OneJustice Blog

Bring life-changing legal help to Californians in need.

Category Archives: Preventing Homelessness

She hears their calls…

Welcome to our new Pro Bono Justice Program Associate, Lyla Bugara!

We’re super excited to introduce you to the newest member of our team! Lyla will be working with the Pro Bono Justice Program, which fosters volunteerism in the legal profession and builds innovative, private/nonprofit collaborations that deliver free legal services to vulnerable communities. So to get to know her better, we sat down with Lyla this week and asked her a few questions!

Please join us in welcoming her to the OneJustice network!


Photo: Lyla Bugara, the new Pro Bono Justice Program Associate in the San Francisco office.

Meet Lyla Bugara, the new Pro Bono Justice Program Associate in the San Francisco office.

Thank you for joining us today, Lyla! Tell us what drew you to the work of OneJustice?

I was extremely excited by the opportunity to work at OneJustice because of the organization’s commitment to systemic and transformative change. OneJustice is a unique nonprofit in that it takes a bird’s-eye view of the legal aid system in California and works to develop innovative solutions to the many problems that plague our state’s justice system. Millions of people live their lives every day without access to legal resources just because of where they live, how much money they make, where they were born, what language they speak, the color of their skin, and their gender identity. It’s wildly unjust, and the time for change was yesterday! The good news is that we are living in historic times. Thousands of Black and brown people across the country are rising up to say “enough!” to systemic racism and oppression. I hear their calls. And OneJustice’s work plays such an important part in the fight for equal justice, economic justice, and racial justice. I am honored to work here.

We’re honored to have you on the team! What will you be doing in your role at OneJustice?

As the Pro Bono Justice Program Associate, I will be responsible for managing the Justice Bus Project in Northern California and clinic coordination for the Rural Justice Collaborative. Both of these programs provide essential legal services to people living in rural areas who might otherwise never be served. I hope to ensure these projects best serve the needs of oppressed and marginalized Californians, while transforming the legal aid system in California.

We look forward to hearing about this work in the near future! What were you up to before coming to OneJustice? 

In 2011, I worked at the Correctional Association of New York advocating for an end to the incarceration of domestic violence survivors. From 2012-2016, I worked at ColorOfChange, the country’s largest online civil rights organization, as Criminal Justice Campaign Manager where I managed campaigns relating to ending for-profit prisons and anti-Black police violence.

It sounds like really rewarding work! And final question, tell us something about you that is not work-related!

I was born and raised Macrobiotic — a Japanese diet based on the power of whole foods to heal and nourish the body. From ages 10-13, I went to “Macro Camp” every summer. 🙂

Thank you so much for your time, Lyla! We’re happy to welcome you to the OneJustice team!

It’s never too late for a fresh start…

Over 100 individuals receive free legal help in Los Angeles!

IMAGE: Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles and the John M. Langston Bar Association volunteer attorneys at the Fresh Start Legal Clinic in Los Angeles.

Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles and the John M. Langston Bar Association volunteer attorneys at the Fresh Start Legal Clinic in Los Angeles.

On Saturday, March 19, 2016, OneJustice, in partnership with Jenesse Center Legal Advisory CommitteeAlternate Public Defender, Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles, Californians for Safety and JusticeICE out of LAIMPACT LA, the John M. Langston Bar Association, Legal Aid Foundation of Los AngelesLos Angeles Public DefenderNeighborhood Legal Services of Los Angeles County, A New Way of Life Reentry ProjectOne LA I.A.F., and other Los Angeles-based community organizations helped give Angelenos a Fresh Start.

At the newly created Fresh Start Legal Clinic, South LA residents completed applications for the Traffic Ticket Amnesty program, which allows individuals with unpaid fines on traffic and non-traffic infraction tickets to get a reduction of up to 80% of the amount owed to the court or collections agency. Clients also filled out applications for Proposition 47, a program that changes low-level crimes from potential felonies to misdemeanors.

Having a suspended driver’s license or felony criminal record can be a barrier to employment that keeps individuals and families trapped in an endless cycle of poverty. Without the ability to work and earn a living, families are forced to make difficult decisions about housing, transportation, and other life necessities. Traffic Ticket Amnesty and Proposition 47 programs can help end this cycle. Both programs are crucial to bettering individuals’ lives. Participants in these time-limited programs are able to improve their employment prospects, regain driver’s licenses, remove immigration barriers, and reduce old debts all through a brief application and short post-clinic process.

