OneJustice Blog

Bring life-changing legal help to Californians in need.

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Paving a path for a just life

OneJustice’s newly appointed Board Chair Jennifer Chaloemtiarana tells us about her work in providing a helping hand to fellow Californians. 

This week, we’re honored to introduce you to our recently appointed Chair of our Board of Directors, Jennifer Chaloemtiarana! She currently leads the legal function of Castlight Health as its General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer, and has served on our Board of Directors for over 5 years. Thanks to our Board’s guidance, the OneJustice network is able to continue bringing help, hope, and justice to Californians in need.

We asked Jennifer to share with us a little bit about her new role and why equal access to justice is so important to her. Please join us in welcoming Jennifer!


IMAGE:Jennifer Chaloemtiarana, OneJustice Board of Directors Chair.

Jennifer Chaloemtiarana, OneJustice Board of Directors Chair.

Welcome, Jennifer! Tell us about how you became involved with OneJustice? What is your role as the new Board Chair?

I have always been involved in social service in some manner, including full time summer jobs in nonprofits serving low-income individuals all throughout college and then significant levels of volunteering as I entered the workforce. As a lawyer, I kept this connection through active pro bono work supported by the law firm I worked for. When I went in-house, pro bono work became harder to incorporate into my work life. I had become familiar with the work that OneJustice does through colleagues and friends, and the approach and business model of the organization really appealed to me. I attended several Opening Doors to Justice events before engaging with Julia Wilson, the CEO, about coming onto the Board. It was just the right fit at just the right time.

I have been so pleased to be on the Board with so many smart, motivated people. I just completed a term as a member of the Governance & Nominating Committee and then moved into the Board Chair role. At a high level, my role as chair is two-fold. One function is to lead the Board in making sure that the organization’s actions are in line with its mission and that the organization is appropriately managing the assets to which it is entrusted. Secondly, my role is to provide resources and assistance to management. Are there tools, skills, or knowledge that they might need that the Board can provide? How can the Board be an extension of staff in promoting the goals of the organization? There are a lot of sub-parts to each of those primary functions, and fortunately, OneJustice has a very engaged Board and skilled staff that make the work seem easy.

Thank you for all of your hard work and support, Jennifer! We look forward to working with you as our Board Chair! Can you now tell us why you support OneJustice? 

The level of unmet need for legal resources and access to justice in the state of California is overwhelming. There is only 1 lawyer for every 351 low-income persons in the state, and only 100 legal aid organizations in California. There is just no way for all of the needed legal services to be provided. OneJustice does so many things to fill in those gaps, including linking law firms and law students to legal aid organizations which expands their reach without stretching their limited resources, providing training and tools so that the organizations can do more with less, and serving as a center for innovation and ideas to move the entire legal aid industry forward to do more, better, and faster. The unique set of strategic services that OneJustice provides really appeals to me as a business lawyer. And the “prize” is really worth going for: if we could level out the playing field for the 8 million low-income individuals in California, think about how the quality of life for our entire state would be lifted!

We couldn’t agree more! Every individual should have access to legal help. Finally, what does justice mean to you? Why is equal access to justice so important? 

One of my favorite quotes comes from Cornel West: “Never forget that justice is what love looks like in public.” We have all experienced it, that moment where we put aside our own troubles, challenges, and prejudices and reached out to another person, whether friend or stranger, offering our hand for no other reason than simply being available when help was needed. To me, justice is what happens in that moment, when we recognize that we are all equally worthy of a chance to simply live a satisfied life. Legal barriers can be especially daunting and can compound other challenges that low-income individuals may be facing. Lawyers are uniquely equipped to help remove those barriers; we can pave that path to a satisfied life. It is our honor, opportunity, and responsibility to provide a helping hand to fellow Californians.

Thank you so much for taking time to talk to us, Jennifer! We can’t wait to see how you lead our Board and organization!

Wouldn’t you want a second chance?

This National Reentry Week, Prop 47 and expungement clinics allow individuals to move past their offenses and rejoin our communities.

By Maureen Slack, OneJustice Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellow

Almost one in three Americans has a criminal record. In fact, roughly the same number of Americans have criminal records as do four-year college diplomas. Before I started working on criminal record clearance clinics with the Justice Bus Project and our amazing partners, I didn’t realize the depth of the damage.

IMAGE: OneJustice Board member and Justice Bus Volunteer at a clinic in Napa County.

OneJustice Board member and Justice Bus Volunteer at a clinic in Napa County.

In many ways, a criminal record punishes someone long after she’s completed her sentence. And convictions from 20 or 30 years ago, minor offenses, or just arrests, carry criminal records and serious turmoil. The Proposition 47 and expungement clinics that the Justice Bus holds along with legal and community organizations provide at least some form of relief. However, as the law stands, there is no complete remedy for someone to move on.

