Marie Appel sees it as a privilege to help those needing legal help—clients who do not have the resources to afford a lawyer. Appel serves as supervising attorney at San Francisco’s Justice & Diversity Center (JDC), which has a mission to “advance fairness and equality by providing pro bono legal services to low-income people and educational programs that foster diversity in the legal profession.”
JDC is a partner of SparkPoint, for which MEDA’s Plaza Adelante serves as the Mission neighborhood center, offering an array of free services to the community.
MEDA even has Leticia Prado on staff to assist in this service-integration model. Prado serves as an Americorps VISTA volunteer.
At SparkPoint, 1 + 1 = 3. It’s a simple equation: SparkPoint clients who use two or more services are three times more likely to reach their goals than clients who use only one service. SparkPoint’s experts help families create step-by-step plans to tackle their unique needs, connecting them to services that address each issue they are experiencing.
Over the years, JDC has come to the rescue often for MEDA clients.
Explains Appel of the nature of JDC’s work, “We see all types of cases. For example, one MEDA client, recently referred to me, unwittingly engaged a fraudulent credit repair organization and JDC is now helping her cancel her services, request an accounting and a refund to try get the client’s money back. Another MEDA client had an eviction proceeding filed against her, although the case settled, because it’s a public record, she’s having trouble finding new housing. Her attorney failed to have the proceeding sealed from public view even though he promised he would do so, and has not provided the client with any payment from the settlement monies received. JDC drafted a letter requesting a copy of the settlement agreement, an accounting of all monies received and time spent, and payment of the balance of the settlement due the client. The attorney has responded partially and recently sent the client a check, but it appears to be less than the amount which the client should receive. JDC is continuing to work with the client to help her get the full amount she is entitled to receive. JDC aims to look out for MEDA clients.”
An emergency case recently handled by Appel was that of MEDA client Rafael. Octogenarian Rafael, a widower, was a SparkPoint walk-in client with a time-sensitive situation regarding a levy on his bank account. That’s when Jackie Marcelos, financial capability program manager, stepped in.
“Rafael’s case showcased three issues we often see at MEDA. One, he is monolingual Spanish and he had received a legal document in English only. Second, he failed to understand the need to respond to such documents in the timeframe provided; Rafael’s notice needed to be responded to in 10-15 days and there was not much time left when he came to MEDA. Third, he was unclear where to turn for free help in the Mission community. Low-income Mission residents should know that community partners are always here to help,” explains Marcelos.
Despite Rafael having done his taxes for free for the last five years at MEDA, he was uncertain of the possibility of the organization helping him in his current situation. When MEDA cannot do so, partners are enlisted.
That’s exactly what Marcelos did. Seeing the need for a quick turnaround, she enlisted Appel at JDC. Appel comes to MEDA once a month, but for time-sensitive cases, such as that of Rafael, JDC offers immediate assistance at their office. Marcelos and her client headed over.
Explains Appel of Rafael’s situation, “If the client does not respond by filing a claim of exemption, the client’s non-exempt funds are automatically taken. In Rafael’s case, we met the deadline so that the levy was denied.”
The deadline was met by Marcelos, with her acting as a translator, plus immediately taking JDC’s provided legal paperwork to the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.
Marcelos is still working with Rafael, now as his one-on-one financial coach. She has done budgeting strategies. Pulled credit reports. Counseled on the importance of savings.
“Now that the emergency is over, it is time to help Rafael build financial stability. The moral of this story is that the community is here to help, and that legal letters must always be addressed. JDC is a valued partner and we appreciate their assistance for our low-income clients in need of pro bono legal services,” concludes Marcelos