IMAGE: Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles and the John M. Langston Bar Association volunteer attorneys hard at work at the Fresh Start Legal Clinic in Los Angeles.

Black Women Lawyers Association of Los Angeles and the John M. Langston Bar Association volunteer attorneys hard at work at the Fresh Start Legal Clinic in Los Angeles.

At the clinic, about 70 volunteers helped over 100 South Los Angeles community members with Proposition 47 reclassification and Traffic Ticket Amnesty. Volunteer attorneys helped clients with the support of community organizations. Thanks to the Fresh Start Legal Clinic, South LA residents face fewer barriers to success in their futures.

“[The clinic was] extremely helpful and it helps people to achieve what they always wanted to do,” said one client.

Thank you to our wonderful partners, supporters, and volunteers for making this clinic a reality!

For more information about Proposition 47, please visit http://myprop47.org/.

To learn more about Traffic Ticket Amnesty, please visit http://www.backontheroadca.org/.

To believe is power. Justice is power. This is justice.

Sometimes you get to be part of something really special.

That’s what happened when Mr. Salazar invited me into his home.

Last October, something really special happened to me.  I drove in the early morning from my home in Pacifica to a small town in the Central Valley – Firebaugh, California.  And there, I met Mr. Florentino Salazar, who invited me into his home.

Mr. Salazar in the Dave Brick Film for OneJustice

Click on the image above to view the 3-minute film Dave Brick created about the power of legal services.

You see, a couple of months earlier, OneJustice won an amazing contest run by Dave Brick of Brick Films.  Dave is an incredibly talented filmmaker (you can see his work on his website) – and he decided to provide a free film to a nonprofit as a way of giving back.  After 47 contest submissions and thousands of votes cast for the finalists, OneJustice was the contest winner – and the recipient of Dave’s generosity with his time, energy and expertise.  Working with Dave, we all decided that the best possible idea was a film that could be used by the entire legal services sector to relate the power of our work – through the lens of one client’s experience.  And with OneJustice’s focus on reaching isolated areas of the state, and Dave’s prior work for CRLA and PolicyLink documenting the needs of small unincorporated communities in rural areas, it was a no-brainer that we would focus on the Central Valley.

And so we worked with Chris Schneider and the dedicated team at Central California Legal Services, who introduced us to Mr. Salazar.  He agreed to meet with me, to hear more about the film idea, so I trundled off to Firebaugh.

And had my heart broken wide open.  As we sat around his kitchen table, Mr. Salazar was incredibly open with me about his experience.  He had worked his entire life to provide for his family.  Like many low-wage workers, they lived one pay period away from truly hard times.  And then came medical problems, surgery, and trouble making ends meet – followed by a terrible experience with a loan modification company whose unlawful practices brought Mr. Salazar and his family to the brink of losing their home.  Somehow they miraculously made it to Central California Legal Services – who stepped in, saved the home, and ultimately won an injunction that prohibited the company from continuing their illegal and predatory behavior.

Now I know that this story is repeated hundreds and thousands of times throughout California.  Legal services attorneys work miracles in family’s lives every day.  But sitting in Mr. Salazar’s modest and immaculate home, meeting his wife, sons and family members, hearing him describe the attorneys at Central California Legal Services as angels who came into his life – it reminded me what an honor and a privilege it is to do this work.

And so it seems particularly right to share this film with you all on Martin Luther King Jr. day.  Because I think Dr. King would have agreed with Mr. Salazar that “To believe is power.  Justice is power.  This is justice.”

(Click here or on the image above to watch the film.)

Can you imagine raising your kids in a home with no heat, damaged walls, doors that let in rain, broken windows, and filthy flooring?

Guest Blog for National Pro Bono Week:

That’s what the Chavez family was doing – and it is why I am so thankful I had the privilege of being their pro bono lawyer.

Happy National Pro Bono Week!  Created by the American Bar Association, Pro Bono Week focuses the nation’s attention on the increased need for pro bono services during these challenging economic times and celebrates the outstanding work of lawyers who volunteer their services throughout the year.  Here in California we celebrate the work of the law students and attorneys who donate thousands of hours to bring more free, life-saving legal help to Californians in need.  At OneJustice, we believe these volunteers are heroes – and we are proud to bring the following guest blog post from our very own hero, Advisory Board member Marley Degner.

Guest Blog:  Preventing Homelessness for the Chavez Family – My First Pro Bono Case.