Much of a record’s harm is economic. Most housing and employment sources require background checks and providers can make harsh snap judgments based on little information. This was our client from Napa’s experience: “I was in a volatile marriage and received a DUI in my own driveway as I got in my car for safety from my abusive husband. I lost my nursing license due to this.” And she’s not alone. Depending on the survey, up to 90% of prospective employers perform criminal background checks, as do 80% of landlords. Some research indicates that a criminal record reduces the likelihood of a job callback or offer by almost 50%. And this negative impact is more pronounced for African-American men than white men. Many clients come to clinics hoping for meaningful, full-time employment.

Beyond these economic barriers, a criminal record can also do serious emotional damage. A major part of this emotional strain comes from the economic and housing instability. Many clients also feel hurt by the stigma of being forever labeled as criminals. As one of our clients put it, “When I was young I made a mistake and got a felony conviction. That was about 15 years ago. I am now mature, a father, and hardworking… [by getting this expunged] I feel a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.” Even when someone feels they’ve moved forward from past mistakes, a record is a constant reminder of how society labels them.

While these economic and emotional barriers are severe and often unyielding, the law currently makes it really difficult to remove them. Criminal expungements and Proposition 47 offer at least some relief. Through expungement, someone can get their old conviction case re-opened and dismissed. It won’t completely erase their record, and the case will still show up on state background checks — but it won’t show up on private criminal background checks. The person can now accurately answer on most applications that they’ve never been convicted of a crime. Additionally, Prop 47 is a piece of legislation that reclassifies certain non-violent felonies as misdemeanors. Through Prop 47 relief, individuals may be able to restore their ability to get certain professional licenses and public benefits. It may also make DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) available to immigrants previously ineligible because of felony convictions.

IMAGE: Stanford Law School students helping a client at a mobile legal clinic in Shasta County.

Stanford Law School students helping a client at a mobile legal clinic in Shasta County.

In 2015, the Justice Bus Project began working with veterans’ advocates in Fresno and Stockton, Public Defender’s offices, community organizations, and private criminal defense attorneys to emphasize serving veterans with criminal records in those regions. Last year it became clear to us that the need extended beyond the veteran community when non-veterans began attending these limited-scope criminal record expungement and Prop 47 clinics seeking assistance. In April 2015, the Justice Bus Project successfully piloted using the records clearance clinic model we had developed to serve veterans to help others in need of assistance.  The need was so great that over the last year we began to open up many of our records clearance clinics to both veterans and civilian residents of rural and isolated communities.

Over the last year, our volunteers staffed 15 criminal record clinics in San Joaquin, Napa, Fresno, Butte, and Shasta Counties. The clients we see are overwhelmingly relieved to confront their criminal pasts and move forward.  And the demand is so great that we often have a waiting list of clients whom we cannot serve at the clinics.  In response, we are in the planning stages for a new series of “Rural Second Chance” clinics to try to meet more of the need around the state.

While expungements and Prop 47 provide some relief, barriers still remain, and at this point, there’s no way for a client to have a truly clean slate. We need more research on the impact of expungements and Prop 47 on people’s lives, but, anecdotally, the people who come to our clinics are hopeful for a fresh start. With the right legislation, there is hope for stronger programs to help those individuals successfully start their lives again.  Until then, we will continue to bring life-changing help to those in need of  these serves in rural and isolated communities.


Maureen_Blog Post photoMaureen Slack is an Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Fellow and a proud participant in Equal Justice Work’s national Veterans Legal Corps. At OneJustice, she is responsible for leading Justice Bus trips throughout Northern California, working to bring attorney and law student volunteers from urban areas to serve isolated communities.

Look what you’ve done over the past year…

You brought justice to 1,383 Californians! Wow!

As we kick off this season of gratitude, we wanted to share with you the tremendous impact you made this past year. Volunteers, donors, and partners like you brought free legal assistance to over 1,000 individuals in need, and we couldn’t be more grateful!

Final 2015 Report Back Infographic (with map pins)

Spread the word! This holiday seasonthe OneJustice Board of Directors will match every gift, dollar-for-dollar. That’s right, that means twice as much justice for veterans, vulnerable seniors, and low-income children and youth. You are our justice heroes – and you make the work possible. Donate now!

Justice is what love looks like in public

OneJustice’s Board Chair Max Ochoa tells us about his love for justice.

We’re so excited to feature our Board Chair Max Ochoa this week! Max has served on our Board of Directors for over 7 years. Under Max’s leadership, our Board won the 2013 Prudential Leadership Award for Exceptional Nonprofit Boards, an award that honors the innovative and transformative work that nonprofit boards are doing to help position their organizations for success.

