining her Certificate of Citizenship. 
Legal Aid welcomes 2019 - 2020 Board of Directors

Legal Aid Society of Hawaii Board of Directors President Joseph Boivin with fellow 
Directors  Catherine Aubuchon and Jake Matson.

Joseph Boivin

Blaine Rogers, Esq.

Naomi C. Fujimoto, Esq.

Regan Iwao, Esq.

Catherine Aubuchon, Esq.
Lowell K.Y. Chun-Hoon, Esq.
Michael Cruise, Esq.
Wattie Green
Lea Hennessy
K. Alohilani Hue Sing
Ian Jung, Esq.
Aldora Kahele
Loel Kaikuaana
Robin Kobayashi, Esq.
Andrew Levin, Esq.
Jake Matson, Esq.
Arsima Muller, Esq.
Gary Murai, Esq.
Kurt Murao, Esq.
Kahiolani Papalimu
Nainoa Seitz
Vaimagalo Seto
Vivian Skilling
Jan Tamura, Esq.
Jodi Shin Yamamoto, Esq.
Elijah Yip, Esq.

Labor Day Holiday
In commemoration of the 125th anniversary of the Labor Day holiday,  all Legal Aid offices will be closed on Monday, September 2.  Learn more about Labor Day

Thank you for being a part of the Justice for All Community Navigator training program

Legal Aid Society PSA
Thank you to Olelo Community Media  for creating this short public service announcement about the Community Navigator training program.

Legal Aid's Managing Attorney for Community Engagement Connie Liu thanks all the participants for being a part of the Justice for All Community Navigator training program.

"I was never aware of legal services and who to refer clients to. Now I have a better picture of services in the community and how to properly navigate through them." - Community Navigator 

Oahu Justice For All Community Navigator training at the University of Hawaii, Manoa.


Funders: Hawaii Justice Foundation, Hawaii Access to Justice Commission, Public Welfare Foundation, the Kresge Foundation, Open Society Foundations

Curriculum partners: ACLU - Hawaii, Domestic Violence Action Center, Ku'ikahi Mediation Center, Mediation Center of the Pacific, Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, UH Elder Law Project, Volunteer Legal Services Hawaii, Public Defenders' Office, West Hawaii Mediation Center, Women Helping Women, Hale Ho'omalu, Kauai Economic Opportunity, YWCA - Kauai, Child and Family Services - Hilo, and Maui Mediation Center.

Site sponsors: KEY Project, Maui Economic Opportunity, West Hawaii Community Health Center, Queen Lili'uokalani Trust, UH Bridge to Hope, Kauai Agency on Elderly Affairs, and Aging and Disability Resource Center

Participants: Ating Bahay, Child and Family Services, County of Hawaii, Department of Education, Department of Health, Kauai District Health Office, DOH-Kauai District Health Office, EAH Housing, Hale `Opio Kaua'i, Inc., Hawai'i Diaper Bank, Hawaii Disability Rights Center, Hawaii State Judiciary, Honolulu Community Action Program, Hoola Lahui Hawaii, Kalihi Palama Health Center, Kauai Department of Health/Chronic Disease Prevention & Health Promotion Division, Ke Ola Mamo, Lanakila Pacific, Malama Pono Health Services, Partners in Development, Partners in Development Foundation, Hui Ho`omalu, Rural South Hilo Community Association, The Food Basket, Hawaii Island's Food Bank, US Vets, YWCA Kauai, YWCA of Hawaii Island, Lana`i Kina`ole, Department of Health - Lanai, Lanai Child Welfare Services, Lanai Federal Credit Union, Maui Police Department, Molokai Community Health Center, Department of Health - Molokai, Molokai General Hospital, Ka Hale Pomaika'i  Milolii, Family Support Hawaii, Hawaii Affordable Properties at Ulu Wini, Na Kahua Hale O Ulu Wini, Hope Services Hawaii, Malama I Ke Ola Health Center, Immigrant Services - Maui County - Dept of Housing & Human Concerns, Maui Marshallese Ministry, CCMM, Maui AIDS Foundation, Maui Rescue Mission, Hawaii Community Association, Maui County Office on Aging, Kahului Baptist Church

Thank you to the Summer Law Clerks and Volunteers for all of your help and hard work this summer

Summer law clerks Britagne Johnson and Mary Pascual helped volunteer attorneys at the 
Honolulu District Court Access to Justice Room.