Marley Degner, Associate at Pillsbury and OneJustice Advisory Board Member, prevented the Chavez family from becoming homeless and fought for 7 months for their housing rights.

By Marley Degner, Associate at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman

I met Mauricio and Sugey Chavez as a new attorney at the law firm of Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.  It took seven long months – from November 2007 to May 2008 – to help them stabilize their housing, but doing so was one of the most rewarding experiences in my career.

Mauricio and Sugey were a young couple with three young children and a fourth on the way.  The Chavez family was seeking help in fighting their landlords’ attempt to evict them from their apartment.  Mauricio had grown up in the apartment, lived there for 18 years, and even married Sugey in the living room.  They went first to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights for help and were referred to my law firm – Pillsbury – for pro bono assistance.  Their case was the first pro bono matter, and indeed one of the first cases, that I took on as a new attorney.

Most eviction cases are resolved quickly, but not this one. First, the landlords attempted to evict the family on the basis of trivialities (such as saying that the family set out the garbage in the wrong place) and trumped up allegations – like the family had a dog and set up a satellite dish, even though the landlord had previously agreed to both.

Here is what was really going on.  The apartment had a wide array of serious problems – and the Chavez family had finally gotten up the courage to complain.  In fact, Sugey called the Department of Building Inspection, and when the Inspector came out he found numerous building code violations, including that the apartment lacked any source of heat, that the walls were damaged and poorly repaired, that one of the doors had a hole that admitted rain, that the ceilings and many of the windows needed to be repaired, and that the flooring was damaged and filthy.  And what did the landlords do after being cited for these violations?  They filed the paperwork to evict the Chavez family and their children – and they even had the audacity to tell the family they were being evicted for costing them so much money.

Celebrate Pro Bono Image!

National Pro Bono Week, October 22-27, celebrates the outstanding work of lawyers who volunteer their services throughout the year.

And that is why it was so important that the Chavez family had access to representation by an attorney.  By demonstrating the eviction was retaliatory and without good cause, I got the case dismissed.  I also negotiated a Settlement Agreement that forced the landlords to make all the repairs identified in the inspection, make additional renovations to improve the apartment, and even lower the monthly rent.  This was a major win for Mauricio and Sugey – the promise of finally having appropriate living conditions for their children.

Before the repairs could be completed, however, the apartment became infested with mold after the ceiling leaked during a rainstorm.  Mauricio and Sugey’s youngest daughter suffered a severe allergy attack.  The landlords informed the family that they had to temporarily relocate (so the landlords could make more extensive renovations), but assured me that the family could reoccupy the apartment once the work was completed.  But then the landlords tried to back out on the deal – they served the family with a Notice to Vacate that did not allow them to return to their home.  Once again, I was able to step in and protect Mauricio and Sugey’s rights, and the landlords rescinded the notice.

But then the landlords announced that they were going to ask the San Francisco Rent Board for a substantial rent increase, despite the Settlement Agreement where they agreed to a reduced rent amount.  At this point, Mauricio and Sugey were so tired of dealing with the landlords’ behavior that they were open to negotiating a new agreement to move out of the apartment all together. Consistent with the family’s wishes, I negotiated a buy-out of their tenancy for approximately $25,000.  The family used the settlement payment to secure a home loan—and Sugey Chavez gave birth to the family’s fourth child, Giselle.

OneJustice Volunteers Interview a Client

Preventing Homelessness: Each year the network of legal services nonprofits that OneJustice supports provides free legal help on housing matters to over 58,000 low-income families.

What I will always remember about the case was how grateful the Chavez family was for Pillsbury’s assistance.  Sugey told me that she had never had anybody in her life to fight for her the way that I fought for her family, and she was deeply touched.  It made a huge difference that they had attorneys fighting for them – and I am very thankful that I was able to be one of those attorneys.  I had always known that I would be involved with pro bono work as an attorney, and working with Mauricio and Sugey Chavez reaffirmed that commitment.  I have been active in pro bono cases ever since and it is a vitally important part of my professional life.

I am involved with OneJustice because OneJustice exists to make sure that people like the Chavez family have access to legal representation.  I do not know what would have happened to them if they had not been able to secure pro bono help – and quickly – after receiving the first eviction notice.  Their landlords were furious at them for calling the Building Inspector and were determined to use the legal system to evict the family or to raise their rent when the health and safety of the family was threatened by their living conditions.  People like the Chavez family depend on organizations like OneJustice to survive, and that’s why I’m so proud to serve on the OneJustice Advisory Board.

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