Thanks to his guidance and the incredible work and support of our Board of Directors, OneJustice can continue our commitment to equal access to high-quality civil legal aid. We asked Max to share with us a little bit about himself and what justice means to him.

Please join us in welcoming Max!


Photo: Max Ochoa, OneJustice Board of Directors Chair.

Max Ochoa, OneJustice Board of Directors Chair.

Thank you for joining us, Max! Tell us about yourself. How did you become involved with the organization?

I am the General Counsel & Chief Privacy Officer for Turn Inc., an advertising technology company based in Redwood City, CA. I’m also the proud father of two great kids, Catherine and Alex, and the lucky spouse to my wife, Julie.

I have been a proud member of the OneJustice Board since 2008. When I joined, I was a decade out of law school and had spent several years as in-house counsel for small technology companies. Working for small tech companies is great, but it isn’t always easy to find pro bono opportunities. I had been heavily involved in pro bono efforts at my law firm prior to going in-house, and I sorely missed the opportunity to serve.

Tell us why do you support OneJustice? Why is this organization important to you? 

I joined OneJustice because I believe in the mission of increasing access to justice for California’s underserved. When poor, underprivileged, and disenfranchised people need the protection of the legal system, too often they are left to fend for themselves, with predictably unfair and life-shaking results. OneJustice works to ensure timely, free access to a lawyer whose help can make all the difference. That work is as important today as ever.

Max, we can’t thank you enough for your leadership — you inspire us! Why does justice matter? What is it?  Why is it a part of our name? 

Justice is fairness, justice is equal treatment under the law, justice is timely and affordable access to legal aid, justice is looking out for the oppressed. As Dr. Cornel West has observed, justice is what love looks like in public.

Photo: From left to right: Kathryn Fritz, OneJustice Board Chair Max Ochoa, Claire Solot, Martin Tannenbaum, and OneJustice Chief Executive Officer Julia Wilson at this year's Opening Doors to Justice event.

From left to right: Kathryn Fritz, OneJustice Board Chair Max Ochoa, Claire Solot, Martin Tannenbaum, and OneJustice Chief Executive Officer Julia Wilson at this year’s Opening Doors to Justice event.

For OneJustice, the mission is furthered by strengthening the legal system’s ability to deliver life-changing legal services when and where they are needed. We do this by training the leaders of legal services organizations throughout the state, making them more effective. We do it by putting attorneys where they are needed via efforts like the Justice Bus Project. And we’ll continue to do so by innovating and deploying talent, people, and technology where it’s needed most.

OneJustice fills a need in my life, in your life, and in the life of a just society. I’m proud to serve OneJustice and to support its work with my time and my money.  Join us.

Thank you so much, Max, for your leadership! 


This fall, the OneJustice Board of Directors has challenged our network to raise $50,000 before December 31st. Join us by making a donation today, and your gift will be matched by the Board, dollar-for-dollar, up to $50,000! That’s right – together we can bring $100,000 of free legal assistance to Californians in need!

 

Justice with a side of Burritos and Science

OneJustice welcomes new staff in a two part series.

This month, we will feature a 2 part series to introduce our new staff: 2 this week and 2 next week. So many great new folks at OneJustice and we can’t wait for you to meet them! Please join us in welcoming the first two newbies: Chris McConkey, Staff Attorney of the Healthy Nonprofits Program and Patrick Fodell, California Pro Bono Institute Coordinator.

We were so excited to hear about these new positions that we asked them to share with us a little about themselves and their projects.

Please welcome Chris and Patrick!

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EDITED_Chris McConkey Photo

Chris McConkey, Staff Attorney for the Healthy Nonprofits Program.

So Chris, what drew you to OneJustice and in particular, the Healthy Nonprofits Program? 

OneJustice leads with cutting-edge best practices and optimism. I love that the Healthy Nonprofits Program (“HNP”) concentrates on strengthening California’s legal nonprofit infrastructure. HNP works –at both the organizational and system levels–through nonprofit management consulting and public policy advocacy. We help legal services nonprofits to become more robust and grow. A larger and stronger legal nonprofit infrastructure expands the availability of quality legal representation for people who are lower-income.

Tell us more about your Staff Attorney position. What kind of work will you be doing?

As a Staff Attorney, I will help with OneJustice’s consulting and public policy work. This includes researching, crafting, and sharing best practices in nonprofit law and management, such as strategic planning, program assessment, board governance, employment, ethics, and tax. I will also track and advocate for public policies that promote the health and positive perception of legal services nonprofits.

What was your career path that led to OneJustice?