Britagne Johnson
William S. Richardson School of Law
Rebekah Ray
William S. Richardson School of Law
Troy Ballard
William S. Richardson School of Law
Jessica Daye
William S. Richardson School of Law
Sarah Smith
University of Tulsa College of Law
Mary Pascual
Gonzaga University School of Law ,  A2J Tech Fellow
Jessica Adlam
Elisabeth Haub School of Law at Pace University (summer volunteer)
Zulfiya Crouch
William S. Richarson School of Law (summer volunteer)

Mahalo to Legal Aid's AmeriCorps Members for their year of service
August marks the end of the 2018-2019 AmeriCorps year. A few AmeriCorps members will be staying for another term, some will be transitioning to other Legal Aid staff positions, and some will go off to law school. Thank you for your year of service and dedication to Legal Aid!

Public Benefits Overview Training 

Public Benefits managing attorney Tatjana Johnson and senior attorney, Melissa Wong.  

Melissa Wong and Tatjana Johnson hosted the Public Benefits Overview Training (PBOT) on August 22-23, 2019 at the HawaiiState FCU in Honolulu, Hawaii.  PBOT 2019 focused on public benefits for families and immigrants.  

Guest speakers included Puanani Burgess, James Li (Helping Hands), Victory Kutsy and Sharon Herold (DHS-BESSD), Puanani Crabbe-Parker (Med-QUEST), Connie Liu and Rebecca Leibowitz (Legal Aid), Pankaj Bhanot (Director, DHS), Brenda Kwon, John Egan (WSRSL), Shantae Williams (Susannah Wesley), and Bow Mun Chin and Susan Gim (HIJC). 

I mmigration attorney John Egan presenting at this year's PBOT. 

PBOT had 80 participants from Waimanalo Health Center, Waikiki Health, Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center, US Renal Care, University of Hawaii Center on Disability Studies, Queens Medical Center, Palama Settlement, Malama I Ke Ola Health Center, Med-QUEST, Ke Ola Mamo, Kalihi Palama Health Center, Institute for Human Services, Hawaii Disability Rights Center, EAH Housing, Domestic Violence Action Center, and Catholic Charities Hawaii.  

Department of Human Services Director Pankaj Bhanot addressed this year's attendees.  

Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center holds free legal workshops at Towers at Kuhio Park and  Palolo Valley Homes Learning Center

HIJC's Paul Luu at the Towers at Kuhio Park.

Legal Aid's Hawaii Immigrant Justice Center (HIJC) hosted a free legal workshop for citizens of the Freely Associated States at the Towers at Kuhio Park.  Kamana Mathur from US Citizenship and Immigration Services joined HIJC and answered questions about the Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization.  Susan Gim, Tatjana Johnson, Paul Luu, Jacky Moses, and Rebekah Ray hosted the workshop. 

HIJC also presented a free legal workshop, "Important Documents for COFA (Compact of Free Association) Migrants" at Palolo Valley Homes Learning Center. The workshop was conducted in both Chuukese and Marshallese languages by HIJC managing attorney Tatjana Johnson with the help of an interpreter. Legal Aid staff and volunteers were on hand to help participants complete an application for an employment authorization document. 

Legal Aid welcomes Technology Innovators

Miguel Willis, founder of the Access to Justice Tech (A2J) Fellows Program and Presidential Innovation Fellow at the Law School Admission Council (LSCA) recently visited the Honolulu Legal Aid office. Miguel met with A2J Tech Fellow and summer law clerk Mary Pascual and new Legal Aid tech staff attorney Andres Gonzalez. Andres served as an A2J Tech Fellow in New York with Pro Bono Net in 2018. Mary did substantial work in helping the Legal Navigator online portal come closer to reality and now Andres will focus extensively on the project. Learn more about the A2J Tech Fellow program

Legal Aid Maui office helps woman focus on healing after SSI win

"Due to Legal Aid's help, I was able to obtain benefits which I so desperately need.  I had previously been denied SSI and was afraid to refile thinking there was no hope for me. I knew I was disabled, but didn't know how to proceed with the legal process and wasn't able to do the paperwok needed to be approved. I was tired and worn-out of fighting with the state every three months to stay on disability. I believed the state was just trying to cut me off disability benefits.  

Legal Aid helped me complete the application, gather the doctor's records and explained to me that we had to "show the whole picture" of my disability regarding all of my ailments. 

Legal Aid helped me fill out the "function report" and while trying to complete this report, I got so stressed out and was not able to complete it on my own. Kim ( Maui SSI paralegal) faxed many documents and made phone calls. She worked closely with my worker to give social security a clear and complete picture of my disabilities. 

Kim was very patient with me, kind, and explained things clearly so that I could understand it. Without her guidance, expertise, and knowledge I would have never been able to file for benefits on my own. 

The huge job of gathering records, filling out forms, and putting it all together was possible with the help of Legal Aid. They were patient, explained in layman's terms and helped me understand the process. They will stand by you all the way through. They will fight for you! Now I can relax and work on getting better!"

Freedom from domestic violence

I was without legal representation, disabled, and filing for legal separation from my spouse due to domestic violence problems. I had no financial support besides disability and DHS food stamps $30 a month. My ex came to court filing divorce and false allegations. 

Legal Aid helped me to get organized, focus on my legal goals, and mediate with my ex's legal representation. Legal Aid represented me well in court and also supported me emotionally through a very difficult process. Because of Legal Aid, I now have resolve and closure to perhaps a dangerous relationship to my health and life. 

Ke Akua (God) does work through many people and situations. Legal Aid (Ben's assistance) was a huge blessing in my life. I believe I could not have managed well without such support. -Joanna, helped by Maui staff attorney Benjamin Pittenger
Legal Aid's Disaster Legal Services team helps residents save thousands in recoupment claims

Legal Aid's Disaster Relief Legal Services team of paralegal Jasmine Kupihea and attorney Melissa Goldman met with FEMA representatives during FEMA's recoupment interviews. Their advocacy helped clear nearly $170,000 of potential debt and may even result in an increase in disaster financial aid to those impacted by last year's volcanic disaster.

Medical Legal Partnership Celebration

Legal Aid's Executive Director M. Nalani Fujimori Kaina join the Kona staff at the sunset celebration with the West Hawaii Community Health Center. L-R: Nalani, Dan Mistak, Jennifer Gonzales, Sarah Kelly, Laura Cushman, and Claudia Shockley.

The Kona Legal Aid office celebrated the year long medical-legal partnership with West Hawaii Community Health Center with a beautiful sunset reception.  Congratulations to Dan Mistak, Jennifer Gonzales, and the Kona Legal Aid office for all of their hard work in making this natural partnership a success.  

In the News
FEMA and HI-EMA, with support from Hawaii County, complete the review of denial letters to Kilauea survivors 

Hawai'i Emergency Management Agency
D A V I D  Y.  I G E
M A J O R  G E N E R A L  A R T H U R   J .  L O G AN
D I R E CT O R  O F  E M E R G E N C Y  M A N A G E M E N T

AUGUST 20, 2019

HONOLULU- The  Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and  Hawai'i Emergency Management Agency (HI-EMA), with support from the County of Hawai'i,  deployed assistance specialists to  Hawai'i  Island on August 5-9 to meet with recipients of disaster aid who received letters indicating they might owe a federal debt following the receipt of FEMA disaster assistance following the 2018 Kīlauea eruption. The Legal Aid Society of Hawai ' i provided representation to qualified recipients and identified issues that may be systemic to lower Puna.

This combined effort between the County, State, Federal and Non-Governmental Organizations to address eligibility issues resulted in approximately $170,000 worth of debt cleared. Among the questions about assistance eligibility were documentation of ownership, pre-disaster occupancy and duplication of assistance by insurance.

FEMA sent 69 letters to applicants under consideration for recoupment that they needed  to appeal FEMA's decision within the time stated on their recoupment letter. Five applicants resolved their cases prior to the visit of specialists to the Big Island; the remaining 64 were invited to meet with specialists to review their cases. In total, 35 applicants' debts were cleared, totaling $153,536.81, and three applicants' debts were reduced, totaling $16,352.78.
# # #

Contact: Arlina Agbayani
Public Relations Officer

Hawaii Emergency Management Agency

The Maui News
August 5, 2019

Starting today, hours at Maui's second circuit court self-help center expand. The center located at Hoapili Hale in Wailuku will be open Mondays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Previously it was open only on Thursdays.

At the the Self-Help Center, volunteer attorneys and an Americorps Advocate provide limited legal information to self-represented individuals involved in District and Family court civil matters. They assist with issues related to landlord-tenant disputes, collection cases, District and Family Court temporary restraining orders, divorces, custody cases, and other civil matters. The volunteer attorneys may help with ensuring court forms are properly completed and helping individuals to better understand court documents. The volunteers may also try to answer as many legal procedural questions as possible.

"Maui County is very fortunate and grateful for the efforts of Judge Cardoza, the Maui County Bar Association and the Legal Aid Society of Hawaiʻi for their guidance and leadership and for the unselfish attorneys in our circuit who so generously donate their time and talent to assist the self-represented parties in our community," said Second Circuit Chief Judge Richard T. Bissen, Jr. "Mahalo a nui loa oukou."