Just before I came to OneJustice, I was the Staff Attorney and Intake Coordinator for the Los Angeles HIV Law and Policy Project (“LA HLPP”) at the Disability Rights Legal Center. At LA HLPP, I provided counsel and representation to people living with HIV or AIDS. Most of our clients were lower-income, LGBTQ, monolingual Spanish-speaking, and/or had co-occurring chronic health issues. I advised them on legal issues arising from their medical conditions such as employment discrimination, medical privacy, public benefits, and medical planning. Before LA HLPP, I clerked at the ACLU of Southern California and Public Counsel Law Center in Los Angeles.

All great answers, Chris! Is there anything else you’d like to add?

I really like science–especially astronomy and astrophysics. I even prepared to study those subjects in college. Now, I visit the California Academy of Sciences whenever I can, and try to camp where there is little light pollution, so I can see the stars!

Thank you so much for answering our questions, Chris! Patrick, your turn! Tell us, why OneJustice?  

Photo: Patrick Fidell, California Pro Bono Institute Coordinator

Patrick Fodell, California Pro Bono Institute Coordinator.

I love how OneJustice fights for justice by engaging a broad network of individuals throughout California. I find this comprehensive approach very effective in fighting for those who need assistance the most. I also shared an office space with them while working at the Legal Aid Association of California, so I knew they were some of the most passionate and hardworking people I have ever met.

What will you be responsible for at OneJustice – and what do you hope to achieve?

100% of my time is dedicated to the California Pro Bono Training Institute (CPBTI), a new project of OneJustice. With our partners at the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles and Neighborhood Legal Services, we hope to achieve CPBTI’s goal of increasing efficiency in the statewide pro bono delivery system and expanding overall pro bono in the state by increasing access to trainings, reducing the creation of duplicative trainings, and facilitating easier recruitment and support of private sector attorneys. We all know how impactful pro bono volunteers are, so I am very happy to be part of a project that will bring in more pro bono volunteers throughout California to assist those seeking justice.

What did you do before coming to OneJustice?

I’ve been working in legal aid since I graduated from college in 2008. My positions at the Legal Aid Association of California, the Watsonville Law Center, and Self-Represented Litigation Network revolved around planning and executing trainings for either legal service organizations or community members. I am so excited to continue to plan trainings but this time for future pro bono attorneys!

And tell us something about you that is not work-related.

As a recent transplant to the Los Angeles area, I’m very into exploring LA in order to determine if Southern California does indeed have a better burrito than Northern California. The jury is still out, and I am open to suggestions.

We are so excited to welcome you two to the team!

See you all next week when we introduce our other 2 new staff members!

 

Thinking about Women and Legal Services (during Women’s History Month)

Barbara, Justice Bus ClientMarch is Women’s History Month – when we celebrate the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society.

So at OneJustice we’ve been pondering the intersection of women – both clients and attorneys who are women – and the system that provides legal help to low-income and other underserved Californians.  Each year, the almost 100 legal nonprofit organizations in California provide legal assistance to approximately 270,000 individuals, families, children, and seniors facing pressing legal problems relating to basic human needs.  Hunger.  Safety.  Housing.  These services are focused on those living at or below 125% of the federal poverty level (for example, the limit for a family of three is an annual income of $23,862 or less).

Poverty in California is higher among women (at 16%), than among men (at 14%), and highest among children, as a staggering 21% of California’s children live in poverty.  Nationally, the most recent census data showed more than 16.4 million women living in poverty in 2009, the largest number since the Census began collecting this data in 1966.  A study of prevalence of hunger among California women found that 22 percent do not have secure access to food.

In that larger context of women and poverty, California’s nonprofit legal organizations provided services to over 151,000 low-income women in 2010 (compared to just over 106,000 men). These are women like Barbara, shown above, who came to a Justice Bus legal clinic in her small, isolated coastal town.  Women who are grandmothers needing legal guardianship of their grandchildren.  Mothers fighting for medical services for their children with significant health needs.  Teenagers experiencing dating violence.  These are women who are seeking help in the face of overwhelming factors that tell them to give up.  It is shameful that our legal services delivery system is so underfunded that we can only provide this life-changing assistance to one-third of those in need.

At the same time, the attorneys working at these legal nonprofit organizations are increasingly women.  A 2010 report by the Legal Aid Association of California (LAAC) on Retention & Recruitment in legal services nonprofits found that two-thirds (67 percent) of the legal services attorneys are female; in contrast, during that same time period, only 34% of California State Bar Members were women. In 1878, Clara Shortridge Foltz began her struggle to become California’s first woman lawyer, and now, 134 years later, approximately 50% of law school graduates are women.  The women working at nonprofit legal organizations graduate from law school with overwhelming debt burden, and nevertheless carve a career path in the nonprofit sector, using their legal skills and expertise to help clients who are women seeking to eliminate barriers to justice in their own lives.   Those woman client/woman attorney partnerships are pretty powerful – and they are part of what we should be celebrating this month.

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