"Expanding the hours of the Maui Self Help Center is a win-win for everyone involved," said Damir Kouliev, MCBA Vice President and Wailuku-based attorney. "The community will benefit immensely from greater access to legal information, and our judges appreciate it when self-represented litigants are better-prepared. My fellow attorneys and I find that volunteering not only feels good intrinsically, but fosters camaraderie between colleagues," he added.

"We thank the MCBA and all the volunteer attorneys for answering the need to increase access to justice in our community," said
Yukari Murakami, managing attorney for the Maui office of the Legal Aid Society of Hawaiʻi. "With the expanded hours, we hope that those that are unrepresented and have no choice but to navigate the legal system on their own, can now get meaningful help towards solving their legal issues."

Molokaʻi and Lānai residents, and those living in Hāna, may call 808-495-5527 when the Self-Help Center is open. All other Maui County residents must go in-person for assistance.

Summit brings new solutions for landlords
Maui Legal Aid attorney Benjamin Pittenger 
Photo credit: Maui News

Annual event dispels myths about housing subsidies; offers tips to solve issues between landlords and tenants

The Maui News
July 25, 2019
Kehaulani Cerizo
Full article

KAHULUI - Open communication, operating in good faith and thorough lease agreements are among the keys that open the door for better landlord-tenant relationships in Maui County, a panel of legal experts said Wednesday.

Lawyers Loren Tilley, Benjamin Pittenger, Joshua James and Jason Economou discussed landlord and tenant rights and answered various questions at the fourth annual Maui Landlord Summit at Maui Beach Hotel on Wednesday in Kahului.

"Enter your agreement in good faith, get the agreement in writing, and then take good communications with your tenants," said Pittenger, Maui attorney with the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii. "Work with them so they stay a long time so you're not losing rent in transition, and it will be a good relationship for both of you."

The free annual event, sponsored by the Realtors Association of Maui in partnership with the County of Maui and the Maui Homeless Alliance, is designed to empower current and prospective landlords, as well as property managers, so they can help address the critical need for housing on Maui. This year, nearly 200 people attended, organizers said, the largest in event history.

Safe and affordable housing presents unique challenges for the county's low-income or homeless individuals and families. Jamilla Prentice, a panelist who talked about her experience receiving social services, said communication can help dispel myths about housing assistance programs and the people who use them.  "Communication, that word has come up so much today," she said. "When you communicate . . . you're able to look past the label of HUD rental, which scares so many people, I'm not sure why. If you sit down and have a conversation with someone, you can see the whole picture and not just the stereotype."

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) housing units are federally owned for lower-income families, and the Housing Choice Voucher / Section 8 lower-income housing program provides tenants with vouchers to rent private residences approved by local housing authorities.

Panelist and property manager Jessmine Kim, RAM's 2018 "Housing Hero," encouraged local landlords to step out of their comfort zones when it comes to renters with housing subsidies.

"I would like to tell other landlords to take a chance - that's what I did with the first tenant that had third-party assistance," she said during the summit. "It was a great experience. You have so many great programs out there that are helping tenants get back on their feet."

RAM's "Housing Hero," which is now called "Landlord of the Year,"recognizes a landlord or property manager who actively works with social service agencies to find rentals for individuals and families who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. This year's recipient was Leila Chin of Yoshida Realty Group, who was nominated by Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers.

For landlords looking to rent and tenants seeking financial aid, a wealth of community programs exist. Organizations like Ka Hale A Ke Ola Homeless Resource Centers, Maui Economic Opportunity Inc., Catholic Charities of Hawaii and the Family Life Center offer security deposit and rental assistance. Legal Aid Services of Hawaii, the state's oldest and largest nonprofit public interest law firm, provides help with landlord/tenant issues, evictions, repairs, illegal lockouts and utility shutoffs and security deposits, among other areas. Meanwhile, Mental Health Kokua operates a 24-hour support hotline.  Other groups that provided information at the 2019 summit included Asian Real Estate Association of America Aloha Chapter, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Women Helping Women.

Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino said during the summit that the administration is looking into options "never done before" to alleviate the affordable housing crisis, such as working to provide tax credits for homeowners offering Section 8 rentals.  "I don't need anybody to call for action - action needs to be now," he said. "I am tired of waiting. I am going to do whatever possible with the help of the County Council and our agencies, Department of Housing and Human Concerns, state agencies. We need to work together.

"We don't need glory, we need housing."